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Time and Again

For European watchmakers IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and A. Lange & Söhne, success has been all in good
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

(continued from page 2)

IWC, meanwhile, is heading in the opposite direction of creating larger and weightier watches with manly sizzle, and Sarp is convinced he already has a piece that will rival the Reverso for longevity.   "While the Destriero, Grand Complication and GST are wonderful, our flagship is the Da Vinci," says Sarp. "When everyone was rushing to use quartz in the 1970s and '80s, we developed this ultimate mechanical."  

Three years in the making, the Da Vinci is an automatically winding mechanical chronograph, with a stopwatch accurate to one-eighth of a second, that shows the phases of the moon and displays the date, day, month, year, decade and millennium. This intricate piece of technological wizardry was introduced in 1985, and since then, IWC has added other pieces to the Da Vinci collection.  

The Da Vinci Tourbillon boasts a pearl-sized mechanism (consisting of 100 components) to compensate for the earth's gravitational pull, and to make the watch run even more precisely. There's also the exquisite Four Seasons Tourbillon, a limited edition of 20 watches with a finely engraved dial featuring four allegorical figures that represent the passage of time. The family's newest offspring, the Da Vinci SL Automatic with a quartz-controlled movement, is, comparatively speaking, affordably priced between $2,700 and $17,000 and comes in 12 models.   It's doubtful any watch will ever attain the near mythical status of Leonardo Da Vinci. Yet, the Da Vincis are aptly named, for they epitomize the Renaissance master's gift for aesthetics.  

IWC isn't the only member of the LMH triumvirate that's winning new praise. Its other sister company, A. Lange & Söhne, is also delighting the watch world with its pieces. Even more impressive than its craftsmanship, however, is Lange's very existence. Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Lange survived a death-spewing firestorm during the Second World War and subsequent political upheavals before miraculously resuscitating the time-honored brand a decade ago.  

During the waning hours of May 7, 1945, Russian fighter-bombers swooped down from the clouds, raining havoc on a retreating German Panzer division and on the small town of Glashütte, south of Dresden, Germany, devastating the town.   The rockets demolished the main production facility of A. Lange & Söhne, which, since 1845, had created pocket watches that were considered by many to be the Rolls-Royce of German watchmaking.  

The brand had captured the fancy of the aristocracy throughout pre-war Europe. Company founder Adolph Lange, the son-in-law of the watchmaker to the royal court of Dresden in the mid-nineteenth century, used precise mathematical calculations in the manufacturing of watch movements, pioneering efforts that won his company numerous awards.  

Three generations later, Lange's great-grandson Walter Lange was eager to spin his own artistic legacy. Schooled as a master watchmaker before serving in the Second World War, Lange saw his dreams dashed by two turbulent events after returning to civilian life. In 1946, his family had to fend off an expropriation attempt by the Soviet occupying force. Just two years later, Lange's hopes for reconstructing the company were dashed when the East German dictatorial regime seized what was left of the Lange factory, eventually forcing the highly skilled employees to make mass-produced military watches in the "People's Own Factory," a government-owned plant formed by the forced merger of several expropriated companies.  

Lange, ordered to work in a uranium mine, fled to West Germany in 1948 and established a wholesale watch business. During this period, he made his first contacts with IWC, which evolved into a long-standing friendship with the company. But his dream of resurrecting the A. Lange & Söhne brand was thwarted by the harsh reality of the Cold War. He would have to wait almost 50 years before his dream became a reality.  

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, and the East German regime, fell. The buoyed but considerably older Lange made plans to "take up the challenge of producing exceptional wristwatches, bearing the imprint, character and mechanical precision of their predecessors" in newly equipped Glashütte workshops.  

"When we started again I only had my great-grandfather's journey book, a charter for future projects, and the promise of a transfer of know-how from Schaffhausen [plus a $12 million investment, from IWC and various grants]," says Lange, 75, sitting next to a tray of manually wound Lange 1 watches that have won numerous "Watch of the Year" awards in Europe and the Far East.  


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