October 24, 1994: The Dresden Castle, once the seat of power for Saxon royals, was now a construction site. Severely damaged during a World War II Allied bombing campaign, the castle was in the midst of a major restoration. But on this day, it was going to serve as the venue for a German revival, the return of Saxon watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne. The venue was a fitting choice since Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, mentor and father-in-law of founder Ferdinand A. Lange, had lived and worked in the Dresden Castle in his role as the clockmaker to the royal Saxon court.
Twenty-five years on, the Dresden Castle is back to its former splendor and A. Lange & Söhne has firmly established its credentials as an haute horology brand rooted in the Glashütte tradition. “We wanted the presentation to take place in an ambience that not only reflected Lange’s traditions but also stood for the transition to a new era,” Walter Lange, the great grandson of the founder, had once said when asked to recall that historic day in 1994. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see the brand turn 25. Walter Lange passed away in January 2017.
While Lange’s four launch models in the modern era won instant acclaim, the company has not rested on its laurels, it has produced more than 50 in-house movements in the last 25 years and today, Lange sits among the top tier of watchmaking brands. The Lange 1, among the first four wristwatches unveiled in 1994, is considered a modern design icon today. With its asymmetric dial, the three-day movement, and the first outsize date in a regularly produced wristwatch, it has today become a talismanic model for the brand.
“The Lange 1 is the backbone of our collection. It represents everything that we stand for,” said Wilhelm Schmid, the brand’s CEO during a chat with WatchTime Middle East during SIHH this year. “Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the launch of this watch all those years ago. Remember that in 1994, a case width of 38.5 mm was considered quite big for a watch. The average case width then was around 35-36 mm. The idea of displaying all the information in decentralized way on the dial was anything but common. And then there’s the outsize date – not only is it a practical complication, it is also such a strong design element. Today, we look at the Lange 1 as a classical dress watch. Believe me, this wasn’t the perception back in 1994,” he said.
To celebrate this milestone year, a limited edition Lange 1 ‘25th Anniversary’ edition was unveiled at SIHH 2019. The hinged cuvette back of the white gold case has an engraving of the company’s historical headquarters that dates back to 1873 and the names of “Walter Lange” and his partner “Günther Blümlein” - the men responsible for the brand’s rebirth. While the company has honored Walter Lange in the past, this is the first time it has acknowledged - on a timepiece - the contribution made by Blümlein, an industry stalwart who passed away in 2001 at the age of 58. “We have so much respect for him. We have always focused on Walter Lange because he’s the bridge to our past history. If Mr. Lange was the heart and soul of the company, Mr. Blümlein was the brain. He was a very empathetic man. A lot of things that he defined are still guidelines for us as a company 25 years on,” said Schmid.
“People tend to forget that Mr. Blümlein saved Jaeger-LeCoultre from bankruptcy, revitalized IWC and then helped revive Lange. He had a huge impact on the watch industry and deserves to be regarded among the best people who’ve ever worked in this industry.” Lange is based in Glashütte, a little town close to the Czech border and an hour’s drive from Dresden. The town flourished as Germany’s watchmaking hub right up to the end of World War II. After the war, the East German government nationalized the watchmaking companies in Glashütte into one state-run enterprise called the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB). Post the reunification of Germany in 1990, the GUB was dismantled and marked for privatization, an event that would lead to the re-establishment of Lange, and spawn the birth of brands like Glashütte Original and Nomos. In less than two decades, the town would re-establish itself as the heart of German watchmaking again.
Understandably, this is a milestone year for the whole town as well. “Glashütte is where we live but not our customers. Even though we are part of the Richemont group, many say that we still behave like a family-owned company. But our customers live everywhere. So during our celebrations, we not only want to celebrate with all those who’ve been with us for the last 25 years, but we want to extend an open invitation to people who don’t know us yet or haven’t experienced fine watchmaking yet.”
As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, Lange has said that it will have special edition launches this year all the way up to October. The Lange 1 ‘25th Anniversary’ edition is limited to 250 pieces, an unusually high production number given the brand’s penchant for limited production. Schmid explains the logic behind this move. “I’m not a big fan of limited editions because I believe it is sweet poison, especially, if you don’t have a good reason for it. As far as the Lange 1 ‘25th Anniversary’ edition is concerned, we know that a true Lange collector will want it. We also know that not all our collectors have access to unlimited funds. So we decided to produce 250 pieces and price it accordingly. It is an expensive watch, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not in c. (Ed’s Note: it is priced at €43,000). The rest of the watches we plan to produce as part of the anniversary production will be a much smaller run, 25 pieces is a logical number.”
Schmid explained that for the manufactory, production numbers would always be linked to their resources. As an example, he cited the production run of the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon in pink gold dial that was unveiled at SIHH this year. “It will take us a good three and a half years to complete production of the proposed 100 watches. That means that’s the maximum we can do” he said. Lange has had a good 25 years since its rebirth. It has the respect and admiration of collectors, journalists and its peers in the industry. As a CEO, what does Schmid have to do to keep this momentum going? Despite all the success it has enjoyed this far, is it possible to future-proof a company like Lange?
“There is no golden recipe to future proof a company. As the CEO, you have to balance your resources. For example, how much emphasis and resource do you plunge into a future project versus how much do you use now. To draw an analogy with what a farmer does – one day he’s harvesting, and then he’s planting new seeds or he’s putting a fence around his land to protect,” said Schmid.
“The good thing is we are a young company. Rest assured we have so many ideas that we haven’t started working on yet. The pipeline is full. Personally, I’m of the fundamental belief that if you have a great product, you can’t go totally wrong. You may have periods when you struggle a bit – the economy may be up or down – but these are short-term impacts. I believe that as long as we design and develop great watches and we continue to find the right customers for these watches, we have a pretty future-proof concept.”
This article first appeared in our Spring 2019 print magazine.