Saxony, the home state of A. Lange & Söhne, boasts a bevy of music greats who lived and composed here, that it is often considered the cultural heart of Germany. This includes the likes of Schumann, Wagner, Mendelssohn and Bach, whose spirit of enlightenment finds form in the Lange 1’s eccentric, non-overlapping displays that is a study of neoclassical balance and temperance. Yet when you turn the watch over, you are treated to an opulently decorated movement. In the instance of our subject matter today, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, it all centers around its tourbillon whirling away on its diamond endstone.
In keeping with its self-imposed strict rules of design, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is instantly identifiable as an automatic Lange 1 with the mirrored layout on its dial. This is a signature that was initiated by the first self-winding Lange 1, the Lange 1 Daymatic, with its outsize date on the upper left, a retrograde day indicator beside it and the hour-minute display on the upper right.
The story, as told by Lange’s director of product development, Anthony de Haas (Tony), of how the first automatic Lange 1 came to be, goes a little like this: “We had come to a point in the life time of the Lange 1 when we were discovering our collectors saying that they loved the design of the watch, but they wanted a version of the watch that they could wear without having to worry about winding it on a regular basis. We could say that these are people in our community who are the more pragmatic individuals.
“It was a manageable task for us to create an automatic Lange 1, but we had to differentiate it somehow, because you know, an automatic movement tends to require a lot more work to put together. So this was one consideration and the other was that if you have the classic layout of the Lange 1 dial and you wear it under the cuff of your shirt, you’ll see that your sleeve is covering the left side of the dial and, therefore, covering the hour and minute sub dial. Now, because the automatic Lange 1 was intended to fit the lifestyle of a pragmatic individual, we took it upon ourselves to reverse the dial, such that when you are wearing the timepiece, you can still peek down and read off the time without having to reach over to pull back your sleeve.”
Further, Lange replaced the typical power reserve indicator on the dial with a retrograde day indicator because a power reserve indicator on an automatic timepiece isn’t all that relevant. The point of revelation that came next, was that the only elements missing from the dial now were a month and a leap year indicator before Lange could present a perpetual calendar on the iconic dial.
Taking inspiration from the Lange 1 Time Zone, a decision was made to place a month ring around the dial perimeter. Then a small arrow shaped aperture was placed at six o’clock with which to indicate the leap year and, also, point out the month on the month-ring.
Every element of a perpetual calendar display was accounted for, in a most efficient, yet unique way, with all calendar indications switching instantly at midnight. By the time Lange was developing the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, they had already given the world other power-hungry, jumping timepieces such as the Zeitwerk. Therefore, a calendar mechanism with all of its indications engineered to jump precisely together was well within Lange’s knowhow.
Yet another Lange 1, the Lange 1 Moon Phase, served as further inspiration for the next point of elevation for the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, which is the familiar moon phase incorporated with the running seconds sub dial.
The last piece of the puzzle was, of course, the tourbillon regulating organ that made the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar a darling of the world of haute horlogerie. But to do this without adding further height to the timepiece was the challenge that Lange set for itself; a challenge which required the watchmakers at Lange to ultimately rethink the traditional construction of the perpetual calendar mechanism.
Says Tony, “What we had to do is place the tourbillon deeper into the movement. So deep, in fact, that the tourbillon of the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar starts at the main plate [occupying precious real estate required by the calendar mechanism].
“It was as a result that we had to rethink the complete construction of the perpetual calendar mechanism. We basically had to build the calendar mechanism around the tourbillon. Therefore, the movement isn’t a modular one — like, say the Langematik — rather it is one of multiple layers of a completely integrated caliber, incorporating the gear train, calendar and automatic winding mechanism.
“Take for instance the month-ring on the movement that serves the calendar mechanism as its brain. This, as opposed to the 48-month wheel that typically steers a perpetual calendar. The differing lengths of the inward facing teeth of the month-ring is what determines the length of each month and essentially provides logic to the complete calendar system on the watch.”
It is with such a level of innovation that Lange was able to maintain the high level of clarity that we’ve grown accustomed to on a Lange 1 dial, even with the perpetual calendar execution. At the same time, it is with the intelligence contained within the movement that we are treated to a brand of opulence visible through the caseback of the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar that we have grown to expect of Lange.
When the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar was introduced in 2012, in pink gold and platinum, it registered many firsts for the company. It was Lange’s first tourbillon with an automatic movement and its first tourbillon with instant jumping calendar indications — a sight to behold, on the last day of the year, or even at the end of each month at midnight as multiple displays make the jump.
A Handwerkskunst (German for ‘craftsmanship’) version followed a year later, in 2013, which allowed for the opulence of Lange’s decoration on the front of the timepiece, with the white gold dial practically carpeted in tremblage and relief engraving, and for the first time, hand-painted numerals for the outsize date. In platinum, the Handwerkskunst variant was made in a numbered edition of a highly limited 15 pieces. Recently, Lange also introduced a new version in 2016, in white gold case with a grey dial.
And now, to celebrate the Lange 1’s 25th Anniversary, A. Lange & Söhne has created a special edition of the Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, clad in white gold with blue accents — blue markers and hands on the dial, and the blue ‘25’ hand-filled engraving on the tourbillon cock. This is, therefore, the fourth timepiece to be released in the series of special Lange 1s created for the icon’s 25th anniversary, a milestone piece that showcases the watch’s design and technical latitude.
Explaining the significance of the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar’s significance in the Lange 1 family, Tony recalls saying, “Let me share a fun little anecdote with you: when we launched the watch in 2012, Peter Chong, co-founder and editorial director of Deployant, who knew Mr Günter Blümlein well, came to see the watch and simply said, ‘wow’. He was amazed.
“He went on to explain his amazement by sharing a story about an interview he did with Mr Blümlein in the early 2000s. Peter said that while discussing the Langematik Perpetual he suggested to Mr Blümlein that it would be wonderful to see the perpetual calendar incorporated into the iconic dial the Lange 1. Mr Blümlein at that time responded saying, ‘I do not think it is possible.’
“Truth be told, while we were presenting the watch at SIHH 2012, we were pretty amazed ourselves that something we had once thought impossible for ourselves was ticking away in front of us.”