The timekeepers of history

In a world of precarious deadlines and microsecond requirements, A. Lange & Sohne have not only kept with time, they have also kept tradition ticking, says Gita Rajan

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Published: Sat 22 Sep 2007, 11:51 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:51 PM

How often have you found yourself admiring a luxury high-end watch and wondered why you don’t have it yourself? If what has put you off is the astronomical price that some brands quote, then rest assured that you are not alone. However, if you’ve stopped short because you thought the price was just for the diamonds and jewels alone, or just ‘brand value’ then read on . . .

A WATCH speaks volumes about the wearer, and a watch with history is like no other - it is a piece of art that has entrapped time eternally on your wrist. Skeptics need only to visit the A. Lange & Sohne precision watchmaking factory in Glashutte, Germany, to see perfection and creativity being fashioned out of pure metal.

In this tiny town with a population of about 3,000, A. Lange & Sohne has a dedicated workforce of 430 employees. The charismatic CEO, Fabien Krone, is keen to point out that the company continues to attract young talent in what is often perceived to be a profession for the fifty-plus. He also reveals that they have more women, than men, painstakingly handcrafting the 5,000-odd watches manufactured every year, which are then distributed through an exclusive global network of over 141 jewellers.

One of the few watch companies in the world that manufactures almost all its parts (some of which are made from German silver), the A. Lange & Sohne watches combine understated elegance with trademark features like oversize dates and off-centre dials. The brand’s 24 different self-designed movements are cased only in precious metals, gold or platinum. And each watch carries two serial numbers, one on the case and one on the movement, to help track its ownership history.

It takes Lange about five years to make a watch - the more complicated the model, the longer it takes. First the watch is put together, it is checked for quality, and then it is disassembled and cleaned, polished, and put back together again. “Every year we introduce a model variation, a new caliber every two years, and a new high-complication every three years,” explains Anthony De Haas, Director of Product Development who leads a team of 30 designers at the Lange factory. There is a considerable amount of brainstorming done before a design or a technical feature is approved. Clearly the idea is not to produce a watch alone but a “distinctive piece of art” that will last for several generations.

With all the designer watch brands vying for attention surely there would be pressure to follow market trends. “Not at all,” insists Haas. “Lange is all about perfection and quality. We are sober and functional – not gimmicky.”

Unsurprisingly, all this attention to detail means that one has to wait months, sometimes two to three years before one can actually acquire the watch. This also reflects in the prices for regular collections, which currently range from 12,000 to 140,000 euros. The limited editions, of course, can go up to a jaw-dropping 380,000 euros - a small price to pay for perfection.

A little bit of history

The A. Lange & Söhne story is the history of a watchmaking dynasty whose roots go back to the Saxon court under Augustus the Strong. Adolph Lange established the Saxon precision watchmaking industry on 7 December 1845 in Glashütte, near Dresden. Here he recruited a talented team of 15 to train them as watchmakers. Adolph Lange and his successors developed new standards in high-end horology, and it wasn’t long before their timepieces were among the world's most coveted treasures.

However, the A. Lange & Sohne factory, was virtually destroyed on May 8, 1945, the last day of World war II by Russian fighter-bombers. And almost a year later in March 1946, the factory and other Lange possessions were seized by the East German government. It was only after the fall of the Berlin wall that Adolph Lange's great-grandson Walter Lange managed to return to Glashutte and relaunch the brand as we see it today. Now the company is no longer a family-run business, but one of the several prestigious brands under the umbrella of the Richemont Group.

Lange 31

The unique feature of this watch is that it offers a power reserve of one month, which means you don’t need it wind it every day, only once a month with a special key. This is an horological feat as the watch has to maintain a constant rate of accuracy across the 31-day period.

Langematik Perpetual

The world’s first self-winding wristwatch with an outsize date display and a perpetual calendar whose displays can be individually corrected and collectively advanced.

Saxonia

A. Lange & Sohne has redefined the Saxonia with three models – the Saxonia, Saxonia Automatik, and the Grand Saxonia Automatik. The watches pay tribute to Ferdinand Adolph Lange, the founder of the precision watchmaking industry in Glashutte, and express deep respect for his Saxon homeland. The location was chosen because the history of the company began there: at the court of Saxony’s electors and kings. This is where Ferdinand Adolph Lange began his horological career as the master of Gutkaes, clockmaker to the Royal Saxon Court. And this is also where Saxon jewelers, sculptors, and watchmakers demonstrated unprecedented prowess under the auspices of Augustus the Strong, one of the most illustrious rulers of the Baroque period.

The Saxonia: Refreshingly understated, its plates are made of untreated German silver, an alloy composed of copper, zinc, and nickel which in the course of time develops a golden patina. Lange is one of the few manufacturers that uses this alloy.

The Saxonia Automatik and the Grand Saxonia Automatik: These watches, available in pink or white gold, are additionally powered by a movement that is exceptional – the famous Sax-0-mat manufacture calibre. The zero stands for the sophisticated zero reset feature which causes the seconds hand to instantly jump to zero when the crown is pulled. This is a useful innovation that truly simplifies the synchronization of the watch with a reference time signal.



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