A. Lange & Söhne Makes Crazy Look EasyWritten by Alvin Wong
It’s always the quiet ones, isn't it?
The ones that go about their business with little fuss and maximum efficiency. The ones who rarely speak up, but when they do, blow the opposition into submission.
In theory, a brand like A. Lange & Söhne should have been consigned as a watch geek-favourite. The Saxonian brand, which makes what some believe to be less than 5,000 timepieces a year, should have been an unknown (or in kinder terms, a ‘cult brand’); precious and revered but only by the most informed and discerning of watch connoisseurs. But this is only half true.
While Lange ranks highly among aficionados, it is fair to argue that its fame has stretched beyond the community of elitist collectors. Yet, brand CEO Wilhelm Schmid (pictured) has repeated stressed that it is not Lange’s ambition to be among the world’s most recognised watch brand. “Our niche is to produce for collectors who understand watches,” he once said.
How does A. Lange & Söhne do it? Given its adherence to traditional watchmaking, the brand operates within a tight framework. Yet, it does not seek to reinvent the wheel. Instead, to continue with the analogy, the brand strives to make better wheels. Take the its new Zeitwerk Minute Repeater (pictured). Unlike a traditional minute repeater, which requires one to do a bit of mental arithmetic as it sounds out the hours, quarter hours and minutes in different tones, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater sounds out the time just as how one reads it. The watch does so by simply chiming the minute tone in tens of minutes, instead of quarters.
“It’s far more logical, because we don’t tend to think in quarters,” says Anthony de Haas, Lange’s technical director. Another feature in the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater that champions ease-of-use is its pusher-activated system. Traditional repeaters use a slide mechanism, which activates the chiming feature and winds up a second mainspring to power up the device. In the Zeitwerk model, the mechanism draws its strength from the single mainspring, tapping into its 36-hour reserve. To prevent the user from accidentally draining the entire power supply, a blocking system is activated once energy levels dwindle to 12 hours.
Other well-known examples of Lange prioritising form over function without sacrificing either can be found in timepieces like the Lange 31, and the tourbillon mechanism from 2008, which comes with a feature that allows the user to stop the rotation of the tourbillon carriage when setting the time. “The best moments happen when we offer timepieces that rewrite history with mechanisms that people have never though about,” says Bobe. “For example, I was surprised that after 200 years of the tourbillon’s existence, no one had thought of creating a mechanism that would stop it in order to set the time more accurately.”
The Lange 31 (pictured), introduced a year earlier in 2007, also offered a revelation of sorts for a watch industry obsessed with boosting their credentials with complication watches. Instead, A. Lange & Söhne proposed a simple objective – have a watch that will run for a month.
Mechanical watches typically offer between 32 to 42 hours of power reserve. The Lange 31 promises 31 days on a full wind. Of course, out-of-the-box thinking was required to conceive the watch. And the mechanisms borne from this were nothing short of astounding, including two mainsprings stacked atop each other, each measuring 1.85 meters; and a ratchet key winding system similar to those found in old pocket watches that allows for smooth winding and prevents over-winding.
It is such thoughtful approach to horology – a sense of constantly trying to find better solutions to enhance user experience, as opposed to marching out an avant-garde complication for the sake of technical one-upmanship – that endears A. Lange & Söhne to collectors.
An immediate example that comes to mind is the Lange 1 (pictured), possibly the most recognisable watch in the brand’s stable. A ‘simple’ watch at first glance, the Lange 1 is actually endowed with immense aesthetic depth that determine its performance.
The twin outsized date display, for example, was the first patent to be granted Lange after its re-establishment in 1992. Developed to enhance legibility, the feature is now an aesthetic trademark, appearing not only on the Lange 1, but also other collections. Elsewhere, the model’s famous off-centered time display isn’t the result of a designer channel flighty inspiration. Rather, it is based on the perfectly congruent proportions of the golden section, which from ancient times was considered the blueprint of artistic balance. If there was an explanation as to why the Lange 1 seems so, well, pleasing and proportionate, this could very well be it.
Technical director, Anthony de Haas, who has been with the company for the past decade, says he is proud that their timepieces are “not created based on marketing briefs”. “It is a down-to-earth approach with the objective of achieving high watchmaking standards,” he explained. “We pride our creativity on logical thinking.”
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.