Over 20 years after it helped relaunch A Lange & Sohne, the asymmetrical beauty has played a defining role in establishing an identity for German watchmaking
By Alex Doak
In his memoirs of 2005, Walter Lange talks compellingly of the challenges he and IWC/Jaeger-LeCoultre boss Günter Blümlein faced rebuilding Glashütte’s once-great watchmaker in 1990. His great-grandfather’s bust still stood proud opposite the village’s train station; but everything else had either been bombed on the last day of the war, looted by the Russians swiftly afterwards, or folded into the “VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe” (GUB) by the GDR and diverted to making humdrum watches by unskilled people, for the people.
Lange advertised jobs on the communal noticeboard at the GUB, which boasted about 1,000 employees. “But we only received around 120 applications,” he writes. “To be honest I had assumed we would get a much larger number. Most probably thought the idea of building a company in Glashütte to market exclusive watches sheer adventurism.”
That’s one way of putting it. No doubt the majority of the Swiss industry thought the same. But in just a few years, the revived A. Lange & Söhne not only launched successfully – and in one stroke it quite simply took modern, industrialised watchmaking to the next level. Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin woke up one chilly October morning in 1994 to find they had a genuine competitor… in former East Germany.
The Lange 1 was the hero, and it says much that the asymmetric – yet balanced – design has barely changed in over two decades, while it took until 2015 for the manual movement to be tweaked at all, “in preparation for the next 20 years.” That simply amounted to a bigger balance with poising weights, and an instant date jump.
Importantly, this movement re-introduced quality assets that had practically disappeared from mechanical watchmaking: the Saxon three-quarter plate, blued screws and engraved balance cock – all standard fare for Glashütte’s now-thriving high-end brands.
The iterations have been plentiful (see the timeline above) but the time-only power reserve is the one – a rare “modern classic” that feels fresh while speaking vividly of its past. This January A. Lange & Sohne continued to improve the Lange 1 with the new Lange 1 Moonphase.
Updating the moonphase movement for the first time since 2002, the most noticeable outward change is the introduction of a day-night indicator to the complication, but it is in fact an entirely new calibre, based on the updated Lange 1 movement from 2015 – so it gets 72 hours of power reserve and the more precise jumping date indicator.
This is part of our Modern Classics series, profiling the most significant watch designs of the last 30 years. You can view the rest of the entries here. Disagree with our choices? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or by email.