The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1: A History and Tribute

The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1: A History and Tribute

| 05.13.24


 An icon of the German watchmaking industry, the rebirth of a significant brand, and an object of desire for thousands of collectors worldwide, the Lange 1 is a difficult watch to pay tribute to.

A. Lange & Söhne, which has become an unstoppable force on the horological scene, owes its rapid growth in large part to the success of the Lange 1. This single timepiece changed the industry virtually overnight and kickstarted the rise of Lange to a status rivaled by few. 

Today, we’ll be analyzing the full story of the Lange 1 — from its history to its design to its movement to the evolution of the collection over the years. In order to truly appreciate the legacy of the Lange 1 and its significance to A. Lange & Söhne and the broader watch industry, we must first examine a bit of Lange (and world) history, and place the model within its proper context. 


The Lange family has manufactured fine timepieces across two distinct historical periods. 

Ferdinand Adolf Lange's first workshop - (Image by Watches of Switzerland)

The brand was founded in Glashütte in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolf Lange, who strongly believed that a sophisticated nation like Germany should have a fine watchmaking center to compete with the Swiss industry — one capable of producing the most precise and refined timepieces utilizing the marvels of German engineering.

With the blessing of the German government, F.A. Lange not only founded his eponymous brand, but kickstarted a regional cultural shift, making watchmaking a core part of Saxon identity and trade. Today, almost all of Germany’s watchmaking industry is located in or around Glashütte, where Lange was founded. Thus in many ways, Lange’s legacy is not only the brand itself, but German watchmaking writ large, and the beautiful cities that were expanded to fuel the growing trade. 

Initially, the German watch industry produced railroad chronometers — highly accurate pocket watches designed to support an expanding railroad network within Saxony. With time, Lange went on to supply a series of highly complicated pieces to distinguished personalities and nobility, expanding the brand’s scope to include a far more wealthy and diverse clientele.

Under the support of Richard and Emil, the children of Ferdinand, Lange expanded significantly, not only in its offerings, but also in geographic distribution. By the late 1800s, Lange watches had a reputation that extended far beyond Germany. Richard Lange had his father’s technical skill set, while Emil possessed a keen sense of business, marketing, and sales, helping to spread brand awareness and distribute the creations of the Lange manufacture

Richard & Emil Lange - (Image by A.Lange & Söhne)

Future prospects for Lange looked quite good. Emil and Richard had globalized their father’s vision, extending the firm’s mission far beyond Germany’s borders and beyond F.A. Lange’s wildest aspirations. Soon the brand’s collector base began expanding beyond royalty, and Lange was seen as a high-end maker capable of competing with the best of the Swiss maisons.

A Turn for the Worse

Unfortunately, while Lange was headed for greater fame, World War II destroyed all hopes for a secure future. In 1945, in the closing days of the conflict, a Soviet air raid destroyed a significant portion of the Lange manufacture in Glashütte, metaphorically (as well as literally) signaling the destruction of the brand. Following Germany’s defeat, most of the local watchmaking industry was nationalized, and Lange’s name disappeared from watch dials shortly after.

For Walter Lange, the great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolf Lange, this turn of events must have been devastating. With a divided Germany, a brand in shambles, and international trade in tatters, his chances of continuing the Lange name seemed slim to none. 


Günter Blümlein and Walter Lange seated in front of a memorial to Walter’s great-grandfather, Ferdinand Adolph Lange - (Image by A.Lange & Söhne)

In 1989, the Berlin Wall finally fell, and opportunity once again arose for Walter Lange. Never giving up on his dream to rebuild A. Lange and Söhne, Walter Lange began drafting plans to resurrect his family legacy, taking on help from industry giants Gunter Blümlein and Hartmut Knothe. Precisely 145 years to the day after the founding of A. Lange and Sohne in 1845, Walter Lange re-registered the Lange name and began the task of reconstituting a successful maison

Walter Lange at the bench. - (Image by A.Lange & Söhne)

By the 1990s, a number of brands were ruling the watch industry, many of whom remain at the center of the market to this day — namely, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, and others. Audemars Piguet was on the rise, and the luxury watch market was in recovery from the Quartz Crisis. Brands were repositioning themselves as luxury offerings to suit a new demographic looking not for the most accurate watch, but the most exclusive and collectible.

For Lange to enter into this marketplace was to walk a tightrope over burning coals. Not only was the industry extremely congested, but the market was in recovery, and many were still doubting the future of the mechanical watchmaking industry at large. In order to stand out in spite of these market dynamics, Lange needed to come out with a splash — which is just what the firm did in 1994. 

The Inaugural Collection of 1994: Welcome the Lange 1

The press conference where the brand was relaunched - (Image by A.Lange & Söhne)

If Lange was confronted with a challenge to summit a horological Mount Everest with the inaugural collection, the brand climbed the mountain — and then donned a jetpack and fired itself off the peak. 

The four launch collections from 1994 - (Image by A.Lange & Söhne)

Lange shocked the watch industry in 1994. The brand presented four watches that year, and in many respects, these pieces reflected the future legacy and styling of the Lange brand. They solidified Lange’s design language, established its hallmarks, and put the company on the map with a bang. Two of the four watches were most noteworthy. 

A.Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite - (Image by Perpetual Pasion)

The Tourbillon Pour le Mérite was the first tourbillon wristwatch to incorporate a fusée-and-chain constant-force system. Unlike anything the Swiss industry had created in wristwatch form, it was a brilliant reflection of Lange’s commitment to mechanical excellence. Its creation was a bold move, and in many ways signaled that while the brand might have been the new kid on the block, it was building off of a multi-hundred-year legacy and identity. (Indeed, the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite was built upon the blueprints of Ferdinand Adolf Lange, Emil Lange, Richard Lange, and others.) The respect Lange received from the international collecting community was immediate and immense. 

The second watch Lange introduced is the topic of our conversation — the Lange 1. While the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite was a mechanically sophisticated “flex” of sorts, the intrigue of the Lange 1 was far more nuanced. On the surface, the watch simply tells the time and displays the date as well as the power reserve. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this slate of complications, and there’s nothing showy about the execution. In a way, you could almost describe the Lange 1’s ingredients as somewhat boring

A.Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Ref. 101.001 - (Image by Phillips)

However, what the Lange 1 did was demonstrate that yes — the brand understood haute horlogerie as shown by the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite — but it also understood design, and how to execute a simple watch at a high level. While making a complicated piece comes with inherent challenges, fashioning a simple one is just as difficult. Lange, however, not only aced the design, but produced a completely new approach to dial layout that had never been seen before. This showed a level of maturity that we don’t typically associate with a brand that was “born yesterday.” In short, if the Pour le Mérite didn’t already have the industry’s attention, the Lange 1 sent a loud and clear message. 

Lange 1 Design

As mentioned earlier, the impact of the Lange 1 wasn’t simply the result of its complications or complexities of its movement. The Lange 1 is outfitted with a beautiful and unique movement — but we’ll get to that in a moment. The primary impact of the Lange 1 was the design itself. 

The Dial

Lange 1 typography and outsize date - IN THE SHOP

Most watch dials are symmetrical, which is the way the majority of brands attempt to preserve balance — a convention dating back to the time of the pocket watch. The Lange 1, on the other hand, pioneers a completely different philosophy in which asymmetry is celebrated. In order to achieve this, Lange had to consider layout far more carefully, manipulating ratios and spacing to make sure that even while the dial isn't symmetrical, it is nonetheless extremely balanced. 

The golden ratio at work on the Lange 1 dial - (Image by Langepedia)

On the left side of the dial is the time, given a prominent display in a subsidiary dial. The right-hand side is visually counterbalanced by smaller subsidiary seconds, power reserve, and an outsize date window. This watch lacks symmetry, and yet, it has supreme balance. And it looks nothing like anything else on the market. 

The Five-Minute Clock above the stage of the Semperoper in Dresden inspired the Lange 1's date window. - (Image by A.Lange & Söhne)

And while the Lange 1’s dial doesn’t necessarily recall a specific historical Lange reference, details within the design certainly do. Most notably, the large date references Ferdiand Adolf Lange’s instrumental role in the creation of the Dresden Semperoper opera house clock alongside his mentor Gutkaes. Gutkaes had been commissioned to complete the project, and Lange got hands-on experience with the construction of the clock as one of his earliest horological projects. Now, well over a century and a half later, this design was featured front and center on Lange’s comeback watch. Indeed, as much as Lange was new in 1994, it was also supremely old. 

 The Lange 1 dial in all its glory.

Many other aesthetic refinements were extended to the dial design, including concentric circles ingrained in the tapestry of the dial to add a degree of visual interest and accentuate the hierarchy of complications. Once again, this represents a tasteful detail that can be easily missed, but that adds significantly to the watch’s overall appeal. 

Other important details to note are a thick, gothic script that has similar presence to that of a G-wagon — proud, efficient, German. The same can be said for the alpha hands; these are not quite delicate like dauphine hands on a Patek Philippe, yet they are still beautiful and elegant, with their bold look, in their own way. This is part of the intrigue of a German watch: It doesn’t attempt to compete in a Swiss battle. Instead, it has an entirely different design philosophy. This suits the Lange 1 incredibly well, and also helped Lange establish itself early on in standing out from the rest of the industry based on its design choices. 

The Case

Much like the outsize date, the case of the Lange 1 — and subsequent Lange watches — was designed to once more call upon Lange’s historical foundations in the pocket watch space. Looking at the case construction and profile, you’ll notice a number of details that would be foreign on the flowing curves of a Patek or a Vacheron: Built like a pocket watch, the Lange 1 has a three-part case with slab sides and a much stronger wrist presence. Whereas many Swiss companies look to hide the thickness of their watches with heavily domed or scalloped cases, swooping lugs, or rounded casebacks, Lange instead embraced this larger look, which complements the overall aesthetic ideology of German watchmaking. 

Finishing styles on the side of a Lange 1 case

The three-part case, a hallmark of Lange, consists of a caseband on the back of the watch, a midcase, and a domed bezel. The midcase is typically brushed, while the case band and bezel are fully polished. This plays a big role in the presence of the watch. Whereas the case has slab sides and a substantial presence, the alternating finishes on its individual elements cause the watch to look a bit thinner than it would if the slab sides were fully polished or brushed. (Until more recently, Lange’s rose gold pieces were fully polished on the case sides and had no alternating finish, but new models all feature the alternating finishes convention.) 

To achieve the pocket watch look the brand was going for, Lange built the case and soldered the lugs onto the midcase separately, as was done on early wristwatches. (Conversely, many brands such as Patek often use a single piece for both the midcase and the lugs.) This soldering technique used by Lange is both designed to align with early watchmaking conventions, and also to accentuate the slab-sided pocket watch look mentioned. 

The Movement

 View of a Lange 1 movement up close

Just as the big date and the pocket watch-inspired case are meant to accentuate Lange’s background and establish the brand’s ethos as a “new” company, Lange’s movements from this early period told a similar story. Instead of merely finishing their pieces using Swiss techniques, the Saxon firm instead leaned into the traditional hallmarks of German watch movements from the pocket watch era, further stepping out on its own. 

 Screw-mounted gold chatons on a Lange 1 movement

Specifically, the Lange 1 movement features Glashütte striping, golden chatons, a three-quarter plate, a swan neck regulator, and a hand-engraved balance cock. The Glashütte stripes, much like more conventional Côtes de Genève, are designed to trap extra dust particles that may get stuck in a movement during repair and interfere with timekeeping — however, their beautiful aesthetics also serve as a calling card for German watchmaking. Golden chatons are small settings in the movement bridge designed to receive and firmly seat the synthetic rubies of the movement. These chatons were extremely common in early German timekeepers. 

The three-quarter plate itself is a nod to German pocket watches. Designed to stabilize the movement componentry, this plate is essentially a massive bridge that covers three quarters of the movement and pulls all movement assemblies into alignment and unity. This stiffens the movement architecture, but has been extended to the Lange wristwatch collections as an homage to Lange’s beginnings. A swan neck regulator and hand-engraved balance cock are likewise both recognizable details from Lange’s archive, and have become hallmarks of the brand’s modern presence. 

 Lange 1 hand-engraved balance cock 

In fact, it’s said that if you were to bring your Lange to Germany, the engraving team can tell which of their artisans engraved your watch, as each craftsman has his or her own distinct style of engraving reflected in the final result. This type of detail is relatively unique to Lange, and is part of the boutique charm that Lange watches have over other more mass-produced luxury pieces from the brand’s chief competitors.

The movements of Lange watches are perhaps what they are best known for, but once again, it’s extremely important to emphasize that Lange took only four years after re-registering the brand name to put together a compelling inaugural collection. In this time, not only did its team have the vision to design such exquisite movements, but also, it trained a workforce to bring them to fruition. This was no simple feat in any way, shape, or form. 

Surprisingly, despite putting all this effort into movement design, early Lange 1s had solid casebacks! As time went on, Lange pieces began to receive exhibition casebacks, and now, enjoying the look of a German movement in all its glory is one of the distinct pleasures of Lange ownership. 

The Expansion of the Lange 1 Collection 

Lange’s inaugural collection was a resounding success. Each piece sold rather quickly, and the Lange name became a highly respected one in the luxury watch space. Even as Lange has since introduced dozens of new designs and pieces, the Lange 1 remains the brand’s most recognizable and successful collection. As a result, the brand has expanded the collection to include a number of additional references with added complications.

The Lange 1 collection - (Image by Horas y Minutos)

It is important to note that even as Lange introduced these new iterations, updates to the original Lange 1 left its aesthetics largely the same. While small changes have been made to typography and proportionality, there is simply no mistaking the Lange 1’s idiosyncratic look — indeed, the Saxon marque “got it right the first time.” Similarly, Improving movement specifications does little to change the overall identity of the model. Indeed, it’s been 30 years since the brand introduced the Lange 1, yet more has remained the same than has changed. And that’s a good thing. 

Since 1994, Lange has introduced a number of additional Lange 1 references and special editions. These include the guilloché-dialed Lange 1 Soirée launched from 2001; the Lange 1A, a series of black-dialed pieces referred to as the “Darth”; stainless steel Lange 1s; the Lange 1 Time Zone; the Lange 1 Tourbillon; the Lange 1 25th Anniversary Edition; the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar; Lange 1 Luna Mundi; and the oversized Grand Lange 1. These pieces all have different layouts, complications, and sizes, yet each is recognizably part of the Lange 1 family. This undeniable recognizability builds substantial continuity within the Lange 1 collection. 

The Legacy of the Lange 1

 For such an elegant piece, the Lange 1 wears surprisingly well in a casual setting

Taken purely at surface level, the Lange 1 is one of the most important — and downright coolest — watches in the industry. With this single model, A. Lange & Söhne pioneered a brand-new dial layout — one that is balanced in spite of asymmetry. In building this unique look, Lange also (perhaps unintentionally) built a symbol for the German watchmaking industry as a whole. Not only did the Lange 1 help establish the brand’s presence in 1994, but it also ensured the future of the company, and even inspired copycats. Glashütte, the historical hub of German watchmaking, experienced a resurgence in the wake of Lange’s revival, with new watchmakers springing up in its wake and helping to revitalize Saxony as a hub of German horology.

Lange has become synonymous with German watchmaking, and in large part, this is owed to the reputation and legacy of the Lange 1. It is unlikely that in 1994 Walter Lange ever could have anticipated the resounding impact of his brainchild. Thankfully, he lived another 23 years following its birth and was thus able to finally enjoy the success he so deserved. 

Meanwhile, the Lange 1 continues to enchant new legions of enthusiasts, collectors, and scholars, having definitively established itself as one of the greatest wristwatches of all time.