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Time and Again

For European watchmakers IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and A. Lange & Söhne, success has been all in good

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"This Lange is the finest watch in the world," declares Leon Adams, the president of Cellini, the New York watch emporium. "Being in the trade I own a lot of timepieces. But my yellow-gold Lange 1 is the watch I wear for extended periods. I love the weight of it, and the design is absolutely gorgeous."  
The Lange 1, in an 18-karat gold ($19,800) or platinum ($28,600) case, isn't the only tantalizing piece that attests to this company's fanaticism for precision and technical innovation. There's also the self-winding Langematik with a caliber L921.4 "Sax-O-Mat" movement (every A. Lange model has a unique and painstakingly crafted movement). Developed over five years, this classic, restrained-looking piece ($30,700 in white-gold) is the first automatic wristwatch to have the "zero reset" feature, which immediately returns the second hand to zero when the crown is pulled for setting. Praising its "exceptional accuracy," and likening the Sax-O-Mat movement to a "master watchmaker at his creative peak," HR: Magazine concluded that "the Langematik is an exclusive and technically perfect timepiece that should make any collector proud."  
Aficionados have bestowed similar plaudits on the manually wound Lange "1815 Up and Down," which is engineered with a power reserve mechanism patented by A. Lange in 1940. Another technological marvel, a specially constructed planetary gear, has been miniaturized in a newly produced, 21-jewel movement to drive a blued steel hand to the up or down position, or somewhere inbetween, on the power reserve indicator.  
Lange's movements also have a wondrous poetry. Gold chatons are used as settings for the jewel bearings, and the three-quarter plates are always decorated with rubies and perfectly blued screws.  
But beauty is only one element of this comeback story. In this era of multitudinous mechanical complications, when the craze is to create as many functions as is horologically possible, A. Lange & Söhne introduced a piece last fall that is a bells-and-whistles tour de force.  
The new $46,200 Datograph is the world's first chronograph with a "precisely jumping" minute counter, an outsize date, stop seconds, a platinum case and flyback (the ability to instantly reset the chronometer to zero and then start the stopwatch by releasing the pushpiece). The watch took four years to develop and more than six months to manufacture. Only 50 were made in 1999, and though about 250 pieces are planned for this year, Lange still has more orders than it can fill. This masterwork features a movement with 390 precise, hand-finished parts, a two-part dial made of solid silver, and a see-through, sapphire glass caseback.  
A new movement had to be created to accommodate the flyback feature with the minute counter and oversized date, an example of the extraordinary technology that has become the firm's hallmark. Company spokesman Arnd Einhorn says such innovations will continue. "While we're working on new movements that might be presented in 2001, we believe in going slow," says Einhorn. "Preserving our exclusivity [only 41 jewelers worldwide carry Lange's products] and our craftsmanship is paramount. We'll only make significant watches, pieces worthy of our heritage."  
Cellini's Leon Adams suggests that A. Lange's go-slow strategy has allowed it to "build a product superior to most Swiss companies." But even while equating its exceptional craftsmanship with "the pursuit of a dream," he wonders whether "the sudden demand for Lange watches will impact quality. So far, Lange has resisted temptations to greatly increase production, and remained loyal to splendid workmanship."  
While commercial pressures may ultimately alter the firm's plans, Walter Lange is confident his company will continue to be a singular presence in the industry. "With all the demand for our work, it's our newest challenge to produce only a limited number of the finest pieces. We'll continue to just rely on movements we make, and if that makes us rare in the industry, great. We like doing the impossible."  
Florida-based freelance writer Edward Kiersh is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.
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