Homage to Walter Lange
Special editions, limited editions, anniversary editions, limited productions… Most of the time, these are the fancy names which actually mean that the brand needs to encase the left-over mechanisms, increase margins with a different dial color, simply to give the perception of limitation without mentioning how many, etc… Most of the time indeed because there are also exceptions. There are those watches which are truly special, truly deserving the moniker. Here, we have one of the latter ones. Most certainly one of the most special watches that A. Lange & Söhne had ever made. A watch that would be the emotional crown jewel of every Lange collectors’ assembly: 1815 Homage to Walter Lange.
This is a watch, with a complication, which Mr. Lange has been asking A. Lange & Söhne management to execute for over a decade. Although it came to fruition following Mr. Lange’s passing in 2017, it is still an exceptionally special, purposeful object. Yes, purposeful, that is what makes this watch as special as it is. Therefore, in order to understand the importance of the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange, we must first understand the man himself.
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 handicraft 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 the 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 occasion 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 manufacturer. Under Soviet 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. Walter Lange 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 and some wristwatches (funny that the company’s name was identical to my name ALP – A. Lange Pforzheim) yet failed… With the 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. Blümlein was on the other side of the border in Switzerland and asked Walter Lange 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 harder. He had nothing left in Glashütte. Not a home, not even a postal address… However, a generous gift of karma for his authenticity, 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, Walter Lange 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, simply because the name Lange still meant something. Their parents – grandparents were once working there… The rest is history.
1815 Homage to Walter Lange
Walter Lange sold his A. Lange & Söhne shares long before his passing at the age of 93 in 2017. Therefore, his ties with the brand were emotional. He was the walking and breathing A. Lange & Söhne. If you look at Blümlein’s time, you are going to see that Blümlein always put himself behind the curtains and always pushed Walter Lange to the spotlights. Indeed, he was the best brand ambassador A. Lange & Söhne can ever have. Walter Lange was the standing pillar of the brand, inspiration to the employees and collectors alike.
Throughout the years Walter Lange had one wish from the brand’s management: To revive his grandfather’s (Richard Lange) jumping seconds patent in a wristwatch with an identical mechanism. As far as I know, he was rejected times after times, noting that it would not be financially feasible. Life, or A. Lange & Söhne, it seems, is not without a sense of irony. Following his passing, A. Lange & Söhne went under a noteworthy effort to pay a tribute to this great man.
1815 Homage to Walter Lange was introduced on 7th December 2017. Built within the classical 1815 collection template, 1815 Homage to Walter Lange is the second timepiece crafted as a tribute to Walter Lange.
This is a watch that offers tremendous joy all around.
1815 Homage to Walter Lange came in four different metals: Yellow gold (297.021 – limited to 27 pieces), white gold (297.02 – 145 pieces) pink gold (297.032 – 90 pieces) and stainless steel (297.078) as a unique piece auctioned by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo (more details on this from Mr. Bacs himself below).
Of course, the limitation numbers for the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange are not random. 145 pieces limited edition stands for the years passed between the foundation of the company in 1845 and re-birth in 1990. 90 pieces for the 1990 – re-birth of the brand and finally the 27 pieces symbolizes the years between 1990 and 2017.
The case measures at a wearable 40.5 mm in diameter and 10.7 mm in thickness. 1815 Homage to Walter Lange is constructed in a classic, modern A. Lange & Söhne fashion in three steps: Case back, case band and bezel with polished, brushed, and polished surfaces, respectively. Such alternating application brings out a tremendous contrast, separating each part and increasing the solid feeling of the watch even further.
The lugs are mirror polished against the brushed band and notched at the base, enhancing the industrial outlook of the piece even further. The lugs are gracefully angled to showcase the attention to detail and generously curved to hug the wrist. Protruding case back houses the movement, dugs into the wrist and creates a thinner look for the piece when worn.
The case structure crafted by Günter Blümlein when A. Lange & Söhne was reborn is still the one and only case design of the brand and it suits tremendously to 1815 Homage to Walter Lange. However, the star of the show is not the case here. It is what it houses.
1815 Homage to Walter Lange immediately reveals itself to be a piece of the 1815 collection. Indeed, it was the most meaningful choice for such a piece. In the end, it was his great-grandfather who built A. Lange & Söhne, and his legacy lives within the 1815 collection more than any other. A tribute to Walter Lange himself, with a patent from the 19th century, must have been an 1815.
There is more than 100 years between the two watches above. Yet, a couple of similarities reveal themselves immediately. Rail-way minute track surrounds the hours chapter, defining the borders of the piece. Further, we are immersed into the dial with thick Arabic Numerals. Curved logo crowns the 1815 design at the top, yet; 1815 Homage to Walter Lange would be recognized even without it.
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You know, perfection is many small things done right and I believe that this is the reason for the success of the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange, or the whole 1815 collection for that matter. Again, implemented by Blümlein with the question how an A. Lange & Söhne watch would look like today the custom-created font plays a pivotal role in the modernization of the collection. The curves of the numerals, the arch of the logo, the ampersand, the three-dots at each 15-minute marker transforms a 150 years old design into a modern one.
The recessed center portion of the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange’s dial just proves further attention to detail, separating the hours/minutes chapter from the rest of the indications.
Now, 1815 Homage to Walter Lange is a mildly complicated watch. The central seconds’ hand runs on demand and the small-seconds sub dial at 6 o’clock is the running seconds’ hand. So, it is safe to call the piece a half time chronograph. However, unlike thousands of other watches, this complication has a meaning, and it is possibly one of the most special things that A. Lange & Söhne has ever done, in context.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange registered a couple of patents in his lifetime and made way for some more before his passing. One of those however was the absolute favorite of Walter Lange. The one that F.A. Lange invented in 1867 and patented by his son, Richard Lange, in 1877: Secundenwerk mit Springendem Zeiger – Seconds’ mechanism with jumping indication.
Although the independent dead-seconds mechanism was invented all the way back in 1776, Lange’s solution was very clever. In his interpretation, the mechanism was driven by a single going-train with a remontoir-like device unlike its predecessors’ complex solutions. 1815 Homage to Walter Lange’s caliber L1924 relies on the patent received by his grandfather; gracing this piece with a uniqueness that none other can achieve.
If you look at both movements closer, you’re immediately going to recognize the similarities. Indeed, the patent – along with extreme dedication of constructors, watchmakers, designers – is the secret sauce that enabled A. Lange & Söhne to come up with such a brilliant movement in a matter of months.
This is, for me, most certainly, one of the most beautiful, meaningful movements that A. Lange & Söhne has ever created. But, before I heap praises on the caliber L1924 of the Homage to Walter Lange, I’d like to go through its technicalities and explain how A. Lange & Söhne adapted the patent into modernity, as they did with the dial.
The caliber L1924 (Walter Lange’s birth year) works according to the principle described by Richard Lange for the patent number 182 from 1877.
1815 Homage to Walter Lange operates with a flirt and a star which are the elements that control the second’s jump. The mechanism converts the six semi-oscillations of the balance into one step per second. Together with the escape wheel, the 5-star rotates about its own axis once every five seconds. After each full second, one of the tips of the star liberates the tensioned flirt. Following, the flirt swiftly rotates by 360 degrees before it is stopped by the next tip of the star. This rotation is transferred to the central seconds hand via the seconds wheel train, causing it to jump and stop.
Stopping the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange is a bit more complex than starting it. Because the designer needs to make sure only to stop the jumping seconds part and not anything else. For this action, the V-shaped switching lever released by the column wheel blocks the flirt including the entire seconds mechanism while the wheels of the movement continue to run.
If you would remember, the connection of the movement with the seconds mechanism is established by a click mechanism. While running, the ratchet wheel is firmly connected with the wheel train; with two clicks and their springs, it transfers torque to the click wheel. The pallets of the clicks engage with the ratchet wheel and thus allow power to flow from the mainspring barrel to the seconds mechanism.
When the flirt is stopped, the wheels of the seconds mechanism are blocked but the pallets of the clicks alternately drop off from the teeth of the ratchet wheel that continues to turn slowly. This is necessary because otherwise the whole movement would be stopped as well. This is the simple design that Richard Lange patented in 1877 and this powers the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange.
The caliber 1924 of the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange is made of 253 parts, beats at 3Hz and offers 60 hours of power reserve from a single barrel.
1815 Homage to Walter Lange can be started and stopped, without reset or flyback.
On the looks, the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange offers a traditional layout, with quirky details here and there that a seasoned collector would appreciate. To those who know the background of this watch, its historical context, the caliber L1924 is a crown jewel and Homage to Walter Lange carries an architecture and craft to match.
We’re accustomed to the bridge over the three-quarter plate view from Richard Lange of the 2006. However, 1815 Homage to Walter Lange harmoniously combines the subtle German Silver plate with exposed gears, chronograph-like column wheel, and a stunningly beautiful bridge accompanied by a large click wheel in golden colors. If I wouldn’t feel like betraying the caliber L951.1, I’d call that the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange has the best-looking movement of all Langes…
The steel parts are brushed and decently (in terms of size) beveled, matching the active nature of the chronograph section. Such decision on the finishing technique also poses a strong contrast with the rather romantic and warm German Silver below. I just love it.
The barrels carry snail finish on top, something that A. Lange & Söhne does not do very often. An application which has always been baffling to me. See, a big part of Lange is tradition. No matter how modern, out of the box at times, the modern A. Lange & Söhne was built on the principles of the previous one. Indeed, the modern brand incorporated many elements from the past and snailed barrels are one of the hallmarks of the early 1A pocket watches…
Walt Odets once said that Lange tend to bring traditional elements where it is cheap to do so. Such as not exposing barrels for the basic 1815 but for higher-end pieces, or not using overcoils back in the days, etc… A food for thought. For this one however, all good!
1815 Homage to Walter Lange carries snailed barrels, which is very much in line with history and within the context of the piece. I am glad that the brand went the extra mile for this one here. Although it does not seem to be at the quality of Moritz Grossmann across the street, it is utterly charming.
The hand-finish is exemplary overall. From the hand-engraved balance cock to the inward angle on the bridge and generous bevel, 1815 Homage to Walter Lange lives up to its name, matching the greatness of its namesake inspiration.
Stainless Steel 1815 Homage to Walter Lange
1815 Homage to Walter Lange’s legacy, however, does not end here. There’s another piece that I haven’t included in my big read: Stainless Steel A. Lange & Söhne Watches for a reason. The unique steel variant with black enamel dial of this piece was auctioned by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo in 2018. As of June 2021, the stainless-steel version is still the most expensive A. Lange & Söhne watch ever sold at an auction.
The watch was sold by Aurel Bacs, an owner of a stainless-steel Lange 1, a very early fan of A. Lange & Söhne whose memories with Walter Lange himself goes back to the 1990s. He sold more stainless-steel Lange pieces than any other person on the planet, and I just wanted to listen to his side of the story – which I might add partly for selfish reasons as listening Mr. Bacs is always an immense pleasure.
It is most certainly not up to me to judge but, I must say that Mr. Bacs was the one to auction this unique piece of 1815 Homage to Walter Lange – as his fascination with the brand goes way back.
My fascination with A. Lange & Söhne started in the 1980s, Mr. Bacs introduces. Herald Gobel, a very skilled watchmaker from Zurich who was the restorer of many early A. Lange & Söhne pocket watches, was my teacher on Lange. I still remember my first time with a Lange pocket watch, just like today, you could immediately feel the heft, the weight, the presence. They felt like they had an extra layer of gold in there somewhere. They are like a tank.
My first encounter with Walter Lange was 20 years ago, in an event organized by Beyer Chronometrie, continues Mr. Bacs, a very old friend of the Beyer Family. There, already immersed with A. Lange & Söhne, I handled the curation for the exhibition, entrusted by an old friend who had a giant Lange pocket watch collection.
Years passed by and in the year 2013, when Walter Lange won the lifetime achievement award from FHH, Aurel Bacs was the one to give the honorary speech. Then, in the year 2018, Aurel Bacs was entrusted for the sale of the unique 1815 Homage to Walter Lange in stainless steel for the Children Action foundation, one thing that Walter Lange cared more than anything else.
The idea was to make the watch as unique as possible, says Aurel Bacs. We met at the Kempinski in Geneva with Wilhelm Schmid, at a back table in the restaurant, completely isolated. There he (Schmid) broke the idea and we started to play with the idea of making this watch one of a kind. There came the idea of steel case, black enamel, etc. At one-point I offered a steel bracelet but was denied (which would be insane, though we can understand the reasoning from the Odysseus now!).
Mr. Bacs told me that I pledged to scream the soul out of my body to Wilhelm Schmid to get the best result. Indeed, if you watch the video on youtube, he most certainly did! With brilliant bidding from a couple of collectors at the start and then taken with Mr. Sfeir and the winning bidder, the watch hammered at CHF 700,000, making it the most expensive A. Lange & Söhne wristwatch ever sold at an auction.
A majestic piece, that is destined to be a classic for the lucky few.
As always, thank you all for your time and support.
I’d like to thank A. Lange & Söhne PR department for the brilliant technical and visual materials they’ve supplied for the creation of this article. Moreover, I offer my sincerest gratitude to Aurel Bacs and Alex Ballmer from Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo Team for their generous time and insights.
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