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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 3)

"It was a miracle that we got started again, so of course the skeptics wondered, 'Could we really come back? Could we overcome a load of such practical problems as finding watchmakers and training technical designers?' Yet, this new beginning was also a chance to use the latest technologies and to use only supreme quality materials: the most precious metals--gold and platinum for the cases, stable nickel silver for plates and bridges, gold chatons--the jewel settings--for the ruby wheel bearings, or diamond cap jewels on the Tourbillon."  

Lange began to style his first wristwatches in 1990, emphasizing Old World craftsmanship and the tradition of A. Lange & Söhne, and small editions of watches with unique, in-house-made three-quarter-plate movements. He issued only 123 pieces, including the Lange 1, in 1994 (a mere 700 watches were produced in 1995). His aim was to create "the smallest and most exclusive watchmaking company in the world" and to put A. Lange on the same lofty level as Patek Philippe and other cachet Swiss brands.  

He has more than succeeded. Now producing about 4,000 watches annually, A. Lange sells virtually all of the pieces a year in advance and garners adoring reviews from watch industry observers. HR: Magazine, a leading watchmaking journal, recently wrote, "The Lange automatic movement essentially marks an aesthetic pinnacle that no Swiss house has reached."   The Lange 1 is particularly prized. The company's flagship piece features a patented outsized date in twin gold-framed apertures, a striking solid silver dial with off-center hour and minute hands, and two subsidiary dials for seconds and a power reserve indicator.  

The date display is three times larger than that on a conventional watch of similar size. "People are astonished by the outsize date, since no one did it before. It's incredibly useful, as watch wearers can easily read the date," says LMH president Gunter Blumlein.  

Lange's cutting-edge status in mechanical horology is best dramatized by its 30-millimeter, three-quarter plate movement (made from a copper, zinc and nickel alloy), which boasts twin mainspring barrels. A very rare feature in a wristwatch, the barrels give the Lange 1 a power reserve of more than three days. The state of wind of the two springs is shown on the dial by a gold hand, and 53 jewels, nine of which are set in gold chatons, ensure the virtually friction-free operation of the movement.  

"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.  

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