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Inside the A. Lange & Söhne manufactory in Glashütte

For a watch enthusiast, walking along the streets of Glashütte is special.

This little town in the Saxony region - about 7,000 inhabitants and 340 metres / 1,120 feet on the sea-level -  has been the capital of German watchmaking since 1845, when Ferdinand Adolph Lange (1815-1875) founded the “Lange & Cie.” manufactory on 7 December.

Aerial view of Glashütte: the A. Lange & Söhne buildings described later in the article are highlighted - Image courtesy of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie 

His vision of establishing a watchmaking district in the region was fundamental to help the local people to recover from years of wars and poverty.

In 1895, on occasion of the company’s 50th anniversary, the grateful town of Glashütte erected a monument to Lange not far from Ferdinand Adolph Lange Platz, the square where we find the historic building that his son Richard built in 1873, two years before Ferdinand-Adolph died. In 1868, Richard Lange had become co-proprie­tor of his father’s company, from that moment on operating under the name “A. Lange & Söhne”.

Ferdinand Adolph Lange

Even better than walking along the streets of the town is visiting the facilities where the A. Lange & Söhne timepieces are manufactured with care. It is now with pleasure that we share our report with our readers.

The historic building that we mentioned above is where today A. Lange & Söhne has established its own watchmaking school. Each year, around 20 young women and men are initiated into the secrets of Lange watchmaking artistry during a period of three years. During their apprenticeships, they learn to assemble and repair mechanical movements, from alarm clocks and grandfather clocks to pocket watches and modern wristwatches, craft their own tools and, by the end of their path, build a complete mechanical wristwatch.

Since August 2015, the production of the company takes place in a two-winged complex extended over an area spanning 5,400 square meters at the southern gateway to the town of Glashütte. Most of the 650 employees of the company work here.

Well integrated in the architectural surroundings, the two building are connected by a 13.5-metre-long bridge.

Machines and other equipment used to manufacture movement parts are located in the lower-slung front part of the building while the workshops benefit of large atelier windows designed to assure excellent lighting for the watchmakers which operate in virtually dust-free workshops.

Together with the objectives to create an ideal working environment and optimize the production processes, A. Lange & Söhne also wanted to create an environmental-friendly complex. In fact, Saxony’s largest geothermal energy plant – a double digit investment in millions of euros with 55 downhole heat exchangers extending to a depth of as much as 125 metres – keeps the indoor climate pleasant throughout all four seasons. The electricity needed to operate the pumps is green. Thus, the new Lange manufactory is a CO2-free facility that makes an important contribution to climate change mitigation.

At the entrance of the new building on the right wing, the bust of Ferdinand-Adolph Lange tributes once again the founder of the brand.

All components of the exclusive watches are produced in-house and then hand-finished to meet the stringent quality and aesthetic requirements of the brand.

Even the balance springs are manufactured in-house. This component is the hearth of a mechanical watch and its quality is crucial for the rate accuracy. Because of the extreme requirements imposed on manufacturing precision, only a handful of watchmaking companies master the art of crafting such springs. At Lange the tolerance is one ten-thousandth of a millimetre, a hundredth of the diameter of a human hair.

A. Lange & Söhne produces a few thousand watches per year, all incorporating a high degree of manual work.  This is remarkable if you consider the level of attention that goes into perfecting and finishing even the smaller component of each watch.

Despite having introduced many innovations in watchmaking, the brand is well aware of the importance of respecting tradition. Thanks to this approach, not conditioned by changing fashion trends, the cases and the movements of A. Lange & Söhne are immediately recognizable for their shapes and finishes.

The three-quarter plate is a clear example of this. First introduced in 1864,  it still is one of the most important traditional elements at A. Lange & Söhne and used in the majority of their movements. It is made of untreated German silver, an alloy containing copper, nickel and zinc, traditionally used by Lange for all frame parts. The material is characterised by high stability and resistance to corrosion. In the course of time, it takes on a protective, gold-yellow patina and does not require any electrolytic anti-corrosive coating. For more on the evolution of the three-quarter plate, we invite you reading our article "The evolution of the A. Lange & Sohne three-quarter plate."

Various techniques are used to embellish the timepieces and their movements, including ribbing, perlage, solarisation,straight graining, circular graining, chamfering, flat polishing and black polishing. We invite you read our "A. Lange & Sohne mechanical movements: what makes them so irresistible?" feature article to discover more about each of these enhancements.

Some of the decoration techniques used to enhance the aesthetics of the A. Lange & Söhne movements

Some of these decoration techniques are not used for mere aesthetic reasons. As an example, screws are thermally blued not just because they add beauty to the assembled movement but because, after being heated to 300 °C, they offer much higher corrosion resistance.

The engraving department is certainly one of the most fascinating that we visited. Only six artists - three ladies and three gentlemen - work in this office. They engrave by hand, using their own recognizable style, the balance cock of every Lange watch which, this way, becomes truly unique.

Production steps of a balance cock and various floral patterns

The assembly of the watches is performed in different departments. Among them, one is exclusively dedicated to the Lange 1, the best selling timepiece of the brand (you can read the complete history of this iconic watch here). Another one is assigned to the assembly of complication watches, with the exception of the Zeitwerk and the Grand Complications which also have their own departments.

In order to achieve the highest possible prowess, most watchmakers are specialized in specific calibers and, if needed,  they have the capability to adjust components during the assembly phase.

While visiting the assembly department dedicated to the Zeitwerk, it was interesting to compare the mainspring equipping this model with the ones generally used for other models.

As you can see in the picture below, the difference is remarkable. The Zeitwerk mainspring is so wide in order to provide enough torque to the sophisticated jumping numerals mechanism.

Comparing the giant mainspring of the Zeitwerk with a normal one

This is the strongest mainspring used by A, Lange & Söhne, even stronger than the one used in the Lange 31, which is longer but not just as strong. To have an idea of how much work is behind each of these movements, just imagine that as many as eight different types of oils and greases are used to lubricate no less than 50 different points. And no quantity mistakes are allowed. Dosage must be 100% accurate.
The assembly process of the chain that is used in the fusée-and-chain transmission equipping watches like the Richard Lange Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite” was particularly impressive.

Working like an infinitely variable gearbox, this mechanism equalises the waning force of the mainspring and makes sure that the movement always receives a constant amount of energy. This keeps the watch running at an exact rate. When the watch is fully wound, the chain is completely wrapped around the fusée. As the spring relaxes, the entire barrel rotates and winds up the chain. In doing so, it turns the fusée, which transfers the torque to the going train via a drive wheel.

Now, consider that it takes three to four days just to assemble the 636 parts composing each 212-link chain which, despite its tiny size (the cross-section measures 0.6 by 0.3 mm), can bear a weight of up to two kilos!

The size of one of the links composing the chain of Lange's fusée-and-chain transmission

Each A. Lange & Söhne movement is assembled two times. After the first assembly pass, it is taken apart and cleaned again in a quest for perfection.

In the second, final assembly phase, one single watchmaker is responsible for the entire movement. It is in this second assembly that all gold chatons are carefully inserted in the plate and the jig screws are replaced with thermally blued screws and the movement is finally ready to be housed in a precious metal case.

After the accuracy of the watch has been thoroughly checked with a timing apparatus, it is adjusted to five different positions. All mechanisms, such as the winding train, the outsize date or the complications are checked for flawless functionality. This is followed by a multi-day run-in phase that simulates the motions of the wrist. The power reserve is also checked. During the rigorous final inspection of the watch, it is checked for visual flawlessness, water resistance, functional integrity, and, once again, for rate accuracy.

Visiting the A. Lange & Söhne factory was a great experience demonstrating once again that modern technologies and traditional watchmaking craftsmanship can harmoniously coexist.

The perfect balance of these two factors and the continuous investment in creating the ideal conditions for exploiting the talents of watchmakers make the timepieces of the Saxon watchmaker true masterpieces of the horological art.

By Alessandro Mazzardo
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Time and Watches | The watch blog: Inside the A. Lange & Söhne manufactory in Glashütte
Inside the A. Lange & Söhne manufactory in Glashütte
Our visit to the Lange manufacture in Glashuette. We recently had the pleasure to visit the factory where the A. Lange & Söhne timepieces are manufactured with care. It is now with pleasure that we share our report with our readers. Visiting the A. Lange & Söhne factory was a great experience demonstrating once again that modern technologies and traditional watchmaking craftsmanship can harmoniously coexist. Our visit of the A. Lange & Sohne factories in Glashuette, Saxonia, Germany.
Time and Watches | The watch blog
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