The Lange 1 from German luxury watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne is an internationally recognized icon of modern watchmaking and the undisputed flagship of the Glashütte-based manufacture’s collection. And even though the Lange 1 has only been on the scene since 1994, the watch, and the company that makes it, trace their roots much further into history. From the pioneering watchmaker who jump-started a national industry in the 19th century, to his descendant that forged a new beginning for his family business in the 20th, to the evolution of a legendary watch into new and complex forms in the 21st, this the story of A. Lange & Söhne and the Lange 1.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange & the Rebirth of Glashütte
Few in the long history of watchmaking have had a more profound and lasting impact on a nation’s horological destiny than Ferdinand Adolph Lange had on that of Germany, whose industry is famously rooted in the town of Glashütte in Saxony. It was Lange (1815 - 1875), a native of nearby Dresden and a classically trained master watchmaker, who laid the foundations on which the struggling former mining town would build itself into Germany’s watchmaking center with the establishment of the original A. Lange & Cie. manufactory in 1845. Lange’s vision was not just for his own company but for the entire state of Saxony. When the apprentices that trained at his company had mastered their craft, he encouraged them to start their own factories and hire and train their own employees, thus ensuring a durable and sustainable local industry that would provide employment in the region for many years to come. Adolph Lange’s civic responsibility to his adopted hometown even extended to his serving as mayor of Glashütte for 18 years, from 1849 to 1867.
A Lange & Cie. became A. Lange & Söhne (A. Lange & Sons) when Adolph’s sons Emil and Richard Lange joined the firm in 1868. Emil focused on growing the business while Richard continued his father’s tradition of innovations and improvements in watchmaking complications and technology. It was Richard Lange, for example, who invented the distinctive “Auf/Aub” (‘Up/Down”) power-reserve indicators that many modern Lange watches, including the Lange 1, have adopted into their designs. Among the watchmaker’s high-profile customers during the late 19th and early 20th century were German Emperor Wilhelm II (his timepiece depicted below); Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire; and Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
Life During Wartime
The first World War brought economic hardship to A. Lange & Söhne, as it did to many other German manufacturing companies that were suddenly cut off from foreign markets. After the war, in the 1920s, while other German watch companies were turning to the production of inexpensive, mass-produced watches to survive, A. Lange & Söhne continued to focus its efforts on high watchmaking, despite the crippling economic conditions and hyperinflation brought on by the Weimar Republic that followed World War I and by the Crash of 1929. Much of the company’s workforce was laid off during the 1920s and ‘30s. It was the looming specter of a second World War, ironically, that sustained A. Lange & Söhne through the difficult 1930s, which were dominated by a massive German military buildup, and into the World War II years of the 1940s. The company was one of five German and Swiss watch manufacturers contracted to provide pilots’ watches, like the one below, as well as chronometers, timers and fuses, and other materials for the German Luftwaffe (the others included Laco, Wempe, Stowa, and IWC).
This renewed period of productivity was cut short, however, as the Lange factory in Glashütte was leveled by Soviet air strikes on May 8, 1945 — the last day of hostilities in Europe during World War II. The postwar occupation and partitioning of Germany by the victorious Allied nations put the final nail in the coffin of the original A. Lange & Söhne. In 1948, with Saxony now under the yoke of Soviet Union influence in the newly formed East Germany, the family-owned business was nationalized along with all the other remaining privately owned watchmaking firms. In 1951, all these state-owned entities were merged into a collective called the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe, or GUB. As the 20th Century reached its midpoint, and the U.S.-Soviet Cold War stepped almost immediately into the shoes of the hot war that had just ended, it appeared that the name Lange might never again appear on a watch dial.
A Wall Falls, a New Era Begins
The Cold War, and the era of a divided Germany, experienced its momentous and rousing death knell in November 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, a concrete symbol of Soviet might and Communist ideology that had stood since 1961. The German reunification that this event portended finally occurred in October 1990. One of the Germans celebrating the once-in-a-lifetime milestone was Walter Lange (above), great-great grandson of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who fled his home and the family business in 1948 to settle in West Germany as a refugee and to forge a relatively quiet postwar life as a watchmaker and wholesaler. The newly reunited German nation, Walter reasoned, provided the perfect stage upon which to rebuild his family’s historical business, though the task would be challenging. The original A. Lange & Söhne, like virtually all of its competitors at the time, had been permanently absorbed into the GUB, which eventually became the Swatch Group-owned Glashütte Original brand (a story all its own), meaning he had to start essentially from scratch. To make the goal of re-establishing his family legacy a reality, Walter Lange sought out another German with deep roots in the watch industry. Günter Blümlein, a native of Nuremberg who grew up in postwar Germany, was a watch marketing guru who had, among many other accomplishments, helped revive heritage Swiss watch maisons Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC in the wake of the 1970s-’80s Quartz Crisis. Together, the two men set in motion the establishment of a “new” A. Lange & Söhne, which would join IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre in Blümlein’s LMH Group (Les Manufactures Horlogères), which would later be acquired by Richemont to form the backbone of that luxury group’s haute horlogerie division. The brand was registered on December 7, 1990, on the same date in 1845 that F.A. Lange had established the original company, and the world was introduced to its modern-day horological marvels on October 24, 1994, at a press event held in Dresden’s residential palace.
The Foundation: Lange 1
Price: $40,300+, Case size: 38.5mm, Thickness: 9.8mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L121.1
The Lange 1 was a revelation to the watch connoisseur community when it was unveiled on that memorable day in 1994, alongside three other timepieces that were intended to join it as the four pillars of the revived brand — the Saxonia, the Arkade, and the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite. It was also, in many respects, the purest distillation of Saxon watchmaking tradition and design spirit into a modern wristwatch. The layout of the subdials, while aggressively asymmetrical, is carefully balanced according to the Golden Ratio. The classical, applied Roman numerals at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the hour-and-minute subdial align perfectly with the center of the date display and the small seconds subdial, respectively; additionally, an imaginary line traced through the centers of all three of these elements would form an isosceles triangle. The large date in a framed double window takes its historical inspiration from the face of the five-minute digital display clock above the stage of Dresden’s Semper Opera House, which Adolph Lange helped construct in his days as a young watchmaker’s apprentice. The analog power reserve indicator, with a golden hand following the curvature of the dial between “auf” (“up” or full) and “ab” (“down” or empty) calls back to Richard Lange’s 19th-century invention. The typeface used on the dial is Engravers, a 19th-Century, German-designed font whose bold serifs call to mind the look of that era’s engraved copperplate and steel signs.
The round case of the original Lange 1 — with its hallmark sharply angled lugs, said to be designed by Blümlein himself — measured 38.5mm in diameter, as it still does today, more than 25 years later; at the time, these modest dimensions were a bold choice, as the era of bigger, sportier designs was already exerting a heavy influence on men’s luxury watches. The movement in the first Lange 1 was the manually wound L901.0, which like many in-house A. Lange & Söhne movements that followed it incorporated a three-quarter mainplate made of untreated German silver, as per Saxon watchmaking tradition, and decorated with Glashütte stripes, Germany’s variation on the Swiss “Geneva waves” motif. Other elements that made the movement distinctively German rather than Swiss included the hand-engraved finish on the balance cock and the “swan’s neck” regulating device that combined a curving steel spring with a regulating pointer and an adjustment screw for fine rate regulation.
As A. Lange & Söhne continued its growth as a modern manufacture, the flagship Lange 1 model would change very little in outward aesthetics but would undergo several levels of upgrading in its inner, beating heart. Since 2015, the Lange 1 has been powered by the manually wound Caliber L121.1 (above), which replaced and superseded the L901.0 caliber that had been installed into all versions of the model since its debut. (To give an idea of how prolific the brand has been as a producer of in-house calibers over its relatively short existence, the L901.0 was its first; the L121.1 was its 50th.) Caliber L121.1 is slightly larger and also thinner than its predecessor — 30.6mm x 5.7mm, as opposed to 30.4mm and 5.9mm — and features a free-sprung balance that dispenses with the L901.0’s regulator in favor of a series of eccentric weights meant to make precise regulation easier. It also includes a new arrangement for the gear train that requires fewer gears to effectively drive the various hands in the watch’s asymmetrical arrangement. Perhaps most significantly from a practical standpoint, the large date has been optimized to a quick-change format, switching over precisely at midnight.
Downsized Icon: Little Lange 1
Price: On Request, Case size: 36.8mm, Thickness: 9.5mm, Lug Width: 19mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L121.1
Launched in 1998, four years after the original Lange 1 made its historic debut, the “Little” version was a slightly daintier and arguably more feminine iteration of its progenitor: 1.7 mm smaller in diameter, at 36.8 mm, and infinitesimally thinner, at 9.5mm. In all other respects, the Little Lange 1 — which may have been initially aimed at markets like Japan, where smaller watches are favored by both men and women — offers all the now-classic elements of the 38.5mm Lange 1, including the off-center hours-minutes subdial; the “outsize” date display with its easily adjustable push-piece recessed into the case; and the “Auf/Ab” hand-type power-reserve indicator. The first Little Lange housed the same L091 caliber as the original model, and in keeping with tradition, A. Lange & Söhne upgraded it to the larger, manually wound L121.1 in 2018. Visible behind a sapphire caseback, the highly decorated movement oscillates at 21,600-vph and stores a power reserve of 72 hours, or three days, when fully wound. The most recent versions of the Little Lange 1, in cases made of pink gold or white gold, are distinguished by solid-gold, engine-turned dials with an intricate guilloché pattern and a dazzling assortment of colors, including purple, a rarity for a brand known for sobriety in its color choices.
Growth Potential: Grand Lange 1
Price: On Request, Case size: 41mm, Thickness: 8.2mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L095.1
In 2003, the Lange 1 got a big brother to join its Little sister. The Grand Lange 1 featured an increased case diameter of 41mm and an accordingly scaled-up dial design. The model was a response to the growing demand for larger watches in the early aughts but also steadfastly adhered to the elegant spirit of the original Lange 1. Initially, the Grand Lange 1 contained the hand-wound L903.1 movement, but in 2012, the manufacture upgraded the model to the new Caliber L095.1, whose larger proportions of 34.10mm allow for the classic Lange 1 dial architecture to be transposed onto the larger dial of the Grand Lange 1 without any overlapping of elements. The hours and minutes remain on the large subdial at 9 o’clock, the running seconds on the subdial at 5 o’clock, the power reserve hand at 3 o’clock, and the date window, its own proportions subtly enlarged by the same factor as the dial, at 1 o’clock. The movement’s expanded diameter also enabled the watchmakers to arrange more parts on a single level, achieving a thickness of only 4.7mm, and to store the 72-hour power reserve in a single mainspring barrel. In 2022, the newest version of the Grand Lange 1 debuted, with its original case thickness reduced from an already svelte 8.8mm to an even slimmer 8.2mm.
Shooting for the Moon: Lange 1 Moon Phase
Price: On Request, Case size: 38.5mm, Thickness: 10.2mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L121.3
The Lange 1 Moon Phase, which made its debut in 2002, features the off-center hours-and-minutes subdial, outsize date, and up/down power reserve indicator made famous by the first Lange 1 model, and adds the signature complication, a moon-phase indicator with a hand-engraved lunar disk depicting the moon on a star-filled sky. In this very sophisticated and precisely calibrated lunar complication, the disk makes one full revolution around its own axis every 24 hours, in sync with the rhythm of day and night. The white-gold moon makes its orbit precisely every 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds, meaning the indicator doubles as a day-night display, and that it would be 122.6 years before it requires a one-day correction. Driving the functions of the Lange 1 Moon Phase is the hand-winding Caliber L121.3, which is based on the L121.1 that has animated the core Lange 1 model since 2015 and is only 0.4mm thicker than that movement despite the integration of 70 additional parts for the moon phase display and the day/night indicator. Its escapement beats at 21,600 vph and it stores its 72 hours of running autonomy in twin mainspring barrels. The moon-phase complication has proven to be a versatile one in the expanding Lange 1 family, with both the Little Lange 1 and Grand Lange 1 sub-families now boasting a lunar complication of their own. The Little Lange 1 Moon Phase, housing the Caliber L121.2, debuted in 2009 and now offers an array of feminine colorways and designs, while the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase, endowed with the Caliber L095.3 and noteworthy for showcasing its panoramic moon-phase inside the same large 9 o’clock subdial as the hours and minutes, has been on the scene since 2014 as an option for stargazers with larger wrists.
Travel Ready: Lange 1 Time Zone
Price: $57,800+, Case size: 41.9mm, Thickness: 10.9mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L141.1
The Lange 1 Time Zone, originally containing the in-house Caliber L031.1, was Lange’s first watch with a dual time-zone indication, cleverly tweaking the asymmetrical Lange 1 dial ensemble to elegantly make room for the additional information. The main (i.e. local) time display remained on the large subdial at 9 o’clock, and the large “outsize” date stood in its usual position, while the smaller 5 o’clock subdial, rather than hosting the decentralized running seconds, displayed a second time zone on two hands in a 12-hour format. The “Auf/Ab” power-reserve indicator spanned the arc between the latter two elements, and a switchable city ring occupied the dial’s periphery. Also notable is the watch’s synchronization mechanism that enables the wearer to “swap” between the time zone indicated on the two subdials. In 2020, A. Lange & Söhne upgraded the Lange 1 Time Zone to the manually wound L121.3 caliber, which achieves the same 72-hour power reserve as its predecessor but stores it in a single barrel rather than two. Other upgrades to the most recent version of the model, which is currently offered in yellow-gold, red-gold, and white-gold 41.9mm cases, include day-night indicators for both the home time and local time, and a golden arrow pointer at 5 o’clock with an aperture that identifies by its fill color whether a city on the switchable ring uses daylight savings time or uses standard time year-round.
Quiet Complexity: Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar
Price: On Request, Case size: 41.9mm, Thickness: 12.2mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L082.1
Most tourbillon wristwatches are designed to be anything but subtle, more often than not placing their signature horological mechanism — an escapement inside a rotating cage, initially geared toward counteracting gravitational pull on the movement — front and center on their dials. A. Lange & Söhne, as is its wont, opted for discretion instead in its 2012 high-complication masterpiece, the Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. The tourbillon built into the watch’s self-winding Caliber L082.1 is visible only from the back of the movement and is even more notable for its patented hacking-seconds mechanism, which enables its rotations to be stopped by pulling out the crown — a technical first for a tourbillon caliber, and a feature that enables the wearer to set the Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar with to-the-second accuracy. The tourbillon itself is the most subtle aspect of the watch, whose dial offers yet another deftly executed variation on the original Lange 1 layout to display the array of calendar functions: the time on the large subdial at 3 o’clock; the outsize date at 10 o’clock; the small seconds combined with a moon-phase at 7 o’clock; the day of the week indicated by an analog hand at 9 o’clock, and the month on a rotating ring (described in more detail below) surrounding the dial.
Years in the Making: Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar
Price: On Request, Case size: 41.9mm, Thickness: 12.1mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manually Wound L021.3
Introduced in 2021, the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar adopts the new approach taken to perpetual calendar design that the Saxon maison established in 2012 with the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. In typical Lange fashion, the technical approach taken is complex in the service of user-friendly practicality. Its in-house, self-winding movement, Caliber L021.3, uses a peripheral month-indicator ring that advances every month rather than the 48-step cam control system — a more challenging mechanism that requires substantially more power than those traditionally found in perpetual calendar wristwatches. The ring encircles another meticulously reworked and aesthetically balanced iteration of the Lange 1 dial: retrograde day-of-the-week display at 9 o’clock; leap-year indication at 6 o’clock; an ornate and sophisticated moon-phase display at 7 o’clock; and the emblematic “outsize” date display at 10 o’clock, all floating harmoniously around the dominant hour-and-minute subdial at 3 o’clock. The automatic movement inside, which is the 67th in-house caliber produced by A. Lange & Söhne, amasses a 50-hour power reserve and beats inside a 41.9mm-diameter case in either rose gold or white gold, behind either a gray, solid silver dial or a solid rose-gold dial, the latter a limited edition of 150 pieces.