11 January 2023


By In A. Lange & Söhne, Brands, General

Lange & Söhne is today one of the most interesting brands in the luxury industry with many models in its catalogue that can compete with many of the most prestigious watchmaking brands, such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. Its history dates back to the Saxon Court, where a 15 years old Ferdinand Adolf Lange found himself as an apprentice to the watchmaker Johann Friedrich Gutkaes, already famous behind the borders of Saxony. Together, they developed the famous five minutes clock for the Semperoper in Dresden. The outstanding design featured two disks, one with Roman numeral from I to XII for the hours and one with Arabic numeral from 5 to 55 for the minutes, printed on two fabric-lined drums driven by a wheel train behind the frame of the two windows. The design may have been inspired by 17th-century French cooks or the digital-display stage clock inside “Teatro alla Scala” in Milan. This design has been a key inspiration for the out-sized date later featured in Lange watches.

Semperoper’s clock in Dresden – photo courtesy of www.alange-soehne.com

Lange graduated with honours from its apprenticeship in 1835, he begun to travel across Europe to learn the secrets of watchmaking. He studied in Paris, at that time it was the hub of precision watchmaking, together with astronomy and physics at the Sorbonne, then visits England and Switzerland. Finally, he settled back to Saxony, bringing the knowledge he gained to a manufacture in Glashütte. Determined to give birth to a new industry for the impoverished region, Ferdinand started to write to the Saxon government and in 1845 the Royal Saxon Ministry of the Interiors agreed to give structural support together with 5580 Thaler to hire 15 watchmakers and an additional 1120 Thaler to buy equipment. Here the legend began, with the pursuit to craft the best watches and with its ethic, Lange was recognised as one of the best watchmakers in the world. The following year, he developed the three-quarter baseplate, which is still used in the brand’s movements and it is a signature, allowing for every pivot in the wheel train to be fixed in a structure that is stable on all sides. Furthermore, he was also the first watchmaker in Europe to replace the Parisian system of “linges” with the metric system, introducing the millimetre as a form of measurement. 

In order to guarantee the highest quality possible and to regularly maintain it, Lange introduced the principle of division of labour, where every watchmaker had to be specialised in one particular step of the process. Behind being a watchmaking pioneer, in 1848 he was offered the office of Major of Glashütte and he contributed to the development of the city transforming it form the modest town it was to the thriving industrial centre for watchmaking that we know today. The only picture we have today of Ferdinand comes from the Russian imperial family, who invited him to St Petersburg since they were enthusiastic for Lange’s complicated pocket watches. Ferdinand, who didn’t want to leave his company for so long, replied with a portrait wearing the diamond pin gifted by the Tsars.

Ferdinand Adolph Lange – photo courtesy of www.alange-soehne.com

Since Ferdinand believed that the business should remain withinhis family, in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s he began to train his sons Richard and Emil, renaming the company as A. Lange & Sohne in 1868. The brothers complemented each other perfectly, Richard was an outstanding watch designer contributing to 27 patents and pushing precision in time measurement over new limits. Emil, instead, was a great salesman and he not only achieved the world fame for his “Century Tourbillon” presented at the World Exhibition of 1900 in Paris, but he also received the Knight’s Cross of the French Legion of Honour. In 1902 Lange debuted with their No. 42500 Grand Complication, ordered and manufactured in only one piece for Heinrich Schäfter in Vienna. The pocket watch is still today the most complicated pocket-watch ever created by the company, featuring a chiming movement with grand and petite sonnerie, a minute repeater and a split-seconds chronograph with flying seconds and 60-minute counter. The watch has also a perpetual calendar with moon-phase display and its complex movement is protected by a wonderfully chiselled and hand-engraved gold saponette case with classic Graff engraving.

Grand Complication No. 42500 by A. Lange & Söhne – photo courtesy of www.alange-soehne.com

During the Second World War, Lange sold pilot watches to the German Air Force. Unfortunately, at the end of the war the factory was bombed and following the occupation of East Germany by the Soviet Union the manufacture was forcefully nationalised leaving the Lange name to history books.

It was during a conference on November 9th 1989, when an Italian journalist asked Schabowski: “Don’t you think that it was a big mistake to introduce this draft travel law that you announced a few days ago?”. He replied, after shuffling his notes: “Private travel outside the country can now be applied for without prerequisites.”. The Berlin-wall had fallen, and with it the Soviet Union shortly followed. Therefore, from 1990 Adolf’s great-grandson Walter Lange was able to return to Germany and had re-registered the A. Lange & Söhne trademark. The same year, together with the successful watch manager Günter Blümlein, they made plans to establish the Lange manufactory from scratch.

“At that stage, we didn’t have much,” recalls Walter Lange, “We didn’t have any watches we could build and sell; we didn’t have any employee, any premise or any machinery. We only had the vision of the best watches in the world that we wanted to build in Glashütte all over again”. With the reborn, the spirt and philosophy of Adolf Lange can live again, driving the company to the highest peaks of watchmaking. In 1992 one of the first patents was deposited by the newly born Lange Uhren GmbH: the outsize date. This will become one of the trademarks of Lange’s watches, being extremely recognisable at first gland and appearing in three out of four of the models presented in 1994 with the official reborn. The most iconic model is for sure the Lange 1 with its outsized date and decentred dial, representing both the tradition and technical innovation. Together with the Lange 1, the Arkade, the Saxonia and the stunning Tourbillon “Pour le mérite” were presented. These watches are characterised by highly refined dials and the “Glashütte striping” on the movement.

The reborn of A. Lange & Söhne – photo courtesy of www.alange-soehne.com

A. Lange & Söhne ceased to be a family company in 2000, when it was bought by the Richmond Group. The following year, the workshop destroyed by the bombing in 1945 was reopened after ten years of works and still today hosts the production. The innovation never stopped, and in 2009 the Zeitwerk was launched, a watch that took inspiration from the Semperoper digital clock and was different from what Lange has ever produced. The minutes and hours are horizontally displayed, an exclusive patent. Finally, in 2020 the Odysseus was presented, the first sport watch with integrated bracelet from the brand that still maintained the distinctive characteristics such as the dial layout and the outsized date. 

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus ref. 363.179
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk ref. 142.031

Since its reinvention, Lange has contributed to the watchmakingworld with over 40 new movements and winning more than 150 horological prices. Nowadays, it is at the pinnacle of watchmaking, continuing a tradition of excellence that lasts from 1845.

Written by Giovanni Andrean

Born in 1999, energy engineer and truly passionate about watches since he was a teenager. He is attracted from the mechanical marvel of watches and their strong heritage in the same way one could be attracted by a piece of art.