October 24, 2019
By Noelani Piters
LANGE 1: THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF A MODERN CLASSICSHOP A. LANGE & SÖHNE WATCHES
Wars and wristwatches have always been partners in time. While the popular Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Rolex Submariner and Omega Seamaster were all commissioned for or adopted by ministries of defense, the German brand A. Lange & Söhne has had a different relationship with military action—one of obliteration and heartbreak.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange founded the brand in 1845 in Glashütte, Germany, but one hundred years later the company was effectively nonexistent. Luckily, one of F.A. Lange’s descendants would change everything and craft one of the most unlikely icons to ever grace the watch world. On the 25th anniversary of A. Lange & Söhne’s Lange 1 presentation, we dive into a tale of destruction, avant-garde aesthetics and a comeback unlike any other, plus our expert tips for identifying the real deal.
The Rise Of An Iconic Watch
Authentic A. Lange & Söhne watches like this Lange 1 Moonphase should be polished to the brand’s exacting standards.
On the last night of WWII in 1945, A. Lange & Söhne’s main factory in Glashütte was bombed and destroyed. Soviet forces expropriated the company, and the founder’s 21-year-old great-grandson, Walter Lange, watched his family legacy disappear.
It would take decades for Walter Lange’s watchmaking dream to become possible again. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ambitious heir jumped at the opportunity to relaunch A. Lange & Söhne. In 1990, Lange teamed up with business partner Günter Blümlein, established Lange Uhren GmbH and put a plan into motion, but a question lingered—without any watch prototypes, employees, machinery or factories, could the brand be restored to its former glory?
The answer was a resounding yes, thanks in large part to the reputation of the Lange 1. The watch was one of four models in Lange and Blümhein’s 1994 inaugural collection, and it immediately stood apart from the others. “When the Lange 1 made its debut, the asymmetrical design was not one that had been previously seen on a watch dial,” notes Senior Watch Valuation Manager Danny Avizov.
“A. Lange & Söhne designed the dial based on the golden ratio,” adds our resident Horologist Karin Dickinson, “so that no two functions would overlap while still keeping the layout aesthetically balanced. To accomplish this, they rearranged the traditional gearing to get the date, time, power reserve and seconds hand all aligned. It would have been a matter of calculating gear ratios and likely including additional components. But I think the X factor was less the Lange 1’s added gears and more the fact that a design like this had simply never been done before.”
At the press event on October 24th, 1994, Lange set all of the watches’ dates to 25, hoping that reporters would take photos and write their stories on October 25th. According to Lange himself, the “entire international trade press” featured “the exotic Lange 1” the next day. It was a buzzy, make-it-or-break-it moment for the Lange 1, and one that paid off with rave reviews.
Down To The Lange 1’s Details
A real A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 should feature lettering in the correct font, boldness and size.
The Lange 1’s decentralized layout includes displays forming an isosceles triangle, as well as an outsize date complication that is now an A. Lange & Söhne signature (and a patented feature circa 1992). It was novel and noteworthy, in large part due to the prominent date, which is three times larger than dates on watch dials of a similar size (the original Lange 1 dial was, and remains, 38.5mm).
This complication also comes with a story. The enlarged date was inspired by a cultural landmark that also knew destruction by way of the war—Dresden’s Semper Opera House. In 1839, Dresden clockmaker Friedrich Gutkaes was asked to create a clock for the house that was easily legible from any balcony. The result was a clock that revealed the hour in Roman numerals and the minutes—in increments of five—in Arabic numerals. The complication that emerged on three of the four original A. Lange & Söhne watches is reminiscent of Gutkaes’ unique design, and though the opera house was demolished by air raids in 1945, it was rebuilt in 1987, five-minute clock included.
In addition to honoring German landmarks, one of Walter Lange’s goals was to continue the legendary standards of German watchmaking and put Glashütte back on the horological map. “A lot of German finishing techniques are similar to traditional Swiss techniques, but the use of German silver is another matter,” says Dickinson. “The general consensus is if you can successfully create and finish a watch movement in German silver, you’re at the top of your field. German silver is very soft, picks up scratches easily and is almost permanently stained if you touch it with your bare skin. It makes working with the material extremely difficult, and the fact that all of Lange’s movements are made with German silver demonstrates the high level of craftsmanship that goes into every one of their watches.”
A. Lange & Söhne celebrated their 25th anniversary with ten limited-edition models of—what else?—the Lange 1. The company released these styles throughout 2019, culminating in the unveiling of the Lange 1 Tourbillon “25th Anniversary” in September. The collection includes timepieces in multiple sizes and with moonphase and time zone indicators, perpetual calendars and other complications.
“Versions of these models have been released over the years,” notes Dickinson, “and the main feature that ties the 25th anniversary models together is the solid silver argenté-colored dial, white gold case and blued steel hands. The overall look is still very much in line with the roots of the original design.” Each 25th anniversary Lange 1 watch was created in a run of 25 and also includes a special engraved “cuvette” cover at the back, depicting the A. Lange & Söhne family estate and opening to reveal an exhibition caseback.
Authenticating The Lange 1
The exhibition caseback on the Lange 1 Moonphase gives a peek at the movement within.
When it comes to authenticating A. Lange & Söhne’s Lange 1, our experts know to inspect every millimeter for inaccuracies. “It’s imperative to be mindful of all the details,” notes Avizov. “Start by examining the dial layout, and verify that the fonts are correct in size and boldness, that the hands are the correct shape and that any applied parts—such as the date window frame, indices, etc.—are polished and beveled to brand specifications.”
Turn the watch over and on the majority of Lange models, you’ll get a sneak peek at the watch’s inner workings. “Most A. Lange & Söhne watches feature an exhibition caseback,” notes Avizov. “This window allows us to see the unique beauty of a watch movement made out of German silver, when nearly the entire industry produces movements made of rhodium-plated brass.” It also comes down to the level of artisanship. “A small number of handmade watch brands offer the same high-grade polishing techniques, which are a sign of an excellence and expertise that most finisseurs spend countless hours perfecting. The details in the movement are another means of confirming the legitimacy of a watch and can also show indications of when a watch is serviced by a watchmaker other than A. Lange & Söhne.”
Finally, the watch case gives clues about a Lange’s authenticity. “Not all faux watches are created equal,” notes Avizov. “Oftentimes a poor case replication can make it easy to determine when a watch is not legitimate. However, some replica watches are made close to brand specs. It takes a careful eye and familiarity with the brand to discern the minute differences between an original watch and a good quality duplicate.”
With the Lange 1’s near-overnight success, it’s not surprising that counterfeiters have taken to forging faux A. Lange & Söhne timepieces. From the Art Deco-inspired Cabaret to the Langematik to the larger, 42mm Grand Lange 1, the German company has had a significant impact on the course of watch history. If Walter Lange had not found that perfect blend of balanced asymmetry, precision and craftsmanship, would the name A. Lange & Söhne still carry the same weight? Some hypothetical questions are better left unanswered.
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