I greatly admire German watchmaking for its pragmatic industriousness, its commitment to exceptional quality, and its unquestionable resilience. As some of the finest watchmakers in the industry, A. Lange & Söhne represent not only the very best of contemporary horology in Germany, but they are amongst the finest in the world. If one design represents the very essence of A. Lange & Söhne it is certainly that of the Lange 1: historically inspired and classically elegant yet progressive, daring and unconventional. Last year marked 25 years since the inception of the Lange 1, but it also celebrated the narrative of recovery and rejuvenation which has defined the past quarter-century of the brand.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange opened a workshop in the small town of Glashütte in 1845 after requesting support from the Saxon government to establish a watchmaking industry and revive what had become at the time an economically depressed region just outside of Dresden. Watchmaking in Glashütte soon flourished to become a veritable industry, and although a number of other watchmakers would later establish themselves in the town, Lange’s personal legacy would endure above any other – I remember seeing his monument in Glashütte standing proudly just down the road from the German Watch Museum engraved with ‘Grunder Der Glashütter Uhrenindustrie’ (Founder of the Glashütte Watch Industry).
Lange and his watchmakers made a remarkable impact upon 19th century horology with their notable achievements including the introduction of the metric system to watchmaking and the invention of the three quarter plate which is now recognised, amongst particular finishing techniques, as a distinctly Glashütte stylistic trait. The company continued to grow and gain international renown into the 20th century however, tragedy struck Glashütte against the backdrop of the Second World War. When the iron curtain descended, Saxony fell under Soviet occupation which resulted in the nationalisation of the watchmaking industry and the disappearance of the A. Lange & Söhne name.
As the Berlin Wall collapsed and the country was reunified, Walter Lange, the great-grandson of the founder, immediately set his mind upon the reestablishment of the historic family company. A. Lange & Söhne was officially revived in 1994, and amongst the first four watches presented to launch the revitalised brand was, of course, the Lange 1. It must have been an incredible feeling to be at that October 24th press conference in Dresden and to see the Lange 1 unveiled for the first time – a watch in traditional yellow gold with a classic white dial, but with a composition unlike any other watch ever presented to the market! Confronting? Surely. Controversial? Perhaps. Exciting? Absolutely.
The uniquely striking aesthetics of the Lange 1 have remained almost entirely unchanged since 1994. Inside a well-proportioned case of 38.5mm, an off-centre dial layout offers a swirling horological configuration which includes a subdial for hours and minutes marked by sturdy roman numerals, a subsidiary dial for the seconds hand, an auf/ab (up/down) power-reserve indicator and a distinctive outsize date. It is a design that is immediately recognisable and utterly beguiling. Whereas the first Lange 1 was issued in yellow gold and powered by the manually wound L901.0 movement, a contemporary Lange 1 is available in a range of precious metals and brought to life by the L121.1 movement – a movement still manually wound, still brilliantly finished (just look at the hand-engraved balance cock) and still stunning to observe. Of course, the Lange 1 family has also grown considerably over the last 25 years. From the original Lange 1 has stemmed a multitude of variations which include the respectively smaller and larger sizes of the Little Lange 1 and the Grand Lange 1, the astrological flair of the Lange 1 Moon Phase, the automatic movement and day indication of the Lange 1 Daymatic, the cosmopolitan and travel-conscious functionality of the Lange 1 Time Zone, and the unrestrained watchmaking brilliance of the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar.
In 2018 A. Lange & Söhne released a superb collection of 10 different celebratory ‘25th Anniversary’ editions of the Lange 1 – 25 examples made of each model and 250 watches in total. What renders this collection unmistakable is the tonal pairing of blues and greys – a very deft match which really upholds the Lange 1’s reputation for espousing contemporary elegance. The white gold cases and argenté dials provide the ideal setting for the delightfully blued numerals, indexes and hands. From the Moonphase to the Timezone and from the Daymatic to the Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, there is undoubtedly a strong sense of coherence about the collection. The collection is a symbol of all that the legacy of Ferdinand Adolph Lange has achieved, and all that is yet to come. Indeed, if the anniversary editions are anything to judge by, the Lange 1 will remain a coveted piece of infallible Glashütte-born design, engineering and craftsmanship for many quarter-centuries to come.