The German giant - A. Lange & Söhne
Deep in the heart of Saxony, lies the once-sleepy town of Glashütte. It was a town that was known for its silver mining, but later would become known as the very centre of the German watchmaking industry.
The company that has had the most impact on the Germany watchmaking industry (and beyond) is A. Lange & Söhne.
The brand’s identity is wrapped up with the story of Ferdinand A. Lange (1815-1875), a talented watchmaker from the city of Dresden who one day moved his production to Glashütte.
It's famed silver mines began shutting down in 1845 and it was on the brink of disappearing forever. Lange took out a loan and started watchmaking operations, and laid the foundation for the entire Glashütte watch industry, rescuing the town in the process. He even would eventually became Mayor of Glashütte for 18 years.
Lange's innovations in horological toolmaking and his incredible dedication to quality made the company's pocket watches some of the most sought-after in the world.
The image above shows an exquisite example from 1902, with an intricate movement featuring a chiming mechanism, a minute repeater, a split-seconds chronograph with a minute counter and flying seconds, as well as a perpetual calendar with a moon-phase display.
At the request of King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, Lange built a unique clock for the Semper Opera House in Dresden. It was the world’s first clock with digital display, back in 1841! Positioned just above the stage, the Five-Minute Clock was built in order to allow everyone at the opera house to read the time without disturbing the performance.
Sadly, the company was unable to escape the drama of world events, and on May 8, 1945 - the very last day of the Second World War - its workshop was destroyed in a bombing raid. The entire Lange family was expropriated, and the state took possession of the company. They had no choice but to flee the country in order to escape forced labour in the Uranium mines. For many years the brand was almost forgotten, but that’s not where the story ends.
With the fall of the Berlin wall, and German reunification in 1990 Walter Lange, great-grandson of the original Lange, registered the company Lange Uhren GmbH, and the brand A. Lange & Söhne once more. It was the start of the latest chapter, and gave rise to one of the iconic watches– the Lange 1 (main picture).
The first thing that catches your eye when you look at this incredible watch is the positioning of the sub-dials and the over-sized date display.
The beauty of the Lange 1 is that it was carefully designed, using the principles of the Golden Proportion. There is something truly pleasing about the layout, proportion and balance. In fact, the large date display is actually a covert reference to the Semper Opera house clock.
The watch was released in 1994, and in an incredibly short time has become widely loved, the flagship model for the brand, and an instant classic.
It’s heart is the L901.0 Caliber, including the traditional Glashütte three-quarter plate, chatons, and a twin mainspring barrel providing a power reserve of more than three days.
Since then, newer versions have appeared, but the design has changed very little. Materials used are normally limited to gold, rose gold and platinum, but a stainless steel model was also made but uber rare and I believe not for sale.
It is remarkable that after almost 50 years of inactivity, A. Lange & Söhne could return to the centre stage of the watch world, and make such a remarkable comeback.
Its designs are inspiring, and its workmanship takes the art of watchmaking to new heights. Parts of the movement which cannot even be seen are finished by hand.
It is this dedication to detail, and quality that will ensure the name lives on as one of the top watch brands in the world.
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