When it comes to high-end watchmaking there are definitely distinct tiers. Mass-produced high-end timepieces like Rolex sit at the base, alongside the likes of Hublot and Breitling. You then reach the tier where the holy trinity sits, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
Beyond this tier, which even for the majority is out of reach, you have an even more exclusive and desirable level, we’re talking Greubel Forsey, Jacquet Droz and MB&F. But there is one brand that is often undervalued: A. Lange & Söhne.
This is a brand that is individually rewriting what it is to be high-end in 2023; they have managed to create a brand and watches that both look forward and innovate whilst remaining true to their history. Their current offerings are contemporary but still maintain a nod to the past.
Image Credit: Ferdinand Adolph Lange
Adolf Lange, who founded the brand, was born in 1815 in Saxony, Germany. For the fans of the brand, you’ll be acutely aware of the importance of these two facts in the current offerings. The centuries to follow brought about financial hardship, a collapse of the brand and the subsequent rebirth in 1990. The history of A Lange & Söhne isn’t simply one of prosperity, instead, it is one which endures and makes the brand what it is today.
For Adolf Lange, son of a gunsmith, becoming a master watchmaker was a far cry from anything he knew during his youth. However, this Saxonian was beginning a journey of mastery, mastering his craft under Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes before embarking on a new adventure in France.
He learnt, next, under Josef Thaddäus Winnerl, the former apprentice of Abraham Louis Breguet (and yes that is Mr Breguet). The word pioneer was quickly associated with Lange upon his return to Germany, he learnt and understood the good and bad ways in French watchmaking. In France, watchmaking was perhaps more innovative than in most other countries but relied heavily on trial and error. Even back in the early years of A. Lange & Söhne, trial and error wasn’t an option.
Adolf’s return to Glashütte, Saxony, Germany also sparked another key moment for the founder. After years of reinvigorating the watchmaking industry, Adolf became Mayor of Glashütte, he wasn’t simply a pioneer of watchmaking, he was a social pioneer.
He had transformed the German watchmaking industry, whilst boosting the local economy. Clearly, the brand, from its infancy was more than just a watchmaker. However, for those that are the watch nerds amongst us, Lange was known also for combining the Swiss Cylinder watch with an English movement, he was bringing together watchmaking from around the world and bringing together a whole community, simultaneously.
However, in 1875, the history of A. Lange & Söhne were about to change massively and spark a turbulent period for the company, which ended in disaster.
A new generation of watchmakers
At just 50 years old, in 1875, Adolf Lange, the pioneering founder of the brand we know as A. Lange & Söhne today passed away. This sparked a massive change for the industry in general and of course for the company. Richard and Emil Lange, the sons of Adolf, took over the company and managed to continue its prosperity for the next 30 years or so. A. Lange & Söhne, became the high-end watchmakers that crafted timepieces for only the best of European society, including royalty.
The Impact of World Wars II on A. Lange & Söhne
World War I wasn’t too problematic for the company; they survived the war and the company even saw a new generation emerge nearer the Second World War. However, the Second World War proved to be disastrous for the brand.
The third generation of Lange’s return from military service to find their ‘manufactory’ destroyed. The bombing raids during the Second World War destroyed everything they had ever known and everything they had created over their 120-year history. The company that once provided the very best in German timekeeping to royalty was no more.
The history up until World War II had been prosperous, the brand had innovated and produced some of the best timepieces in Europe. It looked all but over until Lange came back, and they came back bigger than ever.
Re-establishing the brand
Image Credit: Watch Time
In 1990, Walter Lange re-established the brand on the 145th birthday of Adolf Lange. Walter had a new direction for the brand, it was going to innovate more than ever, but also stay true to its rich history more so than ever as well. This was no better personified than in 1994, with the release of the Lange 1; their flagship model.
Its design was contemporary and its level of craftmanship was on the verge of futuristic. It also sported a nod to the past; the prolific date window drew its inspiration from a clock made by Adolf himself for the Semper Opera House in 1830.
It goes without saying that A Lange & Söhne has staked its claim as one of the best watchmakers in Germany, ever. The brand continues to innovate, much like Adolf during the company’s infancy. They manufactured over forty movements and continue to refine, develop and master their craft.
Their level of mastery now borders obsessive, in fact, they always assemble the movement twice to ensure that perfection is achieved every time. Inside the movement, even the smallest speck of dust can cause inefficiencies. They leave no stone unturned in the quest for ultimate immaculacy.
They have developed many other lines, the Saxonia and 1815, as well as the Datograph, which is arguably the best chronograph ever produced. A. Lange & Söhne have earnt their status as master watchmakers but still don’t get the credit they deserve. Is it because they are not Swiss? Is it because they have a turbulent history?
Quite simply, the world has quite opened its eyes to A. Lange & Söhne yet. It will, and in time, Lange will become one of the most revered brands of our time. They somehow perfectly merge innovation and retrospect, its brand of the future with a nod to the past.