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The History of A. Lange & Söhne

Part. 6 – The Game Changers

In Part. 5 of our special series on the History of A. Lange & Söhne, we provided an overview of the brand’s collections. Now, in Part. 6, we take a closer look at some of the models that define those collections. And indeed, the brand as a whole. Game changers that made collectors, and the watch community at large, sit up and take notice. With an abundance of options though, choosing a few key pieces to highlight here was quite the challenge. It took some time – and more than a few spirited debates – but we’ve finally managed to agree on one model from each collection that we believe are true game changers. Both for A. Lange & Söhne, but also for the luxury watch industry as a whole. Read on to discover some of the most exceptional timepieces fine watchmaking has to offer.

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THE 1815 TOURBILLON

In 1997, A. Lange & Söhne introduced its ZERO-SET mechanism (later patenting the invention in 2000). Comprised of an intricate system of levers, it causes the seconds hand to automatically jump to zero when the crown is pulled out. At the same time an arresting spring halts the balance in a similar fashion to a brake pad being applied. This allows for rapid and accurate time setting. It’s only limiting factor though was that it couldn’t be used for tourbillion-equipped movements. In fact, despite the invention being over 200 years old, no one had been able to come up with a solution for stopping a tourbillon. That was until 2008, when the manufacture unveiled its stop seconds mechanism for the tourbillon. 

Six years later, A. Lange & Söhne combined this patented stop-seconds mechanism for the tourbillon with the ZERO-RESET time-setting mechanism. The result being the 1815 Tourbillon. Pulling out the crown simultaneously halts the balance and revolving tourbillon cage, allowing for precise time setting. It’s a highly innovative world first, presented in the type of understated way that only A. Lange & Söhne could master. Inspired by historic pocket watches, the dial exhibits all the design elements common to the 1815 watch family: the peripheral railway-track minute scale, Arabic numerals, blued hands and a recessed central segment. All resulting in a seriously good-looking watch.

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THE GRAND LANGE 1 MOON PHASE “Lumen”

As one of the four foundational pieces of the modern era, the Lange 1 collection holds special significance to the brand. Yet, its integrated design has always presented a challenge for the manufacturer’s watchmakers. How do you make certain indications – such as the outsize date and moon phase – luminous, when they spend most of their time hidden under the dial, away from a light source? The answer came in the form of a semitransparent dial coating developed and patented by A. Lange & Söhne in 2013 and showcased on the limited edition Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase “Lumen” (along with a handful of other models).

For this unique version of the watch, the subdial displaying hours and minutes is made of blackened silver, supported and surrounded by a semi-transparent black-tinted sapphire-crystal wafer. The special coating applied to the glass blocks most of the visible light but not the UV spectra that “charge” the luminous pigments on the outsize date mechanism and cause them to glow in the dark. The tens cross is coated with a white luminous compound and printed with black numerals. The units disc meanwhile, also featuring black numerals, is made of transparent glass and rotates in front of the luminous background of the date aperture. The lunar disc is made of glass as well. First, the glass surface is coated with a patented process. Then 1164 stars and the moon are cut out with a laser beam. The luminous compound behind the lunar disc makes the moon and the stars shine. Truly a sight to behold. 

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THE RICHARD LANGE PERPETUAL CALENDAR “Terraluna”

A. Lange & Söhne are experts when it comes to moon-phase displays. Since its revival in 1994, the company has created more than a dozen manufacture calibres incorporating the complication. In 2014 though, the company set a new benchmark with the RICHARD LANGE PERPETUAL CALENDAR “Terraluna”. Set into the movement itself, the orbital moon-phase display shows the constellation of the moon relative to the sun as it orbits the earth. Three discs work in unison. A celestial disc (representing space). A lunar disc located beneath it. And an earth disc located at the centre (which rotates on its axis every 24 hours). The position of the sun is defined by the balance. 

The display tracks the synodic lunar orbit of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds (counterclockwise to the earth). It is so accurate, that a one-day correction is only required every 1,058 years. Epitomizing the innovation and technical mastery that has characterised the modern A. Lange & Söhne era, it was awarded the “Calendar Watch Prize” (by an international jury) at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie, Geneva, in its debut year. That same year it was named “Watch of the Year” at the Salón Internacional Alta Relojería (SIAR), Mexico City. And received first prize in the Innovation category at the first GQ Time Awards, Munich. An absolute watchmaking masterpiece, Watches of Switzerland has had the distinct privilege and pleasure of offering the only example available for sale in Australia.

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THE SAXONIA TRIPLE SPLIT

As creator of the world’s best mechanical chronograph, A. Lange & Söhne’s expertise in this field is well-established. Yet, the manufacture still finds ways to delight and surprise. The most recent example of this comes in the form of the Triple Split, an exceptional timepiece that rewrites what’s possible in the realm of mechanical rattrapante chronographs. Already the authority on the subject – since introducing the Double Split in 2004 (the only split-seconds chronograph that can measure comparative events over an aggregate duration of 30 minutes) – A. Lange & Söhne broke its own house record last year with the invention of the Triple Split, a wristwatch capable of measuring additive and comparative times for as long as twelve hours – truly a mechanical chronograph in a league of its own. 

In a world first, the Triple Split developed the full potential of the rattrapante function with the addition of a third separately stoppable hand pairing for the 12-hour counter. For clear legibility, the rattrapante hands of the sweep seconds, jumping minute counter, and continuous hour counter are crafted from blued steel. At the press of the pusher at 10 o’clock they will instantly stop in place while the rhodiumed hands continue tracking the ongoing event. Another press and the three blued hands catch up and synchronise to their respective counter parts. The 4 o’clock pusher applies the ‘flyback’ function (stop/reset/restart) to the three hand pairs. All of which is made possible by the dedicated manufacture calibre L132.1, comprised of an incredible 567 parts.

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THE ZEITWERK MINUTE REPEATER

The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is the first mechanical wristwatch with a jumping numerals display and a decimal minute repeater. Thanks to the delayed numerals switching mechanism developed and patented by A. Lange & Söhne, the acoustic time indication corresponds exactly with the jumping numerals reading. This special mechanism prevents the numerals discs from advancing while the striking mechanism is active. That’s because a switching operation (i.e. jumping the numerals forward) while the repeater is active could result in mechanical conflicts and damage the movement. Immediately following the final chime, the display discs will instantly correct themselves.

As you can see, the two hammers made of black-polished steel are positioned on both sides of the subsidiary seconds dial, making it possible to observe how the sound is produced. The complex gong tuning process is performed exclusively by hand. It requires a trained ear to make sure both gongs produce a clear and reverberating sound in their final positions in the case. As soon as the striking mechanism is activated with the button at 10 oʼclock, the gong hammer on the left strikes the hours, while the one on the right the single minutes. For the double-tone ten-minute intervals, both hammers strike the gongs slightly offset in time. Without doubt a treat for both the eyes and the ears.

It’s been just 25 years since A. Lange & Söhne presented its first four watches to the market. A mere blink of the eye in an industry where history actually means something. Yet, the incredible story of this German watch manufacturer has been centuries in the making. It is one of hope, resilience and innovation. Underpinned by the uncompromising desire to achieve perfection in all aspects of traditional watchmaking.
Understanding the history and legacy of A. Lange & Söhne is the key to understanding and appreciating what makes this brand so exceptional. As the only authorized retailer in Australia, we feel it is our privilege but also our obligation to share this fascinating story with you. Which is why we have created a special series of articles covering the origins of the brand; from its original founding in the 1840s all the way up to significant milestones in the present era.
It’s a fascinating journey and one well worth your time reading, even if you have just a passing interest in the brand.
Part 1 – The Founder
Part 2 – The Brothers
Part 3 – The Great Revival
Part 4 – The Lange 1
Part 5 – The Collections
As always, if you have any questions at all or would like to learn more about A. Lange & Söhne and the incredible timepieces they create, please do not hesitate to visit or contact one of our boutiques.