WRITER: Nicolas Shammas
A. Lange & Söhne’s annual production may equate to just five per cent of its larger Richemont sibling, Cartier, but that doesn’t bother this fine German watchmaker one iota. They’re far more concerned about the impeccable construction and obsessive precision of their seemingly simple, yet highly complex timepieces.
This year’s a special one for A. Lange & Söhne: it’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of company’s founder, Ferdinand Adolph Lange. “The year 1815 has a significance far beyond our own brand,” says Wilhelm Schmid, the ex-BMW man who took over as CEO of A. Lange & Söhne in January 2011. “Without Ferdinand Lange, there would be no fine watchmaking in Saxony, or possibly even Germany.”
Indeed, by the early 1800s, the silver ore mines had been depleted in the Saxony region of East Germany and its people were left poor and with few prospects. But after travelling around Europe, the young and brilliant clockmaker, Ferdinand Lange, came up with an idea that had the potential to save the whole area, so he submitted his proposal to the local government. It laid out the vision of creating a singularly Germanic watch industry, with a unique pocket watch that could mate the more precise Swiss cylinder watch with the more durable English lever movement, while still adhering to the principles of French flair and decoration (at least internally). The government was evidently impressed because not only did they provide a loan to cover Lange’s startup costs, they also contributed funds for him to purchase tools and equipment so that, in 1845, he was able to open his eponymous watch factory in the Saxon town of Glashütte.
Yet, as Schmid alluded to earlier, Lange’s vision was not just for his own brand. Patiently and diligently teaching his apprentices the art of watchmaking, he actually encouraged those who had mastered their craft to break off and start their own small supply firms. By doing so, he laid the foundations for an entire industry.
“The area has always been creative but significantly there’s also a deep rooted culture here too,” explains Schmid. “Dresden used to be one of the capitals of Europe in terms of music, arts and science and where before there were highly skilled carpenters and stone workers there’s now a strong and innovative mechanical workforce, with the watchmakers in Glashütte, and the automakers in Dresden [Volkswagen] and Leipzig [BMW and Porsche].”
To celebrate the double centenary of this visionary man, A. Lange & Söhne are releasing a new watch. “Our limited edition watches are usually limited to between 15 and 30 pieces but this time we wanted to be able to celebrate with as many customers as possible,” says Schmid. “That’s why we are creating a 200-piece-run for the first time, while also keeping the price down as much as possible.”
Essentially, A. Lange & Söhne have taken their 1815 watch and given it a new look that marries a platinum case with a black dial, something that’s actually very uncommon for the brand. Inside the 33,500 USD timepiece, you’ll find a movement that adheres to the core values first established by F.A.Lange: a three-quarter plate of untreated German silver, a hand-engraved balance cock, a screw balance, whiplash spring, gold chatons and thermally blued screws. It’s a remarkable piece but then again we wouldn’t expect anything less, considering it’s a flagbearer for the patriarch of luxury German watchmaking.