Glashütte was originally a glassmaking centre (glaβ, glass, hütte, foundry), but the discovery of silver, and later iron ore in 1490, marked the start of mining . The years of prosperity under Augustus the Strong (1674-1733) who helped transform Dresden into a city of art, culture and industry, were brought to an end by Napoleon’s defeat of Saxony in 1796, and the subsequent inundation of British-made products on the local market following their defeat of Napoleon in 1814. Saxony lost 60% of its territory and almost half its population. To encourage new industry, the state starting giving grants to entrepreneurs, and amongst these was Ferdinand A. Lange.
Lange (1815-1875) was educated at Dresden’s Technical University, Tecnische Bildungsanstalt, and later went to France to work for Austrian watchmaker Joseph Thaddeus Winnerl, who in turn had studied with Abraham-Louis Breguet. In 1841 he returned to Dresden, where in the meantime the opening of the Dresden-Leipzig railway had increased the need for accurate timepieces, with the concept of accurate timekeeping introduced by railway timetables. Pocket watches from that period took inspiration from railways, such as in the chemin-de-fer chapter ring.
Ferdinand A. Lange had the ambition of establishing his own manufactory in the Ore mountains, and in 1845 he received a grant from the Saxony government, moved to Glashütte and set up his own workshop. His innovations included the three-quarter plate, large enough for the pivots of all the gears in the gear train, and the metric system (millimetres) instead of the Parisian lignes. He also introduced specialization, so that each of his watchmakers became an expert in a particular step or component. His sons Richard and Emil joined him in the company, named A. Lange & Söhne, and took over management on his death in 1875. They made prestigious timepieces: one example is the Grande Complication 42500, commissioned in 1902. Only a single piece was made, and it remains the most complicated watch ever created by A. Lange & Söhne. Richard Lange was, of the two brothers, the most dedicated to watchmaking (Emil was more the businessman), and his inventions include a new alloy containing beryllium, patented and later marketed as Nivarox.
The next generation would have been headed by Walter Lange, born in 1924, who studied watchmaking in Austria from 1941. But the A. Lange & Söhne works were destroyed by a bomb during the last night of the war, and the factory was confiscated as it was part of the Soviet occupation zone. In 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Walter Lange decided to re-establish a manufacture. He said, “We didn’t have much, we had no watches to build and sell, we had no employees, no building and no machines. All we had was the vision of once again crafting the world’s best watches in Glashütte.” Their first patent was for the outsize date, and their first collection with four calibres was presented in October 1994. By 2011, they had made 40 calibres. In December 2001, the company moved back to its original building.
A. Lange & Söhne make exclusively watches in gold or platinum, producing a few thousand watches per year, all with in-house movements. As at June 2015 they have created 51 calibres in the course of just over 20 years.
Walter Lange died at the age of 92 on 17 January 2017, on the second day of watch show SIHH where he was nearly always present even at his advanced age.
Lange Uhren GmbH
D-01768 Glashütte, Germany
Tel. +49 (0) 35053 44-0
Wilhelm Schmid, Executive Manager