Founded by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, being one of the first to set up shops in the now-iconic town Glashütte in Germany in 1845 is now one of the most respected, reputable and prestigious watch brands in the world. What was it like to go from 0 to the best of the best?
Lange studied Horology and graduated in Dresden, apprenticed under the clockmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes. (part of the Semper Opera House clockwork project). After graduating in 1845, A. Lange showed great entrepreneurial courage and moved to Saxon town, Glashütte, to start his first ever watchmaking company.
However, at that time, Glashütte was not as prosperous. Compared to the British and Swiss watchmaking industry, not only is Germany way behind on technology development but on resources as well. By the time A. Lange started his watchmaking business, silver deposit in that part of ore mountain had long since gone. Although the situation had A. Lange against the rope, a miracle happened just in time.
The Ministry of Interior saw Lange’s struggles and wanted to lend a helping hand. It made a risky investment by loaning Lange a huge amount of silver thalers to jumpstart his watchmaking career. As a result, A. Lange set up his first shop ever in Glashütte in December of 1845 in a small village so insignificant which at that time, there were no paved roads into it.
Tough Times Maketh Heroes
Lange was hugely in debt after the loan from the government; everything he owned had gone into his business but he was dedicated and determined.
At that time, the rail transport industry was booming and required precise timekeeping, A. Lange figured that his workshop would come in handy by creating timekeeping devices that could help the industry. He then proceed to create something so innovative and advanced that made history, the three-quarter plate.
The Three-quarter plate increased manufacture efficiency and general stability where the barrel, crown and wheel train were directly attached to the three-quarter plate rather than using multiple bridges.
For F. A. Lange, this was not an acceptable solution. His goal was reliably manufacturable timepieces of long-lasting quality. For this reason, he developed an upper plate that accommodated all the pivots of the most important wheels.
During a period of nearly 20 years, Lange kept refining the design of this plate. It grew in several consecutive steps until, in 1864, it covered three quarters of the movement. Only the balance cock with the oscillation system remained exposed. Then, its definitive shape was finally defined: The three-quarter plate was born.A. Lange and Söhne official website
Along with the invention of the three-quarter plate, Lange also created something called the German silver. It is an alloy containing copper, zinc, and nickel, this material is characterized by its stability and its high resistance to corrosion.
With the creation of these two groundbreaking inventions, Lange was able to make a name for himself in the town of Saxon and defined 1A quality watches in his era.
After what Ferdinand Lange had done to transform the town, Glashütte appointed him as the mayor. A. Lange held this position for 18 years and in the meantime, his sons Emil and Richard learned the family business and were official partners by the year 1871.
Thus, A. Lange and Söhne came to birth.
A. Lange and Söhne was a success especially after the invention of Nivarox, a new type of metal alloy which is perfect for balance springs. However, like a lot of other watchmaking companies, A. Lange and Söhne had decided to shift their production to military watches, this decision almost laid A. Lange and Söhne to rest as the workshop became a target during the WWII.
The workshop was obliterated by artilleries and because Glashütte lies in East Germany, the Soviet Union eventually nationalized the workshop, the Sons fled to West Germany and the Lange brand eventually ceased to exist.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Lange family reunited and rebuilt the brand with the help of the International Watch Company.
Aiming at Higher Complications
Ever since 1990, the watchmaking company had once again made its name anew with its highly complicated timepieces. One of my favourite watch from the A. Lange and Söhne brand is the Saxonia Triple Split.
It is “the world’s first mechanical split-seconds chronograph that allows multi-hour comparative time measurements”. The Triple Split utilizes the 567 component movement to allow split seconds, split minutes and split hours.
The development of the triple rattrapante mechanism allowed the watch to run two-second hands, two minute-hands, and two hour-hands simultaneously.
Rather than pairing the inimitable intricacy of the watch with opulent embellishments, A. Lange and Söhne had decided to convey the elegance of the watch with a subtle titanium grey dial and a fairly visually subdued silver bezel. To top that off, they added a hint of blue on the second-hands to highlight it.
Undoubtedly, the Saxonia Triple Split introduced a whole new dimension of time measurement, the exquisite craftsmanship and challenges engineers had to overcome is something hard to fathom.
The Art of Handcrafting
A. Lange and Söhne not only made Glashütte a horological epicenter, but it also redefined the term ‘watchmaking’. From just an apprentice to becoming a mayor of the town he worked in; from learning how to assemble parts to developing some of the most iconic movements recorded to this day.
The phrase ‘Made in Germany’ used to be an indicator for people to distinguish between British and German products, preventing customers from purchasing second-rate quality. A. Lange and Söhne was able to flip the negativity around, turning it into a respected sign of quality instead. Since then, the company had upheld its high-quality production and proudly displays the line ‘Glashütte I/SA’ (Glashütte in Saxony).