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The Vertical Collection: Three essential watches from A Lange & Söhne

Three MUST HAVE Langes.
by Peter Chong on July 25, 2016
The Collector's View
The Essential Lange Collection

In wine, there is an established tasting methodology known as vertical and horizontal tasting. In a vertical tasting, different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery are tasted. This emphasizes differences between various vintages. In a horizontal tasting, the wines are all from the same vintage but are from different wineries. We are introducing the same concept for watches. In this first of the series, we introduce the concept of the Vertical Collection, and begin with A Lange & Söhne. We pick three icons from our list to make the essential Langes.

 

The Vertical Collection: Essential Langes

So what is The Vertical Collection? This is where we highlight watches from the same maison. These are the “must haves” from one single maison, and may include watches from the current collection as well as from historical collections. The watches chosen may not be the most commercially successful, or the most horologically significant. But they are selected on the basis that they represent the values of the brand and have become icons. Of course it is difficult to select only 3 watches, but we intentionally limit ourselves to this arbitrary number as a base.

In this first in the series, the maison is A Lange & Söhne. The celebrated German watchmaker who sprung back into life with the announcement of their first collection in 1994, and continue their meteoric rise to take their rightful place as one of the top watches in the world. The entire collection from Lange is highly collectable, but as mentioned, we limit ourselves to three. And we present the Editor’s picks of the Essential Langes. Those to start the vertical collection with. From this base of three, other pieces can be added according to taste and inclination.

 

The Lange 1

 

The Lange 1 is the quintessential Lange. When first introduced to the press on October 24, 1994 in Dresden, it was an immediate success. The 12 major retailers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland had booked all the 123 watches offered for order two days earlier. The press reception was a success. The next day, on October 25, 1994 the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung read, “The economy of Germany’s East is suddenly beginning to tick differently: A Lange & Söhne is back – the legend has come home. ”

 

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 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 four watches introduced in 1994 were monumental. Each with its own Unique Selling Point, viz:

  1. The Lange 1. Off center hour display, subsidiary seconds, power reserve display and the large date display.
  2. The Arkade. A ladies model, also fitted with the outsized date.
  3. The Saxonia, a simple mid-sized gold watch also with outsized date.
  4. The Tourbillon Pour le MériteThe pinnacle of the collection. A tourbillon with a fusée-and-chain transmission system, then a World Premiere.

While all are exclusive, and highly sought after, the Lange 1 is Lange’s Calling Card. The iconic model. Representative of the values that they wanted to communicate in the early days. For the 40 years prior, the Glashütte region’s watchmaking was reduced to making robust mechanical and quartz watches under the GDR regime. And were strangers to the world of luxury watchmaking, made so successful by the Swiss. And in the masterstroke displayed on 24 October 1994, they showed the world that they are indeed on the top of the game.

However, in the early days, unlike the German speaking retailers and journalists who hailed the new watches, the international community was more restrained. Many were doubtful a small company from East Germany could produce watches which rival the best of Switzerland. “They make Trabants in Saxony, not luxury watches” was a common cry among the doubters. The Trabant is the basic and utilitarian car which were prized possessions in the GDR. But the watches speak for themselves. The early retailers were all chosen because they were also Authorized Retailers for other top brands, and made it easy to compare watches side by side. And slowly, the collecting community realized that this was a First Class act, and that, “The Swiss made great watches. And so do the Saxons.“.

One of the interesting aspects of the Lange 1 is that although it is asymmetrical in design, it does not look lop sided. How does it achieve this? The following diagram explains:

 

l1-dial-ruleofthirds

Symmetry in asymmetry. The rule of thirds, superimposed on the Lange 1 dial turned 90° clockwise shows the placement of the key elements to conform.

 

The Lange 1 is probably the most successful of all Lange models, and have been in continuous production since 1994. The original release had a case which was 38.5mm in diameter, in yellow gold, white gold and platinum. A pink gold version was added circa 1998, and also about that time a series of approximately 20 Lange 1 in Stainless Steel were made. These were mainly delivered as small batches to the Authorized Dealers of Orologeria Pisa in Milan, Celini in New York and Sincere in Singapore. However, a few special commission pieces were also delivered via dealers to private collectors. The Lange 1A was a special series limited to 100 pieces, introduced in 1998. It came with a solid gold guilloché dial and gold escape lever and escape wheel.

A smaller diameter case measuring 36mm followed from approximately 1998/99. This was known as the Little Lange 1. A larger version – the Grande Lange 1 in 41.9mm was also announced in 2010. This version was highly criticised as it used the same L901 movement in an enlarged case and dial. As the pinions for the hands and outsized date remained unchanged, the dial layout seem to bunch in the center of the watch because of the increased real estate of the dial. Even the outsized date seemed to be proportionally smaller. To alleviate this, the sub-dial displays were made larger and overlap each other. The Grande Lange 1 was later revised in 2011 with a new movement caliber L095 which was 19% larger. This allowed the dial to be proportionally larger.

The Lange 1 also spawned an entire family of watches. To list them all would be nearly impossible, for there are many variations which were made as special editions for retailers and special collectors. The variants included the often rediculed Grande Lange 1 Luminous (not to be confused with the celebrated Lange 1 Lumen with the smoked sapphire glass dial) which features a black dial and luminous (SuperLuminova coated) hands and markers. The watch is uncharacteristic of the otherwise understated and elegant Lange aesthetic signature, looking decidedly very sporty.

The family also included the Lange 1 Tourbillon, with its tourbillon turning anti-clockwise, the Lange 1 Timezone, two generations of the Lange 1 Moonphase, and the Lange 1 Luna Mundi Set of two watches showing the moonphase from the Southern and Norhern Hemispheres. The Lange 1 Lumen and Lumen Moonphase, and later the special execution to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Lange 1: the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskundst which features a magnificent in-house enamel grand feu dial. The innovative and very complicated Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is also one of the family. As is the automatic Lange 1 Daymatic, which features a dial whose main elements are laterally inverted from the standard Lange 1, the hour/minute dial is now on the right, and the outsized date, power reserve indicator and subsidiary seconds hand on the left.

It is also interesting that a horizontal collection can be made with Lange 1 and its variants. Indeed the author know some collectors who have done exactly that. But we leave that for another story and another day.

 

The new Lange 1 movement. Caliber L121.1, with the inhouse manufactured balance system with eccentric weights.

The new Lange 1 movement. Caliber L121.1, with the inhouse manufactured balance system with eccentric weights.

 

Base movements: The original Lange 1 had the in-house caliber L901 which featured a double barrel mainspring and a power reserve of 96 hours. The movement remained until it was revised in 2014 as the L121. The new movement now features a shorter power reserve of 72 hours, but retained the double mainspring concept. A completely new wheel train is installed including a in-house manufactured balance wheel with eccentric timing weights. The Lange 1 Timezone have had its own movement caliber L031 since inception. Both the Lange 1 Tourbillons carry the caliber L961. And the Daymatic the caliber L021.

Editor’s Choice: The new Lange 1 Ref. 191.032 in pink gold, champagne dial.

 

Movement nomenclature

Lange movements are numbered using 4 digits, with a decimal separating the last digit from the rest. The first two digits being the year in which development for the movement started, and the third digit is the serial number of the different movements begun that year. The caliber number is defined by these first digits. The fourth digit, after the decimal denotes the version of that particular caliber. For example, the original Lange 1 had the caliber L901.0. This denotes that development began in 1990. This was the first movement for that year. L902 is the movement for the  Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, whose development work also began in 1990. The caliber L901.1 denotes the movement for the first series of Lange 1A, being the second version of the same base caliber.

 

The Datograph

The original Datograph was first shown to a rather surprised horological world in Baselworld 1999. At the launch, it was ground breaking. Lange had begun its revival in 1990, and in only in 1994 had it announced its first series of 4 models to the public. Before Baselworld 1999, it had added 3 other watches, each with its own in-house movements. A magnificent feat! And in Basel 1999, it unleashed the Datograph, and the 1815 Moonphase to the public.

 

The Lange Datograph. Seen here in the original platinum case, and movement.

The Lange Datograph. Seen here in the original platinum case, and movement.

 

The Datograph was earth shattering in 1999. Why? For a long time, the luxury watch industry has been dependent on a few specialist manufacturers for their chronograph supply. Patek Philippe was using Valjoux movements in their early chronographs. They later switched using Lemania. While it was true that Patek Philippe made many improvements over the ebauches, nonetheless, they had no in-house chronograph of their own. Rolex’s Daytona was using a Zenith El Primero movement also moving over from their earlier dependence on Valjoux. Rolex also heavily modified the El Primero for their purposes. Audemars Piguet was utilizing the Dubuis Depraz module on an ETA sourced base movement on their iconic Royal Oak Offshore, and the Piguet 1185 on the Royal Oak Chronograph.

Then along came a German upstart (then in 1999 Lange was considered an upstart) with a new chronograph, designed in-house from ground up, and manufactured in Glashütte. At Baselworld 1999, the author spied the then CEO of Patek Philippe (the Lange booth then was directly next to Patek’s), Philippe Stern outside the Lange booth, looking somewhat enviously at the Datograph. He was asked what he thought of it, and Mr. Stern mumbled, “nice.”, and shuffled back into his booth.

The threat which came with the introduction of the Datograph, coupled with the Swatch Group’s insistence on cutting off supply of fully assembled movements to rivals, and thus making it difficult to source the Lemania and Piguet movements, caused a shift in history of chronographs. The big players began to invest in designing and making their chronograph movements in-house. Rolex made the first move with their in-house designed and manufactured C.4130 in 2000, though it is quite possible that development started much earlier and not triggered by either. Patek Philippe followed with the CH28 in 2006. Vacheron Constantin was not far behind with their C.5200.

 

Caseback view of the Lange Datograph. Apart from technical mastery, the level of finishing on this piece remains an undisputed benchmark in watchmaking.

Caseback view of the Lange Datograph. Apart from technical mastery, the level of finishing on this piece remains an undisputed benchmark in watchmaking.This is an early example, circa 2001.

 

The Datograph was also significant not only in the historical landmark of being the first in-house chronograph for decades, but also for the magnificently beautiful way the chronograph works are laid out. The topology of the chronograph works is harmonious with its intent and purpose. The finishing on the movement is very well done. All traditional watchmaking finishing points are executed with aplomb and to perfection. The contrast between the polished steel chronograph works and warm German Silver 3/4 plate below is a visual spectacle. The layering of the chronograph works, with the uncapped, and thus exposed column wheel is a sight to behold. And the action of starting/stopping or flyback/restarting the chronograph evokes a sensual pleasure like no other. This, coupled with the instantaneously jumping minute counter, sealed its fate as perhaps the chronograph of the 20th Century.

Variants (non exhaustive): The Datograph was first released in 1999 only in a platinum case, with a black dial and silver sub-dials in a 39mm case. In 2005, a pink gold version with a black dial and silver sub-dials were also generally available.

Some special variants: A special version of 10 pieces were made for Pisa Orologeria circa 2003 with a full silver dial. Two additional special versions of the Pisa dial were made, both with a silvered chronograph hand, instead of the blued steel chronograph hand in the Pisa Edition. One was delivered in a case with baguette diamonds, and the other in a regular platinum case. Another special execution with a blue dial in a platinum case was also made for a senior executive within the group.

A major renewal to the Datograph was made in 2012 with the introduction of the Datograph Auf/Ab. The revision updated the case size to 41mm. A pink gold version was added in 2015 with a black dial and silver sub-dials.

 

Movement is the exctptional Datograph based L952.1, with a perpetual calendar plate.

Movement is the exctptional Datograph based L952.1, with a perpetual calendar plate.

 

The Datograph received a complication of the perpetual calendar in Datograph Perpetual in 2005, available in platinum with a silvered dial. The Datograph Perpetual followed hot on the heels of the Double Split (2004)to feature an in-house balance wheel with eccentric poising screws (premiered in the Double Split). The earliest Datograph Perpetual had a pusher at 10 o’clock for changing the date, but it was discovered that users accidentally pushed it, causing the all the calendar indicators to advance by one day. This was subsequently modified to use a pin pusher. A grey dial version in white gold was also available later. For some reason, the Datograph Perpetual was quietly discontinued after about 3 years in production. And in 2015, a new Datograph Perpetual in white gold and pink gold was announced, as a re-continuation of the series. No change to the movement, which is still runs for only 36 hours.  A Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon was also introduced in 2016 and currently only available in platinum with a black dial.

The Double Split is not a Datograph variant, as it is developed independently, and the split seconds chronograph does not share the same base. But the 1815 Chronograph is based on the Datograph. It is essentially the Datograph which is stripped off its date module. As a result, the case is slimmer. The dial design is also changed to follow the 1815 family with the Arabic numerals and railway track. First introduced in 2004, and a revised version released in 2010 with the same caliber movement, but a longer power reserve of 60 hours.

Again, as with the Lange 1, a good case can be made for a Datograph horizontal collection. And again, the author know a few collectors who have done that as well.

Base Movements:  The base movement in the Datograph has remained the venerable L951.1.  It has been revised in 2015 for the Auf/Ab. The caliber designation remains the L951 but the revised version has the power reserve increased to 60 hours, compared to 36 hours on the original L951 in the original Datograph. The new movement also carries an in-house balance wheel with eccentric poising weights, and a power reserve indicator. The 1815 Chronograph carried the L951.0 movement when introduced, and was received the revision in 2010 to L951.5, and still carries the screw balance wheel. The Datograph Perpetual have always had the L952 (always with the in-house balance wheel with eccentric poising weights and 36 hour power reserve), and the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon was equipped with the variant of the L952 with a tourbillon. (L952.2), but with an improved power reserve of 50 hours.

Editor’s Choice: original Lange Datograph Ref. 403.035 in platinum, black dial, silver sub-dials.

 

The Zeitwerk

The Lange Zeitwerk again changed the landscape and design language of Lange. The year was 2009. The launch event was in May in Berlin. A masterstroke in marketing as this was designed to avoid the overload of novelties in SIHH held in March in Geneva.

This was a digital watch, with very large instantaneously jumping hour and minute digits. More importantly, it was the first digital watch to show the time in four digits reading from left to right. All other digital watches till then had vertically arranged hour and minute digits.

 

Lange Zeitwerk in White Gold, Black dial.

Lange Zeitwerk in White Gold, Black dial.

 

The movement is spectacular, is very complicated and featured a remontoire. The workings of the movement is explained in this pdf document here, available for download.

 

zeitwerk-movement-style-1024

The Lange Zeitwerk movement. This is a special one off 1/1 Limited Edition produced for a Singapore Charity in 2011. This watch is in a white gold case, and a grey dial.

 

The Zeitwerk family is not quite as large as the Lange 1’s and Datograph’s. When introduced in 2009, the Zeitwerk was available in White Gold with a black dial, Pink Gold with a silver dial and Yellow Gold with a champagne dial, and also in Platinum with a rhodium dial. Only the Platinum version is in a limited edition of 200 pieces.

The first additional member was introduced in 2010: what is popularly known as the “Phantom”, or officially as the Zeitwerk Luminous. This was available only in platinum in a limited edition of 100 pieces, and was to be the blueprint for later Lange Lumen executions. The dial is a smoked grey dial which allowed a peek into the movement, and allowed light to charge the luminous date display. A special Zeitwerk piece unique was made for an auction to benefit the Kidz Horizon Charity in Singapore in 2011, and featured a grey dial in the white gold case. In 2012, a Handwerkskundst version was also introduced with a hand worked dial and special frosted finish on the movement.

Then came the complicated ones: the Zeitwerk Striking Time was launched in 2011. We carried a special owner’s review of this watch here. And in 2015, the magnificent Zeitwerk Minute Repeater was unveiled in SHH.

Base Movements: The base caliber of L043 is used in all executions of the Zeitwerk. Only version changes signify the addition of complications. The  L043.1 was the caliber installed in the original Zeitwerk, The Striking Time carried the L043.2 and the Minute Repeater was installed with the L043.5.

Editor’s Choice: The Lange Zeitwerk Ref. 140.029 in white gold with a black dial.

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