WatchBox gathered perhaps some of the rarest and most important timepieces from A. Lange & Söhne at its private collector’s showcases in Hong Kong and Singapore earlier this week. Just before the Hong Kong iteration of the event opened its doors to its exclusive clientele, Hypebeast had the opportunity to speak with WatchBox’s current Chief Sales Officer, Mike Manjos. As an avid Lange aficionado with over thirty years of knowledge and experience in the industry, Manjos enlightened us with historical insights and interesting stories that go behind the emblematic novelties that shaped the Maison.
The history of A. Lange & Söhne dates back to the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until the reunification of Germany in the ’90s that the Maison was reintroduced to the world of modern horology. “The company basically re-launched in 1994, famously out of Germany, which was unheard of at the time,” declared Manjos, acknowledging that most consumers expect luxury watches to come from Switzerland. It was also around this time that A. Lange & Söhne unveiled its first modern timepiece, the Lange 1. “The Germans aren’t famous for their marketing acumen, but they’re very good at watch design,” Manjos joked of the watch’s simple moniker. Featuring an asymmetrical dial that was unusual at the time, the 38.5mm model was competing against the likes of the Patek Philippe 3919. Despite this, the Lange 1 had proven itself with its distinctive charms — not only was it meticulously well-built and engineered, but it also possessed innovative features like the “outsize date” display.
In the following year, the Maison premiered its first open caseback for the same model, starring the iconic three-quarter plate that Modern Lange admirers are familiar with. From then on, the Lange 1 has been reimagined and reiterated via different variations, which ranged from subtle components like the blue steel hands that were implemented on the reference 101.002, to varying dial sizes throughout the years. “They do these rubies that are held in by blue steel chatons, hand engraving on the balance cock, with all these little attention to details that wouldn’t be seen in the solid, but were there before,” notes Manjos.
In 1999, A. Lange & Söhne was one of the first companies to introduce an in-house chronograph, also known as the Datograph. At the turn of the century, it was typical for watch manufacturers to outsource chronograph production (Manjos notes that even brands like Patek Philippe, Vacheron and AP wouldn’t make chronographs in house due to a cocktail of high cost, high complexity and low consumer demand). The particular chronograph that Manjos highlighted was the Datograph 403.031, or “Dufourgraph,” nicknamed after master watchmaker Philippe Dufour, who holds the watch in high regard and retains it as one of two timepieces in his personal collection. The alluring open caseback is often the topic of enthusiasts, who expressed their wishes to wear the piece upside down. The caseback is the result of talented and dedicated craftsmen and artisans, many of whom are women in their 30s and 40s – a considerably young workforce for specialists, particularly in comparison to other prestigious watchmakers.
On the topic of engravings, Manjos enlightened Hypebeast with an interesting insight: you only need to take a look at one loop of the watches’ balance cocks to deduce which artisan the piece was made by. “It’s like a signature,” said Manjos, “They have a little style to it, you’ll have a little different design to it, and from that alone, you can tell who actually did the hand finishing on your watch.”
Moving forward a decade, the Zeitwerk, was officially unveiled in 2009. Now one of the brand’s most distinctive styles, the Zeitwerk also marked A. Lange & Söhne’s first foray into crafting a mechanical timepiece, completed with an unusual digital display to boot. “It was one of the most famous launches in watchmaking,” said Manjos, recalling being flown over to Berlin to be served “dinner in the dark,” at the watch’s release party, where 300 guests were seated in complete darkness and components of the watch were being passed around for guests to “figure out” what timepiece they belonged to.
“Typically, the more complicated movements do get thicker, and I really do think that’s the embodiment of Lange.”
True to the Maison’s Germanic heritage, all the timepieces Manjos highlighted were thick and robust. As we jokingly discussed how it almost feels like the watches were competing for the “thickest” case, Manjos promptly brought out the jaw-dropping Lange 31. The timepiece, dubbed a “platinum hockey puck” by the CSO, weighs a solid 275 grams. In addition to its hardcore appeal, the watch’s crown is merely decorative — as a special key is needed to wind it. The timepiece’s mainspring took up three-quarters of its caseback with a power reserve of one month. “Technically, being German, it runs for 32 days, but the last day is not accurate because of the release of the strength of the movement,” said Manjos.
When asked which of the displaying timepieces truly embodied the spirit of A. Lange & Söhne, Manjos circled back to a particularly rare limited-edition Daytograph: the Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite. Part of the Maison’s original collection from their 1994 re-launch, the Pour Le Mérite was the first watch to incorporate the fuseé chain – which is akin to a “bicycle chain” – to provide a constant force for the watch, an unusual and extremely difficult implementation for time-tellers of this case.“Typically, the more complicated movements do get thicker, and I really do think that’s the embodiment of Lange,” said Manjos.
To the CSO, the first and most iconic feature that A. Lange & Söhne has initiated to its time-tellers is the big date display on the Lange 1. Date displays in watchmaking are typically made very small, so as to not divert too much attention away from the rest of the dial. But for Lange, its “outsize date” displays are all about “visibility, luminosity, accuracy, and beefeater ability.” The youngest piece from the Maison’s repertoire is the Odysseus, which was first introduced three years ago as its ’ first attempt at a steel sports watch. But to Manjos, it’s the Datograph Perpetual that holds a special place for him, as “It does everything the brand does. It’s a Datograph, Lange’s chronograph movement, but it’s also a perpetual calendar at the same time.”
“Most brands have four or five different movements that they use and modify slightly to incorporate into different models. Lange builds every watch with a specific movement to fit the case,” the CSO stated. “If you look at just the sizing and cases, they’ll make a movement to make only 50 watches, which is not particularly commercially viable — but it does make it very unique.” When asked for the rarest timepiece in the collection, Manjos immediately reached for the 20th anniversary Handwerkskunst edition Lange 1 tourbillon, an ultra-limited model with only 20 pieces made. Starring an intense black enamel encased in platinum, the piece comes with all of the brand’s distinctive characteristics — from the asymmetrical dial, “outsize date” display, power reserve indicator, one-minute tourbillon to the in-house L961.3 calibre.
As our session with Manjos drew to a close, he noted that “often with collectors, you’ll only get to only a few pieces at a time.” The CSO elaborated that “to be able to see a whole collection that runs the gamut of a brand, you’d really get a better feel for what it is.” WatchBox’s inventory is spread across its 12 locations around the globe, which makes this particular showcase incredibly special, and rare at the same time. Even for the expert himself, the idea that goes into experiencing and enjoying the presence of so many special timepieces from one single Maison. “There’s just something about seeing them in the flesh and being able to have a feel. It’s a very different experience. We still like to be with people, and we love to be able to play with watches.”