What the Lange 1’s 25th birthday means for watch collectors
A. Lange & Sohne’s iconic Lange 1 turns 25 this year, with limited edition anniversary models to mark the festivities. But just how significant is the OG watch to Germany’s Glashutte region, to the watchmaking industry, and ultimately to collectors? Noted Lange collector Peter Chong weighs in.
The Lange 1 is the quintessential A. Lange & Sohne watch. When first introduced to the press on Oct 24, 1994 in Dresden, it was an immediate success. Twelve major retailers from German-speaking countries: 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 Oct 25, 1994 the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung read, “The economy of Germany’s East is suddenly beginning to tick differently: A Lange & Sohne is back – the legend has come home.”
The four watches introduced in 1994 were monumental. Each had its own special characteristics: The Lange 1, with its off-centre hour display, subsidiary seconds, power reserve display and the large date display; the Arkade, a ladies model, also fitted with the outsized date; the Saxonia, a simple mid-sized gold watch, also with the outsized date; and the Tourbillon Pour le Merite, the pinnacle of the collection: A tourbillon with a fusee-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 which is representative of the values that the firm wanted to communicate in the early days. For the 40 years prior, the Glashutte region’s watchmaking was reduced to making robust mechanical and quartz watches under the German Democratic Republic (East German) regime. They were strangers to the world of luxury watchmaking. But in the masterstroke they displayed on Oct 24, 1994, Lange demonstrated to the world that they are on 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 rivalled the best of Switzerland. “They make Trabants in Saxony, not luxury watches” was a common cry among the doubters. Trabants were basic, utilitarian cars that were prized possessions in the GDR, not luxury vehicles by any stretch of imagination.
But the watches spoke for themselves. The early retailers were all chosen not only because they were well established in their respective markets, but also because they were Authorised Retailers for other top brands. This made it easy to compare watches side by side. And slowly, the collecting community realised that this was a First Class act, and that the Swiss made great watches, but now, so did the Saxons.
The Lange 1 is probably the most successful of all Lange models, and has 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. The option of a solid case back in the same metal as the case was offered as an option to the sapphire case back which was standard.
A pink gold version was added circa 1998, and also about that time a series of approximately 20 Lange 1’s in Stainless Steel were made. These were mainly delivered as small batches to the Authorised Dealers of Orologeria Pisa in Milan, Cellini 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 guilloche dial and gold escape lever and escape wheel.
The Lange 1 also spawned an entire family of watches, which currently counts nine models. They come in various case diameters and are manually wound or self-winding. The family also included models with additional functions such as a moon-phase display, a second time zone, or as a combination featuring a tourbillon and a perpetual calendar.
The original Lange 1 had the in-house calibre L901 which featured a double barrel mainspring and a power reserve of 96 hours. The movement remained until it was revised in 2015 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 was installed, including an in-house manufactured balance wheel with eccentric timing weights.
Peter Chong is the Co-Founder, Editorial Director and Chief Photographer of Deployant. He founded the Lange Forum on Timezone.com in 1997 and in 2011 published the book A. Lange & Sohne: The Pour le Merite Collection.