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Feature: 3 Things You’ve Got To Know About A. Lange & Söhne

For this week’s “In Focus”, we’re taking a closer look at the watchmaker everyone loves to love—and can’t pronounce—A. Lange & Söhne. With a level of quality that defies belief, A. Lange & Söhne truly deserves a week in the spotlight—and that’s exactly what we’re giving it. As well as videos, you’ll also find some great articles being posted over the week, here, on watchfinder.com and other fun stuff on our Instagram channel, too. For now, let’s take a look at three things you didn’t know about A. Lange & Söhne.

A. Lange & Söhne Barely Makes Any Watches

So how many watches do these watchmakers make per year, anyway? To hazard a guess, you’d say that number was pretty low, what with the exclusivity and all. Whilst there’s no definitive answer for how many tickers come out of the Rolex factory per annum, industry sources place that number somewhere around the 800,000 to the million mark. Of watches. Per year. That’s a lot. Laid out end to end, they’d still be shorter than the waiting list for a Daytona.

But Rolex, that’s your everyday watch, the one you wear when you fix your motorbike and fight bears and whatever it is people do outdoors these days. An A. Lange & Söhne … it’s a bit more special than that. A lot more special. We’re talking more in the region of something like a Patek Philippe.

By comparison, Patek Philippe makes some 60,000 or so watches every year, less than 7% what Rolex does. And that’s because it’s a much more prestigious brand, of course. Each watch requires more care and attention from the 2,000 employees working for the business, and thus the output is lower. Like Audi said of its R8—it’s the slowest car its ever built, and the same is true of Patek Philippe. Quality takes time.

So how many watches would you wager A. Lange & Söhne manages every year? The same as Patek Philippe? A bit less perhaps? Half, even? Try 5,000. A microscopic 10% of Patek Philippe’s output, and barely half a percent of Rolex’s.

The reason its numbers are so low? The watch itself. There are simply not enough people capable of producing this level of extreme quality—that many would say pips even Patek Philippe—in the Saxony region A. Lange & Söhne is based in, to make more. And the training, done in-house, is so extensive that boosting those numbers is almost an impossibility, enrolling less than twenty students per year.

The only other option to make more watches would be to make them faster, to sacrifice quality—and that’s an absolute no-no. For this incredible German watchmaker, compromise just isn’t an option.

A. Lange & Söhne Builds Every Watch Twice

One of the reasons even an entry-level watch from A. Lange & Söhne commands such a plump asking price is how it’s built. We’re talking hand-finished parts assembled by some of the finest watchmakers in the world. We’ve already established just how unique and sought-after these people are for their craft. If you laid them out end to end, they probably wouldn’t get any work done.

So, you would say that their time is precious, that every minute of their experienced attention is best spent doing the job right and therefore doing it just once. Well, you’d think so, but A. Lange & Söhne does things a little differently. Follow along with me here.

Every A. Lange & Söhne watch starts in its component parts, which are then carefully assembled by a highly skilled watchmaker. With me so far? Good. Then … the watchmaker takes it all apart. Madness. But it gets madder still, because faced with the same pile of parts they started with, the watchmaker proceeds to assemble the watch a second time.

Now hang on, you must be thinking. Why don’t they just build it once, build twice as many and double their profit? Aha, now that makes sense to any ordinary person, but when you’re as obsessive as A. Lange & Söhne, you may as well be asking them to get the teenage intern to build it.

The reason behind this bizarre, almost compulsive behaviour may not be efficient, but it is incredible: the famous three-quarter plate style found on so many A. Lange & Söhne watches brings class-leading rigidity to the movement, but it also comes at a cost. Where separate bridges are easily adjustable, the single plate is not, and so repeated removal of the plate to make adjustments is required. And because this interaction can leave marks on the components, however faint, it’s only after this process is done that the components are properly finished and cleaned before final assembly—leaving the movement as close to perfect as possible, even if it does have to be built twice.

A. Lange & Söhne Never Mentions Its Founding

If you’ve spent even five minutes around watchmakers, you’ll have noticed such extreme overuse of a single word that it will have lost all meaning: heritage. Heritage is to watchmaking like carbon is to all of life: without it, there is none. If you laid out every instance of the word end to end it would reach the moon and back. Not our moon, Kepler-1625b’s—and that’s not even in our solar system.

And there’s an unwritten rule: the more instances of the word you find, the less likely the brand is to have earnt it. It’s like a placeholder for the real thing, what annoying writers call “show, don’t tell”. If you’ve got heritage, show me some examples, don’t just tell me you have it.

No more present is this phenomenon than in watch companies that “borrowed” their name from a business long since deceased. It’s part of the three-phase plan to starting up a modern watchmaking firm: step one, revive an old name, repeat the word “heritage” over and over again for step two—step three, profit. It’s just the way of things.

A. Lange & Söhne, on the other hand, flips this whole thing on its head. Look on its website, in its press releases—anywhere—and you won’t find the watchmaker directly stating the most prominent piece of heritage a watchmaker can have, its founding in 1845. This is when Ferdinand Adolph Lange received approval from the Royal Saxon Ministry of the Interior to start his watchmaking business, and indeed the entire industry of watchmaking in the now-famous region.

Why is this? Well, a century later, A. Lange & Söhne’s factory was bombed, destroying it completely. Then, under Soviet rule, the watchmaking region was compiled into one singular entity, producing watches under rule of the state. It wasn’t until the reunification of Germany in 1990 that A. Lange & Söhne was free to operate under its own name again, when Walter Lange, Ferdinand’s great-grandson and himself a watchmaker, revived the business from the rubble.

Literally, from the rubble. There was not a scrap of the watchmaker as it had been in its heyday of which to speak. Everything you see now is born of those new beginnings, inspired by the legacy of Walter’s lineage, from his memory of the family business as it had once existed. Officially, the company, as it stands today, was founded in 1990, not 1845. A technicality of the most pedantic kind, I’m sure you’d agree, and one most other watchmakers would—and very often do—gloss over.

But for A. Lange & Söhne, this is the kind of exacting level of attention to minute detail that most would ignore that makes it wholly unique in its quest for perfection. They think differently. More critically, more transparently. Ferdinand Lange believed that “The entire pursuit of a watchmaker should be the perfection of each and every watch”, and indeed of the business itself. So, instead of pushing their heritage, they go against the grain and choose to talk with their watches instead. Show, don’t tell.

Why not check out some more A. Lange & Söhne content right here, on watchfinder.com, and catch up on our latest articles, where you’ll get to enjoy even more about this incredible watchmaker. You’re welcome to come join the conversation over on Instagram as well.

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