A.Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Timezone ¶
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When most people think of fine haute-horlogerie, they think of Switzerland. Rightly so, considering that Switzerland has some of the finest brands in the industry and the vast majority of modern watchmaking talent resides there. There is, however, an exception to this trend – in the Saxon countryside of Germany lies the city of Glashutte, a tiny town that has become the hub of German watchmaking. Here is where you will find the factory of A. Lange & Sohne, one of the finest timepiece manufactures located outside of Switzerland.
The company began in 1845, founded by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, a talented watchsmith who learned his trade in Saxony. The area had a rich heritage of astronomical and horological production; over the decades several notable master craftsmen made their careers building precise instruments for observatories, an industry that required precision timekeepers to ensure accurate calculations. Prior to the emergence of clock and watchmaking, Glashutte had been a boomtown – it was the site of a silver mine that supported the area for some time, but when the lode was exhausted the area fell into poverty. Watch and clock making became a way to exploit the skilled metalworkers in the region, and a highly integrated industry developed in the isolated town.
Lange und Sohne became a well know provider of high quality pocketwatches up until the end of the Second World War. Their products were renowned for their exceptional quality and accuracy, with fine Saxon-style finishing throughout - traditionally gilt frosted finish ¾ plate movements with screwed-chaton jewelling and blued screws, as opposed to the Swiss style of fausses-cotes and perlage on rhodium plated brass bridges. In general Saxon finishing is utilitarian and understated when compared to the flourishes put on Swiss watches – the finishing is still very delicate, but not as flashy. The traditional German finishing is adapted to modern tastes by the modern Lange & Sohne; they still use German silver bridges and screwed chatons (gold bearings that hold the jewels in place with screws, rather than pressed in friction fit).
Lange produced watches for the German military during the Second World War, mainly oversized Fliegeruhrs and Beobachtungsuhrs for the Luftwaffe (including one watch in silver for a certain Mr. Goering). After the German defeat, Glashutte became a part of communist East Germany and all forms of traditional watchmaking was squashed under the regime. The factory was also heavily damaged by Allied bombing in 1945 and pre-war production was never resumed. A few unexceptional calibres and wristwatches were produced under the Lange name, but nothing that rivalled the original glory of the company. The watch industry in Germany was more or less dead under communist rule.
The modern A. Lange & Sohne emerged in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the East German regime. Walter Lange, the great grandson of Ferdinand A. Lange, wanted to resurrect the fine traditional craftsmanship that his family had practised for a hundred years. A new factory was built in Glashutte with an eye for near-total vertical integration – almost everything would be produced in-house without having to rely on external suppliers. They would also resurrect the Saxon style of finishing and engineering rather than apeing the Swiss to ensure that their product remained distinct. Their products would only be produced in gold and platinum; legend has it that for a few years they produced stainless steel watches, not for sale, but as loaner timepieces while clients were having their watches serviced! In 1994 the first collection of wristwatches was released, including the now-famous Lange 1 with its characteristic double-digit big date display and asymmetrical dial. Since then the Lange 1 has become their signature timepiece and has been the basis of numerous variations and added complications, including what we have here – the Timezone.
The Timezone takes the distinctive layout of the Lange 1 and adds the useful complication of a secondary timezone with quick-set adjustment linked to a rotating inner bezel. The Lange 1 layout is normally hours and minutes in the upper left, big date in the upper right, power reserve at 3 o’clock, and small-seconds at 5 o’clock. On the Timezone, the sub-seconds are moved into the main time dial, and the small seconds dial is turned into a second time display. Two day-night indicators are added adjacent to each time display. The power reserve and big date are in the same spots. On the outer edge of the dial is a rotating internal bezel that lists the major cities of the world, giving the watch the look of a world timer (purists should note it is not a true worldtimer, but instead a dual-time watch with region indication). A small arrow next to the secondary time indicates which city is being displayed on the bezel.
The case is an 18k rose gold affair, with quick-set pushers on the left side for the big date (at top) and the timezone (the bottom). The diameter is a substantial 42mm, one of the largest watches Lange produces – the original Lange 1 was 38.5mm, and most Langes are between 37 and 40mm. The extra real estate is occupied by the internal bezel, so the proportions are retained without making it look like they stuck the same movement in a bigger design. The caseback has a sapphire exhibition window to show off the magnificently finished movement. While it appears plain at first glance (the ¾ plate bridge hides most of the mechanism; Swiss designs have spoiled us by revealing every gear and lever through skeletal bridgework) this is a spectacular movement finished by hand to the highest order.
Lange is unique for their exclusive use of German silver for the movement bridges. Despite the name it contains no silver – it is a copper, nickel and zinc alloy. Traditional Swiss movements use brass with either a rhodium (silver) finish or gilt (gold) plating. Some haute-horlogerie brands (F.P. Journe) use 18k gold for their baseplates and bridges. German silver is a more rigid material and has better structural qualities, and does not need to be plated to prevent corrosion – the finish you see is the bare metal, which has a warm honeyed colour. Unfortunately German silver has an extremely delicate finish – any handling will show up. The only way around this is to assemble the movement and test it, then to take it apart again to clean it and touch up the finish, and then assemble once more. Thus the assembly time is double what it should be! It’s a testament to Lange attention to detail and uncompromising quality. They could rhodium plate the bridges and omit the second assembly phase, but then it wouldn’t really be the same. They are a small manufacture, not a mass-production facility; they pride themselves on taking the time to do things perfectly.
All the parts are impeccably polished and bevelled, each jewel in the main bridge is secured with a gold chaton, and everything is held together with perfectly heat-blued screws. It’s the sort of old-world craftsmanship that is rarely seen in modern watches. Not only that, but each balance cock is engraved by hand by a single technician. No two balances are the same, and each engraver has a distinctive style. Little flourishes like that is what sets Lange apart.
The movement is a manually wound calibre L031.1 and has a power reserve of 72 hours, the same as a standard Lange 1. Winding is buttery smooth and the quicksets function with a nice soft click (perhaps a bit too soft; I often found myself accidentally setting the date when I wanted to advance the timezone - I would be worried about accidentally bumping the sizeable pushers if I were wearing this daily). The extra complications are visible through the caseback; an additional set of gears and a bridge ride above the main bridge of the movement. The added bridge is engraved just like the balance cock, which is to say spectacularly. Considering the Timezone is a significant premium over the standard model, it’s the least they can do.
The Timezone is not inexpensive. Retail price is 46000$ CAD. We are offering this example in lightly used condition. But for that price you are getting something that goes toe-to-toe with the best from Switzerland; there are many who would say that Lange is better than Patek Philippe, and slightly less expensive (a Patek worldtimer is around 50-odd thousand, and commands a premium on the used market as well). Lange is certainly a brand for connoisseurs who want something different, a piece of haute-horlogerie that you won’t find on the wrist of every oil magnate and bank executive. While Patek is the go-to brand for the truly wealthy, Lange is the choice for distinguished collectors who appreciate superb quality and finishing but don’t want to play the brand-name-game.
To book an appointment to view the Lange 1 Timezone please call us at 514 845 8878, or visit our contact page.