A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Darth
Understanding the Darth – February 2020 / Written by Anders B. Kiertzner
This article is about a watch that is near and dear to my heart. Not just because I own one, but because it tells an important story of how A. Lange & Söhne decided to recognize a crucial part of its own legacy by taking control over it
The Lange 1 ref. 101.035, nicknamed the Darth, is a watch that faithfully follows and teasingly deviates from the design principles created by the founders who resurrected the brand in the early 1990s, and would be the last regular production watch from A. Lange & Söhne to feature the platinum, all black dial configuration.
Although the Darth has long enjoyed recognition from the watch community, its origins, discontinuation, and subsequent impact remain widely undocumented. My ambition with this article has been to construct a well-documented narrative by sequencing and comparing readily available documents and information while respectfully attempting to fill in the blanks.
Lange 1 Darth "101.035"
The Darth is recognized as a Lange 1 ref. 101.035, which was in regular production from 1999 to 2006 and priced at 27.000 Euro or 31.800 USD at the year of discontinuation. The watch features a traditionally sized, 38,5 mm platinum case with exhibition case back, a black dial with white gold hands and hour markers and black date discs with white printing. The watch was delivered on a black crocodile and calf leather strap fitted with a platinum pin buckle that could be changed to a deployant clasp at the customer’s expense.
Throughout its seven-year production run, the Darth was powered exclusively by the original Lange 1 movement, calibre L901.0, which was based on the gear train from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s calibre 822.
The total production number for any regular production Lange watch is not made publicly available, but by researching and cataloguing data from collectors, auction houses and other readily available sources, I have managed to establish a range of case numbers running from 111.XXX to 163.XXX with movement numbers between 8.XXX to 54.XXX. Like other watch manufacturers, A. Lange & Söhne produce both cases and movements in batches, and since the Darth shares both the platinum case and movement with the Lange 1 ref. 101.025, known colloquially as the Stealth, we find examples of both references within this range of case and movement numbers.
The platinum cases for the 101.035 were produced by the Swiss company Centror who has been a subsidiary of Audemars Piguet Holding since 2000. To this day, all A. Lange & Söhne’s cases are produced exclusively by either Centror (Maker’s hallmark CO), Efteor (Maker’s hallmark FT), the Glashütte-based, Sächsische Uhrentechnologie(Maker’s hallmark SUG) and the latest Richemont owned Donze Baume (Maker’s Hallmark db).
It wasn’t until 2005-2006 that the case manufacturers began stamping their respective maker’s hallmark on A. Lange & Söhne’s cases, and although there are later examples of the Lange 1 Darth with all four stamps on the case back, the majority feature only the Official Hallmark of Switzerland next to the Common Control Mark, which in the case of the Darth reads ‘950’ for platinum.
Another way of identifying an early production Darth is by the absence of antireflective coating on the front and case back crystals, which A. Lange & Söhne first introduced on their watches in 2003.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
In order to understand how A. Lange & Söhne came to create a watch as stoic and uncompromising as the Lange 1 Darth, I suggest retracing the linage and subsequent convergence of three early A. Lange & Söhne references, namely the 101.005, 101.026 and 711.035, respectively.
The ref. 101.005 was part of the original Lange 1 collection introduced at the company’s relaunch in 1994 and features a platinum case with a solid case back, a silver dial and matching white date discs with black printing. Collectors quickly took note and dubbed it the Stealth, and since then, the watch has remained a stable of the Lange 1 collection, transitioning into the ref. 101.025 and 191.025, which is currently still in production along with the larger Grand Lange 1 ref. 117.025.
The ref. 101.026 is believed to have been produced in less than 30 examples through the mid-to-late 1990s, at the request of select retailers and important clients. Eclectic by design, the reference feature cases made exclusively in stainless steel with exhibition case backs, multiple dial variations and the original price tag matching that of a Lange 1 in solid gold. Out of the guesstimated 30 examples produced, only three were fitted with black dials and contrasting white date discs with black printing.
The ref. 711.035 was A. Lange & Söhne’s first watch in platinum with an all-black dial configuration and came in the form of a unique Tourbillion Pour le Mérite that was sold in 1996. The watch was a part of a limited run of 200 pieces in five different metals produced between 1994 and 1998, which also included one example in stainless steel with silver dial that also sold in 1996. Out of the 200-piece run, 50 watches were produced in platinum of which only one was fitted with an all-black dial and given the first ever reference number to end with .X35.
I would argue that these three references hold part of the genetic code to what would become known as the Darth.
More than the Sum of its Parts
By 1999, the success of the Stealth had already been established as the monochrome look proved to be a popular alternative to A. Lange & Söhne’s early, yellow gold watches with silvery champagne dials. The bright hue of the platinum case, paired with the golden ratio layout of the rhodium dial and white date discs, transformed the Lange 1 into a bold, contemporary product that felt more reminiscent of something out of Dieter Rams’ pioneering design studio at Braun than of a Dresden opera house clock from the mid-1800s.
Following the uniform design cues of the Stealth, the all-black configuration of the Darth not only differentiated itself from the exclusive, black dial steel Lange 1, but also managed to create a balancing contrast to the Stealth. Featured side by side in the A. Lange & Söhne 01/02 catalogue, the two watches create an inverted symbiosis that enforce a sense of harmony and intentionality. Over the years, the creation of silver and black dial companion pieces has been a recurring theme for A. Lange & Söhne, exemplified by the aforementioned Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, the Zeitwerk Striking Time, the Richard Lange Pour le Mérite as well as the 1815, just to name a few.
In the world of haute horology, platinum and stainless steel are considered as the most noble of the white metals, but for very different reasons. Platinum, because of its natural scarcity, price, and density, which makes it difficult to work and shape, and stainless steel, because haute de gamme manufacturers such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and A. Lange & Söhne rely mostly on precious metals for their watches and reserve stainless steel for prototypes, unique pieces and the occasional sports model.
But if the Darth was such a great idea, then why was it discontinued after only seven years? Was the all-black configuration too far from what was expected from A. Lange & Söhne at the time? Was the reference eclipsed by the less expensive white gold, blue dial ref. 101.027 or the white gold, grey dial ref. 101.030?
I believe that, by the early 2000s, A. Lange & Söhne started to realize how common the application of the platinum, all-black configuration had become that they decided to desaturate the market and slowly begin the process of rebuilding it to its former glory. This strategy is revealed by the fact that, since the discontinuation of the 101.035 in 2006, the platinum, all-black configuration has been reserved exclusively for limited edition pieces of the highest historical and mechanical order.
Darth – From Unique to Common to Extraordinary
During the seven years the Darth was in production, the .X35 reference number as well as the platinum, all-black configuration was extrapolated across a number of different models, most of which have since been discontinued, but nonetheless tell an important part of story.
There was the Little Lange 1 produced in both ref. 111.035, which was a smaller, but otherwise identical version of the Darth, earning it nicknames like Little Darth and Baby Darth. There was the ref. 151.035, an exceedingly rare, traditionally sized Lange 1 Darth fitted with an integrated, mesh-style platinum bracelet and only available by special order.
There were numerous references within the Arkade and Cabaret model lines using the platinum, all black configuration and the .X35 reference number as well as a limited edition 1815 Moonphase Tribute to Emil Lange ref. 231.035 and the regular production Saxonia Big Date ref. 105.035.
From left to right: Little Lange 1 (111.035), Arkade (103.035), Cabaret (107.035), Emil Lange Moonphase (231.035)
It was, however, within the Saxonia model line, which houses the mighty Datograph references, that we see most of the significant inconsistencies with regards to the use of the .X35 reference number for watches that don’t follow tradition of the platinum, all-black configuration. The Datograph ref. 403.035, although platinum cased and bearing the .X35reference number, was fitted with a black dial with contrasting silver subsidiary dials. The same configuration was used on the later ref. 405.035 and 405.435 and was even extended to the Double Split ref. 404.035 as well as the possibly unique ref. 404.035X in stainless steel.
With an increasing number of regular, limited edition and special-order watches mismatching between reference numbers and aesthetic configurations, A. Lange & Söhne decided to retire the reference 101.035 – Lange 1 Darth in 2006 and handed over the custody of the now somewhat diluted .X35 reference number to the Lumen model range, first launched in 2013. Gone was the watch, the reference, and the direct lineage with the unique Tourbillion Pour le Mérite and the three steel Lange 1s from the 90s.
With the exception of a few special-order pieces, it wasn’t until A. Lange & Söhne’s 20th anniversary in 2014 that the platinum, all-black configuration was brought back into the public domain, and it was done in such a way that there can be no doubt about the recognition of the historical importance of the Darth.
Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die
The first was actually a pair of watches consisting of a Lange 1 and a Little Lange 1 ref. 101.062 and 811.062. The watches were a part of a larger set of limited-edition Lange 1s, but this particular pair featured platinum cases, all-black guilloche dials and matching black date discs. Not only were the all black configuration an ode to the Darth, but the generous guilloché pattern of the dials was lifted directly from the first limited edition Lange 1A ref. 112.021 from 1998. To complete the lineage, the watches were powered by the original Lange 1 movement caliber L901.0.
The second watch was the limited-edition Lange 1 Tourbillion Handwerkskunst ref. 704.048. The watch featured a black enamel dial with matching date discs and the tourbillion movement, caliber L961.3, which was fitted inside a platinum case with the same traditional proportions as those of the Darth. While the inspiration for the all-black configuration is evident by now, it is with the addition of a front-facing, open-heart tourbillion that the watch managed to come full circle and re-establishing the link back to the first, unique Tourbillion Pour le Mérite ref. 711.035 from 1996.
In my opinion, the Darth should not be praised for its scarce availability, its aesthetic badassery or the fact that we will never see one in regular production again. Instead, it should be celebrated and scrutinized because of the position it held and subsequent impact it had on the canon of A. Lange & Söhne. True greatness is often characterized by the lack of awareness of itself, and the Lange 1 Darth – 101.035 was right there, readily available, hiding in plain sight.
I sincerely hope that this article will require continuous updates and refinement over as collectors, scholars and enthusiasts delve deeper into the fascinating world of the black on black and give it the proper attention it deserves.
Many thanks to dear Anders for supplying his views, and wealth of information about the ever charming Lange 1 Darth.
I hope this was a valuable guide for whomever is looking for a Lange 1 Darth or just want to learn the details and history of these pieces. If you’d like to chat, sell or buy a Lange 1 Darth, please kindly reach out to me via [email protected]
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