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Review: A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite

Rewind your brain back to the days of school and remind yourself of that dreadful period post handing in your coursework or taking an exam where you waiting to be graded, to have a one of three words stamped onto your life forever more: fail, pass or merit. It was one thing to hope to pass, another to be sure of a top score—but for A. Lange & Söhne’s Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite, there seems to be no wavering in its confidence. The German watchmaker has kindly let us have a look at one of these £200,000 watches to find out why.

The Tourbillon With An Ego

There aren’t many watches that can boast a tourbillon. This gravity-busting sort-of-but-not-quite complication has been fighting the effects of space and time since 1795, straightening the geometry of our curving universe by working tirelessly to correct it. It literally bends time as it draws a circle over and over, encapsulating the entire escapement—that is, the mechanism used to make a watch beat evenly second to second—and breaking it free of the geodesic path it would have otherwise been destined to travel.

If that sounds impressive, that’s because it is, particularly since it was first invented just a century after Sir Isaac Newton first had that run-in with an apple. More impressive still, the tourbillon existed well over a century before Albert Einstein casually blew everyone’s minds by correcting Newton.

Seems, then, a device worth celebrating, and in the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite, it’s on full show through the dial, ably doing its worst to the laws of physics whilst driving the second hand for good measure. And if it’s on show, it needs to be in its best dress—and that can be categorically stated as not just true, but blindingly so. It’s not so much finished as it is completed. The tourbillon carriage alone, a swooping two fingers in the face of gravity, is a triumph of the human hand in not only beating a fundamental law of the universe, but doing it in style.

But wait! What’s this? Our tourbillon’s limelight has been stolen by the necessity of an hour hand! I suppose, after all, this is a watch, and accurate time is nothing without a way to tell it by, but—did there have to be such a great big bite out of this mechanical beauty’s mush? Well fear not, because our egotistical little tourbillon need not through a hissy fit, because once the hour track has done its thing in the vicinity of the tourbillon—it disappears. So, between the hours of twelve and six, the tourbillon can be appreciated to its fullest.

A Rude Interruption

So this tourbillon is a little bit of a show-stopper, that’s for sure. It knows what it’s got and it’s flaunting it. But what use is all that power without control? This watch needs a kind of traction control, if you will, a stability program that lets the movement’s accuracy be properly calibrated. By which, of course, I mean setting the time.

It may have become apparent to you that this 41.9mm rose gold case houses a time display that’s a little out of the ordinary. It’s perhaps not unusual to see the seconds separated from the hours and minutes, but to see all three scales completely independent of each other is very uncommon. That’s because this is a regulator-style watch, whose design harks back to the master clocks found in observatories across the land from which local time was set by.

Before the internet, satellites and the talking clock, a person was required to set their own timekeeper by the time of the town’s clock. A chime ensured that all around knew that they wouldn’t miss playing ball-in-a-cup or stick-and-hoop—or whatever it was people did back then—with their friends. But where did the town clock get its time from? These observatories, that used an intricate knowledge of the night sky to maintain an uncompromisingly accurate measure of time, would be visited by travelling timekeepers who would set a portable clock and return to their town of origin to make sure things were still ticking along nicely, so to speak.

Those observatory clocks, like this Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite, had their hours, minutes and seconds separated to ensure no mistakes were made by these wandering watchmakers who might deign to turn ten past ten to ten to two. And to guarantee precision to the second, the portable clocks could hack—that is, stop dead, seconds included.

Hacking isn’t the most revolutionary feature in the wold when it comes to watches, but for a tourbillon like this one, it’s virtually unheard of. All that mass, all that momentum, in its own tiny universe, is tearing through space—only in the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite, a pull of the crown is sure to give it a rather rude interruption.

A Bicycle Chain In the Back

But before you stand to give this watch the rousing applause it deserves, pause for a moment, because all this watch’s hard work may be about to come undone. That’s right: I am indeed talking about Hooke’s law. And it was all going so well.

What’s going on here is that despite the watch’s meagre 36-hour power reserve, the torsional spring providing drive to the clear and accurate display via the clear and accurate tourbillon—is flawed. Within its elastic limit—that is, before it bends so far it won’t go back again—the mainspring powering this watch can only provide a force linearly proportional to its displacement.

Or rather, stretch a spring a little and it pulls back a little; stretch it a lot and it’ll fight you harder. Although not stated by Hooke’s law specifically, springs are, therefore, made of the same constituent stuff as teenagers. And this presents a problem, because for your tourbillon to fight space and time and our regulator dial to fight poor attention and bad eyesight, the flow of force getting the whole thing moving needs to be constant—and it’s not.

A fully wound mainspring is raring to go, ready to bolt out the gate like a greyhound with a rocket up its backside. An almost empty one exhibits the same amount of effort as I do looking for something interesting to watch at one in the morning. You get what you get.

So, what you really need is a gear to tone down the full spring and a gear to beef up the empty one—and then an infinitely variable gear between them. Sounds impossible? Well, it’s not, as over 600 of this watch’s 1,000 parts have gone into demonstrating. This incredible device, known as the fusée and chain, is no new thing, actually dating back to the early 16th century—albeit nowhere near as compact as it is found in the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite.

It’s a solution of such organic simplicity that it truly tips the scales for this watch’s credibility, taking the force of the mainspring and transferring it through a conical spiral via a wrapped chain, allowing the gearing between the two to shift in a linear fashion identical to the spring’s, delivering even torque to the escapement from the first drop to the very last.

It’s watches like these that make the job of telling you all about them so enjoyable, and to be honest, so much easier. Not every watch can be like this, nor should they be, if only to make the ones that are that much more incredible. The Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite is a demonstration of true horological mastery and the preservation of centuries of learning and understanding into one tiny, wrist worn museum. It’s definitely done its homework, for which I can quite confidently state it has earned that merit.

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