Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Lange 1.
German brand A. Lange & Söhne makes watches that are palpably “special,” and the story of their flagship model encapsulates the brand’s unique character. Revived from communist oblivion by the founder’s great-grandson, the Glashütte-based watch manufacturer has risen to be respected among the world’s top names of “high watchmaking” in just a couple of decades and enjoys ardent fandom like few others. All that defines A. Lange & Söhne is perfectly represented in the Lange 1: it helped debut the modern company, and its inspired, unconventionally asymmetric design has indisputably become a rare modern classic.
The lore of Lange goes that its historic factory in the town of Glashütte was bombed in 1945 at the end of World War II, a hundred years after the company’s founding by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845. Situated in Saxony, it came under soviet East German control following the war, and fourth-generation watchmaker Walter Lange fled the country to avoid forced labor in uranium mines. The company then ceased to exist until 1990 when Walter Lange moved to register the name again almost immediately after the Berlin Wall fell.
The first four pieces from the newly reanimated brand were introduced in 1994, and among them the Lange 1 boosted the company’s profile by causing some controversy and buzz. Measuring a modest 38.5mm wide by just 9.8mm thick, its unconventional dial design is not symmetrical, but has somehow achieved a comfortably balanced feel — something at which many other watchmakers have been less successful. A large dial for the hours and minutes is offset by a smaller one for just the seconds, and a floating hand measures the 72-hour power reserve. Finally, these circular motifs find a counterbalance in a large rectangular date display with digits that change individually using two separate discs — as opposed to the typical single disc with 31 numbers. This patented “outsize date” has become a brand signature on many Lange watches.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes the brand so successful, but ultimately, there’s something about the way quality, details, and attitude come together to create a well-rounded persona that seems to strike a chord. Despite producing very expensive luxury watches almost exclusively using precious materials, A. Lange & Söhne’s character actually comes across as honest and down-to-earth. The Lange 1 is a great example of how the brand’s traditional, conservative German approach to watchmaking is executed with fresh creativity and is full of thoughtful and pragmatic touches.
In 2000, the brand joined the Swiss conglomerate Richemont Group, and the following year reopened the factory in Glashütte that had been partially destroyed in World War 2. Its status and popularity today make it hard to believe that the brand’s first boutique opened only in 2007. Until a few years ago, A. Lange & Söhne was considered an underdog and well-kept secret of serious, in-the-know watch aficionados, but today the brand’s status is no less than that of a celebrity. The Lange 1 remains the brand’s flagship collection and has spawned numerous versions, but the core model looks almost identical to the original, introduced 25 years ago in 1994.