Today we have one of these really nice walkthrough videos to share with you and after our first German watchmaking encounter video published a short while ago, well we kind of really liked the food there and immediately returned to the Glashütte region and we will now explore in much more details the manufacture of A. Lange & Söhne.
That sounds pretty sweet right!
So without much doubt this is one of the most legitimate brand in terms of mechanical quality watchmaking you can find, a brand that shook up the Swiss industry at a time when it was simply resting on its laurels, a brand that redefined the art of finishing and pushing the limits of precision and technical developments a bit further.
So yes I rather like Lange and we had the great opportunity to walk through this pretty impressive manufacture with no other than Mr. Anthony de Haas, Director of Product Development, and we use different aspects of the spectacular Tourbograph Perpetual Pour Le Mérite timepiece as kind of the backbone of this visit.
But at the end of the video we’ll come back with Mr. de Haas on some of the most iconic watches presented by A. Lange & Söhne. So let’s go and yes there is lot to be said and showed, enjoy! Hello! Hello Tony! How are you? Fine fine fine. Welcome to A. Lange & Söhne! it’s a pleasure to be here. Maybe we’re gonna take a look how complicated a watch like the Tourbograph Perpetual is assembled.
Little steps, the different steps like the finishing. Of course we’re not gonna show you all the secrets, there is a couple of them we want to keep for ourselves. All right. Sounds good to me. Perfect let’s go then. So in a certain way how would you define A. Lange & Söhne as a brand? Passion, and not high-end watchmaking, German high-end watchmaking, it is Germany here.
It’s strange from a Dutch guy but I can’t help it, I work here. The three quarter plate is a Glashütte thing, Germany. The design is very understated, it has some sharp angles, German design, compare the German design car and an Italian design car, you see the difference. An important thing is what I call performance, it is the things we develop like the stopping Tourbillon, the zero reset, very useful functions, but not loud. And it’s more for the people in the know, you have to be a little bit connoisseur to understand what we do, how we do things. There are people who call it the triple split XXXXXXX, some the micro city, what you have in these first Star Wars movies.
You go and you play and you go through the movement. That’s what it’s all about. So here we have the Engraving Department. Hello! Guten morgen! An interesting thing is every A. Lange & Söhne movement, every single one, there is no one without, it has an engraved part. Most of the time the balance cock. Sometimes two or one, two extra bridges like the timezone. The Tourbillon bridge on the movement side is also handing right, and they have a fixed pattern, a flowerish pattern out of tradition. Six individuals, you let them make flowerish themes, which are from the base the same, but it is like handwriting, you have little different interpretations of the flowerisation, which is fine, which is great, it’s human. You could see that each watch is a unique piece. Funny thing is when you come here with visitors, owners of the Lange watch, saying can I have your watch, you show them, they are able to say, who made that watch and that’s a fascinating moment.
And you engrave every type of material here, I mean even platinum? Yes, we do platinum, because on special demand we do half hunter cases, all our watches are delivered standard with sapphire case back, but there are people who say “no, I want to have a solid case back with a personalised engraving”. We do that of course, special order. And we have our Handwerkskunst, that’s this unpronounceable name except for Germans, Handwerkskunst, hand-craftsmanship watches we do. So once in a while we have a special theme, we had some enamel watches last year, when we met in Florence we’ve just presented the engraved and covered with a transparent enamel with a half hunter case, even that with enamel.
On average for that watch we have to make five dials to get one, a good one. Nobody sees that, nobody knows and then the people don’t understand why only 20, maybe now you understand why only 20. It’s not commercial, because even our own sales guys are always killing me – why only 20, I could have sold hundred of these you know. But I am sorry, we are frustrating our own sales people because we can’t make more than, it takes to time to make. A lot of evolution. First of all we were three people in the beginning and today we’re about 770.
In the beginning we were predominantly servicing the german or the german-speaking markets. Today we are a true global company with about 63 different countries. You know, what you see here that didn’t exist 1990. We’re working out of old facilities and that’s probably the most contemporary facility you can get if you are into producing fine watches. We’re truly international, we are very sophisticated in what we do and what we still do is exactly the same way as the craftsmanship, our general idea of how watches should look like, the very German approach to legibility and importance of what you have to see first and what you have to see second. But it’s also the two souls of our watches, the very legible understated dial and then if you turn it around it’s the complete opposite, it’s opulent, it’s decoration, it’s design, you know it’s all you want to indulge yourself with. And with the watchmaking school, that we now operate I think for 16th year will ensure that even in future there will never be a shortage on very skilled craftsmen. So, Tony explain us where we are now? This is the finish department, not because they’re Finnish people, but it’s the finishing department actually, it’s also a practical joke I am using, but here every part of the movement is decorated by hand.
You hear a little machine on the background, but that’s a hand machine to polish. And let’s take a look at the Tourbillon bridge from the Tourbograph Perpetual Calendar, because that is a big challenge for us to make. On top there’s a Perpetual Calendar model, not a complete module, partly integrated, but you go higher and it was impossible to lift up the cage, the tourbillon cage, that’s what we wanted to do first, but there you have a collision with the hour wheel, we couldn’t find another solution than by doing so. The cage is deeper, so we had to find a way and a nice design to find and that bridge is the solution. So very concretely, I mean, how long does it take to accomplish such a piece? That’s difficult to say, because the lady over here, she will maybe use for one bridge one day and it could be seven hours, or it could be 10 hours, that depends a little bit on, not on the wind from the east or the west, that but it is human and not everybody has everyday a good day.
So it’s very difficult to see and I’m only talking today is only finishing. So she will get the part fabricated and then she would do the finishing. And the last, the upper black polishing is made by the watchmaker actually, not the 45-degree angle and not black polish in the curve, but the final piece. What is the reason for that? Because the watchmaker has to do the assembly, so he’s manipulating as we call that, he’s pulling it and adjusting and then there’s a risk, especially with black polish, you see everything. This is a zinc plate with a tripod, but you see the tool we made for this bridge, so she will turn it around and start with big circles and then tiny circles at the end on the zinc with a polish paste and then she hopes it will turn black. But it’s not like you do that for five minutes and then you’re done. Because with this you would only have the upper part of the bridge. Yes, this is only the upper part, the rest is done by hand, but we tried to find tools where you can do it.
If you polish too much, the surface gets wider, because you take away the bevelling and the fascinating part is that the upper flat part is also black polished, but you see the angles and here you see sharp inner angles and there are quite a lot of them. An interesting thing is that every watch is almost a unique piece, because if you would have had two of these bridges, no one is exactly the same, although we work according to plan. And that’s the fine tuning of hand and that’s the devotion of the people we have here. The machines, they have a milling tool. The milling tool is round and as a minimum, a very tiny diameter, but it’s not sharp angle and the sharp angle is done by hand. Of course we prepare everything and then the last stroke is done by hand and then you have the sharp angle, it’s not polished yet, so you need to polish the inner angles and there you have to be very careful, otherwise it looks very wobbly or not well-defined.
This is the department where the complicated watches are assembled. So it’s not complicated people over here, but the work that they do is very complicated. So here are the masterpieces made of the Datagraph Perpetual Tourbillon. The Tourbograph Perpetual Tourbillon, we have the Terraluna, we have Constant Force watches, so here are top watchmakers. To have the ability to think yourself into the mechanism like understand the following ways, because of the Perpetual Calendar is a complex of combinations of levers and wheels and switches and ratchets and you have to understand what does it make it work, how you can adjust it.
It’s not like you take a pinion and you fix the screw, and then the next part you have to adjust. What do we mean by adjust – giving tension, a bit more tension to certain springs for certain levers or even slightly cut something away from the lever, because the pressure on the start/stop pusher is not exactly we want for the quality. It must be very smooth, but very defined. These things you have to have a feeling. There’s a German word for it, fingersptizengefühl, the tips of your fingers, you have to like it. And would generally a watchmaker work here from scratch till the finished assembled product or how do you organize your work? The watchmaker gets parts which are finished, most of the time most of the parts are already finished.
To a certain level like polishing or functions, you know you have a lever and that there’s an area where there is an interaction with another lever, you have the functions which needs to be polished. That the watchmaker can do, but not the whole bevelling thing. And then we switch, we do not like to just stick with one movement, that’s not good. We have some specialists and not everybody is capable of doing a Minute Repeater, not even the guys who are here, it’s a different level.
The lady who’s doing the assembly of the tourbillon cages for example, she loves doing that, for her it’s a sport to get high precision, that’s her thing. Oh you want to do Chrono? Mmm no… So everybody has his favourite thing. Hello sir, hi! Oh this is a interesting piece. You see what he is doing now? What he’s having in his tweezers? That is the Rattrappante axe and the wheel which goes on top, so quite very thin, because that is what goes through the entire movement.
It’s the upper hand, the Rattrappante hand, which goes up on the dial side and up on the movement side. So it’s very long and it’s already a technical highlight to fabricate an axe, which is so thin and so long. And then it’s very tricky, if it’s slightly out of range, the thing starts to wear and tear and it blocks and you don’t understand why the hands are not Rattrappante or during the normal running it starts to flatter. These are the things how to lubricate, very tiny or not, that is interesting. Now he’s doing the adjustment, he’s putting in the wheel, putting on top the bridge and then he’s checking the end shake of the wheel, if it’s too high. Most of the times we adjust a minimum.
The French guys used to say “libre sans jeu” – free without shake, which is nearly impossible. And that’s also a thing. You asked about skills? – Watchmaker with experience is getting an eye for that, he doesn’t need to measure. We have tools to measure, but that would take too long. So the people know. He’s really feels it, ears it; smooth, but a well-defined, which for us very important, not like cloin-cloin, you are almost scared to use your Chrono. That’s what they do, because that is a lever with a pin, which flips over it and he is adjusting by hand that “clack” and he’s adjusting this “clack” effect. So now this is the time when we’re gonna talk about some of the timepieces of A. Lange & Söhne kind and start with one of the most iconic timepiece. The start was the Lange 1 and it is one of the first four watches which were presented in 1994. It was a decentered design, with Outsized date, at that time was very new decentered dial and perfectly aligned, so you have the outsized date, the power reserve indication, three days, and the second hand and perfect alignment within the circle.
This is where it all started with. The original one, because the original one we built until 2014 and then after 20 years learning a lot about developing movements, we gave it a technical update, we hardly touched the design, that iconic design, but we gave it a completely new movement with a instantaneously jumping outsized date now around midnight. And slightly bigger balance wheel, so it’s now up to the standards of today, and we started with it, but now we have a whole entire Lange 1 collection with the Grand Lange 1, Grand Lange 1 Moonphase, Lange 1 with a Moon Phase, with a hidden day/night indication in the Moon Phase and many other Lange 1’s. But this is the Lange 1, the base where it all began.
For me this is really one of the most iconic timepiece ever. It’s intemporal, it will always look nice. But we have more. Fantastic, let’s continue Here we have the 1815. This is the Annual Calendar version. 1815, why 1815? That was the year of birth of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, the company founder, and you can recognise a little bit a very classical printed Arabic numerals. This is in fact a very classic of the classic product family, with a “chemin de fer”, railway track and very classical manual wound movements and of course with the 3/4 plate.
Beautiful big balance wheel and this is the Annual Calendar. So the calendar is quite intelligent, but doesn’t have the intelligence of the Perpetual Calendar. Why did I say this? This watch is the famous Datagraph, but not the basic version of the Datagraph. It has of course the Chronograph with the instantaneously jumping minute counter and the outsized date, but this beauty has a Perpetual Calendar, an instantaneous switching Perpetual Calendar. The difference between the Perpetual Calendar and an Annual Calendar is the Perpetual Calendar knows if a month has 30, 31 or 28 or 29 days, it knows. Not enough of this, on the back perfectly hidden, only for the owner, is integrated in the beautiful and famous Datagraph Chronograph movements, a beautiful big tourbillon, which also has the patented tourbillon stop system to check if your tourbillon is as accurate as everybody tells you.
So as soon as there is a second hand in the watch, we will put in that system for stopping the tourbillon. In 2009 we presented a piece, a watch, which we thought it’s a niche product. It’s a mechanical timepiece of course at A. Lange & Söhne, but with digital reading of the time. So you have two displays for the hours and the minutes. We thought it’s more a niche product and we were so overwhelmed by the enormous success of that watch.
It’s not a cheap watch, because it requires a big complication to make it able to to move the discs every minute instantaneously, so which means the regular second hand jumps over over the 60, comes over the 60 and the next minute jumps further. For the Zeitwerk, we had to use a big, big barrel, a serious barrel to move discs, but the big barrel producing way too much power for the escapement which is quite fine and delicate, so we said we make another spring in between, a “remontoir” system.
Not only escapement like many do, but on the fourth wheel, and the fourth wheel we have an extra spring, which gives enough power for the balance wheel to make the watch tick-ticking during a minute. After a minute it needs to be recharged, that little spring. Exactly after one minute we release the big power from the big barrel to recharge that little spring, so the watch can continue to run another minute. At the same time we release the big barrel to recharge that spring and it moves the disc another minute. Richard Lange, the eldest son of Ferdinand Adolf Lange, he was a longterm Technical Director of the company. He has a lot of patents on his name. And we honoured him by a product line on a product family called Richard Lange, which we see more technical, classic pieces.
This is a “fusée chaine”, you know the little “chaine” and the “fusée” for constant force, a very classical system which was used in deck watches and in big clocks. And one of the first four watches was the Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite in 1994. It was the first one in the wristwatches with the tiny little chain, you know that chain has only 0.5 millimetre of thickness, 636 parts. It’s a crazy part, it’s crazy part. What is a “fusée”? I compare it to a big marriage cake, you know the big cakes with the different stacks. So you have the cake with different circumferences and at the beginning the barrel is connected by the chain to the smallest circumference, and the chain is whining, whining and getting turned around by winding around the bigger circumferences. The action, the idea is the action of lever. In the beginning you have a lot of torque from the barrel and it gives it to the smallest circumference and as time goes by, it pulls the chain back and it becomes bigger and bigger to the circumference.
So the drop of spring is compensated by the size of the marriage cake actually. We wanted to make and this is a regulator dial, you see at the 12 o’clock position the minute hand, the hours and then on the left side the second hand mounted on top of the tourbillon cage. Here is a part missing in the hour dial, but we wanted to show as much as possible the Tourbillon, and it only appears if you need it. From 6:00 o’clock until noon you have the dial and the rest of the time, so it works automatically. The Tourbograph Perpetual and again the tourbillon, the Fusée Cheine, it’s hard to see, it’s hidden under the three-quarter plate, which is hidden underneath the Chronograph Rattrappante. There is a lot to tell about this watch. It is a very complicated watch, but the basic idea is not far from the watch we spoke before. It’s the Fusée Chaine system, which is powering the tourbillon, the minute tourbillon, so you have the tourbillon and then we have the Chronograph Rattrappante.
So if you start, the chrono will start. You push this button on the left, there’s another hand underneath, so this is the intermediate time, the split time. You push once again, they do this “rattrapper” action, they recatch the original time, and of course you do the stop and the zero reset. On top of that we have a Perpetual Calendar – what’s the weekdays, the months in the leap year, beautiful Moon phase with the date.
And these adjustments of all this system together, that requires a good watchmaker and a lot of technical insight. There are not many watchmakers, who are able to do this, and that’s also the reason why there are not so many made.