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History of the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1

The history of the Lange 1

First introduced in 1994,  the Lange 1 is the most recognisable watch ever created by A. Lange & Söhne, the symbol of the Saxon brand.

The asymmetric dial and the patented outsize date won acclaim by watch enthusiasts, experts, collectors  making the Lange 1 an instant classic. After two decades it remains virtually unchanged since its introduction. Very few watches could gain an iconic status in such a short time frame.

But what is the path that brought to the ideation and development of the Lange 1?

The origins of the Saxon manufacturer date back to 1845, when Ferdinand A. Lange, an extraordinarily talented Dresden watchmaker, established his own company and started creating superior pocket-watches highly coveted among collectors all over the world.

A unique A. Lange & Söhne pocket watch sold in August 1902, one of the most complicated pocket watch ever made by A. Lange & Söhne featuring a chiming mechanism with a grand strike and a small strike, a minute repeater, a split-seconds chronograph with a minute counter and flying seconds, as well as a perpetual calendar with a moon-phase display

Unfortunately, after the Second World War, the enterprise was expropriated during the Soviet occupation in 1948 and the name of A. Lange & Söhne was almost forgotten.

Luckily, Ferdinand A. Lange’s great-grandson Walter Lange had the courage to relaunch the brand and in 1990, after the reunification of Germany, founded Lange Uhren GmbH on 7 December 1990 in Glashütte, and registered the A. Lange & Söhne brand worldwide, the first step to bring the Lange watchmaking tradition back to life.

Together with his business partner and friend, Günter Blümlein, at the time the managing director of IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, he was ready to take up the interrupted task of his forebears making good use of a precious asset: his great-grandfather's journey book which included lot of technical drawings and insights.

Lange and Blümlein shared the goal to put Germany back on the map of the luxury timepiece segment with a bold opus characterised by a distinctive design but in line with the A. Lange & Sohne tradition.

Günter Blümlein and Walter Lange 

In order to make a successful return, it was essential to present to the world something truly unique and special, a timepiece that could surprise and receive unanimous support from watch experts.

The big question was: what would a modern watch from A. Lange & Söhne look like, if the brand had not ceased to exist after the Second World War?

For the creation of the signature watch of A. Lange and Sohne, they thought to give it a strong and unique identity by adopting an outsize date indication which was inspired to the Five-Minute Clock of the Semper Opera House in Dresden, a revolutionary clock with digital indication dating back to 1841.

Positioned just above the stage, the Five-Minute Clock was built on request of the King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony in order to allow everyone at the opera house to read clearly the time without disturbing the musical performance by activating minute repetitions.

The ground-breaking design was the work of the Dresden clock maker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, genius apprentice-master and mentor to Ferdinand A. Lange. Together they created one of the world’s first digital clocks.

Since there was very little space available above the proscenium arch and a round dial would not have provided the required legibility in the large and dark auditorium, the two watchmakers decided to create a structure without precedent, involving two counter-rotating drums showing the hours and the minutes, the latter in intervals of five. The clock was very successful, and gave Ferdinand A. Lange the courage to take the even bolder step of setting up his own manufacture.

So the outsize date had to be a distinctive feature of the new watch. Positioned at the top on the right among the off-centre displays of the Lange 1 dial, it was also the first patent granted to Lange Uhren GmbH in the new era. The patent application was filed in 1992, and two years later, the mechanism was introduced to the Lange 1.

In terms of design the key element of the Lange 1 was the dial, certainly with the patented large date aperture but also with an asymmetrically positioned hour and minute sub-dial with Roman numerals, a power reserve indicator at 3 o'clock, a small seconds sub-dial and the famous arc signature indicating where the Lange watches are made: Glashütte i/SA, where “i/SA” is the abbreviation for "in Saxony".

All the indications were not overlapping and positioned to reflect the harmonious proportions of the golden section, which from ancient times was considered a model of artistic balance. The centres of the subsidiary seconds dial, the main dial and the outsize-date display were positioned at the corners of an isosceles triangle.

Other details like the sword-shaped hands, the applied hour indexes, the sculpted lugs, and the choice of precious materials for cases and dials contributed to the strong identity of this watch. The diameter of the case was 38.5 mm with a thickness of 10 mm.

The first Lange 1: champagne dial with case, hands and hours markers in yellow gold - Ref. 101.001

A close-up of the perfectly balanced dial with no overlapping elements

But the distinctive design was only a part of the recipe. Although the first series hid the movement behind a solid caseback fixed with screws, the L901.0 Calibre was indeed special with the traditional Glashütte three-quarter plate made of German silver, screw-mounted gold chatons,  the twin mainspring barrel for a power reserve of more than three days and a stop second mechanism activated when the crown is pulled out.

The solid back case of the first Lange 1 series

The Calibre L901.0 with the traditional Glashütte tree-quarter plate

The outsize date patented mechanism

A pocket watch from A. Lange & Sohne dating back to 1905 with the typical three quarter plate and precision whiplash swan-neck adjustment

After four years of hard work, A. Lange & Sohne was ready for the presentation to the world of the Lange 1 and three other new timepieces (the rectangular Arkade, the Saxonia and the sensational Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite”).

Before officially presenting the new timepieces to the press, on 19 and 20 October 1994 A. Lange & Sohne held a preview event in Glashütte with twelve high-profile jewellers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Invited dealers ordered all the available 123 watches taking as many pieces as Lange could allot to them. Since 123 simply couldn't be divided by twelve, the last pieces were assigned by drawing “straws”.

The official press conference took place on 24 October at Dresden Castle at the presence of journalists and local celebrities, including Saxony’s Prime Minister. A curious detail: the date displays of the debut watches were set to the 25th so they would be current when showcased in the following day’s newspapers.

The Lange 1 was unanimously acclaimed. In a very short time watch enthusiasts from all the world were captured by the new symbol of the Saxon watchmaker.

The first Lange 1 was available in yellow gold with yellow gold hands and champagne dial (ref. 101.001) or with blued steel hands and argenté dial (ref. 101.002) as well as in platinum (ref. 101.005). The yellow gold versions had a price of DM 27,000 while the price of the platinum one was DM 39,000.

The year after, Lange started offering the Lange 1 models with a sapphire crystal case back to display the beautiful finishing of the L901.0 movement using the following references: 101.021 in yellow gold with champagne dial and yellow gold hands, 101.022 in yellow gold with argenté dial and blued steel hands, 101.025 in platinum with rhodié dial and rhodiumed gold hands

Lange 1 with blued steel hands and argenté dial (ref. 101.002 with solid case back, ref. 101.022 with sapphire crystal case back) - Courtesy of Edwin H. Heusinkveld

Lange 1 "Stealth" in platinum. Ref. 101.005 had a solid case back while ref. 101.025 (introduced one year later) a sapphire crystal case back - Courtesy of Edwin H. Heusinkveld

The sapphire crystal case back introduced in 1995

In 1997 the solid case back versions were discontinued (it is easy to understand why with such a beautifully refined movement asking to be shown) and white gold and red gold versions were added to the collection. The white gold case featured a blue dial (ref. 101.027) while the pink gold case was matched to a black dial (ref. 101.031).

Lange 1 ref. 101.027

Lange 1 ref. 101.031

At the 1998 edition of the Basel exhibition the collection was completed with reference 101.032, combining the pink gold case with a silver dial, and reference 101.028 (yellow gold case and blue dial) which remained on catalogue for just one year.

Lange 1 ref. 101.032 with a silver dial in a pink gold case, still one of the most successful model of the line

The Lange 1A, a special 100-piece limited edition with an engine turned gold dial, was created in 1998 (ref. 112.021). Produced to commemorate the inauguration of the second Lange manufactory building in 1998, it was immediately sold out and it is still today very appreciated by collectors. In 2014 at Christie's Geneva an example was sold for the amount of Swiss Francs 50,000.

The Lange 1A: for its lever and escape wheel specially hardened white gold was used, which is much more resistant to wear compared to yellow gold

Officially, A. Lange & Sohne cased its Lange 1 model exclusively in precious metals but in 1998 a small series in stainless steel was produced. The German watchmaker never revealed the precise numbers of this series but they made statements referring to "a very small number of examples" in stainless steel made on request of special clients or retailers.

These few stainless models, all fitted with Calibre L901.0, are listed under reference 101.026. One of them was sold at Dr. Crott Auctioneers in Frankfurt on 15 November 2019 at the record price of Euro 218,800.

A rare Lange 1 ref. 101.026 in stainless steel sold by Dr. Crott Auctioneers for the record amount of Euro 218,800 on 15 November 2019

Over the years, Lange presented other dial variations for its flagship model: black with white-on-black date for the platinum case (a model also known as Darth), grey for pink gold, black with luminous hands and markers for white gold.

The reference 101.039, featuring a silver dial with luminous hands and markers framed by a white gold case, was introduced in 1999.

Lange 1 ref. 101.039 with luminous hands and markers

Not only an iconic timepiece, the Lange 1 was the foundation of an entire watch family composed of models in various case diameters, powered by manually wound or self-winding movements, enriched with additional complications such as a moon-phase display, a second time zone, or as a combination featuring a tourbillon and a perpetual calendar.

In 2000 the Saxon manufactory celebrated the last year of the century with the Lange 1 Tourbillon and its rotating cage neutralising the influence of gravity on the balance wheel. The model was produced in platinum (150 pieces) and in rose gold (250 pieces).

In 2002, the Lange 1 Moonphase introduced a moon phases complication in the signature 38.5 mm case with the solid-gold lunar disc located inside the subsidiary-seconds dial. The L901.5 calibre achieved an accuracy of the 99.988 in the reproduction of lunar month thanks to a sophisticated four-wheel transmission.

Following the requests of many lovers of large sized watches, the manufactory presented the Grand Lange 1 in 2003. With a case diameter of 41.9 mm, this Grand Lange model maintained the same L901.0 movement and features of the Lange 1.

The Grand Lange 1 will be redesigned in 2012 to house a new thinner movement (just 4.7 mm), the calibre L905.1. The limited height of this movement allowed Lange to reduced the height of the whole case to a mere 8.8 mm while the diameter was reduced to 40.9 mm for a better ratio of width to height.

A Lange 1 (on the left) in yellow gold compared to the 2012 version of the Grand Lange 1 in pink gold

More Lange 1 models were on the way. In 2005 the master watchmakers in Saxony presented the Lange 1 Time Zone featuring a second time zone that could be easily adjusted with a push piece as well as a mechanism for swapping the home time display on the main dial with the zone time indicated on the auxiliary dial.

2010 was the year of the first self-winding Lange 1 - the Daymatic - distinguishing itself from the manually wound model with its mirror-image dial configuration. The power-reserve indicator was replaced by a retrograde day-of-week display.

A spectacular timepiece introduced in 2012, the Lange Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar united two classic complications conveniently arranging all the calendar indications and discreetly unveiling the precious tourbillon through the sapphire-crystal case back.

In 2014, on the occasion of the 20th birthday of the Lange 1, the Saxon brand presented five limited-edition watch pairs consisting of the Lange 1 and the Little Lange 1 (Ø 36.1 mm), both equipped with guilloché golden dials and the L901.0 calibre with the ladies’ model featuring a precious bezel set with 64 brilliant-cut diamonds. Five the case/dial combinations: platinum/black, platinum/rhodié, white-gold/blue, pink-gold/argenté and pink-gold/black.

At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2015, A. Lange & Söhne released a new edition of the Lange 1. Of course, when the Saxon brand decided the update, it was completely clear that the inimitable design of the Lange 1 had to be fully preserved.

The main novelty of the new Lange 1 was represented by the new manufacture calibre L121.1, the result of 25 years of experience, featuring an instantaneous switch of the outsize date at midnight and a newly designed balance wheel with eccentric poising weights and a free-sprung hairspring crafted in-house. Other than that, the movement still beats at 21,600 vibrations per hour and a power reserve of 72 hours.

Wisely, the signature dial configuration remained practically untouched. Without changing the 38.5 mm case diameter, the bezel was slightly narrowed to add openness to the face of the watch and slimmer letters were used for the arc signature and the other texts.

The new Lange 1 is on the right: note the slightly thinner bezel and the slimmer stroke of the fonts

In 2022, the Saxon watchmaker introduced a redesigned Grand Lange 1 model characterised by a grey dial and even more elegant proportions. Available in 18-carat pink or white gold, its case has a diameter of 41 mm and is just 8.2 mm thick (vs. 8.8 mm of the previous version).

The Grand Lange 1 presented in 2022

Beating at 21,600 vibrations per hour (3 Hz), the hand wound calibre L095.1 of the Grand Lange 1 has only one mainspring barrel instead of a double barrel with two stacked mainsprings like the Calibre L121.1 of the Lange 1. Nonetheless, thanks to the larger diameter, it still achieves a power reserve of 72 hours or 3 days.

Today the Lange 1 and its family are more desirable than ever. And, with the future of A. Lange & Sohne looking bright, there's still a lot more to come.

By Alessandro Mazzardo.
Latest update: October 30, 2023.
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Time and Watches | The watch blog: History of the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
History of the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
History of the Lange 1. History of the A. Lange and Sohne Lange 1. First introduced in 1994, the Lange 1 is the most recognizable watch created by A. Lange & Söhne, the symbol of the Saxon brand. From the first model, reference 101.001 with the movement L901.0, to the various case/dial combinations, the complete history of the Lange1 watch. Not only an iconic timepiece, the Lange 1 was the foundation of an entire watch family. History of the A. Lange and Sohne Lange 1. History of the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
Time and Watches | The watch blog
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