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A Brief History of A. Lange & Söhne

In 1815, Ferdinand Adolf Lange was born in Dresden. When his parents separated, he was taken in and raised by some friends who helped him to attend university in Dresden. It was his time at university that enabled him to acquire an education that was ordinarily reserved for engineers and technicians and whilst he was at school, Lange began an apprenticeship with the renowned clockmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes. Gutkaes, who later engineered the famous five-minute clock for the Semper opera house, recognised the extraordinary talent that Lange possessed.

When he finished training, Lange began his journeyman years travelling to Switzerland, England and Paris, which was then the capital of clockmaking. For four years Lange travelled, and he recorded all his time in his workbook, which was a gift from his mentor Gutkaes. Within this book, he calculated gear tables, mechanisms and calculations that all show how dedicated Lange was to the measurement of time. This book exists to this day and it is where one can see Lange introducing the use of the metric system, as he felt that it was more efficient.

While in Paris, Lange worked at a factory owned by clockmaker Joseph Thadeous Winnel. He studied Astronomy and Physics at the Sorbonne, but mainly continued his studies in Horology, learning from the greatest Parisian master clockmakers. When Lange returned to Dresden, he married Antonia Gutkaes in the same year that he qualified as a master craftsman. It was around this time that correct timekeeping became more important in society due to the introduction of the railroads.

Ferdinand Adolf Lange - Founder of the brand
Ferdinand Adolf Lange, image via A. Lange & Söhne.

Lange was now a partner in his father-in-law’s clockmaking firm and they soon became extremely successful. Lange wanted to diversify and had many ambitions; he wanted to establish a factory of his own in the Ore Mountains, which he saw as a perfect place to compete with the watchmakers in England and Switzerland. Lange approached the government of Saxony for funding, explaining that he would be able to help the poor people of the Ore mountains by building his factory there.

Lange was granted a loan to hire and train a total of 15 apprentices in the town of Glashütte. Lange moved to Glashütte and, on the 7th December 1845, he welcomed the first apprentices to his workshop. Lange invested everything he owned and entered into substantial debt. However, the craftsman never gave up hope, and we now know that his dedication paid off. Walter Lange, referred to these as difficult times but as his greatest

His travels through Europe had shown him exactly what he wanted to do differently with his own manufacturing. Lange changed watchmaking with revolutionary ideas, with perseverance and a great vision. He devoted himself to various improvements, in particular, he developed the ¾ plate. Being larger, the ¾ plate can accommodate all of the arbours of the wheelchain, which keeps these gears in stable contact. This is still one of the most important traditional elements at A. Lange & Söhne.

Lange reorganised the process of making timepieces and also introduced specialisations amongst his watchmakers so that each watchmaker completed a specific step in the process. This significantly lowered the chance of error. He also concentrated on machinery, one example being by bringing in foot-driven lathes, which allowed for continuous even revolutions and vastly improved the production of many parts of the watch. He encouraged all of his apprentices to go into business for themselves, as specialists. This was particularly good for him as it meant that he didn’t have to produce all the parts himself, he had specialists to produce them for him.

"There is something one should expect not only of a watch but also of oneself: never stand still."

Walter Lange

All of this shows that Lange was more than just a watchmaker. Lange was a revolutionary. He brought education, opportunity and business to the Ore mountains, whilst also improving the lives of the people. Lange was even mayor of Glashütte for 18 years, during which it became a lively prosperous town. He was elected to Parliament and established the Lange Foundation, for retired watchmakers. When the King wanted to ennoble him in recognition for his services, Lange's response was that ‘A worthy man ennobles himself’.

Emil and Richard Lange, image via A. Lange & Söhne.
Emil and Richard Lange, image via A. Lange & Söhne.

Emil and Richard took over when Adolf Lange, their father, died at the age of 60. The pocket watches made by these two brothers were held in high acclaim at the time, used by Sultans and Kings, decorated with images of peace and gilded with rare stones. For example, the Grande Complication No.42500 was commissioned by Heinrich Schaffer. It contains the most intricate movement ever produced by A. Lange & Söhne and there is only one in existence. A. Lange & Söhne developed timepieces specifically for the new pioneers of aviation, such as Zeppelin. These pieces needed to be precise and legible and were essential for navigation and scientific measurements.

In 1930 Richard Lange discovered a new alloy for balance springs while reading a paper by two engineers. He thought about adding Beryllium to improve elasticity and this method is still in use today in most high-quality mechanical timepieces.

At the end of the second world war, A. Lange & Söhne was appropriated and A. Lange & Söhne was not stamped on any of the watches produced until after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. They began producing watches and returned to Glashütte, under the control of Walter Lange, in 1990.

walter Lange, image via A. Lange & Söhne.
Walter Lange, image via A. Lange & Söhne.

The first patent granted in the new era was filed in 1992; this was for the out-sized date. The mechanism was introduced to three of the four watches produced and the first collection was presented to the public in 1994, proving that all the hard work going back into business was worthwhile.

By 2011, the calibre count had increased to 40. A. Lange & Söhne were awarded awards for Excellence, which goes to show that the effort that is put into crafting a watch and movement optimised with function and design in mind is worth it.

Most of A. Lange & Söhne watches are not only technologically brilliant, they are also works of art, and some are extremely rare. An example of this is the Lange 1 Tourbillon, introduced in 2000. This is the first wristwatch with a gravity compensating Tourbillon, outsized date display, twin mainspring barrel for a three-day power reserve, and a power reserve indicator. Produced between 2000 and 2003, there were only 400 made.

The history of A. Lange & Söhne, both socially and horologically, is a testament to what is possible when you are passionate, dedicated and committed to perfection. Even with a 50-year gap in production, A. Lange & Söhne are still one of the most important historical and contemporary watchmakers in the world.

You can buy pre-owned A. Lange & Söhne watches at xupes.com.