The Collectors’ Guide to Lange 1
After almost 50 years of silence, the flag carrier of German watchmaking and its founder from Glashütte – A. Lange & Söhne introduced its first modern collection in 1994. Each of the four pieces was, without any doubt, an instant hit. Yet, among the musketeers, there was a special one. It was nothing like any other watch that anyone had ever seen. A watch with an eccentric dial which was based on a strict mathematical calculations, solid lines and curves… It was emphasizing engineering rather than romanticism and its movement was carrying the flag of its ancestors from a century ago: Lange 1.
Since then, it is the face of A. Lange & Söhne. Yet, an object is a mere product without a story of its creation. As beautiful as the Lange 1, its story would not be complete without remembering the one who made it possible, who is a long retired member of the Lange family. Someone who had never given up on his dreams and got back to work at the age of 66 just to revive its family name and preserve its legacy…
Hence, to understand the importance of the first collection, therefore Lange 1; we must take a look at Walter Lange’s ambition to revive his family’s name, the townsfolk’s respect towards Lange name and the driving purpose behind an almost mission impossible task: Re inaguration of A. Lange & Söhne in the small East German town, Glashütte.
The 20th century arrived with a storm of change to Glashütte. In 1904 Glashütte Präzisons-Uhrenfabrik Akt. Ges. was founded and followed by “Nomos-Uhr-Gesellschaft” in 1908. Both companies were producing machine-made watches or movements imported from Switzerland and cased up in Glashütte. By contrast, A. Lange & Söhne and few others were still crafting hand-made watches; therefore operating with high costs. The changing landscape with the involvement of machinery to what once was a handcraft business hit Lange hard.
Indeed, the brand tried to counter the inexpensive production by the introduction of their new low-cost brand “OLIW” (Original Lange Internationales Werk) in 1920s. Alas, the hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic triggered a wave of corporate bankruptcies. As a result, prices ran out of control. A loaf of bread, which cost 250 marks in January 1923, had risen to 200,000 million marks in November 1923. Lange’s fall from grace had started back then and young Walter Lange was not yet ready to take over – and he could not until 60 years more…
On the occassion of economic collapse Walter Lange would say;
“I was born in the Weimar era; then came the crash in 1929 and the great unemployment. I can still see it today; it was a childhood trauma for me, when I looked out the living room window and saw all the unemployed men lined up, waiting across the street. I will never forget that view”
Walter Lange grew up to be a watchmaker. He had his training at the famous Karlstein Watchmaking School in Austria with the intention to lead Lange for years to come. However, life had other plans for him. In 1942, Walter Lange was drafted to Wehrmacht to fight at the Eastern front.
Following some years in the military, he returned to Glashütte in 1945 to work at the now a state-owned watch manufacture. Under Russian supervision, he had to document and illustrate the construction of pilot-watch caliber 48 (the last movement made by A. Lange & Söhne, until 1994) and marine chronometers. This job did not last long and following the expropriation of his namesake company, he was ordered to work at the Wismut uranium mines. The man refused and fled from his beloved hometown to Pforzheim. While in Pforzheim, Walter Lange did not lose his connections with Glashütte and he would try to visit his homeland whenever possible.
Indeed, a man with a strong tie to his family and its legacy, Walter Lange tried his chance a couple of times to revive the Lange name in pocket watches yet failed… With inevitable flow of time, he retired from his watch retailer business to live a peaceful life – only to see the most unexpected thing happening.
In 1989, the iron curtain fell and he received a call who would be his confidant and business partner for the next decade: Günter Blümlein. He was on the other side; asking him to come to Glashütte at the age of 66 and revive his family’s name where it was born once.
Entrepreneurship is never easy – and in his case, it was even tougher. He had nothing left in Glashütte. Not a home, not even a postal address… However, a generous gift of karma for his authenticity and being a good human being, his ties that he did not lose over decades would be of his help.
On 7th of December in 1990 – the same day Ferdinand Adolph Lange registered the trademark in 1845, he re-founded the company at the state office in Dippoldiswalde by using an address of one of his primary school friends. Everybody in the town cherished the comeback of Lange and its arrival; because their parents – grandparents were once working there.
Path to 1994
During the 1980s and 1990s, the watch industry was thriving. The industry rejuvenated itself following the quartz crisis by shifting the focus on luxury, status, tradition, artistic aspects of watchmaking while ditching the old claims for precision. In conjunction, high complications returned at full throttle.
Patek Philippe celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 1989 with a range of exceptional pieces including the famous caliber 89 . Blancpain followed with reference 1735 grande complication in 1991. IWC, a watchmaking powerhouse back then, unveiled Destriero Scafusia in celebrations of its 125th birth year in 1993. Audemars Piguet has just launched the Royal Oak Offshore…
While-in general-Swiss Watch Industry was busy adding complications on top of each other and relying on traditional designs without foreign competition; something entirely different was cooking across the border. Following the registration in 1990 and 4 years of intense work, A. Lange & Söhne introduced the first collection of 123 watches. The collection of four models and three calibers on the evening of 24th of October.
Blümlein knew that to success, Lange needed to take inspiration from its past and embrace its history; but become completely modern. He also knew that to take a step into Swiss-dominated industry, the look and feel of the watches had to be German, Teutonic, heavy and engineered. With this mindset, everything from the cases to lugs to typography were thought out. The result was astonishing. Each piece that night came to be a completely different creation from the norm with signature details conceived by Günter Blümlein, and the design team including Reinhard Meis and Kurt Klaus.
The demand was immediate and all the 123 pieces were sold out within minutes. To distribute the watches fairly to the invited retailers, the remaining three watches were sold by drawing matchsticks. It was the most exciting moment of my life, says Walter Lange.
The first collection of A. Lange & Söhne is much more than a re-birth of a company. It is a man’s lifelong dream turning into reality. Lange 1 carries part of that soul.
As mentioned, in order to revive a brand from 50 years ago, Blümlein knew that he had to approach everything from a different perspective. He just could not follow what Swiss have been doing or what has been done by old A. Lange & Söhne from 1845 to 1948. He had the respect for tradition, yet was not bound to it. In an interview he gave to Gilsbert Brunner in 1994 he states the following;
“Brunner: Do you consider the first modern collection by A. Lange & Söhne as a tribute to a great, albeit long ago, past?
Blümlein: Definitely not. The 1994 A. Lange & Söhne wristwatches and all upcoming models are anything but epigones of watchmaking legends. Take our big date in the “Arcade,” Lange 1 “and” Saxonia “. One can only speak of helpful innovation or mechanical sensation. The same applies to the construction of our calibers. It is not our intention to celebrate traditional craftsmanship or to compete for the most complicated clock. One of our goals is watchmaking beauty and perfect craftsmanship. On the other hand, innovations and differentiating design are important parameters for us.“
These were the underlying principles that led to the creation of Lange 1. They (Meis, Blümlein, Klaus, Geyer etc..) knew that it had to be something distinctive, memorable and aesthetically pleasing and they spent years on finding the right proportions. When the asymmetric layout was finally reached, they would spend countless hours on where to put the indications and keep rotating them until they catch the design of what many call an icon today.
Lange 1’s design (more below) is virtually untouched for more than 25 years. Of course the line has expanded. Sometimes with a mirrored design like Daymatic or a bigger case like Grand Lange 1. But that 38.5 mms Lange 1 has never changed.
In time, A. Lange & Söhne came up with several other groundbreaking introductions such as Datograph, Double Split or Zeitwerk; today, Lange 1 with its reserved, simple and still distinctive look is the face of the brand. It is as forbidden to touch as Adam’s Apple.
The first watch of the collection is the reference 101.001 in yellow gold. Lange introduced the first Lange 1 editions with a solid gold back albeit replaced with transparent version just a year later. Consequently, due to its historical significance and rarity, reference 101.001 is immensely collectible. The following references also have solid gold case back:
- 101.005 – Platinum / silver dial
- 101.007 – White gold / blue dial
- 101.011 – Pink gold / black dial
The following article starts with a deep focus on the first generation (1994-2015) Lange 1 models and examines the collection by case, dial and movement individually. The updated Lange 1 Collection (current generation) is further examined with a focus on different applications compared to the first generation. Finally, the article finishes with a brief look over some noteworthy special editions.
Please note that expansion models such as Timezone, Daymatic as well as the “25th Anniversary” models are not going to be taken under the loupe here as they are going to have their own pages under the Lange 1 section.
The Signature Case
The work towards creating something entirely distinctive started from the cases. Lange cases are straightforward, but they are full of splendid details that give confidence and comfort whenever strapped.
The signature part of every Lange case is the separately finished, notched and angled lugs which are easily noticeable in the photo below upon close inspection. This detail makes Lange cases instantly recognizable without being exorbitant. As of no surprise, the idea comes from Günter Blümlein. As I was told by several senior A. Lange & Söhne employees, he notched the lugs himself on the brass prototype; which SJXwatches.com also shows:
The small area created by the notch is mirror-polished and beautifully contrasted against the brushed case band. The lugs are generously curved and beveled. The surface which is created with the two bevels at the top of the lugs seamlessly tapers towards the bottom, and finishes sharply. Brilliant work.
All of the Lange 1 models from the first generation measure at 38.5 mm in diameter and 9.8 mm in thickness. The case is built on three levels. The bezel and case back rings are polished whereas the case band is brushed. This creates a brilliant contrast and illusion, resulting in a slimmer visuality. The date pusher at 10 o’clock is also beautifully beveled, brushed and polished.
I must confess that even after handling perhaps hundreds of different A. Lange & Söhne watches, I am still amazed by the amount of details and quality even in the smallest places. For example the famous bar in Lange pin buckles, which serves no purpose other than adding weight to the watch, strenghtening its character and presence – one of the many genius touches of Blümlein.
Lange 1 Dial – A Game Changer
The Oxford Dictionary summarizes the word “icon” as follows;
“A famous person or thing that people admire and see as a symbol of a particular idea, way of life, etc.”
The key idea is the “symbol” thus the representation. An icon represents and captures an event or an artistic style just perfectly. On the other hand, what makes something “iconic” is not necessarily its universal acclaim of beauty but its mythology and story behind.
Think of Picasso’s Guernica. It conveys a story, an idea and an inspiration… Perfectly captures the essence of what it tries to deliver: The horror of war – inspired from the bombing of Guernica. It is an undisputable representation of his works. Think of Michael Jackson, one cannot talk about POP, without referring to his work in general; be it the his style, way of life or lyrics. Or Vermeer’s The Girl With a Pearl Earring which is the “icon” of the golden age of Dutch Arts.
In this regard, Lange 1 is the symbol of the German high-end watchmaking’s re-birth in 1994. It is one of the first four watches A. Lange & Söhne introduced after almost 50 years of exile. A design that is completely unconventional and virtually unchanged since its birth. It conveys tradition (5 minute clock in Semper Opera) and perfectly merges it with the Bauhaus artistic movement in a wristwatch. From its historical significance to its story and importance in the field, Lange 1 is truly one of the few “icons” of modern watchmaking.
Lange 1 dial design follows the rule of thirds. A rule of thumb that suggests when an image or object is divided into nine equal parts by two horizontal and vertical lines, the important elements should sit either on along these lines or their intersections. Employment of this principle what gives the comforting symmetry to Lange 1 while appearing random. The center of each element is positioned across the lines. The hours / minutes dial’s borders are horizontally center to big-date and seconds sub-dial; further solidifying the symmetric look.
The curved logo welcomes the eye at 12 o’clock – written with the custom created typeface. None is left out to chance when designing Lange 1. Obvious when one looks at a Lange watch, from curves to spacing in between letters, everything feels different. For a long time I could not understand why; until I encountered SJX’s great article on Lange’s Typography. Moreover, the ampersand has a flat-top to balance out the curvature and vice versa.
Big Date or outsized date indication is a masterful example on how A. Lange & Söhne successfully merges the tradition with modernity. Originally a Jaeger-LeCoultre invention, a sister company of A. Lange & Söhne, Günter Blümlein transferred the style to Glashütte to merge it with an inseparable part of A. Lange & Söhne’s history: 5 minute clock in Dresden Semper Opera House; which was made by F.A. Lange’s tutor Gutkaes.
The signature big-date is positioned at 1 o’clock.. It sits just on the intersection of the lines (rule of thirds), making it one of the most striking elements on the dial. The window size is arranged by the golden ratio of 1.618. A careful look reveals the immense attention to symmetry. The window’s bottom sit on the same horizontal axis with the applied XII, as does the seconds’ sub-dial sits with the VI at the lower side.
The big date windows are made from the same material of their respective cases. Furthermore, the frames are beautifully polished thus illuminates the deep-seated date discs. As the date discs of Lange watches do not sit next to each other but on top, the frame in the middle also covers the overlapping of the discs.
For the first generation, the date change takes place approximately between 10 PM and 12:30 AM. So, it is advised that you do not play with the time-setting mechanism during this period. When the change is completed, you’re going to hear a click.
In case you have not noticed, in all the official material coming from A. Lange & Söhne, the date is always set to 25. On 24th October 1994, the print was the only communication tool for the watch industry. When the event took place in Dresden Castle that day, the press could only announce the watches on 25th. So, all of the watches’ date was set to 25 to be accurate with the date they were shown. Another proof of how meticulously detailed everything was.
The first model – reference 101.001 is introduced in yellow gold with champagne dial. While the main dial has somewhat of a grained finish, the sub-dials are adorned with concentric fine circles to stand out against the main part. According to the detailed research done by the @thewindingstem and @handwound there are 153 circles in hours/minutes sub-dial. The diamond shaped indices measure smaller than a millimeter on edges; yet features exemplary mirror-polish and soft bevels.
The power reserve indicator to the right is designed using five triangles – each measures 0.40 mm diameter in height and width. As you may notice, the distance between the triangles are not equal. This is of course not because someone was careless – on the contrary, it is a superb design feature. You see, the watch has three-days of power reserve. When the watch is fully wound, it takes almost 1.5 days for the indicator to get to the bottom two and another 1.5 to 2 days to become fully unwound.
The idea here is to give time to the owner to wind the watch. If the distance would be the same, the owner would not get the urge to wind the watch until it hits the absolute bottom and the mechanism would stop.
Lange 1 is the face of A. Lange & Söhne. It was conceived, and in my opinion was perfected, as a result of long mathematical calculations and strict design rules; yet it is not soullessly perfect. Its soul is not romantic as French or Swiss; but strong and relentless. It perfectly reflects what it was meant to be. A friend once said, the joy I get from Lange 1 is almost cerebral. I am sure that it will be acclaimed even fifty years from now as a piece of art.
As the name implies – L(90)1.0, Lange 1’s movement was first sketched in 1990, and it is the first ever movement built by modern A. Lange & Söhne. Actually, caliber L901.0 borrows its gear train from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s caliber 822; albeit it was heavily modified to accompany the eccentric dial design of Lange 1.
This modification laid the grounds of what was going to be A. Lange & Söhne’s movement identity with German Silver three-quarter plate, blued screws, gold chatons, Glashütte ribbing (a bit wider than its Swiss counterpart) and hand-engraved balance cock. A modern interpretation of a 150 years old tradition.
However, Lange decided to hide such an exceptional view from the eyes behind a thick layer of gold in 1994. Because, during the ’90s, it was not the norm to showcase movements. Lange introduced the sapphire caseback versions only a year after under different reference numbers; while still continuing the production of solid caseback versions too.
Caliber L901.1 measures 30.60 mm in diameter, houses 53 jewels, 9 gold chatons, 72 hours of power reserve with its double barrel (Doppelfederhaus) and beats at 3Hz. The caliber L901.0 fully fills the caseback, as almost always with Lange, and beautifully complements the 32.50 mm diameter dial.
The regulating organ houses a Glucydur balance wheel with screws. The balance is not a free-sprung balance but regulated – which even back then was pretty outdated. However, it is important to note that the first batches of Lange watches had Breguet overcoil on balance springs, which is known for its positive effects on timekeeping. However, Lange ditched this practice after a while, some say after 2000 watches, probably because it was too time consuming and changed to flatcoil.
The change from the Breguet overcoil to flat coil caused a heated discussion with the main question “does Lange chase tradition only where it is cheap” by Walt Odets – which most certainly worths a check. Mr. Odets comments on the subject as follows: I think it is a shame that Lange is not using overcoils in all its watches–it would make Langes less of a pretense, because this is an element of tradition that would really add to the function of the watches. I would rather have them spend time on this than on the engraved cock (which incidentally is prone to snagging the regulator index).
The little islands on the three quarter plate adds a much needed fun to otherwise plain plate. Such arrangement is the result of the unusual dial design; thus the gear arrangement from JLC’s 822. The cut out in the center is the cover for the keyless works (crown stem goes all the way to the middle) the one to the left is for the seconds hand.
Apart from its technicality, the high level of handcraft on the movement is unobjectionable. Along with the free-hand engraving, the inward angle on the flat polished escape wheel cap is a proof for the manual handwork went into the decoration of the movement. The color palette created by the nickel silver’s warm hue as well as blued screws and gold chatons is a joy to observe under different light.
As a final note: I remember several discussions as Lange is spending too much time on what is visible and neglecting the rest which was justified by some keyless works’ photos of early Saxonia watches, the brand radically improved the finish of the “unseen” parts and as a guy who was fortunate enough to visit the manufacture many times, you can take my word for this – if it has any weight.
In 2015, after more than 20 years of its introduction and many variations; A. Lange & Söhne updated Lange 1 with noteworthy changes on the movement front; but only slight touches on design. The reference of the line was updated to 191.xxx from the previous 101.xxx.
Lange 1 Second Generation (2015)
Lange 1, with its unique design and character, was set in stone after its 20 years of existence. As every product has a certain life cycle – apart from the Royal Oak apparently – and has to be limited to protect the value thus the interest of collectors, it had to be discontinued or updated. The question is; how do you update such an icon? Patek Philippe showed many times (1518 – 2499- 3970 – 5970 etc.) that it is not mission impossible. Lange on the other hand did not do very well – in my opinion – with regards to updates to 1815 chronograph (second generation) or Datograph; until Lange 1.
I find great similarity between the Lange 1’s renewal and Apple’s User Interface update in 2013, with IOS 7. Sir Jony Ive took over the UI efforts of the company and overhauled the visual. The 3D, deep, thick icons and typefaces were replaced with flattened graphics and transparencies. It was simplistic, a departure from complexity, and Lange 1 follows a similar path.
In the new generation; the lettering is noticeably thinner, spacious and sharper and the bezel is slightly flattened. Apart from these slight changes, there is no other change in the appearance of the model; as it should be. All the characteristic details and perfectly calculated proportions of the watch is kept. The design is more on the front without slight distractions of bold typefaces and I say it is better!
The movement side, however, went through a complete overhaul. The new caliber L121.1, far superior in technicality, was the real update the Lange 1 had received.
The new movement features several important aesthetical changes. Caliber L121.1’s new and design first base development eliminated the go-around solutions (little islands). This resulted in a plain three-quarter plate which can also be traced from the gold chatons’ new placement.
Caliber L121.1 carries its balance wheel positioned right next to the crown instead of the opposite end as before. However, the winding stem has to through the balance; so, the regulating organ is shifted slightly upwards. This puts it on the same line with three-quarter plate and makes it completely visible without the blockage of gears, a detail I enjoy. Alas, the black polished escape wheel cap has lost its inward angle and is given a rounded look.
On the technical side, caliber L121.1 offers the same 72 hours of power reserve and beats at 3Hz. The most important change that the owner can experience is the jumping date upgrade to the previous dragging version. The balance is now free-sprung and bigger as opposed to previous regulated and smaller version. Furthermore, instead of Glucydur balance with screws, the new balance wheel is made in-house and features eccentric poising weights. In theory, the latter is better than the former. Yet; as the regulators at Lange showed and told me, in the end all depend on the watchmaker’s skill.
In 2019, A. Lange & Söhne launched a series of Lange 1 “25th Anniversary” editions to celebrate the 25 years of the icon. The festivities started with the regular Lange 1 model (limited to 250 pieces) in January and all other variations of the family was launched consecutively in the upcoming months with a limitation of 25 pieces each.
Respectfully, I think that the 25 Anniversary series is probably the most uninspiring collection that the brand has ever launched. Even though the watches themselves are very captivating, as a 10 piece collection it does not make any sense to me – though this is a subject of another article!
All said, Lange 1, without a doubt, is the bread and butter of A. Lange & Söhne and it is rightfully so. After more than 25 years of its introduction it is going stronger than ever and representing the German high-end watchmaking.
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