ICONS: A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1

A bold design meant to signal Lange’s return still serves as a symbol of German watchmaking.

Watches
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Some watches have their moment in the spotlight, but some are still fresh decades later. As part of the ICONS series, HYPEBEAST looks into the continued relevance and significance of these cornerstones of watch collecting.


A. Lange & Söhne was founded in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolf Lange in the Saxony town of Glashütte. The German region was in desperate need of a new industry after its mines had run dry and Lange saw watchmaking – which he had studied in Paris – as a solution for Glashütte as well as the next natural step in his career.

The business, and the town, eventually thrived with Lange helping to established the watchmaking signatures of the area, including the gold chatons, blued screws and three-quarter plate traditionally found on the reverse of many movements made in Glashütte.

The brand earnt global renown before its main production building was bombed on the last night of WWII in 1945 and the remainder of the business, which the Lange family had begun to rebuild, disappeared altogether in 1948, when it was expropriated by Soviet East Germany and funnelled into a collective effort producing basic East German wristwatches.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

The late Walter Lange, the great grandson of Ferdinand Adolf Lange, had always intended to join the family business and entered training in 1941, but he would have to wait until 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to re-establish the family brand.

Having escaped East Germany and spent his life working as a watch distributor in Pforzheim, the 66-year-old retiree was tracked down by Günter Blümlein, a fellow German and former engineer who had recently reversed the ailing fortunes of both Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC under the LMH banner, a precursor to the present day Richemont Group. He now wanted to go further and revive the watchmaking tradition of his own nation and breathe new life into A. Lange & Söhne.

Lange and Blümlein founded Lange Uhren GmbH that same year and set about reclaiming not only the company name, but its historical premises too.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

From his base in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, – the brand would not return to its historic home in Glashütte until 2001 – Blümlein assembled a crack team to create an unforgettable opening salvo. Blümlein set the goalposts to ensure only the highest standards of finishing, precious metal cases and German silver movements that were assembled twice.

With the help of IWC’s legendary watchmaker Kurt Klaus, horological scholar and author Reinhard Meis, and Lange himself, the reborn A. Lange & Söhne showed off its first collection of four watches in 1994; the Saxonia, the Arkade, the “Pour Le Mérite” Tourbillon and, of course, the Lange 1.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

“He wanted a face that everyone would be talking about,” says Tony de Haas, director of product development at A. Lange & Söhne since 2004. “Even if it’s ugly, it needs to polarise, because the other three watches are quite mild – not mainstream – but normal. So that was the eye-catcher.”

“He said ‘that’s the face of us and we’ll see what happens,’ because it was an adventure. Many people said to Mr Blümlein ‘are you sure you want to build up a luxury brand in former Eastern German, where people drive funny Trabant cars and stand in line for bananas?’ That’s how people thought. Nobody knew that they had excellent watchmakers over here.”

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

The face of the Lange 1 is based on the Golden Ratio of 1:1.618, from the proportion of the dial given over to time display to the aspect ratio of the date window. The Outsized date window, power reserve, small seconds and dial are also laid out in the form of an equilateral triangle.

With the resources of LMH at the team’s disposal it is perhaps unsurprising that the Lange 1’s hand wound L901.0 movement took its gear train – albeit heavily modified – from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s calibre 822 movement, often used in its Reverso, while that Outsized date window – a Lange signature – was taken from an 18th Century five-minute digital clock still keeping time above the stage at the nearby Dresden Opera House.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

“At that time, the Lange 1 at 38.5mm – the original – it was big for a watch,” recalls de Haas. “Watches were 36mm, 34mm, 37mm but 38.5mm was huge. I remember in 1994 I was still in Holland, working as a watchmaker and I didn’t like the Lange 1 if I’m honest, ‘another brand, ah’, but I didn’t look at it much. That came later when I worked at IWC in Schaffhausen, I had more contact because they were the same group, ‘ah, it’s quite a cool thing’ but mainly about the movement, I’m a watchmaker.”

That movement would serve the Lange 1 for another 20 years until 2015, when the second generation Lange 1 models were fitted with the all-new calibre 121.1, that added a number of updates, including an instantaneous jumping date.

“She deserved a new motor,” admitted de Haas. “I said to the team, if you had to develop the Lange 1 now, how would you do it? So there was a wishlist and then we spoke to the watchmakers – many of whom had built the Lange 1 for 15 years – and they also had a list of stuff to improve. We put the two lists together and the result is the new Lange 1 with the instantaneously jumping date, like it is now.”

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

A. Lange & Söhne would go on to address the question of case size four years after launch with the introduction of a second, smaller size – the 36.1mm Little Lange 1 – which would later be tweaked in 2018 to 36.8mm.

Blümlein was also canny enough to envisage the Lange 1 as a wider offering from the beginning and over the years the model has carried a number of complications but, for the Lange 1 in particular, that comes with its own set of problems.

“That design, for us, is a challenge because Blümlein already built up a product family and we want to extend that, you have to find all kinds of tricks to respect that original design,” explains de Haas. “Because as soon as you take away that power reserve, it’s not a Lange 1 anymore.”

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

The Lange 1 received its first additional mechanism/complication [depending on which side of the fence you sit in that particular debate] in 2000 with the Lange 1 Tourbillon, housed in a 38.5mm case with a tourbillon – unusually rotating counterclockwise – in the space usually occupied by the small seconds dial.

After the death of Mr Blümlein in 2001, the Lange 1 Moon Phase arrived in 2002, building its Moonphase into the same space, although retaining the small seconds.

Potentially the most problematic adaptation of the Lange 1 arrived in 2003 as a response to the growing trend for bigger watches. The Grand Lange 1 used a bigger 41mm case size, but using the same 30.6mm L901.0 movement found in the original Lange 1. The Grand Lange 1 arrived with larger sub dials to fill the extra space of the larger dial but, with the movement staying the same size, those sub dials now overlapped, making for a more cramped dial.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

“So you have a pumped-up, steroid case with the normal movement and you lose the perfect balance,” explains de Haas. “But at that time they didn’t know if the trend for bigger watches would go on. Developing a movement is a lot of money, most people don’t know what it costs, but it’s a real lot of work. Sorry, we need to earn money to pay our salaries and we spend a lot of money in development.”

A second generation Grand Lange 1 in 2012 addressed this layout with a new thinner movement that gave its indications on the dial room to breath.

de Haas’ first crack at adding to the legacy of the model, the 2005 Lange 1 Time Zone, arrived as a travel watch somewhere between a worldtimer and a dual time zone watch with a second timezone in place of the small seconds dial synchronized to a pusher-activated city wheel running around the edge of the dial. The watch was housed in an even larger 41.9mm case, but the city wheel accounted for much of the extra diameter and allowed the proportions of the original Lange 1 dial to be preserved.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

A. Lange & Söhne then created an automatic Lange 1 in 2010 with the 39.5mm Lange 1 Daymatic and an all-new calibre L021.1. While the movement offered obvious practical benefits, the Daymatic exterior presented Lange with yet another dilemma.

“Of course, we could have made the same design automatic,” explains de Haas. “But an automatic movement is always a little bit more expensive than a manually wound movement, then you would have two similar-looking watches and one is more expensive than the other.”

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

Instead, Lange flipped the dial layout, creating a mirror-image version of the Lange 1 and replaced the power reserve with a retrograde day display as, in de Haas’ own words power reserve indicators on automatic watches are “bullshit”. This mirrored dial would go on to signify the use of an automatic calibre in all future Lange 1 models.

The Daymatic gave the brand a Lange 1 with day and date indications and left de Haas’ team wondering whether they could further build on that and put a calendar complication into the watch.

The team looked back to the Time Zone for inspiration and added a rotating month wheel at the edge of the dial for its 2012 Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. The watch became the most complicated Lange 1 to date.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

“So now we have a multi-complication in the Lange 1, wow! It was a huge success, very complicated to build because the calendar is not a module on top of a Lange 1, it’s integrated and the tourbillon’s integrated. It’s a very expensive watch because it’s very complicated and people said ‘if the watch comes without the tourbillon I will buy it, because then it’s not 300,000 but probably 100,000’. We had a real struggle because it’s not like you can just take out the tourbillon, it’s so deeply integrated. So we learned from the Daymatic and ten years of building that and nearly 10 years of building the Lange Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar and we developed a new movement for the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar.”

The Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, with the all-new L021.3 movement dropped in 2021 and proved something of a personal milestone for de Haas.

The Lange 1 Has Become The Bold Symbol Of The German Watch Brand That Defied War And Politics

“When we launched the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar at SIHH [2012], a long-time friend of the brand and blogger Peter Chong came to us and said ‘wow, this reminds me of an interview I had with Mr Blümlein in 2001 when I asked him, can you imagine doing a perpetual calendar in the Lange 1 and he said he didn’t think that would be technically possible.’ So it’s the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, because it’s so different from the classical perpetual calendars and so much respecting the original Lange 1 design, that’s the one achievement where I’m most proud of the team and what we achieved.”

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