Feature: 3 More Things You’ve Got To Know About A. Lange & Söhne
We bring A. Lange & Söhne’s “In Focus” week to a close with a second take on what makes the brand so unique and interesting with some unusual titbits you probably didn’t know. The week may be over, but you haven’t missed it—all the week’s articles are live here on watchfinder.com right now, so please do go take a look. We’re also talking all things A. Lange & Söhne over on Instagram as well, so why not join us there. So, on with it: three A. Lange & Söhne facts that, in about ten minutes time, you’ll be glad to know.
A. Lange & Söhne’s German Silver Isn’t Made Of Silver
If you’re one of the privileged few who’ve been able to look with your own eyes through the back of an A. Lange & Söhne watch, you’ll appreciate what I’m about to say next. Most watch movements, even very high-end ones, feel very monochrome, bar a few dots and dashes of pink and gold here and there. The rhodium plated brass often seen in Swiss movement manufacture is a staple of the past, easy to work with at that fine level with a layer of bright white rhodium to protect it from corrosion.
It’s not unattractive by any means—but in comparison to a calibre from A. Lange & Söhne, standard feels a bit … standard. Peer into the back of one of these German delights and your eyes will feast upon a rich, golden hue—and not just from the engraved lettering, but from the movement itself. Perhaps that’s what was in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase. But what specifically? German silver.
German silver is used extensively not just by A. Lange & Söhne, but by many of the watchmakers in the Glashütte area. This is in part because it was A. Lange & Söhne that first established watchmaking in the region in the first place, and also because the properties of German silver have many benefits over its Swiss counterpart.
Something A. Lange & Söhne founder Ferdinand Lange was absolutely set on from the beginning was utter perfection. If he were to compete as an unknown from this unknown region, he would have to make sure that every part of every watch was pushed to its absolute limit. This is where the process of building each watch twice comes from, the use of the harder to adjust but overall more rigid three-quarter plate too, set with infinitely tuneable but ultimately far more time-consuming screwed chatons.
And it was German silver that replaced the softer brass typically used as well. Mechanically, it suits the movement far better, and visually it is very appealing—but there’s a downside. It’s very, very easy to mark. The final assembly, after all that adjustment and finishing, and with the movement sealed inside the watch, ends with a sigh of relief every time.
But hold on … because it’s not actually German silver. It’s not anyone’s silver, because there’s not a trace of the precious metal to be seen in its composition. Rather, it’s an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc, formulated for hardness and named so because, well, because it comes from Germany and it looks a little bit like silver.
A. Lange & Söhne Beat Patek Philippe To The Chronograph
So, you’ve got your time-only watches at the one end of the scale and your grand complications at the other, but the sweet spot of a high-end watchmaker’s collection—at least for me—has always been the chronograph. A good, hand-wound chronograph offers a balance between reservedness and excess that gets my pituitary gland firing a dopamine 21-gun salute. Anything from a Seagull 1963 to a Patek Philippe 5172G—yes, yes, yes.
And that Patek Philippe 5172G surely has to be the pinnacle, doesn’t it? That hand-wound, in-house calibre CH 29-535 PS, replete with column wheel, horizontal clutch, instant-change minute counter—it’s the benchmark example, the best, the first—or is it?
It might surprise you to learn that Patek Philippe’s CH 29-535 PS does not share the same expansive legacy as the brand itself. Yes, it was the illustrious watchmaker’s first in-house, pure chronograph—but it only came out in 2009. Before then, well, there was no before then. Aside from the rattrapante CHR 27-535 PS that came out a few years earlier in 2005, it was the first basic chronograph the company had ever made for a wristwatch.
Now, there’s a good reason for this, and the compounded version goes that after pocket watches evolved into wristwatches, the illustrious manufacturers of high-end calibres—like Patek Philippe—found the chronograph had fallen into a bit of a no-man’s land. Struggling to recoup the business with slim, complication-free wristwatches, and satiating a handful of clients with incredibly complicated pocket watches, there wasn’t enough demand to warrant the investment in what is actually a surprisingly complicated wristwatch movement: the chronograph.
So, they—the top three, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet—all sourced their chronograph movements elsewhere, preferring instead to focus their efforts on the finish. And, for Patek Philippe, that was the case right up until 2009. But what’s all this got to do with A. Lange & Söhne? Well, you’d probably never have guessed it, but the German watchmaker’s in-house, wristwatch chronograph calibre L951.1, first debuted in the Datograph in 1999, not just a few years before Patek Philippe’s but a full decade earlier.
A. Lange & Söhne Has Seiko To Thank For Its Success
Like an award-winning actor might list the people who made their journey to stardom possible in a tearful acceptance speech, there are a raft of names A. Lange & Söhne owes the success it has today to. Ferdinand Lange, of course, his great-grandson Walter who revived the business, Günter Blümlein, the legend who helped Walter realise his dream, Wilhelm Schmid, who’s steered the ship for the last decade—and many more besides.
But one name you might not expect to see in that list is Seiko. But yet, even if it is a small part in the blockbuster that is A. Lange & Söhne’s phenomenal rise to universal acclaim, it’s there. Let’s rewind a little bit and talk for a moment about Anthony de Haas.
As job roles go, there aren’t many in the watch business more influential than the one Anthony de Haas occupies. He’s Director of Product Development for A. Lange & Söhne, and has been since 2004, responsible for, oh, I don’t know, a couple of little projects you might have heard of like the Zeitwerk and the Triple Split.
His no-nonsense approach to building watches is a big part of what modern day A. Lange & Söhne has to thank for the critical acclaim it continues to enjoy. He’s a stickler for detail, arguably the Steve Jobs of watchmaking—minus the weird spiritual and personal hygiene issues, of course. De Haas even took watchmaking’s most notoriously delicate—read, breakable—complication, the minute repeater, and made it—in his words—idiot-proof. If you want any more evidence of the man’s dedication to perfection, he’s also a drummer. Need I say more.
In fact, young De Haas’ dream was to be a drummer, but he had no drums so he went to tool-making school so he could build his own, and from there his fascination in micromechanics grew—into a six-year long course. He qualified as a watchmaker and has since held technical positions at the likes of IWC and complications powerhouse Renaud et Papi—but his first few years were spent somewhere more humble, where his young, malleable mind was shaped: Seiko.
Now, there’s no saying just how much De Haas has been influenced by his time at Seiko, but given Seiko’s reputation for incredible efficiency and technicality, there must be some part of his time there that has steered the way he guides A. Lange & Söhne from project to project. And had he not worked at Seiko for that period, who knows where his career might have gone next? That means, however small a footnote it may be, that A. Lange & Söhne owes a tiny nod to Seiko.
If you enjoyed this article, you can look forward to next week’s “In Focus” stories from the brand that came in at number four. Any guesses as to who that might be? In the meantime, don’t forget to catch up on all the articles posted throughout the week here at watchfinder.com, if you haven’t already.
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