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Review of the Lange 1

by mj@basepath.com

©1998 by Marc J. Rochkind. All Rights Reserved. Permission is hereby granted to Richard Paige to place a copy of this article in the TimeZone archives.

Lange 1
Reference 101.031
Movement: Calibre L901.0, manually wound, twin barrels, power-reserve indicator, patented outsize date, stop seconds.
Exterior: 18-carat pink gold case, sapphire-crystal glass and caseback, hand-stitched crocodile strap with solid-gold buckle.
Dial: Solid silver.
Hands: Gold.

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Figure 1

Introduction

I bought my Lange 1 in June, 1998, from Cellini in New York. I told the story of its purchase in "Buying Myself a Birthday Present." The model I bought is in rose gold with a black face. List price is $19,800. I got a modest discount, as the story explains.

In a nutshell, the Lange 1 is a medium-size (38.5 x 10 mm), medium-weight (100 gr.) watch with an unusual dial that's connected to an unusual movement. The two principal ways in which both are unusual are the outsize date and the 72-hour power reserve. The dial is laid out so that none of the subparts (hour/minute dial, seconds dial, date, and power-reserve indicator) overlap.

A. Lange & Söhne and their watches are described in an outstanding 88-page catalog called "When Time Came Home." I got my copy from Cellini, and I assume that Wempe also has copies. I don't know what you have to do to get one, or whether you can get one directly from Lange in Germany. If you want a copy, or want to buy a Lange, here are some addresses:

A. Lange & Söhne
Attenberger Strasse 15
D-01768 Glashütte
Germany

Wempe
700 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10019
USA
212-397-9000

Cellini
Waldorf Astoria
Park Ave at 49th St.
New York, NY 10022
USA
212-751-9824

To my knowledge, Cellini and Wempe are the only US retailers; I don't know who else sells Lange in Europe and elsewhere, although I would guess that Wempe does, at least.

The exact watch I have is shown on the cover of "Watches Volume 3 (1998 Annual)," and there's information about the watch and the company there as well (an ad on pages 12 -13, and reference material on pages 268-273). There is an article on Lange in International Wristwatch, Number 29 (1996), but it's mainly a repeat of what's in the Lange catalog. For online information about the Lange company and their watches, check out Peter Chong's unofficial Lange page. (Lange has no official Web site.)

My Lange came with a black crocodile strap which I have replaced by a sportier Hirsch strap. The photographs here show the Hirsch strap, not the original one.

About A. Lange & Söhne

A. Lange & Söhne is a very old German watch manufacturer located in Glashütte, which is around 25 km south of Dresden, in the state of Saxony (not to be confused with two other states, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt). The company was founded  in 1845. On May 8, 1945, Russian bombers destroyed Lange's main production workshops. (This raid occurred three months after the bombing of Dresden.) The company got back on its feet, but in 1948 the East German communist government nationalized the company. Its  head, Walter Lange, fled to West Germany. In 1951 the trademark Lange ceased to exist as it and six other nationalized firms disappeared into a combine.

The "A" in "A. Lange" is Adolph; the söhne were Richard and Emil. Emil's sons, Otto, Rudolf, and Gerhard took over the company when Emil died in 1922. Walter, born in 1924, is Rudolf's son.

Nearly forty years after the Lange company disappeared, in 1990, with Germany reunited, Walter Lange, now 66, returned to Glashütte to found the company Lange Uhren GmbH and re-registered the trademark A. Lange & Söhne. He accomplished this with IWC's financial and logistical support. As it was explained to me by the salesman at Cellini, where I bought my watch, the head of IWC (the most German of the Swiss watch companies) wanted to re-establish Germany's reputation in watchmaking. So, the instructions to Walter Lange were to do whatever it takes to make the finest watches in the world, as long as they are German.

Lange spent four years designing and preparing to manufacture their first new watch, which they called the Lange 1. Since then they have added other models, such as the Saxonia, the Tourbillon "Pour le Mérite." the 1815, the Langematik, the Cabaret, and the Arkade. There is also a Lange 1a, which has a gold, guilloched dial. You'll find pictures of many of these on Peter Chong's page.

The Case

The Lange 1 case (Figure 1, above) is as simple as a watch case can be: a plain cylinder with a straight side that makes a 90-degree angle to the flat top and bottom. The only embellishments are a slight chamfer to break the top and bottom edges, and two decorative groves around the side (Figures 2 and 3). Aside from the thin grooves and the horns, all that's on the side is a rather large crown at 3 o'clock, 5.5mm in diameter, and a large, rectangular pusher for the date at 10 o'clock.

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Figures 2 and 3

There's a very slight step up on the back of the watch to a circular, flat sapphire window that shows off the movement. The window is about 29mm in diameter, so it exposes 75% of the case (measured linearly, not by area). By contrast, I have two other watches with display backs, a Ventura v-matic and a Zenith Chronomaster, and they expose 60% and 66% of the case, respectively.

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Figure 4

The top edge is chamfered, as I mentioned, and then it flattens in a narrow band that surrounds the sapphire crystal which is almost flush. The crystal is 31.5 mm in diameter.

The circular shape of the case is maintained all the way around, and the horns are simply attached a nearly-straight pieces. That is, there is no fairing of the horns so that they flow into the case. (In fact, the bracelet model has no horns at all--the bracelet is attached directly to the circular case.) Looking at the side, the horns curve downward so that the strap hinges just above the bottom of the watch. This allows the strap to hug the wrist, and makes the watch appear a little thicker than it is. (See the Archives article "Effects of Design on Look and Fit of Large Watches" for a discussion of watch case geometry.)

There are no markings on the top or sides of the case, except for the grooves. The back, however, is engraved around the circumference, surrounding the window (Figure 4). It says "A. LANGE & SÖHNE" at 3 o'clock (where the crown is), and "GLASHÜTTE I. SA." at 9 o'clock; "I. SA." means "in Saxony." The serial number is at 7 o'clock. There are some marks that I can't make out at 5 o'clock. There are also 6 screws, which I assume are what hold on the back of the case.

The instruction book gives the water resistance as 3 atmospheres (equivalent to 30 meters), but advises that taking the watch into the shower, sauna, or pool could damage the crocodile strap. So, since I now have a water resistant Hirsch strap on mine, does that mean I'll wear my Lange 1 when swimming? No, it does not... that's what my Tag Heuer is for.

In summary, the case is extremely simple and functional. It's designed to (1) enclose the movement, (2) hold the dial,  (3) provide an attachment point for the strap, and not much else. It's a little too thick to qualify as a dress watch under the strictest definition (whatever that is!), but close enough for most purposes.

The Dial

The Lange 1's dial is its most unusual feature. It has four time-keeping indicators: date, hour, minute, and second, which most watches also have. It's only mildly unusual feature is a power reserve indicator, but, of course, this is not really rare, as many manual-wind watches have one.

What's unusual about the Lange's dial then, is not what's on it, but rather how it's laid out. None of the elements overlap, as though they were placed on the dial with the same sort of utility one uses when designing a user interface for a modern computer application. I'm unaware of any other watch with a date where the indicators don't overlap, let alone one with both date and power reserve. Of course, the disadvantage is that the main hour and minute dial is smaller than if it filled the dial (about 17 mm), but that's plenty big enough.

The other notable feature, for which Lange is famous, is the outsize date. The only way to get the numbers this big is to put the digits on separate wheels. If all 31 numbers are on one wheel they could be no more than about 2.5 mm high if they were at the extreme outer edge of the dial (calculated by dividing the circumference of the outer edge of the dial by 31 and subtracting some inter-number space). Most watches move the numbers in a bit. For example, on my Bell & Ross Space Two, whose dial is about the same size as the Lange 1's, the numbers are 2 mm high. The Lange 1's numbers are 3 mm high. What's more, both digits together are 5 mm wide, whereas on the Bell & Ross they are only 3 mm wide. The Lange catalog says the date is 3 times bigger than the date on a conventional watch with the same size dial. As far as area goes, this is roughly true--maybe a slight exaggeration at most.

What's especially clever about the date isn't its size, as having separate wheels for the digits is all that it takes to bring that off. The clever part is that you only have to click the pusher once to move the date from 31 to 1, not 10 times to cycle past 32, 33, etc., all the way past 40 to 1. This is done by a mechanism (explained in detail in the Lange catalog) that freezes the 1 while the 10s digit changes from 3 to blank. I can hardly wait for Wednesday (July 1), when I get to push that button on the side exactly one time!

When I first saw the Lange 1's dial I thought the 4 components (main dial, seconds dial, date, and power reserve) were just arranged for a pleasing look, but I discovered that they are on a grid consisting of 4 vertical units and 3 horizontal units, as shown in Figure 5. Very German, I guess.

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Figure 5

The power reserve indicator has 5 unequally-spaced triangular tick marks (see Figure 1). The topmost mark indicates a fully wound watch. The second mark indicates 12 hours of running, and the third mark indicates 12 more hours, for a total of one day. The next mark indicates 24 more hours, and the bottom mark 24 more, for a total power reserve of 72 hours. The watch will keep running for another 28 hours, but not accurately.

Only the main dial has numbers, Roman numerals at III, VI, IX, and XII. Unfortunately, since there is no number at 4 o'clock, we don't know whether Lange would have written this as IIII (the traditional way) or as IV. Interestingly, the four Roman numerals face the center of the dial, so VI appears upside down. (Because of the serifs, when I first glanced at my watch I thought I was seeing IX at the 6 o'clock position, meaning that I had a rare Lange misprint.)

All of the hands on the dial are gold, without tritium. The time is hard to read sometimes even in daylight because the hands are so thin and the dial is black, and I don't know whether the white-dial version is any better. (Oh well... even if I can't tell what time it is, at least I am looking at the dial of a Lange 1!) Angling the watch a bit to pick up the light differently is usually all I need to do.

The dial itself is silver with, I believe, a black enamel finish. The main and seconds dials are slightly depressed. The numbers and the 8 other hour marks on the main dial are gold; all of the other markings are printed (I don't know the exact method used). The date windows have a gold frame. You can see some of this detail in Figure 6.

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Figure 6

The top of the dial is marked with the maker's name and city. The power reserve is marked AUF (up) and AB (short for abwärts, down). Along the bottom is the word DOPPELFEDERHAUS, which means "double barrel," referring to the reason for the unusual 72-hour power reserve. Finally, along the bottom of the main dial are the most important words of all, the very reason this watch exists, "Made in Germany." There are some other watches I think of as German, Bell & Ross by Sinn and Chronoswiss, but they say "Swiss." Not the Lange!

The Movement

I don't know much about watch movements, so what follows is just a summary of what I learned from the Lange catalog, from various TimeZone posts, from Peter Chong's excellent article on watch plates, and by looking at my watch. As you would guess, I did not disassemble my Lange 1 to get a better look at the movement, so everything I saw with my own eyes, which was not much because of the 3/4 plate, I saw through the display back (Figure 7).

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Figure 7

First, the easy stuff. Written on the plate are the maker's name and city and a number, 5837. I've seen numbers 131 and 7401 on two photographs of the Lange 1 movement, so I'm guessing that 5837 is either a serial number or a manufacturing-batch number of some sort. Until a TimeZoner corrects me, I'll think of mine as the 5837th Lange 1 movement ever made.

There's more, since the 3/4 plate affords lots of space to write things. The words "DREIUNFÜNFZIG (53) RUBINE," which indicates the number of jewels, and "IN FÜNF (5) LAGEN REGULIERT," which, not knowing German, I assume translates to "regulated in 5 positions." I may be overdramatizing, but I take this as a slap at the COSC--clearly, there's no way that Lange's is going to send their watches to Switzerland for approval, and they want everyone to know that they are perfectly capable of testing the watch themselves.

To my untrained eye, the movement looks to be beautifully finished.

Aside from the date, which I already described, the movement has a double mainspring barrel, which gives it a 3-day power reserve (most watches have around 40 - 45 hours). Nine of the 53 jewels are set in gold chatons held in by blued screws. As I understand it, this is more secure than merely pressing the jewels in, as is done in most movements.

The movement beats at 21,600 vbh. To quote the catalog, "The index is held against a whiplash spring for micrometer-screw adjustment. A Lange-patented precision-adjustment system enables the impulse pin to be centered between the lever horns. The watch can thus be put into beat without dismantling the balance and upsetting previous adjustments." That's pretty much the way I would have said it.

Unlike most watches I have, there's no warning in the instruction book about setting the date during the switchover (8 PM to midnight, for this watch), just a comment that doing so might override the automatic date-change, so you should check the date after midnight (which the manual erroneously refers to as 12 PM).

The instruction book also indicates that the watch is designed for 8760 hours of "virtually friction-free" running a year. On Leap Years, do you pull out the crown to stop the watch on February 29th? More seriously, you're supposed to have the watch "seen to" by an authorized agent every 3 to 5 years, which is what instruction books usually say.

The Box

The Lange 1 comes in a gorgeous padded box covered in stitched vinyl, with a hinged lid and a brass latch (Figure 8). For me, the box serves no purpose, so I just added it to my collection of watch boxes. It's clearly the best of the group, however.

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Figure 8

Performance

As I've said in various TimeZone posts, you can't conclude much about the accuracy of a line of watches from data on only one sample. What's more, I've had my Lange for only a couple of weeks, and I've been told that you have to let a watch stabilize for a couple of months before you draw any conclusions about it from measuring its accuracy.

But, don't worry, I'm not going to file a review of a Lange 1 without a comment on its accuracy! I tested it over 4.5 days, winding it once a day at night (even though I could have let it go for 3 days). During that period I wore it only one day, for about 15 hours; the rest of the time it sat face up. The result is that it gained an average of 5 sec. per day. I conclude that (1) my Lange is not broken, and (2) it keeps time as well as a good mechanical watch ought to. I suppose I could play around with how often and when I wind it and in what position(s) I store it to improve the accuracy, but I don't really care to. Accuracy to within a minute a week is fine by me.

Another aspect of performance is the overall feel of the watch as it's wound. Very smooth and very little resistance. It's not as light as the only other manual-wind I have, a JLC Reverso Duoface, which I think is too light. I like the big crown, and I like watching the power reserve indicator rise as I wind it up. Who wants an automatic watch, when you can have this much fun with a manual-wind?

Final Comments

Aside from its stature in the watch world, which makes owning a Lange 1 very special to me, I also just plain like it as a watch. I like the simple case, whose rose gold has been mistaken for copper by at least one person, and I especially like the unusual dial layout, which has gotten several comments. (It's rare, as several TimeZoners have noted, to ever get comments on your watch.)

As I've mentioned in several posts, I wear the Lange 1 as an everyday watch, as long as I know I'm not going to subject it to extremes of weather or abuse. I  replaced its dressy black crocodile strap with a sportier Hirsch strap. Cellini has ordered a sporty strap for me, and I plan to switch to that when it comes. Then I will be able to use the Lange buckle, which doesn't fit on the Hirsch strap.

Is the Lange 1 worth the money? It is to me. The money isn't so much justified by the watch itself, but also by where the watch comes from. A. Lange & Söhne are going to make a certain number of Lange 1s each year (around 600, as I understand it), and that is going to cost them a certain amount of money. You divide the budget by 600 and add in some profit, and you get a wholesale price that translates to a retail price of $19,800. So, that's the price of a membership in the club, not just the price for a wristwatch. Six hundred need to join each year for us to continue to have Lange 1s.


All photographs were taken by the author with a Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 digital camera, using the "inverted light bowl" technique described in the TimeZone Archives article Lighting Watch photos.

Click here for a photo of a new Lange model, not yet available in the US.

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