Just writing about a watch by A. Lange & Söhne gives me gooseflesh. Their pieces have a combination of technical creativity, watchmaking artistry and aesthetic discretion that is second to none. From the front, you have no idea of the marvels inside, and even when you turn it over, there are just a few beguiling glimpses of the horological wizardry of the movement. This is the Lange style: a sort of quiet Victorian modesty. The watches don’t have to shout visually about what they do; they have the confidence that they are the best. The Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” is a 218-piece limited edition in white gold with black dial. The other four Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” watches made since its introduction in 2009 all have movements with fusée-and-chain mechanism. The previous versions in pink gold and platinum have sold out.
The watch is in the marine chronometer style, with narrow Roman numerals on a black dial, continuous seconds at 6 o’clock. Framed by the 40.5 mm case in white gold, the dial is perfect in its simplicity, with uncluttered minutes and seconds scales, and just four small red numerals providing a touch of colour at the edge. Hands are in rhodium-plated gold. It is only logical that a movement with fusée-and-chain transmission is in the marine chronometer format: the complication is there to improve rate accuracy for the duration of the watch’s operation. The watch has a hand-stitched black alligator leather strap with solid white gold buckle.
The fusée-and-chain transmission in the hand-wound movement was inspired by historic pocket watches. It’s a system of providing constant torque as the mainspring gradually runs down. It works like bicycle gears. The chain is wrapped around the mainspring barrel, and from there to the fusée, where the gear diameter is smallest when the watch is fully wound, and largest when the mainspring has almost completely run down. Unlike bicycle gears, the A. Lange & Söhne fusée provides infinitely variable gear ratios.
The chain is 15.5 cm long, and has 636 parts. Just 0.24 mm thick, it can support a weight of over two kilograms. The system has two additional features: an automatic protection in the winding system that limits the range of tension over which the chain has to operate, ensuring that it is never overstressed, and planetary gearing inside the fusée that allows the watch to keep running even while it is being wound. The fusée rotates in one direction during winding, and in the opposite direction when the watch is running. The planetary gearing inside the fusée keeps power flowing from the fusée to the movement during winding. The fusée is 8.6 mm in diameter and contains 38 parts.
The designers at A. Lange & Söhne were probably torn between their instinct for discretion, with the traditional Glashütte three-quarter plate that hides most of the juicy bits of the movement, and the idea of revealing the fusée-and-chain transmission that is the high point of the watch. So in the end they provided four openings on the caseback, through which you can see part of the fusée on the left, part of the chain through the teardrop-shaped opening, the mainspring ratchet and the barrel on the right.
The movement decoration reaches its height of artistry on the hand-engraved balance bridge, but every part is finished by hand, including the chain with its straight graining, and the engraved escape wheel and fourth wheel cock. The blued screws and gold chatons holding the jewels show that this is traditional watchmaking at its best. The freely oscillating Lange hairspring powers a large balance running at 21,600 vibrations per hour, 3 Hertz. Its rate is adjusted by means of four gold poising screws mounted directly on the balance.
Price and availability
The Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” by A. Lange & Söhne is a limited edition of 218 pieces. Why this number? At present, there are 218 A. Lange & Söhne boutiques worldwide. So, on average, one watch per boutique. The watch is a rarity right from the start. It will be available in boutiques from October 2016, price €81,300 (this price is correct for Germany).