a lange sohne

The story of A. Lange & Söhne, Germany’s finest watchmaker

From beginnings studying in Switzerland to a recent re-establishment, we tick back through the tale of one of Europe’s most eccentric watch brands

In 1990, a band of storied Swiss watchmakers — from IWC to Jaeger-LeCoultre — rallied together to revive one of Europe’s most respected and revered companies. Re-established 145 years after it was originally founded, the brand was to become a bastion of German reunification, pushing quality horology out from behind Swiss borderlines and innovating modern timepieces to their blinding, winding best. A. Lange & Söhne was back.

But this isn’t where the story begins. The watchmaker first ticked into existence in 1845, when trained watchmaker and mechanics graduate Ferdinand Adolph Lange returned home to Saxony after a decade studying under master horologists. With a team of 15 apprentices, Lange established a whole watchmaking industry — from parts manufacturing to timepiece assembly — in the German state, bringing prosperity to and alleviating poverty in the region.

The master watchmaker was the first in Saxony to introduce the metric system into watchmaking and, when his children were old enough, they too were inducted into the business — adding the & Söhne to A. Lange & Söhne.

Brothers Emil and Richard Lange pushed watch technology even further. Advancing their father’s innovations, they patented quarter repeaters and chronographs. They developed the up-down power reserve indicator, created a pocket watch with a minute counter and improved chronometer restraints. Emil Lange was even awarded the cross of the Knight of the French Legion of Honour for his ‘Tourbillon of the Century’.

But the problems came after the century turned. By World War I, even the new fashion of flat wristwatches was struggling due to a lack of demand for precious timepieces. Emil Lange retired from the company when mass production overtook hand-craftsmanship, and many workers were laid off during the global crash. And then, on the last day of World War II, the brand’s headquarters were completely destroyed in a Soviet air strike. Apart from the in-development Caliber 48, this marked a fiery end for the once-great name.

a lange sohne

But back to 1990. Walter Lange, the great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolph, re-registered A. Lange & Söhne and once more set up shop in Glashütte. After four years of development and experimentation, the brand launched its first range of wristwatches in 1994 — drawing design inspiration from the straightforward, confident styling of its bold past. Outsized dates, solid gold or platinum cases and galvanised solid-silver dials have been stalwarts of the company’s image ever since — as has their own iconic, customised typography.

And, honouring the wishes of Emil Lange, the brand still hand-finishes all of its timepieces. From its basic Saxonia collection to its Grand Complications, the attention to detail is legendary; including hand-engraved balance cocks, a multitude of different surface decorations and techniques including circular graining, contour grinding, mirror polishing, Glashütte ribbing, sunray finishing and perlage.

The notable inventions and patents, characteristic of the brand’s first life, sprung back into existence; with disengagement mechanisms, stop-seconds for tourbillons and triple-split chronographs all taking centre stage. Celebrities from Brad Pitt and Ed Sheeran to Vladimir Putin and Bill Clinton have all strapped on A. Lange & Söhne timepieces — and the brand established a firm five families of models.

First up came the Lange 1 range, an exceptional combination of tradition and innovation destined to become an award-winning icon of the watchmaking world. The Saxonia family focused on the best conceivable — technically optimised and aesthetically perfect — mechanical solutions. The Zeitwerk range inlaid an ingenious digital display, setting itself apart from the plethora of analogue mechanical watches.

The 1815 collection refers to Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s year of birth, and remains staunchly traditional; with elements such as the three-quarter plate made with treated German silver and a hand-engraved balance cock evoking memories of Lange’s historic pocket watches. And, finally, the Richard Lange range offers the ultimate in precision and superb legibility, paying tribute to the most innovative member of this incredible watchmaking family.

This year, the brand celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Lange 1 with a series of limited editions, most notably a timepiece perfect for any globe-trotting, jet-setting gentleman. And this desire, to create watches that are ideally suited to its customers, is a key part of A. Lange & Söhne’s enduring appeal; a legacy that has outlasted two World Wars, one explosive downfall and promises to keep on ticking for many years to come.

Want to learn more from A. Lange & Söhne? Listen to our podcast with CEO Wilhem Schmid…

Further Reading