A. Lange & Sohne
"Magnificent" and "bold" are just a few of the superlatives which come to mind when watch lovers describe A. Lange & Sohne timepieces. Reformed in 1994, following the reunification of Germany, this upstart watch company, which is based in Glashutte, has, in just a few short years, established itself as one of the most prestigious luxury watch brands in the world. The company's story is, in many ways, quite compelling.
On December 7, 1845, Adolph Lange set up his own production workshops in Glashutte, near Dresden, laying the foundation of Saxony's - and Germany's - precision-watchmaking industry. For some years, he had been studying ways of producing high-value timepieces of consistent quality in series, and now was the opportunity to realize his ambitions. He started the enterprise with his brother-in-law, the master watchmaker Adolf Schneider, and 15 apprentices.
During his travels, Adolph Lange had drawn meticulously precise plans for new machine tools in his journal/workbook, and had embarked upon the exact determination of movement parts, gearing calculations and conversion tables between the French ligne and the metric system.
His vision and ideas began to take shape. Soon, a fundamental break with many of the traditional artisan techniques became apparent at Adolph Lange's first Glashutte workshops. The introduction of powerful flywheel lathes increased the speed and precision of parts manufacture. His theories on the division of labor encouraged many of his employees over the years to set themselves up in specialist workshops for watch jewels, screws, wheels, mainspring barrels, balance wheels and hands. In this way, Glashutte could become independent from foreign suppliers.
Growing demand for Lange's precision pocket watches, coupled with increasing economic prosperity after the foundation of the German empire, meant that Lange's first workshops soon became too small. Adolph Lange established new facilities for his workforce that had meanwhile grown to almost 60 employees. The buildings, which they occupied in 1873, became the family compound.
The premises accommodated the typical 19th Century business organization of the owner-manager, with the Lange family home and the watch-manufacturing workshops in the same complex. As a unique feature, Adolph Lange built a master clock for the new building. It had a nine-meter pendulum of cedarwood and zinc, which weighed 128 kilos.
The Lange family complex marked the golden age of Lange watchmaking from the end of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 to the Great Depression. In 1895, a telephone link to the Berlin Observatory was installed to get accurate time signals for a new chronometry workshop that expanded the watchmaking facilities.
It was also during this time that Lange's most beautiful pocket watches were produced - among them, a spectacular Grande Complication repeating pocket watch with split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar and moon phase, circa 1908.
The Lange family house was the birthplace of Adolph Lange's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and it was here that Walter Lange spent his childhood and youth. On May 8, 1945, the main production building - known as the "hangar" - was demolished in a bombing raid. Shortly after it was rebuilt, the A. Lange & Sohne Company was expropriated by the Socialist government and all the buildings seized. Like so many watch companies, the production of high-quality wristwatches and pocket watches came to a grinding halt.
The reunification of Germany gave Walter Lange the courage to claim the legacy of a family tradition that he had given up on. On December 7, 1990, 145 years to the day after his great-grandfather Adolph Lange founded the business, he arrived in Glashutte and started a new company, Lange Uhren GmbH.
The news spread like wildfire - "Herr Lange is back!" Job applications came flooding in; many of the keen young hopefuls presented themselves as descendants of earlier Lange employees whom Walter Lange knew personally. He was thus able to quickly recruit a core workforce from the best craftsmen in Glashutte. It was a far cry from the circumstances surrounding Adolph Lange's endeavor in 1845, when he had to train raw farm lads and simple laborers in the delicate work of watchmaking.
Unfortunately, no suitable factory premises were available, and efforts to reclaim or repurchase the old Lange family buildings were unsuccessful, so it was in the former premises of the precision clock manufacturers, Strasser & Rohde, that the new production facility could be set up. The building was subsequently converted into one of the finest horological workshops, boasting the latest in modern technology, and it was in 1994 that the company produced watches that once again bore the celebrated name of A. Lange & Sohne.
Today, Lange watches are a truly unique product. Although plates, bridges, steel parts, wheels and pinions are cut with exceptional precision by the most advanced computer-aided machine tools, they are always finished, decorated and engraved by hand. Movements are meticulously assembled and adjusted in five positions. Gold or blued steel hands indicate the time and other functions on solid silver dials, and each masterpiece is housed in a case of gold or platinum.
The new-era Lange watches are far from being mere reproductions of the world-renowned timepieces made by Lange before World War II. Yet they bear the imprint and even some of the recognizable features of their predecessors, along with the application of horological complications, which constitutes a particular attraction for enthusiasts and collectors. A few of the company's best known models include the LANGE 1, LANGE 1 TOURBILLON, SAX-O-MAT and LANGEMATIK.
In summary, the name A. Lange & Sohne is a promise of a watch that is different and rare. Its exacting manufactory allows neither compromise nor short cuts - only the highest possible standard of mechanical quality and precision. The costs involved mean that such a watch is not cheap either, but whether old or new, a Lange watch always retains its exclusiveness and will continue to be coveted by watch collectors around the world.
We are still working on the individual histories of each manufacturer, as time permits. If you'd like to submit a manufacturer history, let us know and we will credit you as being a contributing author.