October 19, 2013
by James Lamdin
I began my collection of vintage mechanical timepieces relatively meagerly, mostly due to my budget. First came a bunch of Seiko divers and chronographs, then DOXAs, Omegas, Rolexes and so on, kicking off a snowball effect that ultimately landed me (10 years later) in the business of buying, brokering, and selling vintage watches professionally. I am amongst a small group of fortunate individuals who are able to straddle a dividing line in the watch business. I am both “an industry professional” and a “professional writer on the industry.” This position affords me incredible opportunities to experience the best parts of the culture that is horology, meet great people, and play with some pretty fantastic timepieces. You’ll never hear me complain.
Still, I am generally unimpressed with most modern timepieces. There is something that turns me off about most modern, mass-produced watches, regardless of their aesthetic or mechanical prowess. What’s more, many brands espouse a manufactured history to market their watches. This really puts me off, and keeps me from appreciating even very well thought out pieces. From the very beginning of my affection for mechanical wristwatches, it was the story of a particular timepiece or brand that sold me on it – hence my affinity for vintage. Very few modern brands have a story as compelling as Lange.
When watch brands take journalists out for trips, we are often given world-class experiences, accommodations and meals – Lange was no exception. With six Michelin Stars in three days, winery tours and first-class transport, there was truly no expense spared on our behalf. However, unlike many other brands I have traveled with, none of this was “presented” to me, it was just there. Lange didn’t force anything down my throat about how awesome they are or how well they were treating my colleagues and me. They just did it without pomp or circumstance…gracefully.
The hospitality was greatly appreciated, but for me, the real pleasure came from the Akademie experience itself: the presentations and workshops, and the opportunities to speak with representatives from the brand, from both sides of the Atlantic. I never once felt that I was being “buttered up” or being asked to communicate a corporate perception that Lange wanted people to believe about them. In the marketing rich world that prevails throughout the luxury goods industry between brands and media this can be common, but it is wonderfully refreshing to experience the purity that comes from a brand like A. Lange & Sohne that truly speaks for itself. I felt as though I was being given a real opportunity to peer inside a small and exclusive watch company that was built on quality and craftsmanship; the same virtues that appeal to me about the vintage pieces I collect, and I was hooked.
In a workshop hosted by a member of the Lange family, the history of the brand from Saxony was detailed in a manner that captivated my imagination, and I found myself truly impressed. Lange is not a brand that has any need to manufacture or embellish its own history – the facts are impressive enough – and to anyone interested, I highly recommend visiting the A. Lange & Söhne website for more information.
One fact that stood out to me about the presentation of the brand’s history was the simple admission that the brand had ceased to exist for over 40 years following World War II. You’d be surprised how many brands pretend they’ve never gone out of business. Lange does none of that, they just tell it like it is. When the brand was reborn in the 1990s, it was done in its original hometown of Glashütte; as odd a place to launch a high-end watch manufacture at the end of the twentieth century as it was in the middle of the nineteenth. But the Lange family was committed to its heritage, and wouldn’t have done it anywhere else.
Another portion of the Akademie focused on watchmaking techniques, and I was given the opportunity to try my hand at winding a balance spring, polishing tiny components of a movement and engraving a balance cock. My years of caffeine addiction and a minor case of ADHD assured that I would not be offered a job doing such things professionally, but I enjoyed the experience immensely. While I have taken basic watchmaking courses before, the Akademie provided additional insight into the levels of superior precision and skill that go into every Lange timepiece.
The timepieces are of course incredibly impressive and you can be sure I’ll be delving into as many of them as I can get a hold of in future hands-on reviews. But for me, the true take-aways weren’t the impressive mechanics of the Zeitwerk, the innovative dial design of the Grande Lumen 1, or the sheer beauty of the Saxonia, it was the understated, yet impressive, story of the brand itself – and the manner in which they carry themselves. They are truly an independent manufacture, despite their Richemont Group affiliation.
What I left with was far more than an enhanced appreciation for the brand. It is a true affection, one that I might even call love. A. Lange & Söhne is a brand that knows exactly how to appeal to enthusiasts like myself; enthusiasts who desire a history and tradition to push us over the edge of appreciation of fine timepieces and into complete obsession. Admittedly, my personal aesthetic preferences do tend to run towards the German end of things (one look in my garage would confirm this), any enthusiast who demands truth in advertising, along with the highest levels of handmade quality from watchmakers who truly take pride in their work would do well to take a closer look at A. Lange & Söhne.
My grandfather didn’t own a Lange, but I have no doubt that if he had experienced the Akademie with me and gotten a glimpse of a company with such a tremendous respect of their heritage, he’d be ordering one up immediately. I’m thinking a Lange I Moonphase would have suited him brilliantly. alange-soehne.com