“There’s something one should expect not only of a watch, but also of oneself: Never stand still.” One of the most famous quotes attributed to the late, great Walter Lange, former Chairman of the renowned German horological powerhouse A. Lange & Söhne is also an accurate description of how he chose to live his own life.
A Story of Struggle
Walter Lange was the great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolf Lange, the man who founded A. Lange & Söhne in 1845, in Glashütte, near Dresden in East Germany. Once a thriving brand known for creating the highest quality pocket-watches, A. Lange & Söhne faded into oblivion after the Second World War in 1948 when it’s assets were nationalized by the Soviet administration.
Badly wounded in the war, Walter Lange survived his injuries only to find the family factory destroyed by the time he was able to return to his work there. Choosing to leave his family, rather than be forced to work in the mines, Walter escaped Dresden for West Germany in 1948 and lived there as a refugee before working as watchmaker and finally as a wholesaler of watches.
Reunification and Revival
At an age when most people choose to retire, Walter Lange decided to live a vivid and remarkable life. In 1990, when he was 66 years old, he took advantage of the reunification of Germany and rekindled the flames of the A. Lange & Söhne name, in its original location of Glashütte. Since presenting its first range of reborn watches in 1994, the brand has never looked back, and is today, one of the world’s most recognized names in the world of fine watchmaking. A. Lange & Söhne timepieces are regularly seen on the wrists and wishlists of trendsetters and icons across the world.
When asked about his decision to return to East Germany at a time when most industrialists were moving out, Walter Lange explained his desire to contribute to the development of his hometown, and to provide the people of Glashütte with a chance at a better future through the revival of A. Lange & Söhne. He also believed that returning to the brand’s historical home would almost guarantee its success.
A true visionary, Walter Lange remained at the helm of the new A. Lange & Söhne until 2000, although he continued to play a role as ambassador, advisor and consultant right until his death last year. A. Lange & Söhne employees addressed him as ‘boss’ right to the end, despite his spending less time at the manufacture. Walter Lange was also awarded the Order of Merit of the Free State of Saxony in 1998 and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2015.
Strength to Strength
As a trained watchmaker, and someone with an unerring eye for quality, Walter Lange was able to make sure that A. Lange & Söhne quickly re-established itself as a name synonymous with the very highest standards of haute horlorgerie. A strong advocate of preserving the traditional craft of watchmaking while being a pioneer of technical and mechanical innovation, Walter Lange crafted timepieces that embodied a classic design aesthetic while showcasing cutting edge technological advancements. The Lange 1, the watch that has become the face of the brand since the 1990’s is the ideal example of A. Lange & Söhne’s trendsetting nature. The off-centered arrangement of the dial and the oversized date display were both revolutionary elements when they were introduced.
With 5 distinct model families arising from the 4 original A. Lange & Söhne watches, and over 770 employees, Walter Lange’s vision and drive are visible in the numerous awards won by the brand. Setting itself apart as one of the world’s most exclusive watchmaking maisons, A. Lange & Söhne has received over 250 international awards.
A Fitting Tribute
When Walter Lange passed away on January 17, 2017, the brand that bears his name, and that he led strongly from the front chose to honour him in the most appropriate way – by presenting an exquisite timepiece named for the legendary watchmaker. The 1815 ‘Homage to Walter Lange’ presented at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in January 2018 features a unique jumping-seconds element, which was inspired by a complication created by Ferdinand Adolph Lange himself, over 150 years ago. The ‘Homage to Walter Lange’ has an extra seconds counter which acts as a stoppable deadbeat seconds complication, where the seconds hand can be stopped and started without stopping the watch.
With a newly designed manufacture movement, the L1924, the year in which Walter Lange was born, the watch is available in a limited edition of 145 white gold, 90 pink gold and 27 yellow gold pieces, all with the solid silver dial and black printed numbers which are characteristic of the 1815 collection. These number too, bear significance to the life of Walter Lange, and the legacy of A. Lange & Söhne. 145 marks the number of years since his great-grandfather Ferdinand Adolph Lange founded A. Lange & Söhne in 1845 and 90 references 1990, the year in which Walter Lange reinvented the brand. Finally, 27 is the exact number of years that have passed since 7 December 1990, the date the brand was relaunched and 7 December, 2017, the date on which the ‘Homage to Walter Lange’ made its debut.
The real piece de resistance however, is the one-of-a-kind steel model of the 1815 ‘Homage to Walter Lange’ with a striking black enamel dial. This exclusive watch will be auctioned off some time in 2018.
A pioneer of fine watchmaking and a man who saw himself as the ‘bridge to (our) the past’, Walter Lange’s demise has undoubtedly left a void in the horological world that will be hard to fill.