"The best way to honour Walter Lange is to assure the continuity and the ongoing development of the company that he founded — in the way that he would have envisioned it," said Lange CEO Wilhelm Schmid, when news broke of the watchmaker's passing during SIHH 2017. Now coming up on the first anniversary of his death, A. Lange and Söhne has dedicated a one-off timepiece to its patriarch, the 1815 'Homage to Walter Lange'.
Designed to reflect the intention and personality of its founder, the 40.5mm-sized watch features a jumping seconds hand at the centre of a quintessentially classic dial, shaded in black enamel to contrast its silvered hands and traditional railway-track indices. But why this particular complication out of the many in the maison's bag of horology tricks, you ask? Well, for the simple reason of fulfilling the purist aesthetics of precision watchmaking beloved by Mr Lange... and also because the jumping seconds takes pride of place in their family legacy. It was invented by his great-grandfather Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1867 — the pusher at 2 o'clock to start and stop the sweep seconds hand was a watershed moment for German fine watchmaking — and implemented in no less than 300 pocket watches after it was patented 10 years later.
As unique as the individual it was named for, this tribute timepiece sports a newly developed movement with a special calibre designation and reference number: L1924 and 297.078, respectively. The former refers to Walter Lange's birth year, while the first three digits of the latter recalls his date of birth (we'll let you calculate backwards how long-lived he was). Assembled to Lange's exacting standards, expect hand-worked perfection from precision-adjusted mechanisms in five different positions to the decorative engraving on the balance cock. Additionally, the watch is made of stainless steel, a material utilised by A. Lange & Söhne only for very exclusive or special pieces.
A masterpiece befitting of the master whose life's work returned the maison to its rightful pedestal in the world of haute horlogerie following an involuntary 40-year long hiatus due to the Cold War, the 1815 'Homage to Walter Lange' is surely Mr Lange's vision of what constitutes a perfect watch. And in his own words, discover what the late founder has to say on building a Saxon watchmaking dynasty to be reckoned with:
You were born into a family of watchmakers. When was your first encounter with timepieces?
Today, children play with remote-controlled cars or computers. When I was young, I had a watch kit. I can't remember how old I was, but I assembled a watch with the pieces. As a child, I spent a lot of time in the manufactory; that had a big impact from the very beginning.
And then, you trained as a watchmaker yourself?
Yes, when I was 16, I followed the family tradition. At that time, only master courses were available in Glashütte, so I went to Karlstein in Austria. After one and a half years, I had to interrupt the apprenticeship because I was drafted into the army. After the war, I continued my apprenticeship with Alfred Helwig at the School of Watchmaking in Glashütte.
The watchmaking companies in Glashütte were expropriated after the war. How did you experience that period?
At that time, my father Rudolf and his two brothers Otto and Gerhard ran the manufactory. Of course, we tried to keep working and rebuild the production facility. I had extensive discussions with my father and uncle Otto regarding the future of the company. We began to develop the calibre 28 for a wristwatch, but before it went into series production, the company was expropriated — in April 1948. My father and his brothers were no longer allowed to set foot in the manufactory. I was asked to join the union, but refused. Subsequently, I avoided forced labour in a uranium mine by fleeing from my hometown one night in November 1948.
You had the courage to restart the business in Glashütte on 7 December 1990. Was that difficult?
It was a risk, but the only way for me to go. When the Berlin Wall fell, I had already retired. But I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to revive the heritage of my ancestors. The 7th of December 1990 was among the greatest days of my life. I reregistered the brand using the borrowed address of a former classmate at our primary school in Glashütte. We had to start completely from scratch.
When you started out with a staff of 15, did you ever think that A. Lange & Söhne might again become a company of global stature?
That, of course, is what we were hoping. After all, my forefathers were internationally successful with their pocket watches. Owners of historic Lange timepieces from all over the world still contact us today. Initially, we wanted to sell our new watches in German and elsewhere in Europe. But enquiries soon reached us from overseas. I am delighted that we succeeded in repositioning A. Lange & Söhne on the international stage.
Do you remember your first watch?
Yes, it was a Cyma wristwatch. It wasn't until my confirmation that I received a Lange watch. It was an OLIW. The abbreviation stands for 'Original Lange Internationales Werk'. Launched in the 1920s', it was the more affordable line of A. Lange & Söhne.
How many watches do you own personally and which one is your favourite?
It's a manageable number. Being a watchmaker, I have a weakness for technical complications. That's why I like to wear the Tourbillon 'Pour le Mérite' from the first collection, also because this watch is a reminder of the revival of the A. Lange & Söhne brand.
What piece of advice would you give young people today?
Each generation should discover its own path. One thing, perhaps: In my opinion, there's too much complaining these days. Everyone is stressed, nothing is just right. The conditions were totally different when I was young. For a trip to Dresden, my mother would pack a few boiled potatoes as provisions, that was all. Or the years after the war: Initially, a meal consisted of a water soup with grated potatoes, a so-called 'zudelsuppe'. A year later, it contained salted carrots from the backyard garden. We were satisfied with what we had. I would wish that today's youngsters could feel the same way more often.
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