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Review: A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst

A timepiece from German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne is always an experience. From the stark gothic designs to the unusual layouts and even the intricate complications, there’s not a watch that emerges from the brand’s Glashütte home that doesn’t raise an eyebrow. For the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst, however, it’s more like five eyebrows. Here are five strange things about this unusual watch.

The Second Hand

If you want to show the time on a traditional watch, you’re going to want to use hands, and the Lange 1 Tourbillon has those, no surprises there. There’s one for the hours, one for the minutes, one over on the right for the power reserve—the 72 hours of which indicated with a very Germanic “up” and “down”—and of course one for the seconds. The arrangement of said hands is unusual in the Lange 1 layout but not indecipherable once it becomes clear that the time, usually the largest display, resides over in the midi sub-dial over on the left.

So far, so good—until it comes to actually reading the time. Hours and minutes for a casual glance and everything’s rosy. Take a look at the seconds, however, and you’ll spot that something’s up. Now, on a watch like this, where the seconds appear on a smaller sub-dial off centre to the main display, there’s no real need for accurate time-telling. This is no military chronometer. The seconds, really, exist just to tell you that the watch is running.

Which is good, because if you want an accurate readout between eighteen and forty-two seconds, what you get instead is a reminder of the watch’s provenance. “Made in Germany” graces the lion’s share of the lower half of the seconds sub-dial—but really it’s a minor discrepancy that can just be ignored to no real detriment. Except, this is A. Lange & Söhne. Seemingly very pleased with the location of this wording, instead of moving it to a different spot on the carefully considered dial, instead the second hand gets a second tip. Pointing in the opposite direction, it can be used to determine the exact reading as it passes through its maker’s country.

The Dial

Right, so we’ve established that the hands are a bit unusual, but what about the dial itself? Let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes. How about this, then: the dial is made from white gold. “White gold?” you say. “But it’s clearly black.” Well, yes, thank you, and that’s because A. Lange & Söhne covered it in black enamel, a painstakingly delicate process involving blue paint that’s made with ground up glass and a very hot oven that turns it all black and shiny. That’s why this watch earns the title Handwerkskunst, which, without even speaking German, gets the point across.

But, why? Why the white gold if it’s just going to be covered in black enamel? A number of reasons, many of them practical. Unlike traditional copper-based materials, white gold does not expand during the firing process, which would lead to the enamel cracking. It’s also far more corrosion resistant, further improving the dial as a foundation for the enamel to sit on.

It’s not all about logic, however. A. Lange & Söhne wanted the dial markings to shine through the enamel rather than be printed on top, and white gold has a certain lustre to it that makes it the ideal material. The hands and date surround are, too, white gold, and so by leaving the raw dial material untouched for the markings, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst gleams like nothing else. And how about this for attention to detail: the thickness of the enamel itself was even accommodated for in the pinion height of the hands.

The Second Hand Again

But wait! We’re not finished with that pesky second hand just yet, because it’s got another trick up its sleeve. As we’ve seen, white gold is a prominent fixture of the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst—but not for the second sub-dial. That is, instead, made from silver.

We’ve seen silver used recently in the Tudor Black Bay 58 925, and the reason that’s notable is because silver is rarely used in watchmaking at all, not since pocket watches fell out of fashion at least. “Ah!”, you might be thinking, “but what about German silver?” The material is a favourite of A. Lange & Söhne for the champagne tinge it gives the movement, but alas, it’s not actually silver, rather an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel, favoured for its hardness and corrosion resistance—things very welcome in a movement and the complete opposite of silver.

So why the silver second sub-dial? And won’t it corrode? A. Lange & Söhne wanted the sub-dial to shimmer with fine concentric circles, almost like a medallion honouring the brand’s homeland, and it’s just not possible to achieve that with enamelling. Many other watchmakers would just give up on that fine detail, but not this one. Instead, the sub-dial is a separate piece, carved from the material that gave the best result: silver. And, being anodised in black to match the rest of the dial, it will remain bright and gleaming for many decades to come.

The Tourbillon

As wonderful as the dial is with its very Germanic level of attention to detail, of course the tourbillon takes centre stage. Nestled towards the bottom of the 38.5mm platinum case, the tourbillon is the epicentre of the calibre L961.3, and quite the visual treat it is. A. Lange & Söhne has been known—as is in keeping with tradition—to hide the tourbillon around the back, but not here.

The calibre L961.3 as a whole is obviously an incredible thing to look at whichever way up this watch is, and from the back the extent of the hand engraving that further bolsters this watch’s Handwerkskunst moniker can be seen. Despite the additional big date, power reserve and tourbillon complications, the watch overall remains at a slender 9.8mm thick.

It is such a triumphant thing to behold thanks to the incredibly ornate artistry, that there’s a surprise detail that might go amiss: the jewel bearings for the tourbillon. Ordinarily these would be rubies—of which there are 51 in this watch—deep red pools of shiny corundum that provide a near-friction¬–free surface for the tourbillon to run on. Not here: instead, we’ve got diamonds. And not just any old diamonds, but properly faceted and polished ones, just like you’d see in a jeweller’s window. This watch really is a, ahem, gem.

The Price

How much this watch costs is not as simple as you might think it is, and is perhaps one of the most unusual things about it. Back in 2014, when it was brand new, it cost around £155,000, and from that you would assume that its price today is fairly easy to determine.

But here’s where things get tricky, because the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst, due to its labour-intensive construction, is a limited edition. And I don’t mean limited edition in the way Omega means it; only twenty examples of this watch exist. Not two thousand, not two hundred—twenty. If one goes missing, that’s 5% of the population down.

Given the rarity, complexity and hand-crafted nature of the Handwerkskunst collection, that effectively makes this watch priceless. You won’t find one for sale, likely ever, and I can’t imagine the people who currently have them would ever be in a position where they need to sell. I expect there would have to be an offer they couldn’t refuse, and I dread to think what that might be. We’ve had to borrow this one from the A. Lange & Söhne archives just to show you!

When special becomes even more so, that’s when you get into the realms of the A. Lange & Söhne Handwerkskunst collection, and for the Lange 1 Tourbillon especially, that means discovering some pretty unusual features. Who knows what goes on the minds of its creators when a watch like this comes to be? All I can say is that, whatever it is, I’m glad it did.

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