In a recent issue of WatchTime, we took a look at a century-plus of notable timepieces from A. Lange & Söhne. Here are seven highlight pieces and the stories behind them.
1902 – 42500 Grande Complication
This pocketwatch is the second-most complicated timepiece ever made under the A. Lange & Söhne name. (The first is a modern-day wristwatch version of the piece: see our article on it here.) Its original owner, a Viennese named Heinrich Schäfer, paid 5,600 German marks for it in 1902, a sum that could have bought a large house. Instead, he opted for a large dose of mechanical complexity. The watch is a grand complication in the strictest use of the term: a watch with a perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph and minute repeater (in addition, it has petite and grande sonneries). The 42500 also has a foudroyante (French for “lightning”) seconds display, in which the seconds hand spins around its subdial once per second, showing 1/5-second increments. The movement has 833 components, housed in an artistically decorated rose-gold case fitted with a seven-part enamel dial.
The initials “JAP,” for Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet, founders of Audemars Piguet, appear on the gong block. Audemars Piguet may in fact have made not just the gongs but the entire movement: in those days, it was common for European watch companies to buy raw movements from Swiss companies and finish them to their own specifications.
The watch almost fell into oblivion. In 2001, a married couple brought it to Lange’s headquarters in Glashütte to find out if it were worth repairing. A housekeeper they knew had received it as a gift more than a half-century earlier. The answer was not obvious. In a book about the watch that the company published in 2010, Lange watchmaker Jan Silva described the watch’s condition: “Where there would normally be a complex, delicate mesh of bridges, springs and wheels, there was nothing to be seen but a gray-brown, amorphous mass …. Only the larger components of the movement were still identifiable.” Silva led a team of four watchmakers that restored the movement to pristine condition. It took five years; the dismantling process alone took three months.
The watch’s case was designed by the industrial designer Carl Ludwig Theodor Graff in the Louis XV style. The front bears an engraving of the goddess Minerva; the back is adorned with the initials “G.S.” No one knows whose initials they are. Unlike the movement, the case and the dial were in excellent condition when the watch resurfaced in 2001.
The Grande Complication is now on loan to the Mathematics and Physics Salon, a museum in Dresden dedicated to historical timepieces and scientific instruments.
1994 – Lange 1
In 1990, right after German reunification, the German automotive firm VDO bought the name “A. Lange & Söhne” and founded a new A. Lange & Söhne, based, like the original firm, in Glashütte. (In 2000, the Richemont Group acquired A. Lange & Söhne.)
One of the new company’s first watches, the Lange 1, launched in 1994, became Lange’s signature design, what the company refers to as its “face.” The Lange 1, which looks the same as it did 20 years ago, has a distinctive, asymmetrical dial with a big-date display and “Auf/Ab” power-reserve indicator. It contained the hand-wound Caliber L901.0, with two barrels, a three-day power reserve, nine screwed gold chatons, Glashütte three-quarter plate, a hand-engraved balance cock and elegant swan’s-neck fine adjustment mechanism. (Earlier this year, the company replaced that caliber with a new one, also hand-wound.)
The big-date display, which is patented, functions by means of a “ones” ring bearing the digits 0 through 9 and a “tens” cross with the digits 1 through 3 and a blank field. A special challenge for the engineers was to ensure that the calendar switched correctly at the ends of months with 31 days. For those months, the “ones” ring must remain motionless during the night preceding the first of the new month, while the “tens” cross pivots through 90 degrees to bring its blank segment into view. A button on the case side is used to correct the date display at the end of February, April, June, September and November.
1997 – Langematik
A. Lange & Söhne released its first self-winding watch, the Langematik, three years after it launched the Lange 1. To increase the movement’s winding efficiency, the solid gold rotor in the Langematik is equipped with an outer platinum segment. A reverser mechanism enables the rotor to convey energy to the mainspring in both directions of rotation. An additional ruby bearing supports the 2.5-gram ball-borne rotor. To minimize friction, Lange’s watchmakers added three micro ball bearings to the reduction gearing.
A special feature of Caliber L921, also known as the Sax-0-Mat, is a zero-reset function for the seconds – hence the “0” in “Sax-0-Mat.” The small seconds hand automatically returns to the zero position when the crown is pulled out, for to-the-second time setting. “Sax-0-Mat” appears on the dial and rotor. The balance oscillates at 21,600 vph. A. Lange & Söhne offers the Langematik with or without a big-date display.
1999 – Lange Datograph
The company unveiled its in-house chronograph movement, Caliber L951.1, at the Basel Fair in 1999. The caliber, which was hand-wound, 30.6 mm in diameter and 7.5 mm thick, was four years in development, and included a flyback function.
Its unconventional features include a separate bridge for the fourth wheel, a chronograph operating lever mounted between two bearings, an adjustable coupling lever positioned in the center of the fourth wheel, and a minute-counter-operating lever mounted between jewels. There is also a stepped pinion for accurate minute-counter advances, an escape wheel with four jewels, a large Glucydur screw balance and a Breguet balance spring. The balance oscillates at the classic frequency of 18,000 vph. The caliber also supports Lange’s familiar outsize date, to which the prefix “Dato” alludes.
Nowadays this watch is available as the Datograph Auf/Ab; the movement has been improved and a power-reserve display has been added. There is also a version with a perpetual calendar, the Datograph Perpetual.
2007 – Lange 31
The Lange 31 was named for its power reserve: an astonishing 31 days. The watch contains in-house Caliber L034.1, with 406 components. These include two stacked barrels, each with a powerful mainspring that is 1.85 meters long, several times longer than a standard mainspring. The barrels are 25 mm across and occupy three-quarters of the movement diameter.
With a power reserve this long, and springs this strong, the amplitude of the balance would decline significantly over time if nothing were done to maintain it. But Lange has positioned an innovative constant-force device between the twin mainspring barrels and the escapement. It guarantees a continuous flow of force, independent of the tautness or slackness of the mainsprings. It achieves this with the aid of a helical, pretensioned spring (a so-called remontoir spring), which is retightened every 10 seconds, and, over the following 10 seconds, delivers energy to the escapement. There are minimal fluctuations in torque during the 10 seconds, but the energy conveyed remains nearly constant on average throughout the 31 days. When that interval has elapsed, an additional mechanism simply stops the watch.
Winding these gigantic mainsprings would be extremely laborious if this watch were equipped with an ordinary winding crown, so A. Lange & Söhne revived the winding key from the epoch of pocketwatches, modernizing the winding mechanism with an innovative ratchet and torque limiter.
2009 – Zeitwerk
When Lange launched the Zeitwerk, it heralded the watch as its “new face.” The company had taken the brand’s signature big-numeral date concept, launched with the Lange 1, and applied it to the hour and minutes displays on the left and right of the dial, respectively. At the time of the introduction, then-CEO Fabian Krone described the Zeitwerk as Lange’s most important new watch since the Lange 1.
The watch accomplished a very difficult task: the movement was able to provide enough energy to rotate the three relatively heavy disks employed in its time display, two for the minutes and one for the hours, and ensure that all three disks moved at precisely the same instant at the end of each hour. Achieving this required some intricate mechanisms, including a constant-force escapement with remontoir spring similar to that used in the Lange 31 (see Lange 31 item). The watch also has a fly vane, shaped like a tiny revolving door, which provides air resistance and hence ensures that the disks’ jumps are not too forceful.
The movement is the hand-wound Caliber L043.1, which has 415 components and measures 33.6 mm in diameter. Its balance oscillates at a leisurely frequency of 18,000 vph. (To read our test of the original Lange Zeitwerk, click here.)
2014 – Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terreluna
This watch is much more than a traditional perpetual calendar. Turn it over and you will see one of the most complicated and unconventional moon-phase displays ever made. In the center is a disk bearing a map of the Northern Hemisphere. Surrounding the earth is a disk decorated with 2,116 stars. (Their positions don’t correspond to those of actual stars; Lange calls the arrangement a “fantasy sky.”) A third disk, for showing the phase of the moon, lies beneath an aperture in the star disk.
The earth disk rotates counterclockwise once every 24 hours; you can see the time anywhere in the world by referring to the 24 hour markers on the ring surrounding the display. The moon orbits the earth once every synodic month, i.e., once every 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. As the moon orbits, it waxes and wanes. The watch’s balance, visible through the caseback, represents the sun: when the moon is between the earth and the balance, the moon disk is all blue, representing the new moon. When it is on the opposite side of the earth, it is all gold, representing the full moon. The moon display is so accurate that it will be 1,058 years before it needs to be corrected by one day.
On the front of the watch is a regulator-style dial with minutes in the large circle and hours and seconds in the two smaller circles. The day, date, and month are shown in apertures. The watch has twin barrels that provide a power reserve of 14 days; the power- reserve indicator is at 6 o’clock. Like the Lange 31 and Zeitwerk, the Terraluna (more details here) is equipped with a constant-force escapement.