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The Asymmetrical Wonder: My Tribute to an Icon on its 25th Anniversary.

by Kunal Khemka on February 28, 2019
The Collector's View

A personal story of how a collector discovered the Lange 1 and written as a tribute to the iconic watch’s 25th Anniversary.

I discovered A. Lange & Sohne in a Zurich hotel room. It was sometime in mid-September 2001 (few days after 9/11). I was flying from my hometown – Kolkata, India to Warsaw, Poland, where I was working on an entrepreneurial venture.

Now in my possession, I just love staring at the Lange 1. All day, every day.

My flight was via Zurich, and I had to spend a night there. Tired from the long flight, I decided to relax in the tiny, dimly lit, and expensive hotel room, and browse through the magazines placed there. These were in German, or being in Zurich, perhaps Swiss-German. Flipping through a magazine, I stumbled upon an article which had several pictures of two asymmetrical dialed watches, both of which said, “A. Lange & Sohne”; “Glasshutte I/SA”; Dopperfederhaus; “AUF” and “AB”, and other text on the dial. I do not speak German, but figured “Sohne” means “Sons”, and had no clue that Glasshutte I/SA was a town in Eastern Germany. And finally, not “German” or “German Made”, but “Made in Germany”, written with a sense of pride. The same sense of pride from a country that also produces the Mercedes S-Class and Porsche 911.

lange1-rgsd-carrier
The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 from the original collection released in 1994.

If I recall, the models featured in this article were the Lange 1 Luna Mundi, a set of two moon phase watches depicting the correct position of the moon for the Northern and Southern hemisphere. Until then, I thought high end timepieces were the realm of the Swiss, and inexpensive timepieces the realm of the Japanese. I was 24 years old at the time, and these images of Lange had forever disrupted my horological awareness. To say these images did not pique my curiosity would be a huge understatement. And I had to do something about it.

Back in Warsaw, I typed A. Lange & Sohne on the internet. While the website was nothing to write home about (watch websites at the time were appalling), there was – fortunately – a functionality to order a catalogue. Which I instantly did. Soon enough I received the “catalogue”, a large thick grey colored book, so incredibly impressive, that the 24-year-old me was embarrassed and felt I did not deserve it. A catalogue that Lange could easily sell in bookstores!

Going through it further upset everything I thought I knew of timepieces. It showcased watches with such incredible details on the dials, and movements so complex, that you could get lost in them. They seemed magical and unreal, and beautiful in a Teutonic way, all the while displaying a sense of security and stability – common to the best of German products. One watch in the catalogue seemed to speak to me more than others. It is always the first Watch displayed in the Lange catalogue. It is the Asymmetrical Wonder, better known as the Lange 1.

Editor’s Note: Please read our

Vertical Collection: A. Lange & Söhne 

where the Lange 1 is one of the three essential Lange watches.

While the Lange 1 is a full-fledged range in the catalogue; for me it was love at first sight for the “basic” version. Lange always devotes a full-page picture to this version. This Lange 1 was one of the four watches launched as part of Lange’s rebirth in October 1994, along with the 1815 Tourbillon Pour Le Merite, Saxonia, and Arkade.

Semper Opera House. Photographed May 2011.

Their launch on October 24, 1994, shook a complacent Swiss watch industry, especially the Holy Trinity of Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin. These three venerable brands finally realized that they had a legitimate competitor outside Switzerland and in Eastern Germany. The level of workmanship, and quality and finishing of movements forced these three to “get their act together”. Among the mainstream haute horology watch brands, Lange had become second to none. Philippe Dufour, the legendary independent watchmaker, bought a Lange Datograph with his own money, and lavished heaps of praise on Lange. Among these four models, the Lange 1 was unlike anything done before, and became a sensation and a horological icon. And today is considered one of the greatest watch deigns of all time.

Its asymmetrical dial layout; with time sub dial on the center left; date-window top right; seconds sub dial bottom right; and power reserve indicator on the far center right – all proportioned as per the Golden Ratio – created a look so beautiful I knew I had to have one. I had no idea what the Golden Ratio was, but its effect seeped into my subconscious. The date window was a homage to the famous 5-Minute clock at the Semper Opera House in Dresden, Germany.

King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, patron of theatre, was a frequent visitor to the Semper Opera House. He grew irritated with guests checking the time on their pocket watches and their accompanying chiming sounds during performances. Hence, in 1841, he ordered a stage clock to be made. The job was assigned to Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, who later became the chief clockmaker. His apprentice was Ferdinand Adolph Lange. Gutakes had hired Lange when he was fifteen years old. And after several years travelling and learning horology through England, Switzerland, and Paris, he returned to Germany to assist Gutakes in this new project for the King. The success of the 5-Minute-Clock inspired a young Adolph Lange to set up his own venture. The 5-minute clock was the genesis of the Lange watch manufacture, and its presence in the form of the date window on the L1 (as well as other Lange pieces) is a fitting tribute.

At the time I had no watch-collector friends and was unaware of online forums. The only person I could ask regarding Lange was my Uncle (responsible for fueling my love for watches since childhood). But even he did not know much about Lange and German watches. Year after year I used to order the Lange catalogue and created a mini-library in an empty drawer in my wardrobe in my home in Calcutta (I had since moved back from Warsaw end of 2004). In my free time, I used to sit on the floor next to my wardrobe and stare at the full-page picture of the Lange 1. A voice inside me used to say, “One Day, One Day.” Desire and having the money to fulfil those desires are often two opposing forces, especially for a young twenty-something, and I knew I had to be extremely patient.

The Lange 1 is the iconic Lange, shown here in a pink gold case, and champagne dial. This version was introduced circa 1998, and was an addition to the original series introduced in 1994 which comprise of the yellow gold, white gold and platinum watches.

The discovery of Thepurists.com and Timezone.com – two major online watch forums – greatly expanded my horological universe. I began to visit the different brand forums and sift through posts. I learnt a great deal about the different brands and their timepieces and made new “online” friends. I learnt a great deal more about Lange, more specifically the Lange 1 and Datograph and their importance in Horology.

On a trip to Singapore, I was fortunate to see the Lange timepieces at a multi-brand watch boutique. While coming face to face with the Lange 1 did not disappoint, its price certainly did. At the time, it seemed way beyond what I could ever afford, and perhaps I developed “cold-feet” over its price. While still loving the L1, I became interested in another Lange model from the 1815 family. I thought it would complement my Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle manual wind. What I did not realize was that subconsciously I choose it because of its affordability relative to the L1. I tried to fall out of love with the L1 because I thought I would ever be able to afford it.

In October 2014, I moved to Singapore to build a business I had founded there. I reached out to few collector-friends I had made on Thepurists.com. I started getting invited to “GTG’s” or Get Togethers – a concept unknown to me at the time. At GTG’s, while interacting with collectors over drinks and food, I saw firsthand that Singapore is an extremely watch-crazy country.

Wrist shots at a typical GTG.

While not the largest watch market in the world, one of the most sophisticated. I also realized that Singapore is perhaps the most Lange crazy country in the world. Almost every collector I met at these GTG’s owned at least one Lange, if not more, and if not, aspired to own one. The Lange 1 and Datograph were favorites. Owning a Lange in Singapore is a collector’s rite of passage. One GTG in November 2014 comes to mind. A well-known collector arrived with a custom made strange looking briefcase. When he opened it, the sight of several watches from different brands, many of them grand complications such as high-end chronographs, tourbillons and futuristic timepieces from Lange, FP Journe, MB&F, Vianney Halter and other well-known mainstream and independent brands sent shivers down my spine and my heart went into palpitations! I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. When he heard that I was looking for the watch from the 1815 family, and found the L1 too expensive, his advice was “your first Lange should be the Lange 1 or Richard Lange Central Seconds, as these are both icons, and many heavy-hitter collectors choose to wear these two models when they are not wearing their Lange grand-complications. And do not worry about the L1 expensive list price.” These were his words of wisdom. Speaking to him, the die was cast a second time and I knew I had to have the Lange 1. All my collector friends encouraged me and asked me to be patient.

At SIHH 2015, Lange introduced the second-generation Lange 1, a quietly updated version. While keeping the aesthetics more-or-less unchanged (slightly different font, slimmer bezel, slightly slimmer height), Lange debuted its fiftieth in-house movement – Caliber L121.1. This caliber debuted an instantaneous date change at midnight, and a feature where the seconds hand jumps to zero when the power reserve runs out. The original L1 had debuted Lange’s first ever movement – L901.0. Now, with the update, I wanted the “new” Lange 1 even more. The transition from L1 first-generation to second-generation was a bit like the Porsche 911 getting an “update” every few years – unnecessary; no one asks for them; yet they find a way to improve upon perfection.

My wife helping me strap on the Lange 1 for the first time.

Hard-work, patience and prayers finally paid off. My moment came in July 2017. I asked my AD in Singapore to order one for me. (I had since moved back to India after almost three years In Singapore.) A month later it was ready. I collected it on a business trip to Singapore in October that same year. The taxi ride to the AD seemed to take forever. Once there, my friend – the branch manager – brought the L1 from an inside room in the boutique and cut the seal on the plastic in my presence. Then he and my wife both lovingly helped me carefully wear it.

Finally on my wrist.

After sixteen years, the venerable Lange 1 was finally on my wrist! The best 40th birthday present to myself, albeit one eight months after. But what should have been a feeling of happiness, instantly turned into a feeling of guilt. The devil inside me said “you could have bought a small apartment instead and placed it on rent.” (Typical Indian thought process!) The devil slowly disappeared, and I enjoyed wearing my new L1. I clicked tons of pictures; shared on my Instagram account; and on WhatsApp and Facebook watch groups. I was loving every minute of it. I had created an instant family heirloom.

So, what does owning a Lange 1 mean to me? At times it feels like a dream, almost as I will wake up and realize I do not actually own it. In the world of timepieces, it occupies proudly its own place; it has no competition (except for the competition within the L1 family) and sits confidently in its own league. It is one of those designs greatly respected and admired by the entire industry. Owning this has made me a great deal more confident (and humble) as a collector. It has made me love and appreciate horology more; and has added further spark to my desire to collect over time.

Strangely, it has even fueled a desire to begin collecting Indian Art once again, something which I love dearly and have not done in the last ten years. But, whether timepieces or art, I am in no hurry. I am willing to be patient, take my time to study and research, whether new or vintage, mid-range or high-end, inexpensive or expensive, mainstream, independents or micro-brands, until an opportunity comes along. New timepieces or art must present a strong case to be part of my collection. They must pass my “Lange 1 test”. Otherwise they are not worth having. Such is the Majesty and Magic of this Timepiece.

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