January 17, 2017, the second day of SIHH, began as any other, with journalists waking up to attend one of the most important watch fairs of the industry. Yet as the day wore on, it became evident that a somber mood was infiltrating the halls, as each member of the press became aware, by word of mouth, of the sad news — in the early morning, Walter Lange, the esteemed patriarch of A. Lange & Söhne, had passed away at the age of 92.

For many in the watch community, it was the realization that the end of an era had come. Walter Lange had, in his lifetime, given his heart and soul to a brand that many have come to respect and love, and in doing so, he had attained a place as one of the great figures of horological history. It is, of course, impossible for us to meet Ferdinand Adolph Lange or any other founder of the great brands that lived in a distant century. But we, at Revolution, were very lucky to have met Walter Lange, who, as a bridge to the past traditions of Glashütte, the birthplace of German watchmaking, animated all that we could not have experienced ourselves, revitalizing German horological traditions in the process and making them relevant to our modern era.

How lucky we were to have witnessed the inspirational story of Glashütte’s rebirth and today, to be able to continue enjoying the peerless watches from its revival!

This was a man who held on to a watchmaking dream and carried the seeds of A. Lange & Söhne for a good two-thirds of his life. A man who, as fate would have it, began the third and most productive phase of his life at the age of 64, embarking on the rigorous and risky adventure of rebuilding a company, at a time when he could have retired.

Yet he felt compelled to do what he did, because he had seen the traditions of watchmaking that had been inculcated into him from birth unjustly snatched away at the end of the Second World War with the division of Germany. The heartbreak that followed, where Lange and his family were forced to leave the company started by his forefathers, led to him fleeing from East to West Germany for survival and to build some semblance of a life in war-torn Europe.

The story might have ended there, and we can easily see how he could have chosen to abandon his dream even when Germany was officially reunified in 1990. But he did not. He saw an opportunity to bring his great-grandfather’s legacy back, and he seized it with great energy, going back to his hometown of Glashütte and beginning the journey of the revival of A. Lange & Söhne.

Walter Lange, A. Lange & Söhne

A. Lange & Söhne Today

What is the product of that decision that he made? We see it all the time in the esteem that A. Lange & Söhne is accorded by all in the watch community. It is the kind of respect and admiration that is expressed most fervently every time I meet fellow watch journalists. Having knowledge of the entire breadth of the watch industry, they unfailingly remark that if they could have any watch they want, their number one choice would be a Lange 1 or an 1815, or indeed, any watch from A. Lange & Söhne.

No other brand has garnered such universal respect, and for that, the man we have to thank is Walter Lange. It was he who single-handedly transmitted the values of the original A. Lange & Söhne to the modern era. We see a watch from A. Lange & Söhne today as something that embodies a sum of these values; it is conceived in a way that is seen nowhere else in the watch industry — so singularly unique in philosophy and outlook, and much appreciated for the brand’s famous fastidious devotion to quality, tradition, and astounding levels of finish.

We see the detail-oriented nature of everything that the brand does, such as how the new company was registered on December 7, 1990 — a special date chosen to coincide with the original founding date of December 7, 1845. We see it in every watch, no matter the price, when we peer at the details of the dial and movement with a loupe. We even see it in the brand catalogs, where the watches appear in the exact size as the real watches.

Walter Lange, A. Lange & Söhne
Walter Lange, A. Lange & Söhne

Details are the lifeblood of the watchmaking industry, and A. Lange & Söhne has mastered them to the nth degree under the early stewardship of Walter Lange, and then brought this philosophy to greater heights over the years, with the culture he brought entrenching itself firmly into the very fabric of the company.

I met Walter Lange myself a number of times, but my most memorable encounter with him was during the 2014 SIHH, when I interviewed him. I spoke no German, and the interview was conducted through a translator, but what I remember is that he was an energetic, kind man, thoroughly content with life and with his achievements, but still very concerned about the running of the company, for he wanted to ensure that things were how his great-grandfather, F.A. Lange, would have wanted it.

Today, A. Lange & Söhne is alive and well, having risen swiftly to the summit of horology. We are fortunate to have watches like the Lange 1, the Datograph and the Zeitwerk among others — iconic masterpieces that would not have existed, but for the actions of the man who kept the faith even when the going got very tough. Watch lovers around the world, as do many owners of a Lange watch, owe a debt of gratitude to the man who began the journey for us all.

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1

In the end, Walter Lange left us with the greatest dream of his life fulfilled: His great-grandfather’s legacy has been revived and brought to greater heights. He had also lived to see the company he brought back celebrate its 22nd year of existence and, best of all, with the acclaim and prestige that was the brand’s birthright from the beginning. No one would argue that his had been a life lived well.

On the evening of the same day that he passed, the mood at the Lange Friends’ dinner, which had been scheduled earlier, was slightly sad, with fans of the brand still coming to terms with the loss. However, CEO Wilhelm Schmid remarked that he knew Walter Lange would not have wanted those gathered to stop what we had come together to do because of him. Instead, he would have wanted us to continue to keep the activities of the company going, to continue to talk about the watches that were the product of such hard work. Indeed, this was clear to those of us who’d had the privilege of meeting Walter Lange. He never wanted the brand to be about him — it was always about the watches and the values that they embodied. That was, and will always be, the key.

Thank you, Walter Lange, for what you have done for us. You will be missed.

Walter Lange, A. Lange & Söhne

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