One wonders how it is possible for watch companies to constantly pump out new products for eager watch lovers every year. The pace of innovation is necessarily fast, with competition abounding from every quarter, and the fickle crowd waiting to abandon yesterday’s darling for today’s star.
Couple that with the fact that every watch that ascends to wow the crowd is usually years in the making and it stands to reason that the life of development heads at the top watch companies everywhere is no walk in the park. Certainly it is must be one hell of a time trying to come up with the new, next big thing every year.
A. Lange & Söhne though it seems, has sailed right through, presenting a full bodied collection that while not containing an overtly soul stirring masterpiece, does build in enough that one not only sees something for everyone, one also gets a sense of the mastery required to put together a collection of watches. There is more involved than just slapping together what is on hand. Everything has to flow from the identity of the brand, being shaped intimately by the values that the watchmakers hold, and nuanced enough by an understanding of what the audience wants.
Remember, A. Lange & Söhne unveiled the REVOLUTION Award Winning Grand Complication last year, and a technical feat of that magnitude is certainly a hard act to follow for 2014.
Yet, a legend is not built by Grand Complications alone. Instead it is a tough, solid and dependable act year after year, with just enough forward movement to imply growth yet being not too far ahead to alienate the fans who have fallen in love.
With this in mind then, it must be said that the novelties presented by the brand at SIHH this year must rank as the best overall collection among those who exhibited.
The show-stopping Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar “Terraluna”, (as written about here) was certainly one for the pundits, with enough highlights to easily fill a press release, and a beautiful surprise on the back of the movement. Dial-side, one sees a regulator style perpetual calendar with a triple register parcelling out hours minutes and seconds, the trademark Lange big date, window cut-outs for day and month, as well as a strange and discreetly placed indicator at the bottom.
Reasonably, one might not readily know what this particular indicator was all about, with the weirdly chosen number “14” being the largest one available. It is however when one is told that this was a power reserve indicator (up to 14 days) that it all makes sense. A show stopping piece like this of course does not make do with just any power reserve, but one serviced by a constant force escapement, ensuring accuracy throughout the entire 14 day period.
The back of the movement though is where attention will gravitate, especially if you are holding the watch in your hand. The orbital moon-phase display is located on a celestial disc of laser cut stars, both surrounding an earth disc painted from the perspective of looking down towards the northern hemisphere. The earth disc rotates once every 24 hours, and can be used, in accordance with the marked indices, as a sort of world time clock.
The moon-phase, of course makes a journey around the earth every 29.5 days with its relative positive around the earth shown, as well as the correct phase of the moon at any given point. A nice point of the design, that coincides with the logic of the display is that the sun is represented by the beating balance wheel.
With this in mind, when one sees the lit portions of the moon, as it appears in the sky, one is easily able to understand how it all occurs when the relative positions of the sun, the moon and the earth are all accounted for. A whimsical delight, in an utterly pragmatic and scientific package, what is there not to love here?
But it is easy to fall in love with the “Terraluna”. This is a watch after-all that speaks to larger ideas than ourselves, and does it in a decidedly memorable way. Being 45.5mm though, this is less a daily wearer and more a big show stopping piece that for me at least, belongs on display, only to be brought out for special occasions or for horological conversations with other watch-lovers.
Which brings me neatly to the 1815 Tourbillon, which was for me the standout piece of the Lange collection. Unlike the “Terraluna”, which on appearance alone would inspire curiosity to have a closer look, the 1815 Tourbillon is the kind of watch that presents a classical appearance, hiding it’s innovations until the moment that it is called upon to do its work.
Consider for a moment the fact that most of the tourbillons made today cannot be set accurately. This for the simple reason that the act of stopping the delicate cage, in order to stop the hands, introduces too much force on the mechanism. What does one do in this case? Well, for those used to hack seconds on normal watches, the lack of such a function was a minor annoyance, yet accepted due to the beauty of the tourbillon.
Yet, was stopping the cage at all possible? Lange solved that problem in 2008 with the stop seconds mechanism first seen in the Lange Caberet Tourbillon. With the new 1815 Tourbillon, they have gone one further and added a Zero-Reset mechanism. The combination of the two patented mechanisms into one watch is the sort of horological sleight of hand that makes us slap out head and say, “Why didn’t we think of that earlier?” This has to be the most useful tourbillons ever made, and really makes the fulfilment towards accuracy that much more pronounced and satisfying.
In fact look at the video above to see how Lange explains their innovation. The sequence of events that happens is as follows: When the crown is pulled, a complex lever mechanism is activated which presses a movable V-shaped spring onto the balance wheel and stops the balance instantaneously. Then, a hammer comes down pushing onto the heart shaped cam instantly reseting the seconds hand to zero. All this is plainly observable through the front of the watch, and easily the most enjoyable thing to see at work here.
That the duo of innovations was implemented in the symmetrically styled 1815 range instead of the off-centre dialled Lange 1 was all the more a design master-stoke, being that all that was important would be right smack in the middle. Even the way the Tourbillon is reset sounds a most satisfying click that you can see and hear in the video link above.
The main raison d’être after all for Tourbillons has been the theoretical accuracy achievable by rotating the balance. But then, without a stopped Tourbillon cage and a Zero-reset, how was one to really measure these accuracy claims? Certainly then the 1815 Tourbillon is one ballsy move by Lange. The assertion of legitimacy of the tourbillon true purpose can now finally be tested. For this, and easily then the 1815 Tourbillon has to be one of the more satisfying complications at this year’s SIHH and thus gets my vote for one of the top pieces shown.
In all this, one might say that the restrained design ethos of A. Lange & Söhne means that design innovation is not really a strong point of the brand.This is true to a point, being that the classical looks of their watches as established by Walter Lange in the company’s rebirth have stood the test of time. The benefit of keeping to what has already been established though means that what resides within has to be really good. The Richard Lange Perpetual Calender “Terraluna” and the 1815 Tourbillon certainly embody this idea.
The rest of the 2014 collection though are minor refreshes of an already established line, and certainly help to round out a dazzling display.
All in all then, a superb 2014 for A. Lange & Söhne and certainly a good reference for how one should develop and present a collection. Well deserved kudos to the brand and one hopes that a strong showing will be presented again next year!
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