A. Lange & Söhne Highlight: German Watchmaking at its Best

A. Lange & Söhne Highlight: German Watchmaking at its Best

| 08.14.23

 A. Lange & Söhne is one of the watch industry’s high-horology leaders. 

Since its official relaunch in 1994, the manufacture has brought a distinctly German flavor to the Swiss-dominated space. With unique design attributes, history, and heritage dating to 1845, Lange's storied teutonic personality reverberates through  its contemporary releases. And collectors are in luck: the secondary market has in many ways not yet to fully embraced Lange, meaning that despite a small production of roughly 5,000 pieces per year, they are generally trading under or  relatively close to retail for most or their mainstream production models.

The most direct competition for A. Lange & Söhne would probably be Patek Philippe, and since the Swiss maison is more widely known, comparable timepieces from them often cost much more. For context, Patek produces roughly 10 times as many watches as Lange. This isn’t a ding on Patek Philippe, who still makes far less watches than other leading watch brands (and at much higher quality than is typical) — it’s merely a suggestion that Lange is still trading far below its inherent value, providing a great opportunity for enthusiasts to stay ahead of the curve.

At Analog:Shift, we’re massive fans for obvious reasons — the brand’s quality proposition is difficult to rival, and their designs are stunningly beautiful. Today, we’re going to review the stories of several of our favorite Langes currently available at HQ to help give a look into what makes the brand so special. 

The Lange 1 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 - IN THE SHOP

When covering Lange, there’s no more logical place to begin than with the Lange 1. 

Let’s step back in time for a moment: A. Lange & Söhne was founded in Glashütte, Germany in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolf Lange. After climbing to great renown within the region over the next century, the brand saw its future seemingly destroyed overnight during World War II when a bomb devastated a significant part of the workshop. In 1948, Lange was nationalized by the occupying Soviet government, and largely ceased to exist as a high-end manufacture

After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, an opportunity arose for Lange to reemerge. Walter Lange, great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolf Lange, was approached by Günter Blümlein, a significant industry player, who proposed resurrecting the brand. Fast forward to 1994, and the new A. Lange & Söhne presented its inaugural collection of four watches. We could spend much time diving into the idiosyncrasies of each piece, but by far the most iconic of the quartet was the Lange 1. 

For a company to emerge swinging with a product on par with that of Patek or Vacheron, it needs to make a statement, and this is precisely what the Lange 1 did. It was eye-catching, with an asymmetrical (yet perfectly balanced) dial that captivated collectors who had never heard the brand’s name before, and even more so, had never seen a watch quite like the Lange 1. This was the disruption that was needed for Lange to assert itself in the industry and penetrate into the broader watch culture of the time. 

View from the auditorium of the current Five Minute Clock above the stage. (Image by A.LANGE & SÖHNE)

One of the aesthetic hallmarks of the Lange 1 is the brand’s iconic oversized date window. In addition to being roughly three times larger than a conventional date, this design feature also pays homage to another foundational aspect of Lange heritage: In the famous Dresden Semper Opera House in Dresden, Germany, a massive five-minute clock with huge numerals sits over the stage. The clock, commissioned to master watchmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, was designed to show patrons the time even in low-light environments during a show. 

Assisting Gutkaes to produce the clock was none other than young apprentice Ferdinand Adolf Lange, father of A. Lange & Söhne. Thus, on many modern Langes, the brand has incorporated the oversized date function in reference to the massive numerals of this clock. (The same clock was the inspiration for the famous Lange Zeitwerk.

Needless to say, the Lange 1 collection caused waves immediately, and the Lange 1 remained the brand’s cornerstone from that point on. There’s much more to this watch than its captivating, solid silver dial, however. The movement is no less interesting: First, a ¾ plate — a hallmark of the pocket watch era — is used as a nod to the brand’s origins, communicating that although Lange had only just reemerged in the watch space, it had many long years of history to stand upon. 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Caseback - IN THE SHOP

The details don’t end there. Golden chatons — the seats that house movement jewels — are yet another nod to the pocket watch era. Glashütte striping (a high-end decoration) adorns the ¾ plate, and most brilliantly of all, a freehand-engraved German silver balance cock makes each and every movement unique, in a sense. Each facet of the bridge receives anglage, or mirror polish applied by hand. Screw heads are either blued or black polished. This attention to detail is incomparable in this price category; Lange watches are beautiful front and back, and most importantly, they’re different. A Lange caseback doesn’t look like a Patek caseback, and that’s part of its beauty. The brand injects its own flavor into its watches, proudly flaunting its lack of Swiss heritage almost as a badge of honor. 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Freehand-Engraved Balance Cock 

It should be noted that the first generation of the Lange 1, produced in 1994, had a solid caseback. While this may seem like a shame — and it is! — these first-gen Langes are incredibly valuable and collectible due to their rarity and historical significance. Practically, the solid caseback models are quite hefty since they feature another layer of precious metal rather than sapphire crystal, which is relatively light in comparison. The unique movements on these pieces also had two barrels — not for power reserve, but for greater amplitude consistency as the power reserve depletes. 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Finishing Styles 

Pocket watch design influences the Lange 1 case, which has slab sides and is constructed with soldered-on lugs, almost like a trench watch. That said, the Lange 1 housing is ultimately an interesting mesh of finishing styles, with alternating finishes, including a polished bezel, a brushed midcase, and a polished caseback ring. 

Each detail of the Lange 1’s execution was meticulously thought out, with each facet designed to reference a past achievement, moment, or element of the Lange story. Alongside this inclusion of heritage, the model is of superlative quality that speaks for itself when seen in person. If you could only own one Lange watch — which would of course be a tragedy! — it should probably be the Lange 1 in yellow gold...though any metal will ultimately do. So much of what makes Lange a top-notch marque is encapsulated in this one model, that owning any other is merely icing on the cake. 

In terms of small details, it should be noted that white gold Lange 1 references, unlike those in yellow gold, rose gold, and platinum, have lume on the hands, which changes the aesthetics slightly. Thus, if you are looking for a white-metaled watch but don’t want the sportier appearance of the lume, go for the platinum, affectionately dubbed the Lange 1 ‘Stealth’ and especially prized by collectors. There is also an extremely rare steel Lange 1 that’s worth keeping an eye out for. 

The Lange 1 Moonphase

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Moonphase - IN THE SHOP

The Lange 1 Moonphase is an example of just how well Lange incorporates further complications into an existing design architecture — indeed, while it adds a moonphase, it is undeniably a Lange 1, with dimensions hardly altered from those of the original.

Wilhelm Schmid, current CEO of Lange, has always emphasized the importance of maintaining design continuity within collections, which the Lange 1 Moonphase epitomizes. 

This example shows the slightly fatter lumed handset of white gold (or in this case, platinum) variants. Note that the power reserve ticks are also slightly expanded from the yellow gold version shot above. This visually matches the aesthetics of the handset to tie the design elements together tastefully and coherently. 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Moonphase Power Reserve

An interesting feature of the power reserve is that as the watch loses power, the ‘ticks’ are spaced closer together on the dial. While the amount of reserve between each tick is constant, Lange concentrated the indices in order to create the illusion of the watch being less wound than it truly is. Thus, the wearer will be more inclined to rewind the watch frequently and keep it properly powered. This is a subtle detail, but one that serves as a reminder that Lange’s design team wears the watches and understands the mindset of an owner. There is a direct connection between the design team’s attention to detail and the customer’s experience.

The Cabaret

A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret - IN THE SHOP

Prior to the launch of the Cabaret in 1997, Lange had introduced the similarly rectangular Arkade in 1994. One of the less popular watches in the inaugural collection of 1994, the Arkade suffered a bit from being more targeted at a women’s market. It does, however, make sense with the understanding that Gunter Blumlein, who was a significant player in early Lange, worked as an executive at Jaeger LeCoultre. JLC is of course known for its Reverso, and it was natural for Blumlein to want a Germanic take on this iconic rectangular watch. 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classique & A. Lange & Söhne Arkade

While the Cabaret is certainly a different aesthetic for Lange, who are better known for their round watches, there are several features that maintain a strong connection with the brand heritage: Once more, we see the iconic outsize date at 12 o’clock, here framed with a gold perimeter. A classic Saxonia-style subsidiary-seconds dial at 6 o’clock is also quite standard for the brand. While the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock hour markers are Roman numerals — a bit of a rarity for Lange’s simple models these days — the intermediate indexes are diamond-faceted markers, which saw their debut in the Saxonia of the 1994 inaugural collection. These are likewise classic Lange. 

While the Cabaret measures 26mm in diameter and has quite a broad, long-lugged wrist presence, the lugs have been tapered sharply downward to allow the watch to hug the wrist optimally. In addition to the strap offerings which wear quite well, Lange also partnered with jeweler Wellendorff to create a series of special pieces with metal bracelets. These variants are quite a bit more expensive and collectible than leather-strapped models.

A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Movement 

The Cabaret is powered by caliber L93.1, the brand’s second rectangular movement following the L911 in the 1994 Arkade. While this movement is certainly different in structure than a more conventional round calibre, all the high-end Lange hallmarks are present and accounted for: Anglage, golden chatons, blued screws, black polished screws, Glashütte striping, a hand-engraved balance cock, a black-polished swan's-neck regulator, etc. Even on a simple, time-and-date watch, the amount of work that has gone into finishing is extraordinary, and proof of why Lange presents such strong value. 

The 1815 Annual Calendar

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1815 Annual Calendar - IN THE SHOP

Leaving time-only watches momentarily to focus on complications, the 1815 Annual Calendar begins to show A. Lange & Söhne’s technical prowess. A manually-wound piece containing enormous detail, it has both a sophisticated design and a sophisticated movement. 

The larger 1815 collection is inspired by the railroad timekeepers Lange made in the 19th century for the emerging Saxon train lines. Thus, the outermost portion of the dial is decorated with a beautiful ‘railway’ minute track and a set of thick black Arabic numerals.

Set inside this ring is the Lange arched logo and Glashütte name, while situated at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock are the calendar indications. These subsidiary dials are set lowest into the dial, adding beautiful three-dimensionality. The moonphase display at 6 is the deepest part of the dial and is accented by a blued handset that pulls out the deep colors of the moonphase. Given the busyness of the design, one might expect a lack of legibility from description alone — yet the dial is surprisingly balanced, making efficient use of negative space and contrast.

The only thing this piece is missing in the way of classic Lange visuals is a large date; everything else is fitted with gothic German typeface and Lange sword hands. Available in multiple finishes, the watch looks just as compelling in white as it does in yellow metals.

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1815 Annual Calendar 

The 1815 Annual Calendar is powered by caliber L051.3, a manually wound annual calendar movement with an impressive 72-hour power reserve. The more complications a brand incorporates into a movement, the more ‘fuel’ is needed to power the watch. Maintaining this significant power reserve is no easy task. Caliber L051.3 consists of 345 individual parts, each finished to perfection by A. Lange & Söhne.

A.Lange & Söhne Lange 1815 Annual Calendar Movement

One of the brilliant innovations of this movement is its pusher at 2 o’clock. With any hand-wound calendar complication, the issue arises of keeping the piece set properly. (What happens after the 72-hour power reserve runs down? Lots of setting — that’s what!) To help alleviate this problem, the 2 o’clock pusher allows the user to advance all the calendar indications by 24 hours. This means that after the watch has stopped running for, say, three days, one can simply wind it and set it to the correct time, after which pressing the pusher three times will get the piece back on track. This is invaluable for a complicated calendar watch and an exceptionally user-friendly system; once more, it’s a sign that Lange has collector convenience in mind when designing its timepieces.

The 1815 Flyback Chronograph

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1815 Flyback Chronograph - IN THE SHOP

Next up is one of Lange’s specialties, the chronograph. Given the brand’s mastery of finishing, the manually wound calibre powering this superb model is one of the most aesthetically pleasing movements on the market.

The dial — in this case, a two-tone black and silver affair executed within the 1815 collection template — is similarly beautiful. A pulsation scale sits above the main dial body, adding depth. In order to accommodate the chronograph handset, quite a bit of height is needed in the overall design. Lange makes good use of this added space by filling the dial perimeter with a pulsation track. The two chronograph registers are also sunken for further three dimensionality; further, in the rose gold example, the black dial is accented by a black strap, which pops against the case color. 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1815 Flyback Chronograph dial

The 1815 Flyback Chronograph receives a bit less attention than its big brother - the Datograph - but it is the only pure flyback-equipped chronograph in the brand’s collection. This watch Lange’s direct comp for the Patek Philippe 5170 — though in many ways, it outperforms that watch. From an aesthetic standpoint, the 1815 Flyback Chronograph is incredibly versatile, particularly in this configuration, since the precious metal conveys a dressier vibe even while the dial could pass in a more casual setting. Depending on the strap, it could be transformed into an entirely different piece.

While we can spend plenty of time on the dial, the real show is via the caseback. Beneath a sapphire crystal beats the brilliant masterpiece Calibre L951.0. This is where watchmaking meets art, and the true magic happens. This movement has so much depth that you’ll want to wear the piece backwards everywhere you go! To wit, it’s not only a manually-wound chronograph, but a manually-wound flyback chrono, meaning that even without stopping the chronograph hand, you can reset the chronograph. Though this system is quite helpful for recording laps and other sequential timing events, it’s quite mechanically difficult to construct.

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1815 Flyback Chronograph Movement

The Calibre L951.0 features a horizontal clutch with column wheel — the traditional choice given its functionality — yet flaunts a unique layout that maximizes visibility. Unlike Patek, which designs with slim lines and elegant sizing in mind, Lange’s aesthetic has always been a bit bolder. This means that the brand can get away with adding a bit of thickness if it means a more attractive movement as a result. The byproduct of this tradeoff is one of the most attractive movements in all of manually wound chronographs — one in which all 405 components of it are perfectly finished. These details are what Lange is known for, and need to be seen to be appreciated. 

The “Richard Lange” 

A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange - IN THE SHOP

The A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange pays homage to Ferdinand Adolf Lange’s second son, Richard Lange. Richard was a brilliant watchmaker who made significant strides in exploration of balance springs, an area in which he held several patents. Thus, the Richard Lange edition uses Lange’s in-house balance spring, a component so sensitive and fickle that it took Lange a full 10 years to perfect it. (Indeed, few brands use in-house balance springs or even attempt to create them.) That said, in tribute to Richard Lange, it seemed only appropriate that the company would honor him in such a way. The caliber L041.2 within the piece was the second calibre to use this in-house system, following only the Calibre L001.1 in the Double Split of 2004.

The caliber L041.2 is the only center-seconds movement produced by Lange. (The vast majority of Lange watches have subsidiary seconds dials). To accommodate this configuration, Lange added a separate gear train on top of the ¾ plate — a classic solution that has been used by others in the past, including Vacheron Constantin. One may notice on some watches configured thusly that the seconds hand almost bounces along rather than moves precisely forward in exact increments. To prevent this, Lange devised a complex solution to ensure smooth flow of the larger seconds hand. 

As a stabilizing force for the big central seconds hand, Lange used two separate idler gears that rotate in opposite directions with a central spring, providing significant pressure on the fourth wheel of the gear train. The precision of the meshing of these idler gears helps to keep the long seconds hand stabilized and ensure its smooth motion. Once again, rather than accept an imperfection, Lange chose to develop a complex and innovative solution to the problem to perfect the movement.

While the movement is a mechanical wonder, the dial doesn’t give this away — with its simple three-hand design using Roman numerals and its blued seconds hand, it has a timeless, classic look. In short, the Richard Lange is the perfect watch for the collector who appreciates mechanical sophistication but wants an under-the-radar, vintage-inspired presentation. Here, one gets a brilliant technical solution within an unassuming package. 

The Datograph 

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Flyback 

You can’t have a conversation about Lange without discussing their biblical impact on the in-house watchmaking revolution. Back in the 80s and early 90s, movements were predominantly sourced from third parties, finished in house, and cased up within a brand’s unique packaging. In 1999, however, Lange challenged this notion. Just five years after the inaugural collection, Lange launched the Datograph Reference 403.035, flaunting the fully in-house caliber L951.1. A monstrous manually-wound flyback chronograph movement, the L951.1 pushed the Swiss industry to readjust their standards to meet the new in-house benchmark. The new kid on the block had embarrassed the biggest names in the industry in just five years.

Since the 403.035, Lange has updated the Datograph to the Reference 405.035. The new model, debuted in 2012, has a power reserve indicator, a larger 41mm case diameter compared to the previous 39, an altered Calibre L951.6 with 60 hours of power reserve, and stick indices in place of Roman numerals. For purists, the original Reference 403.035 will remain the one and only Datograph, but mechanically speaking, the shift from 36 to 60 hours of power reserve is a real advantage for an everyday wearer. 

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Flyback Movement

On top of the symbolic significance of the Datogrpah as the harbinger of the new era of vertically integrated movement manufacturing, the Calibre L951.1 is aesthetically brilliant. A dizzying interplay of black polish, anglage, perlage, Glashütte stripes, golden chatons, and hand engraving mesh to create a movement with unparalleled depth and vibrancy. It is no surprise that many consider the Datograph the single greatest chronograph ever made.

The 1815

A. Lange & Söhne 1815 - IN THE SHOP

Last up is the standard Lange 1815. This is a great entry into the brand, with the classic attributes of the 1815 collection distilled to their simplest form. A time-only reference with subsidiary seconds, it features a fully blued handset, which adds some color to the solid silver dial.

A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Dial

Given its case material, this otherwise simple timepiece exhibits significant heft. This example is yellow gold, with a solid silver dial and a movement made from German silver (nickel silver). As this material extends to the entirety of the ¾ plate, the piece is quite heavy, and one notices its substance on the wrist in a significant way. This is part of the Lange ‘feel.’ Some collectors certainly favor light watches, and in that event, it’s best to consider alternatives, but there’s an equally enthusiastic group of enthusiasts who love the heft that these watches afford. 

A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Movement

The hand-wound caliber L051.1 is relatively simple in comparison to others in the collection, but nonetheless beautiful, featuring all the elements we have covered within the brand’s other offerings. There’s also a very large segment of the baseplate that is exposed and allows for a view of perlage in an area of the movement that is often obscured. 

A.Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe Buckle Comparison

One further detail that applies to any Lange on a strap and is worth noting is the unique tang buckle: It’s a significant piece of gold (or platinum!) in its own right, but more than the substance, it’s the design that’s of note. The bar that the strap slips through is elevated so that rather than having the strap sit under the buckle (which would cause significant wear over time), the strap instead sits within the buckle. This means that there is much less pressure on the strap as it is worn. There’s also a second bar to prevent the tang from getting too far wedged in the pin hole, another practical enhancement for ease of wear. 

Lange 31

A. Lange & Söhne 31 - IN THE SHOP

A watch that embraces Lange’s history as a pocket watch manufacturer, if you stripped it of its lugs, the massive Lange 31 could easily be mistaken for such an instrument. With an impressive 31 day power reserve at full wind, this piece is wound with a key rather than by hand, just as used to be the case with pocket watches back in the day. This is the first mechanical wristwatch to achieve a power reserve of 31 days in addition to a constant force escapement.

We’ve mentioned that Lange watches are known for their solidity on the wrist due to their precious metal cases, sterling silver dials and German silver movements. This piece takes that to the enth degree with a platinum case of 45.9mm in diameter. You feel this watch on the wrist.

A. Lange & Söhne 31 Day Power Reserve

To accommodate the incredible power reserve, Lange used two separate mainspring barrels, each with a mainspring about ten times as long as a conventional one. The constant force mechanism was needed to help balance the exceptional amount of torque these powerful mainsprings would normally place on a delicate escapement assembly. While this piece may not look as complicated as a manually wound chronograph, this piece is no less a mechanical marvel. We see the same constant force approach used on the Zeitwerk, which struggles from requiring lots of torque to flip the numerals but not too much to overpower the escapement. Thus, Lange has split the energy distribution via a remontoir to direct the needed power to the numerals and protect the escapement.

Round Up

If we do say so ourselves, this group of Langes has to be one of the most beautiful collections of watches ever assembled! Representing a diverse array of offerings from the brand, from icons such as the Lange 1 to obscure models like the Cabaret, and from time-only 1815s to annual calendars and flyback chronographs, we have a spread of timepieces perfect for different collectors and tastes. All, however, have a distinct underlying prioritization of quality at all costs. 

As you’ve hopefully learned, A. Lange & Söhne’s watches have a strong history to stand behind, with a heritage that has informed much of their design and aesthetic choices. The railroad minute track of the 1815, outsize dates on the Lange 1 and Cabaret, and more all serve to emphasize the importance German culture has had in shaping the story of Lange as a brand. It’s shocking to appreciate just how far Lange has come since 1994, as well as the fact that the company released such successful and aesthetically perfect timepieces from the moment of its (modern) inception.

Lange has always been working hard to prove itself as a German brand, and today, there’s no doubt that it’s just as good — if not better — than any Swiss competitor. Indeed, the truth is that the brand’s German heritage has impacted its style and philosophy more significantly than its quality (though its quality is of course top notch). There’s absolutely no disputing that Lange watches are well made; the question lies in whether the design choices are to your liking or not. There’s a big difference in layout and aesthetics between Lange and Patek offerings, even if both are brilliantly executed and impeccably finished by hand. 

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this  brief peek into some of the reasons that Lange is so well-respected. If you’d like to inquire about adding one to your watchbox, contact us at info@analogshift.com