A. Lange & Sohne
"Magnificent" and "bold" are just a few of the superlatives which come to
mind when watch lovers describe A. Lange & Sohne timepieces. Re-formed in 1994
following the reunification of Germany, this upstart watch company, based in
Glashutte, has, in just a few short years, established itself as one of the most
prestigious luxury watch brands in the world. The company's story is, in many
ways, quite compelling.
On December 7, 1845, Adolph Lange set up his own production workshops in
Glashutte, near Dresden, laying the foundation of Saxony's -- and Germany's --
precision-watchmaking industry. For some years, he had been studying ways of
producing high-value timepieces of consistent quality in series, and now was the
opportunity to realize his ambitions. He started the enterprise with his
brother-in-law, the master watchmaker Adolf Schneider, and 15 apprentices.
During his travels, Adolph Lange had drawn meticulously precise plans for new
machine tools in his journal/workbook, and had embarked upon the exact
determination of movement parts, gearing calculations and conversion tables
between the French ligne and the metric system.
His vision and ideas began to take shape. Soon, a fundamental break with many of
the traditional artisan techniques became apparent at Adolph Lange's first
Glashutte workshops. The introduction of powerful flywheel lathes increased the
speed and precision of parts manufacture. His theories on the division of labor
encouraged many of his employees over the years to set themselves up in
specialist workshops for watch jewels, screws, wheels, mainspring barrels,
balance wheels and hands. In this way, Glashutte could become independent from
Growing demand for Lange's precision pocket watches, coupled with increasing
economic prosperity after the foundation of the German empire, meant that
Lange's first workshops soon became too small. Adolph Lange established new
facilities for his workforce that had meanwhile grown to almost 60 employees.
The buildings, which they occupied in 1873, became the family compound.
The premises accommodated the typical 19th century business organization of the
owner-manager, with the Lange family home and the watch-manufacturing workshops
in the same complex. As a unique feature, Adolph Lange built a master clock for
the new building. It had a nine-meter pendulum of cedar wood and zinc, which
weighed 128 kilos.
The Lange family complex marked the golden age of Lange watchmaking from the end
of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 to the Great Depression. In 1895, a telephone
link to the Berlin Observatory was installed to get accurate time signals for a
new chronometry workshop that expanded the watchmaking facilities.
It was also during this time that Lange's most beautiful pocket watches were
produced -- among them, a spectacular Grande Complication repeating pocket watch
with split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar and moon phase, circa 1908.
The Lange family house was the birthplace of Adolph Lange's grandchildren and
great-grandchildren, and it was here that Walter Lange spent his childhood and
youth. On May 8, 1945, the main production building -- known as the "hangar" --
was demolished in a bombing raid. Shortly after it was rebuilt, the A. Lange &
Sohne Company was expropriated by the Socialist government and all the buildings
seized. Like so many watch companies, the production of high-quality
wristwatches and pocket watches came to a grinding halt.
The reunification of Germany gave Walter Lange the courage to claim the legacy
of a family tradition that he had given up on. On December 7, 1990, 145 years to
the day after his great-grandfather Adolph Lange founded the business, he
arrived in Glashutte and started a new company, Lange Uhren GmbH.
The news spread like wildfire -- "Herr Lange is back!" Job applications came
flooding in; many of the keen young hopefuls presented themselves as descendants
of earlier Lange employees whom Walter Lange knew personally. He was thus able
to quickly recruit a core workforce from the best craftsmen in Glashutte. It was
a far cry from the circumstances surrounding Adolph Lange's endeavour in 1845,
when he had to train raw farm lads and simple labourers in the delicate work of
Unfortunately, no suitable factory premises were available, and efforts to
reclaim or repurchase the old Lange family buildings were unsuccessful. So it
was in the former premises of the precision clock manufacturers, Strasser &
Rohde, that the new production facility could be set up. The building was
subsequently converted into one of the finest horological workshops, boasting
the latest in modern technology, and it was in 1994 that the company produced
watches that once again bore the celebrated name of A. Lange & Sohne.
Today, Lange watches are a truly unique product. Although plates, bridges, steel
parts, wheels and pinions are cut with exceptional precision by the most
advanced computer-aided machine tools, they are always finished, decorated and
engraved by hand. Movements are meticulously assembled and adjusted in five
positions. Gold or blued steel hands indicate the time and other functions on
solid silver dials, and each masterpiece is housed in a case of gold or
The new-era Lange watches are far from being mere reproductions of the
world-renowned timepieces made by Lange before World War II. Yet they bear the
imprint and even some of the recognizable features of their predecessors, along
with the application of horological complications, which constitutes a
particular attraction for enthusiasts and collectors. A few of the company's
best known models include the LANGE 1, LANGE 1 TOURBILLON, SAX-O-MAT, and
In summary, the name A. Lange & Sohne is a promise of a watch that is different
and rare. Its exacting manufactory allows neither compromise nor short cuts --
only the highest possible standard of mechanical quality and precision. The
costs involved mean that such a watch is not cheap, either. But whether old or
new, a Lange watch always retains its exclusiveness and will continue to be
coveted by watch collectors around the world.
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