As storied, from Glashütte.
It was a short drive from Dresden to the quiet and quaint town of Glashütte, located in the Ore Mountains of Saxony. At the heart of Glashütte is the headquarters of Germany’s best and highest quality watchmaker, A. Lange & Söhne.
On arrival, I was greeted with great warmth and welcome. After a hearty chat with Arnd Einhorn, Director of Press and Public Relations, I was ushered to the main manufactory with the cheerful, sincere, professional and very knowledgeable Katrin Meusinger, Senior Press and Public Relations Manager.
Beautiful Inside Out
The legends of this outstanding and exquisite brand are clearly illustrated within this factory tour. As if biblically written, the last would be first, we visited the “finishing” department first. Here, each component of every A. Lange & Söhne timepiece is individually and carefully polished and smoothened. Every piece is chamfered, filed, smoothened and polished to perfection (surface and circumferential), with tin polishing and diamond paper filing.
The balance cock is individually engraved free-hand and every piece is unique to the engraver and can be identified.
As individual as our thumbprints, each timepiece has a personally hand-engraved balance cock, which is decorated with a floral pattern inspired by historic motifs. Each engraver has a personal style and each balance cock is one-of-a-kind. With my Lange 1 on my wrist, we identified my personal engraver, Peter Zippsch.
The base plate first started as a triangular plate in 1845, and progressed to a half plate in 1856, and finally a patented three-quarter plate – for improved movement stability – in March 1875. Until this day, most of the timepieces uses this base plate in untreated German silver.
The assembly department was also fascinating. Every A. Lange & Söhne timepiece is assembled twice:
The first time is a mechanical trial to ensure that every mechanism and piece is harmoniously placed in perfection; and the second time is when the true finishing and refinement – including parts that are to remain unseen – is completed. Here, the movement is lubricated at over 50 oil sinks and bearing points, with up to eight different greases and oils to render the movement friction-free.
The fusée-and-chain transmission is one of the most effective complications when it comes to increasing the rate accuracy of a mechanical watch. Due to its small components, precision and dexterity are required in its handling. Consisting of 636 individual parts, it has a cross-section measuring 0.6 by 0.3 millimetres.
Mastery of Art
The standard of beauty carries through to the dial front. Case in point, the Lange 1 is truly flawlessly designed.
This inimitable landmark design features an off-centre hour/minute dial on the left, a small second hand sub-dial on the lower right, an outsize date on the top right, a large power reserve indicator on the right rim edge, and an isosceles triangle hidden within its dial. This timepiece is, to me, melodious, poetic and lyrical.
Larger than Life
One of the most iconic and important standout design features in A. Lange & Söhne timepieces would be the outsize date. This outsize date was inspired by the Five-minute clock in the Dresden Semper Opera House, built by architect Gottfried Semper (1841-1878).
The exceptionally large tower clockwork with two counter-rotating wheels was invented by clockmaker, Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, and his apprentice Ferdinand Adolph Lange. Installed at a height of 20 metres above the stage, the grand clock, which displayed the hours and five-minute intervals in separate windows, could be seen by all in the audience.
In 1869, a fire destroyed the opera house and the clock. The opera house was later reconstructed, and the clock was restored by Gutkae’s former employee, Ludwig Tuebner.
Destroyed once more in World War II, the opera house was eventually restored to its former glory and inaugurated again in 1985.
In 1994, as a tribute to the masters of the past, the Lange 1 included an outsize date, an ingenious reconceptualisation of the five-minute clock in a small format. This innovative date display in frame makes the date more legible, and setting process simpler.
The display date can be advanced by day with a rapid correction pusher instead of the customary crown adjustment. In 2015, with the development of calibre L121.1, the innovation was also further enhanced, to instantaneously advance by one day at midnight, thereby removing any ambiguity.
Moving on to movements. The benchmark of all chronographs, the Flyback Datograph, was introduced in 1999. It included the iconic outsize date, the high-speed flyback switching mechanism for the chronograph, 60-hour power reserve, and a patented precise jumping minute counter.
In 2009, A. Lange & Söhne introduced their first mechanical digital watch, the Zeitwerk. It has a digital display that tells time via three instantaneously jumping discs, using a complex constant force mechanism and an innovative way to distribute the energy of the movement to the display. The energy comes from a special escapement integrated between the barrel wheel and the balance. The rementoir gains, holds, and releases the energy required to move each disc every 60 seconds, with a surge of power, and then all over again for the next minute.
A. Lange & Söhne made a huge leap forward from their competitors with the introduction of the Double Split chronograph in 2004. Fourteen years later, in 2018, Lange & Söhne again redefined the definition of mechanical watch innovation with the Triple Split chronograph.
The Triple Split is the first mechanical split-seconds chronograph in the world that allows multi-hour comparative time measurements. The new calibre L132.1 is a newly developed movement that significantly distinguishes itself from the calibre L001.1 of the Double Split.
The additional rattrapante hands on the minute and hour totalisers make it possible to stop lap and reference times of events that last as long as twelve hours. It is endowed with a flyback function that involves all three hand pairs as well. What’s also amazing is the 55-hour power reserve that also has an Up/Down display.
We concluded our memorable visit with an in-depth interview with Lange’s Manufactory Director Tino Bobe. Legends are made of vision and passion, and by those who believe and keep moving forward. There is much more to learn and see of this House, so I am looking forward to returning to Glashütte again.
Images courtesy of A. Lange & Söhne. Feature image courtesy of Dr Kenny Pang.