The Collectors’ Guide to the ReferenzUhr
There are many watches from various brands which excel in finishing, movement architecture, technicality, design etc… You name it. Then there are some watches with incredible back stories – tied to a celebrity, an important provenance or even better, a concrete tradition. But then, there are some watches that fuse the hundreds of years of tradition with exemplary craft and distinct identity, they just become art pieces adapted in modernity. They are, indeed, rare to find. Luckily, A. Lange & Söhne has a few and this is one of them: ReferenzUhr.
A. Lange & Söhne introduced ReferenzUhr (reference watch) in 2010 with a limited run of just 125 pieces – 50 in platinum (250.025) and 75 in pink gold (250.032). ReferenzUhr is truly a special edition. The brand crafted a proprietary movement and dial just for this model and never looked back. It is daring, attractive and perhaps most importantly, full of soul – much more than a dial color change or an engraving on the case back to mark a special occasion.
Starting from the case – the ReferenzUhr measures at a modern 40.5 mms in diameter and a proportionate 11.20 mms in thickness. Both the case structure and the finish are A. Lange & Söhne through and through –almost the same with the time-only Richard Lange. ReferenzUhr’s case is constructed on three levels – being case back, case band and bezel with alternating finish. The back and bezel are polished, whereas the case band is brushed, delivering a delightful contrast within the case as well as against the mirror polished lugs. Please note that only the platinum version carries thealternating finish. Pink gold ReferenzUhr has a fully polished case band.
The pusher at 2 o’clock carries the same finish techniques and slope to match the case – a great attention to detail. The separately finished, soldered and notched lugs add more to the engineered visuality of the watch, forming a delightful harmony with the eccentric dial as well as its spectacular movement. They’re generously curved, so ReferenzUhr sits very well on the wrist.
As mentioned above, ReferenzUhr is part of the Richard Lange collection; who is the second-born son of A. Lange & Söhne’s founder, Ferdinand Adolph Lange. In all the records, both the company’s and the Glashütte watch Museum’s, Richard Lange is described as a technical genius who devoted himself to the improvement of precision and Saxon watchmaking as a long-time chairman of the Glashütte Watchmaking School.
In his lifetime, Richard Lange acquired many patents. However, the most notable one was acquired in 1930: the admixture of beryllium in balance-spring alloys. This invention led the way to Nivarox springs that many brands use today. Fittingly, his eponymous modern collection is devoted to two things: Precision and legibility. ReferenzUhr adheres to such a strong tradition, and even improves on it.
The dial is surrounded by an open minute track with red markers on each 15 minutes. Roman Numerals, a defining feature of Richard Lange collection, are beautifully printed and sit on the circumference of the central, recessed part. The recession in the middle brings a lovely depth to the dial and breaks the otherwise uniformity. Both the platinum and pink gold models carry matching hands, except the blued-steel seconds’ hand. Every bit of information is there at a glance, without any clutter – a true homage to Richard Lange on his quest of precision.
The defining hallmark of ReferenzUhr’s dial is without a doubt its off-center subsidiary seconds indication against the power reserve indication on the right. This is not the first time a Lange watch coming with such an unconventional design of course. The previous one was the absolutely delightful 1815 SideStep for Wempe all the way back in 2003. However, in order to understand its reasoning, we must have a look at ReferenzUhr’s caliber L033.1.
Dresden was the capital of art & science in the 19th century Germany and there was a man who promoted the watchmaking of the region more than any other: Johann Heinrich Seyffert. He was the inspector to the famous Mathematical-Physical Salon in Dresden and the unofficial watchmaker to the King Augustus. He sold his watches to explorers, scientists; the most famous one being Alexander Von Humboldt.
He was the atomic clock of the region in the 19th century – in other words, the reference time of the city’s public clocks. Back then, the precise time would be calculated by astronomers to be transferred to precise pendulum clocks. Then, it would be distributed around the city via pocket chronometers. Here, a question arises: How did they set it to the second? This is the ReferenzUhr’s specialty.
To tackle this issue, watchmakers of Dresden (some say it was Seyffert himself, but I have not seen an evidence) invented a reset mechanism. This function is ideal for synchronizing watches and clocks at different locations: the actuation of the push piece synchronizes the seconds hand of the instrument with that of a reference clock exactly when its hand passes the 60-seconds mark (“zero”). This action “stores” the time of the reference clock and allows it to be transferred to other timekeeping instruments.
ReferenzUhr is built upon this 200-year-old tradition and I am tempted to say it was modernized to perfection.
As you might have noticed, caliber L033.1’s reset system is different from the one we’re familiar with i.e. Sax-0-Mat of Langematik which halts the whole movement upon pulling the crown. However, ReferenzUhr continues to run in the background. Let’s see how the caliber L033.1 does it:
When the pusher is pressed, a clutch (pink) disconnects the seconds hand from the third wheel (the one that runs the seconds hand, the blue part) and pushes the heart-shaped reset cam (triangle over the blue wheel) to bring the seconds hand to zero and further brakes it. The difference is, since the balance or the third wheel itself is not blocked, the movement can continue to run in the background while only the seconds’ hand stuck at zero to deliver the reference time.
Visually, the caliber L033.1 of Richard Lange ReferenzUhr is absolutely breathtaking. It houses all the defining hallmarks of almost every Lange caliber: the beautifully ribbed three-quarter plate, hand-engraved balance cock, mirror polished escape wheel cap, astonishing harmony of blued screws and gold chatons etc… But adds some more.
There are alternating finish techniques between the steel levers. Some are brushed and some are polished, and this brings out a delightful interplay of light in between parts. The additional bridge carries one beautifully done inward angle, giving a further proof that this is indeed a hand-finished mechanism. The exposed barrels are further graced with sunray finishing and beautifully skeletonized – a practice rarely seen at Lange.
Caliber L033.1 boasts 38 hours of power reserve, delivers an exceptionally smooth winding experience, houses an in-house balance wheel and balance spring, beats at 3Hz and offers a breathtaking view.
Buying & Collectability of ReferenzUhr
When launched in 2010, the MSRP for the ReferenzUhr was €49,5k for the platinum case and €39,5k for the pink gold case version. A whopping €20k difference compared to the time only Richard Lange. Though when one thinks of the originality, and the caliber crafted solely for such a small limited run, ReferenzUhr strongly justifies its price.
Over the years, this gem has appeared in couple of auctions as well as in secondary market. Last time it was at Sotheby’s Watches Weekly Auction, and it did not sell against a lower estimate of HKD280k ($36k). It is however mostly the pink gold (250.032) version appearing at auctions whereas the platinum variant surfaced only once and sold for $45k in 2013 at Antiquorum.
Many A. Lange & Söhne watches are absolute bargains in the secondary market. However, I see that window of opportunity is rapidly closing- especially for the limited pieces. ReferenzUhr is an extremely special timepiece and I highly encourage you to enquire further if you ever see one available.
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