Understanding Richard Lange Pour le Merite
Tastes differ and that’s fine. Some like their tourbillons wide open wherever on the dial and some want to keep the marvelous whirlwind to themselves – perhaps a bit selfish, but for good reasons. Some like to wear shoes with GUCCI inscriptions on every inch, some like to get their shoes bespoke Masaru Okuyama; speaking only to a crowd they know and enjoy and no one else. For the latter of the both above, there is one masterpiece from A. Lange & Söhne – possibly the most accomplished three-hand watch of the brand: Richard Lange “Pour le Merite”.
Introduced in 2008 December, Richard Lange Pour le Merite, in my opinion, is the foremost embodiment of Richard Lange’s philosophy: Combination of utter simplicity with exceptional mechanics chasing after precision and accuracy. Indeed, Richard Lange himself, the second born of the brand’s founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange, was a technical genius who spent his life inventing & improving precision instruments. Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” honors his name with its hidden complication – fuseé and chain (more on this on the caliber L044.1 section) hence with its Pour le Merite title, as well as simplicity in the way it tells the time.
Richard Lange Pour le Merite measures 40,5 mms in diameter and a proportionate 10,7 mms in thickness; superbly matching its simple and elegant façade. Despite its humble appearance, the moment you hold the piece, especially the reference 260.025 in platinum, you understand that this watch is built differently. It gives a constructed and engineered feeling rather than romance and that contrast is something I thoroughly enjoy in A. Lange & Söhne watches, which was deliberately implemented by Blümlein to differentiate the brand’s pieces from the Swiss counterparts where the cases are more fluid.
The case is constructed on three-steps as the case back, case band and bezel. If you look carefully, you’re going to note that the lugs do not flow from the case but rather soldered to it with notched bases. An idea implemented by Blümlein to further boost the engineered feeling of the pieces – masterfully done! The bezel closes towards the center, hence the watch fits under the cuff just nice.
It is important to note that the platinum (260.025) and white gold (260.028) Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” pieces feature brushed case band whereas the pink gold (260.032) polished one. Even though there is no explanation for this difference by the brand, as spoken within the collector circles it is said that this is due to the quality of the pink gold A. Lange & Söhne sources. Indeed, the brand finally started to brush the band after 2017 or so, possibly following the partnership of the Richemont owned case maker Donzé-Baume.
Richard Lange Pour le Merite “Enamel”
An A. Lange & Söhne watch is a fusion of arts meeting with unique technology said the co-founder of the modern brand Günter Blümlein back in the 90s. Without a doubt the best example for such a claim is the Handwerkskunst Series; however, there are some gems that are the exact correspondence of such a philosophy and Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” is certainly one of them.
Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” is the second A. Lange & Söhne watch to receive the blessing of an enamel dial following the now legendary Langematik Anniversary in the year 2000. The dial is 3-part enamel: Two steps main dial and the sub-seconds. Crafting a plain enamel is already a demanding profession with very high rejection rates. The trick is to seamlessly fuse the parts together and as you can see from the picture above, it is flawless in Richard Lange “Pour le Merite”. There are simply no cracks, no marks.
The overall dial design of Richard Lange Pour le Merite is based on A. Lange & Söhne pocket watches of the 19th and the 20th centuries. Every facet on the dial is devoted to legibility and timekeeping. The only inscriptions on the delightful enamel are the logo and Made in Germany at 6 o’clock. The dial roams free – there is no railway minute track that limits the freedom of the dial. Roman Numerals, sit on the outer chapter, come from an open space, and create a brilliant focal point towards the middle.
Arched A. Lange & Söhne logo with Glashütte I/SA below strikes a great balance with the sub-seconds. But the stars of the show for me are the blued hands and red 15-minute markers. The two elements add just the right amount of fun to this rather traditional piece and bring life to the watch.
Of course, it must be said that the design heavily resembles Patek Philippe 5078P, which in itself a true legend. Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” is like a little cousin to the (both in visuality and compliactions) stunning minute repeater of Patek’s.
Apart from the enamel dial, original limited edition, in 2016 A. Lange & Söhne introduced an addition to Richard Lnage Pour le Merite collection in white gold with solid silver black dial (260.028) as a limited edition of 218 pieces.
Even though the reference 260.028 is a very charming piece, I’m afraid that it is not as special without the defining element of the Richard Lange Pour le Merite pieces that is the enamel dial. On another note, A. Lange & Söhne’s pricing of the reference as well as making an addition to what was supposed to be a limited edition in the beginning was not welcomed with open arms – which is going to be discussed at the end of the article.
Caliber L044.1 of Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” is a living example of church in the front, party in the back. Caliber L044.1 is the reason why a three-hand from a relatively mass producer (compared to the likes of Voutilainen, Dufour etc.) costs above €80k back in 2008. To be honest, I cannot even fathom the discussions between the product development – watchmakers and business men in suits in the preparation of the launch such a piece…
Caliber L044.1 measures 31,6 mm in diameter and a mere 6 mm in thickness. Despite its compact size, it consists of 280 pieces (counting the 636 parts chain as 1 piece). Built upon the legacy of Richard Lange, the caliber beats with an in-house balance wheel and spring at 3Hz and offers 36 hours of power reserve. What differentiates this movement from a basic three-hand one is the fuseé and chain mechanism hidden beneath the three-quarter plate with shy exposures on top.
The chain is assembled within the finishing department of the brand by a specialist and wrapped around the barrel & fusée by a specialist watchmaker. The assembled chain measures 15 cm in length and a mere 0,5 in diameter.
Fusée and Chain & Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite is an order of Merit, translated as For Merit, established in 1740 by the King of Prussia. Ranking among the highest orders of its time, it was an honor degree given both to military and civil services. Otto Von Bismarck, Erwin Schrödinger are some of the recipients. Today, the medal is still in active use.
For Lange it is also a merit for watches with fusée and chain mechanism. The first one to receive the merit is the original Tourbillon Pour le Mérite and Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” is the third piece to carry the title.
First clocks were powered with springs in order to make them smaller, thus, portable. Alas, the spring-driven clocks were highly inaccurate compared to weight-driven counterparts as the power from the spring drastically diminishes as the spring unwinds. Much like spring driven toy cars. This creates a problem called isochronism and this is where the fusée comes in.
The underlying principle of the fusée and chain mechanism is to deliver a constant torque, much like weight-driven clocks, throughout the power reserve. The first connections were made with guts and the utilization of the chain goes back to the 16th century or so. The mechanism reached its final form with John Harrison’s invention, which allowed the marine chronometers to run during winding. Therefore, Richard Lange Pour le Merite, though accurate to +-6 seconds, preserves constant amplitude throughout its power reserve.
How Does It Work?
To counter-effect this decrease of torque the fusée-and-chain mechanism offers an increasing lever effect when the mainspring unwinds. At full winding the chain is rolled around the fusée which is a stepped cone. When the main spring begins to unwind it pulls the chain from the fusée to roll it on the barrel.
At the beginning the torque of the mainspring is maximum and the chain is pulled from the thinner extremity of the cone, so the ratio effect is minimal. As long as the chain rolls itself on the barrel the torque of the main spring decreases. However, this decrease is compensated by the increasing of the lever effect brought by the chain pulled from the thicker extremity of the cone of the fusée.
A. Lange & Söhne devised two additional refinements to protect the watch, therefore the mechanism. It is vital that the chain stays connected to both ends. Hence, it has a fix point both on the fuseé and around the barrel. Which means that it can be a victim of over-winding. In order to avoid this, Richard Lange Pour le Merite utilizes a blocking mechanism.
When the chain is wrapped enough around the barrel, the chain that is closer to the fusée pushes the lever yellow lever towards the upper side. This action pushes the blue blocking lever which stops the pink, blocking ratchet above. Hence, the chain can no longer move.
Another addition is the blocking of the power-reserve mechanism, which Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” inherits from the original Tourbillon Pour le Mérite. Exactly after 36 hours from the full winding, which is precisely calculated for the optimal result for accuracy, a locking device blocks the power transmission when the seconds hand hits zero. Thus, the watch ensures the constant torque throughout its power reserve.
Finally, I must add that the winding feeling on Richard Lange Pour le Merite is absolutely sensational. To feel the chain wrapping itself around the barrel click by click and actually having the chance to observe its move from behind is truly addictive.
Now, after all this fuss, you might rightfully ask if there is any concrete, official data that showcases the chronometric performance of this piece. Unfortunately, the answer is, no. I’d love Lange to come up with a chronometry certificate for a piece that is all about precision and I look at it as a missed opportunity. Though it is wishful thinking, perhaps, it does not add anything at all? Who knows…?
Caliber L044.1 Architecture & Finish
A classic A. Lange & Söhne mechanism, the most obvious element of the caliber is the traditional three-quarter plate that sits above the fuseé and chain mechanism and almost all other gears with the exception of shy cut-outs. I’d love to see more of the fusée & chain mechanism. Moreover, for a watch over €80k (in 2008) the cut-outs should not be rounded but rather cornered, showcasing a true hand-finish rather than touret machine’s.
The hand-engraving is abundant, yet I am not a fan of the perlage section on the balance cock – which is much longer than it is supposed to be. The reason for this disproportionate look might be the upcoming Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Merite. If you recall, the tourbillon version has its escapement towards the left-hand side. Hence, the caliber L044.1 might be built by keeping the upcoming version in mind, which unfortunately sacrifices its own aesthetics.
Buying a Richard Lange “Pour le Merite”
When introduced in 2008, the MSRP for the watch was $128k and $107k, for the platinum (260.025) and pink gold (260.032) variants. Excessive, but alright, in the end it is a limited edition of just 50 and 200 pieces respectively that is never going to be produced again. But then, something happens.
In 2016, A. Lange & Söhne decided to introduce 218 limited Richard Lange Pour le Merite in white gold for every sales point in the world with a MSRP of $82,5k. That’s right. After 7 years (which in the meantime A. Lange & Söhne made drastic price increases across the board) there are 200 more pieces and it is $25k cheaper than what collectors paid for almost a decade ago. I see this as a double-crossing of collectors. Indeed, many voiced out their opinions, too.
And even now, if you search for the reference 260.028 on Google, you are going to see many images of the watch in protective cases. That’s because most of the pieces did not even sell and ended up in the grey market.
The good news for the original pieces’ owners however is that the original enamel dial versions are strong enough to stand for their own. This also reflects on the market, too.
To my knowledge, the platinum Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” nr. 34/50, in its more than 10 years of existence appeared only once in the secondary market, which was through Dr.Crott in 2014. The watch was successfully sold against an estimate of $116 – 137,5k. On the other hand, the pink gold variant appears once in a while and sells around $80k.
As collectors hold onto the enamel dial versions, this makes the reference 260.028 a rather bargain. As of March 2021, the white gold Richard Lange “Pour le Merite” can be had for around $60 to $70k.
For competitive landscape, I can recommend you to take a look at Moritz Grosmann Hamatic Vintage with a very similar design (for black dial) with much better pricing and exclusive movement.
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