Not too long ago, we were granted unique access to the all-new, state-of-the-art A. Lange & Sohne watch manufacture in Glashutte, Germany. In the famed Saxony region, where German independent watchmaking thrived prior to the expropriation after World War II, once-strong brands have spent decades re-inventing themselves and coming full circle into the 21st century. A. Lange & Sohne is a shining star in that realm, moving forward in classical high-watchmaking at a pace that positions the brand as a benchmark for German watchmaking standards.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange, a Dresden watchmaker, established his watch manufactory in 1845 and dedicated himself to the idea of producing precision luxury pocket watches. In the 19th century, the highly coveted brand all but fell into oblivion after World War II when it was expropriated. However, with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, in 1990 Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s great grandson Walter Lange set plans into motion to restore the brand to its former glory.
This re-establishment of A. Lange & Sohne in the Saxony region took several years. The first patent was granted to Lange Uhren GmbH in 1992 for the brand’s now-famed outsize date, and the first collections were revealed to the world in 1994. Thanks to Walter Lange’s courage and fortitude, A. Lange & Sohne watches have once again become German-made treasures coveted around the world.
While A. Lange & Sohne burst back onto the market a dozen years ago, the brand remains exclusive, creating only a few thousand hand-made, lavishly hand decorated and assembled watch movement per year. In fewer than 20 years, the brand has developed 51 calibers, secured multiple patents and unveiled such innovations as the now-famed Lange 1 and Zeitwerk. In fact, A. Lange & Sohne has built its reputation on top-quality craftsmanship, unpatrolled technical prowess and superb, mouth-watering, design.
In 2012, under the auspices of the Richemont Group and with Walter Lange still on board, the brand recognized the need to expand facilities in Oder to its future. The building of the new complex was nearly three years from ground breaking to completion and the facility has elevated Eastern Germany’s traditional watchmaking expertise to a top-tier position once again. The new 16,000-plus square-foot complex, comprised of two buildings, is not only incredibly modern within, but also cutting-edge in terms of environment and machinery within.
Structurally, the working environment boasts 253 huge inclined atelier windows that assure great lighting for watchmakers, and the construction boasts a geothermal energy system (thanks a double-skin façade) that ensures climate and proper air control. Saxony’s largest geothermal energy plant, with 55 downhole heat exchangers, keeps the indoor climate properly pleasant through all four seasons. The electricity to operate the pumps is green and makes the manufacture a CO2-free facility. The investment in this carbon-free structure was a double-digit in millions of Euros and represents the brand’s commitment not only to its German roots, but also to the brand’s and the region’s future.
In terms of machinery and equipment, the manufacture has invested significantly in the finest cnc and other machines to help with precision cutting and tooling for cases, bracelets, and tiny micro-mechanical movement parts. In fact, A. Lange & Sohne now boasts complete logistics and operations, part production, manual work on components and movements and complete watchmaking all under one roof. The new space and equipment will enable the brand to double the size of production, but still keep it at an exclusive number of timepieces.
According to Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Sohne, “The concept was to build an energy efficient building with ideal working conditions to help us further enhance the production process, and, at the same time, strive to minimize our ecological footprint and resource consumption. The sustainability aspect is very important to us.”
While the complex is impressive from the outside and thanks to its geothermal system, it is inside where the magic happens. Well-lit workshops throughout the complex house everything from the brand’s 250 watchmakers’ stations to CNC machines, parts and case manufacture, and hand-worked watchmaking that includes polishing, engraving, finishing, movement and watch assembly, as well as testing and quality control.
Separate departments are established for engineering and design, prototype production and testing, parts production, finishing and engraving, and first and second assembly. Yes, first and second assembly. Every single A. Lange & Sohne movement – with its hundreds of individual parts — is hand assembled, studied and deemed to pass all precision tests, and then taken apart, cleaned, maybe further decorated, engraved or polished and then hand assembled again to ensure perfection.