Reborn after the fall of the Berlin Wall

One of the world’s most respected watchmakers is located in southern Germany. The company has endured a rocky road up until now, but finally the world has once again become aware of the beautiful watches from the former German Democratic Republic

By Britta Rossander

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Three years ago, A. Lange & Söhne (AL&S) signed a sponsorship deal with Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, the finest classic car show in Europe since 1929. The winner, elected by an international jury, gets to receive a custom made AL&S watch, highly coveted by collectors. Last year Ralph Lauren became the winner with his 1938 Bugatti. Rumor has it that Lauren was offered many tens of thousands of euros for the watch, but chose to keep it. This year’s winner was a 1956 Maserati owned by Albert Speiss from Switzerland who happily wears a unique AL&S on his wrist today.

Ferdinand Adolph Lange founder of AL&S.

Ferdinand Adolph Lange founder of AL&S.

AL&S was founded in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in the city of Glashütte close to Dresden, Germany. The company produced top quality pocket watches, and their products soon became world famous. The production continued with the next generations, and many big names and prominent people liked to wear AL&S watches.

After the end of World War 2, the Soviet administration expropriated the company’s assets and the AL&S brand disappeared. But only a few weeks after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the founder’s grandson Walter Lange made his move. He wanted to re-introduce the brand and once more produce the world’s finest watches with the Lange name on the face.

The company was reconstructed with the help of watch world visionary Günter Blümlein (1943-2001). More assistance came from the brands IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, also owned by Blümlein. In 1994 A. Lange & Söhne presented four new wristwatches full of watchmaking tradition and upgraded with modern technology.

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time

Details from the watchmaker workshop

Details from the watchmaker workshop

A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication displayed by Anthony De Haas, responsible for research and development at the company.

A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication displayed by Anthony De Haas, responsible for research and development at the company.

All AL&S cases are made out of gold or platinum, and needless to say the movements are produced in-house. We spoke to Anthony de Haas, manager of movement development for the last ten years, about after sale service and his views on new materials:

– We have an obligation to our customers of always being able to repair the watches that we make. If parts are needed that we don’t have, we will make them. That’s why I don’t want to include materials like silicon and silicium – we can’t be sure about supply and life expectancy over really long periods of time.

This year’s winning car at the Concorso d’Eleganza 2014, sponsored by Lange & Söhne.

This year’s winning car at the Concorso d’Eleganza 2014, sponsored by Lange & Söhne.

The winners of the Concorso d’Eleganza receive the specially developed watch from Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. L&S.

The winners of the Concorso d’Eleganza receive the specially developed watch from Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. L&S.

The watches are visually distinct with an asymmetrical face layout without overlapping of the different time displays. AL&S are famous for their complicated watches with chronographs, split second, eternity calendars, world time zones, tourbillons, moon phases and minute repeaters. The engravings are carried out by specialists and all parts are treated – even those that only a watchmaker carrying out service work will ever be able to see.

Closeup of the rear of the case of this year’s winner watch.

Closeup of the rear of the case of this year’s winner watch.

– Perfect engraving on every part of the entire movement is something we will never compromise, Anthony says.

– It’s actually possible to identify which engraver has worked on each separate movement. Not to an amateur, but there is a kind of secret signature.

This is definitely “understated luxury” at its best, and since production is limited to around 5,000 watches each year, there are only a few lucky customers that get to wear an AL&S watch on their wrists.

Valter Lange with the bust of his grandfather.

Valter Lange with the bust of his grandfather.

Present CEO Wilhelm Schmid took over in 2011 as leader of this great team of craftsmen and innovators in the field of watchmaking. Walter Lange is still active in the company, but likes to stay out of the daily work since he turned 90 years old last summer.

Lange was born into the watchmaker family, studied in Austria, was wounded in the war, saw his home village destroyed by air raids and managed to escape from slavery in a uranium mine. While celebrating his 90th birthday, he told us:

– By the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was retired from work but couldn’t miss the chance of trying to bring my heritage back to life. December 7, 1990, is one of the greatest days of my life. That’s when I registered the brand once again in a building I had borrowed from an old classmate from school in Glashütte where we could start all over again. Finally in the year 2000 we were allowed to buy the building from the city of Glashütte.

Without the help of Mr. Blümlein the project would never have been possible, Walter Lange says.

– He was an excellent strategist and had great knowledge about watches and marketing. The days before the introduction of our first collection in October 1994 were very exciting, we shared the same office and discussed what to say at our first press conference. Another important year was 2013 when we first showed our Grand Complication, limited to only six watches. At that time I felt we had done everything right. I was extremely proud of our company, our heritage and our employees.