Stepping into the world of A.Lange & Söhne
...and discovering the amazing Datograph Up/Down Lumen.
A great story rewritten
That of A.Lange & Söhne is one of the most beautiful industrial examples of the second post-war period, and of a Germany that reunited under a single flag after the fall of the Wall.
The enthusiasm that shook the whole Germany in the early 90s also involved the proud inhabitants of Glashütte, who had already bitterly digested the quartz crisis of the 70s, and saw in Walter A.Lange the man of the slow and patient reconstruction of a watchmaking school that I have never considered less refined than the Swiss one but, rather, the other way round. The rest has been achieved through financial capitals and the strength of the Richemont Group, of which Lange represents the “noble stable”.
"Standstill is regression": Walter Lange’s lesson
The Germans, and in particular those who inhabit these hills, are very sober people and certainly do not shine for their desire of ostentation, but are fully aware of their abilities and it is up to us to study them and to understand them.
It sometimes feels like dealing with a beautiful, but austere woman, enigmatic, who is aware of her charm and of her refined intellect, but who likes to show them both in small doses, and only to those who are able to appreciate them, making you terribly curious.
Also on this occasion, one of the trips that filled up what I defined as the "autumn of the manufactures" of this Italian niche publishing industry (four trips concentrated in one month), the trip to A.Lange & Söhne was a nice gift for every passionate publisher.
Excellent manual precision and Teutonic accuracy
When you enter the modern headquarters of the new factory, built in three years from 2012 to 2015, you breathe in an air of disturbing composure.
It is an atmosphere similar to that which is breathed in the corridors of other manufactures of Glashütte and is partly justified in my opinion by the desire to jealously preserve a knowledge that has made this land great, and that has been lost in the era of industrial reconversion and wild nationalization, creating an obvious generation gap and a disastrous loss of skills.
Today a fleet of young people from a new generation takes care of almost all aspects related to the construction of parts and of the assembly (the team responsible for the Zeitwerk has a low average age if compared to the level of complexity of the watches, but it possesses an uncommon sense of responsibility and maturity), showing a dedication and an accuracy equal to that of the old master watch-makers, who guide them in crafting the A.Lange & Söhne of the future.
Everything is surrounded by an aura of silence and formal rigour, equal only to the formal austerity of the watches, including brand colors, writings and displays that respect in a religious way the austere but rich spirit of the brand.
A three-quarter plate, German silver, and the col-de-cygne: welcome to Saxony
It is quite a natural question to ask: why are Saxon watch-makers so different from Swiss ones? I do not have an immediate answer to this question as I should look for it in the history of the origins of the regional watch-making school, but truth is that the Saxons never compromise and promote a less industrial watch-making approach than that of their Swiss colleagues.
A shrewd reader knows very well that a three-quarter plate, a col-de-cygne adjustment system, a hand-decorated balance cock with a floral motif, and the outsize date are all trademarks of this brand and Saxon culture. It wasn’t definitely a choice dictated by simplicity because decorating the bridge of the balance cock is a truly gigantic enterprise (I personally tried it on a sample piece that was three times bigger in size than the original and it still proved very complicated).
And the assembly process of the 66 parts that make up the outsized date module, and the exhausting decoration of the smaller and hidden parts of a mechanical movement are both quite challenging. After all, who else has even remotely thought of crafting a triple chronograph like the Triple Split?
Ten years of development looking for independence
Industrial independence is an obsession around here, and they have spent ten years and a lot of money to find it. The development of a proprietary balance spring has a more dilated ROI (Return on Investment) than expected because it must be impeccable to work properly (a manufacturing error of 1 micrometre in thickness will lead to a 30 minute delay/anticipation a day).
However, I do not think financial goals were a priority in the short term, or at least not as much as was the need to grant the development team full creative freedom without having to resort to external suppliers.
Style and technique go hand in hand and, if we were to quote Anthony de Haas, "our clients recognize a Lange watch even without resorting to the logo on the dial" .
This is the golden section of A.Lange & Söhne that includes another peculiarity: it is the only Saxon brand of high watch-making to use only platinum or 18-carat gold for its cases, while it shares with other competitors the geometry of the three-quarter plate made from German silver; a material that is widely-considered as more stable than the classic brass that often undergoes a process of natural oxidation.
A meeting room crammed with watches and the novelty of the day: the Datograph Up/Down Lumen
After visiting the different departments, including those where the preparation and crafting of new watch prototypes takes place, we moved to the assembly department, where movements are tested and then dis-assembled to verify the possible presence of damaged parts (this is called the "double assembling" technique and A.Lange & Söhne is among the very few manufacturers that use it throughout their production cycle). Picture entering a meeting room where all the brand's collections have been neatly arranged around a table.
it's like giving an award to someone who has diligently studied the whole day. I immediately directed my attention to an 1815 Annual Calendar, because the time spent in its company in Geneva ten months ago was too short due to the very crammed photographic sessions of the fair.
The big novelty of the day was also presented - the Datograph Up/Down Lumen. The product developers have equipped the Datograph with a smoked color dial in sapphire filled with glowing material that creates the first high watch-making classic timepiece that is easily readable in the dark, actually even better readable than a professional diver’s watch.
It's time to return to Italy, but not before having exchanged ideas and feelings with a Canadian collector that reached Glashütte to pick up in person his vintage pocket watch by Lange that underwent a long and extremely precise restoration process. Passion does not know either latitudes or time zones.
(Photo credit: courtesy of A.Lange & Söhne)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®