Richard Lange Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite”
Watch market is a funny place. Most of the time, this is how it goes: A model of a brand becomes increasingly famous, mostly for unreasonably high auction prices in record time… Then this vicious circle just keeps on feeding, getting bigger and bigger with the new entry from enthusiasts, or hype chasers, etc…. Because most people only look for this specific model, and perhaps one or two others. As a result the stage light casts a huge shadow over some others with tremendous watchmaking value for those who are able to look the other way and see. Here is one of them: Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite.
This watch is an absolute oddity within the A. Lange & Söhne collection since its very existence. It is one of those watches that do not have an alternative – much like the Zeitwerk perhaps. Though Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite is more eye-catching, more unusual; and possibly unpopular because of these two specifications. Albeit the taste is utterly subjective, the watchmaking is not and this watch wanders around the paramount of the craft we love – with A. Lange & Söhne like quirks.
Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite measures at 41.9 mm in diameter and a slim 12.2 mm in thickness. Even though it is a complicated A. Lange & Söhne watch, Richard Lange Tourbillon doesn’t house a protruding caseback, hence sits right on the wrist without any wobble. The case structure is identical to all other current (excluding the Odysseus) A. Lange & Söhne pieces. It is no-nonsense built, solid, and a hefty one with an eye for detail such as the notched and generously angled lugs, and three-steps case construction.
Though it is important to shed light on the case finish part: A. Lange & Söhne offered Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite in four different metals: White gold, pink gold, platinum, and honey gold. Except the pink gold variant pictured above, all other versions feature a brushed case band. Such application further strengthens the constructed feeling of the watch with the delightful contrast it brings. Unfortunately, the pink gold variant does not benefit from this – though in some ways this fits with the warm, romantic hue of the Pink Gold.
Moving onto the design, it is always funny to remember that the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, with such avant-garde design, is actually based on a pocket watch: The no.93 made by Johann Heinrich Seyffert, a self-taught watchmaker of the court in the 1800s… Perhaps a quote from a famous astronomer of the region summarizes this man the best for his time: Could Seyffert build a pocket watch that would bring the right time from the observatory to the ducal residence on the Friedenstein and back again. On another note, this transportable precision clocks would also inspire the Richard Lange ReferenzUhr.
This is a thing that I love about A. Lange & Söhne’s design approach: The brand takes a historical element and transforms it in a way that would adapt to modernity without breaking its identity. Transforming is the key as they do not merely copy it but advance it. See, the Zeitwerk based on the 5-minute clock in Semper Opera House or the Big-date indication or as the case here: Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite.
It is also funny how this watch came to be a reality: As you might know, Reinhard Meis’ books on Saxon Watchmaking are indispensable resources for anyone into German Watchmaking History – and naturally for people at A. Lange & Söhne.
So, the two gentlemen who are responsible for the development and production have had their offices side by side for the last 17 years. One day, one of the gentlemen goes into the other one’s office and shows Heyffert’s No.93 as an interesting design which they can perhaps adapt into a modern case. Upon seeing the watch, the other gentleman picks up the book in his room immediately and shows that he already marked the page and was just about to come to discuss exactly this. Thus, conceived the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite.
Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite displays the hours on the right-bottom, the seconds on the left-bottom along with the generous tourbillon opening, and the minutes in the center sub-dial. A better option could be to display the hours and minutes side-by-side, albeit I think it was technically not feasible along with the tourbillon. Richard Lange Jumping Seconds, on the other hand, does this just fine.
As a result of such a non-orthodox design, it is indeed rather challenging to read time, at least at the beginning or at a first glance. However, considering this within the Richard Lange collection’s core value – which is observatory inspired, Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite does what it meant to be exactly right. Speaking of legibility, A. Lange & Söhne would not be what it is without extreme attention to detail or quirky innovations, and we have one of the most interesting ones here: the swinging hour dial.
When the hour hand is between 12 and 6, the owner does not need the time display on the left hand-side. Therefore, to not to block the splendid view of the elaborate tourbillon cage and its dazzling rotation, part of the hours sub-dial swings back to offer a full view. However, as mentioned, displaying the time clearly is at paramount importance for the Richard Lange collection. Hence, when the hour hand is past 6, the part swings back again to complete the hour sub-dial.
A cam beneath the 12 o’clock position loads-up in 6 hours intervals and drops at the end of the period to swing the sub-dial. Is it necessary? No. Is it something exactly that us watch nerds just love? Yes. It is always fascinating to see that there are still creative ways to add something on this centuries old of craft and the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite surely makes a small contribution.
A warning here: Sometimes, the dial can swing a minute or so after or before. In the end, this is simply a mechanical piece, therefore, many tolerances play part in the working. So, please do not worry if there’s an inaccuracy of a minute or two.
Moving further into the details, we see that the red 15-minute markers add a much-needed splash of color to the rather empty, white dial. This is the problem with Richard Lange Tourbillon variations, I am afraid. There are three different regular production variants. Alas, all come with the white dial, which I do not understand why?! Same for Richard Lange Terraluna. This is a watch with an abundant space on the dial, therefore an opportunity to play with different styles – a missed opportunity in my book.
Though the splendid tourbillon is nothing but dull. Crafted in a traditional fashion, the tourbillon cage is just fantastic and when it catches the light from the right angle, the shine from the hands meets with the black-polished cage… It is just divine.
Tourbillon cage is made of 84 incredibly small parts and despite such complexity, it weighs just 0.25 grams. Imagine… The three-armed cage is black polished, masterfully faceted, and somehow rotates at a perfect balance. Moreover, it can be stopped! Based on a patent first applied at Cabaret Tourbillon, a lever stops the whole tourbillon cage and the balance wheel upon pulling the crown.
We are in a time where crafting a tourbillon watch is not going above and beyond anymore. TAG HEUER has a tourbillon to say the least. Therefore, such watches with characteristic tourbillon design, exemplary finish, overall harmony with what the watch is about are of paramount importance.
Since we dove into the mechanics already, it is time to flip this watch. Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite is a very interesting piece in this regard. The caliber L072.1 offers one of the most ornate and assertive views of any A. Lange & Söhne watch. Perhaps not as masterfully skeletonized as the real masters such as Vacheron Constantin or Audemars Piguet, but it is as much skeletonization and exhibition of the fuseé and chain as you can get behind the thick three-quarter plate.
Caliber L072.1, as it can be understood from the “Pour le Mérite” title, houses a fuseé and chain mechanism. An invention utilized to even out the torque throughout the power reserve. Knowing that A. Lange & Söhne was the first one to put such complex mechanism (with the help from Renaud & Papi) in a wristwatch in 1994 with the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, the importance of the fuseé & chain and therefore the Pour le Mérite title can be better understood.
This mechanism relies on the principle of levers formulated by Archimedes. When the mainspring is fully wound and thus exerts the greatest force, the chain pulls at the smaller circumference of the fusée, which is equivalent to the smaller lever. When the tension of the mainspring is nearly depleted, the chain pulls at the larger circumference of the fusée, the longer lever. The result is constant torque at the fusée’s arbor and therefore constant amplitude of the balance.
Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite’s fuseé & chain mechanism consists of 636 delicate parts, put together by hand. Thus, in order to protect such gentle masterpiece, A. Lange & Söhne also devised a blocking mechanism. This addition blocks the winding just before the mainspring is fully-wound, therefore, prevents any further tension on the chain itself.
One of the peculiarities of the fuse-and-chain transmission is that the fusée moves forward while the watch is running but rotates backwards while the mainspring is being wound. Therefore, the fusée-and-chain transmission needs a construction to ensure that the transmission does not stop while the watch is being wound.
A complex planetary gearing inside the fusée preserves the power flow from the fusée to the movement during the winding phase. It consists of 38 tiny parts which the watchmaker must integrate in the fusée, a hollow cone with an inside diameter of merely 8.6 millimeters.
Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite offers 36 hours of power reserve which is adjusted based on the characteristics of the mainspring, the chain and the fusée. This can be done by a service watchmaker with a proprietary Lange tool that engages with a pre-tensioning ratchet on the main-spring barrel.
However, despite its technical magnificence, there are areas that even the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite falls short.
My only pet-peeve with this brilliant caliber is the lack of inward, outward angles. This is a watch priced above €200k, featuring two of the most famous precision mechanisms in high-end watchmaking with a generous skeletonization. Why not go the extra step, and just hand-finish all those delightful corners? Instead, they’re all rounded, possibly finished with a touret machine.
Indeed, this is something that can only bother the most die-hard watchmaking fans, but still. One expects more from A. Lange & Söhne, simply because we know they can. Does it take away from the extra-mile that Lange went for this watch? Most certainly not. Could it have been better? Most certainly yes.
Still, the fact that you can actually observe the winding/unwinding of the fusée and the beating of the tourbillon almost without any barriers is just brilliant.
Buying a Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite
When introduced in 2011, Richard Lange Pour le Mérite MSRP was a whopping (though reasonable for what it offers) $175k for the pink gold variant and $211k for the 100 limited platinum variants. Fast forward three years, A. Lange & Söhne introduced the Boutique Edition, with no limitation, at $214k. As of December 2021, the MSRP for the gold variants is a whopping $234k.
Just to give you a reference point, when A. Lange & Söhne introduced the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite Handwerkskunst with a reasonably more ornate calibre finish and definitely much more demanding dial in 2011, the MSRP was $244k. So, you do the math.
Anyhow, the existence of the secondary market is on the benefit of collectors – at least definitely for Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite. The watch has appeared at auctions numerous times. The record was broken in 2013 with the platinum variant at $193k, and from there the watch took a head dive. Today, the piece can be readily found at half of its MSRP, for around $130k.
In my opinion, including its minor deficiencies on finishing as mentioned, if one likes the looks of this rather eccentric piece, the watchmaking one gets for the price is just astonishing.
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