The discovery of silver ore in the area around today's Freiberg in Saxony precipitated the so-called “First Berggeschrey”, literally the first mountain call. The news lured miners, tradesmen, coal merchants and vagabonds to the then still impenetrable Ore Mountains. A veritable “silver rush” ensued as they descended on the area to try their luck. In the following centuries, the silver mines brought great prosperity to Saxony, setting the stage for the arts and crafts that would later put Saxony on the map.
The political ambitions of Elector Augustus (1526-1586) as well as numerous decrees and reforms led to a burgeoning economy in Saxony. He shared a passion for collecting with many of his contemporary sovereigns. In 1560, he founded an Art Chamber in Dresden, which was to be filled for posterity with everything that fascinated him. The holdings included paintings, firearms, jewellery, arts and crafts, curiosities, utensils and also mechanical, astronomical and surveying instruments. In 1728 relevant items were removed from the Art Chamber to form the foundation of further collections and a separate institution, the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments, which was to become crucial to the development of precision time measuring instruments under the leadership of Johann Gottfried Köhler.
Saxony was not spared the devastation caused by The Thirty Years’ War. Towns and villages were plundered and laid waste. The population was decimated by some fifty per cent, not least because of the plague. Hard-won prosperity melted away. But the people did not give up. In the Ore Mountains, they began mining new resources instead of silver: iron, tin, lead, copper, bismuth and serpentine. The people of Saxony worked these raw materials and became skilled craftsmen. Specialised manufactories emerged on the outskirts of the larger cities.
Photo: Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel : Graph. C: 1220
The resplendence of Saxony under Augustus the Strong
Augustus the Strong made an exceptional impact on the history of Saxony: Prince Frederick Augustus (1670-1733) not only established himself as an absolutist radiant sovereign; he rigorously pursued his goals and standards of perfection. His enterprising leadership and intelligent economic policies included the patronage of the arts, architecture, handicrafts and sciences. Being the second son, he did not anticipate inheriting the Electorate and was able to cultivate his passion for culture. The young Saxon Prince made acquaintance with the world of nobility, travelling incognito between the age of 17 and 19 as Count von Meissen to acquaint himself with life at all the major royal courts -- and loving it! Upon the premature death of his older brother, Frederick Augustus unexpectedly assumed the throne at the age of 24.
Photo: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Photo: Hans-Peter Klut)
By the early 18th century, the Chamber of Art established by Augustus in 1560 was bursting at the seams, and the once intriguing variety and disarray of the collection no longer satisfied contemporary scientific standards. Hence, Augustus the Strong had the paintings separated from the collection and in 1728, he reserved the top floor of Dresden’s Zwinger Pavilion for a special Cabinet of Mathematical Instruments. There he preserved globes of the planet and the skies, astronomical and geodetic instruments, barometers, thermometers, elaborately decorated instruments for making calculations, drafts and measurements. From the very beginning, sundials were among the highlights of the Cabinet’s holdings.
Photo: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Photo: Jürgen Karpinski)
Astronomer, meteorologist and superb mechanic, Johann Gottfried Köhler was eminently qualified to make significant advances in the measurement of time. In 1776, he was summoned to the court as “inspector”in charge of the Kunstkammer and the Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments, both accommodated in the Zwinger Palace. Seven years later, he successfully installed the first time-keeping service for the observatory in the Dresden Zwinger with a pendulum clock that he crafted himself.
This office determined the time at noon every day to be adopted by the other clocks in the city. For a fee, affluent citizens even had the privilege of subscribing to a special service: an employee would come to their homes every day to set the clock.
Napoleon defeated Saxony in 1796 and was in turn defeated in 1813, in consequence of which Saxony lost three fifths of its territory and almost half of its population. These losses were compounded by extreme economic straits when Napoleon’s continental blockade was lifted. In the decades that followed, industrially manufactured goods from Britain inundated the market. Once again the Saxons proved their mettle. The state gave loans to entrepreneurs, whose inventive spirit soon set new benchmarks. Ferdinand A. Lange (1815-1875) was born in 1815 in the midst of these turbulent times between defeat and new beginnings.
When his parents separated, Ferdinand A. Lange was taken in and raised by friends of his parents, who made it possible for him to attend the “Technische Bildungsanstalt” in Dresden. There he acquired an education ordinarily reserved for engineers and technicians.
While still in school, Lange started an apprenticeship with the renowned master clockhmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes. Gutkaes soon recognised and fostered the unusual watchmaking skills of his talented 15-year-old apprentice. It was also Gutkaes who later engineered the famous Five-Minute Clock for the Semper Opera House.
As an apprentice to Gutkaes, Ferdinand A. Lange demonstrated great diligence, manual skills and intelligence, completing his years of training with honours. In 1837 he set out into the world travelling via Switzerland to France. He worked not far from Paris as a foreman in a prominent horological manufactory, operated by Austrian clockmaker Joseph Thaddäus Winnerl (1799-1836, a pupil of Abraham Louis Breguet). At the same time, he studied astronomy and physics at the Sorbonne in Paris and, above all, honed his horological skills with the great Parisian master clockmakers.
The railway line between Dresden and Leipzig opened in 1839. An innovation of far-reaching consequences, this means of transport not only changed the nature of travelling but also and, above all, the perception of time. A journey that had hitherto taken somewhere between “Tuesday morning” and “Wednesday evening” by carriage could now be measured with much greater precision. The introduction of train schedules in turn required a reliable means of measuring time.
Having returned from his journeyman years in 1841, Ferdinand A. Lange, once apprentice and now partner in his father-in-law Gutkaes’ firm, soon achieved substantial horological and business successes. His entrepreneurial ambitions, his social conscience and his sense of civic responsibility converged into a daring plan: he wanted to establish a manufactory of his own in the Ore Mountains, not the least as a competitor to the watchmaking centres in England and Switzerland.
Making history: lathe, dial micrometer and three-quarter plate
Perseverance, courage, exceptional skills and a clear horological vision: it is upon these qualities that Ferdinand A. Lange built his watch manufactory in Glashütte. His travels through Europe and his training in Gutkaes’ workshop had shown him exactly what he wanted to do differently in his own manufactory – and why. Lange pioneered a number of innovations and revolutionised watchmaking.
Ferdinand A. Lange was more than a pioneering watchmaker. Not only did he bring education, work, new prospects and, ultimately, prosperity to the Ore Mountains; he took it upon himself to improve the welfare of the people.
In 1868, Ferdinand A. Lange’s son Richard officially became a partner in his father's business, now illustriously named A. Lange & Söhne. In 1871, Richard’s younger brother Emil joined the firm. After the death of their father in 1875, the two brothers took over the management of the manufactory.
For his services on the jury of the Parisian World Exhibition and the presentation of the Centennial Tourbillon, Emil Lange was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the French Legion of Honour. The Centennial Tourbillon met with enthusiastic acclaim in Paris due to its unusually sophisticated movement and especially the miniature enamel painting on the front of the yellow-gold case: a depiction of Minerva against the backdrop of Paris, as a symbol of world peace achieved thanks to progress, technology and craftsmanship.
How Richard Lange discovered a new alloy for balance springs
Richard Lange’s nephews Otto, Rudolf und Gerhard Lange had now assumed responsibility for the family business; he himself was 84 years old. Over and again, Richard Lange devised new solutions for complex horological problems. Thus, in 1930 while reading a paper by two Siemens engineers, he came up with the idea of adding a small percentage of beryllium to improve the elasticity of the balance spring.
By the time he was in boarding school, Walter Lange, born in Glashütte in 1924, already knew exactly what he wanted to do: he would become a watchmaker! Nothing made the son of Rudolf Lange, grandson of Emil and great-grandson of Ferdinand A. Lange happier than being permitted to join his father on his evening tours through the workshops to check the day’s production. In 1941, Walter went to Karlstein, Waldviertel, Austria to study watchmaking. But like so many others of his generation, his plans for the future were crossed by National Socialism, the war and the occupation.
The main production building was destroyed by a bomb on the last night of the war. After Walter Lange had taken up his studies again and completed them, the family was ready for a new beginning. These plans were thwarted in 1948 by dispossession in the Soviet sector.
In November 1989, Germany celebrated the collapse of the wall. Walter Lange immediately realised that this might be an opportunity to revive the family business in Glashütte. Early in 1990, Walter Lange and the successful watch manager Günter Blümlein worked out a plan for re-establishing the manufactory. “We didn’t have much at that point,” Walter Lange recalls. “We had no watches that we could 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.”
The first patent granted to Lange Uhren GmbH in the new era was for the outsize date. The application was filed in 1992, and two years later, the mechanism was introduced in three of the first four A. Lange & Söhne watches. Meanwhile, the outsize date has become more than just a characteristic feature of many A. Lange & Söhne timepieces. It also manifests the determination of the manufactory to build watches that excel in terms of functionality. Ferdinand A. Lange was already committed to the quest for the “perfect watch” and today, each timepiece is still built with the determination to improve its precision, enhance its legibility, or refine its convenience. The outsize date is only one of the many inventions and patents conceived, engineered, and implemented by A. Lange & Söhne.
Almost 150 years after Ferdinand A. Lange’s momentous decision, his 66-year-old great-grandson dared once again to take the risk. When the first collection created by the new Lange manufactory was presented to the public in October 1994, it proved that the risk had been worth taking: time came home.
History was made in Glashütte in the building that originally housed A. Lange & Söhne from the firm’s inception in 1873 to its partial destruction in the last days of the war in 1945. Throughout that time, it was the architectural synonym of the small town in the eastern Ore Mountains. The Saxon manufactory was able to officially move back to the historical building on 7 December 2001 and resume its tradition.
In 2007, one year after the debut of the LANGE 1 TIME ZONE, A. Lange & Söhne inaugurated its first boutique in Dresden. From its hometown, A. Lange & Söhne soon went global: meanwhile, A. Lange & Söhne is at home around the world in the showrooms of selected jewellers and in its own boutiques.
In 1994 A. Lange & Söhne premièred four calibres. In 2011, only 17 years later, the calibre count had increased to 40. At that time, our calibre designers and watchmakers had already won more than 150 international prizes and awards for their work. These commendations justify our determination to craft a movement optimised in function and design for each watch, even if the effort involved is greater.
In all eras and in every discipline, mankind can take credit for extraordinary accomplishments – masterpieces that survived their epoch. This holds true for the fine arts, and for music. And for watchmaking as well. Quite a few of the works of horological art prominently displayed today in significant public and private collections bear the “A. Lange & Söhne” signature. Because only very few of these timepieces were made, sometimes only one, they are indeed priceless collectors’ items of everlasting value. Since the presentation of the first new-era collection in 1994, Lange has again crafted unique and trailblazing artefacts of horological strokes of genius. Among them are works of art in strictly limited editions that will never be made like this again.