The watch industry doesn’t exactly reward novelty: The most popular models tend to be the ones with decades-long reputations. That’s because what’s in at this minute is bound to be out at some point, and collectors don't like to pony up tens of thousands of dollars for something trendy. So it’s rare that an entirely new design attracts serious hype among the more seasoned. When one does, it’s usually thanks to a unique mix of the orthodox and the unconventional, something that makes waves without rocking the boat. A. Lange & Söhne’s Lange 1 is one such watch—and a useful example of what makes a modern classic.
While the universe’s finest watches typically come from Geneva, Germany—where precision engineering is basically a national pastime—has its own rich watchmaking industry, with its heart in Glashütte. The Saxon town’s reputation was largely driven by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who opened the doors of his “manufactory” in 1845, where he’d employ a great deal of the poor region’s population while also serving as the town’s mayor. Lange focused on the production of time-only pocket watches, establishing an industry and making a name for the small town in the Erzgebirge hills, before passing the company on to his sons, who called it...A. Lange & Söhne. As Germany unified to form an integrated empire of states, an economic boom was in full swing. This allowed A. Lange & Söhne to take things to the next level, producing more ornate and complicated timepieces for the German empire’s upper class. Good times mean deeper pockets, and deeper pockets mean more imaginative mechanical concepts—which means advancement of the craft of watchmaking. The company spent the next few decades innovating in the realm of complicated watches, picking up military contracts (marine chronometers for the German Navy, oversize pieces for pilots) during the 20th century. The main production facility was bombed on the very last night of World War II, bringing A. Lange & Söhne’s story to a screeching halt for nearly half a century.
Fast-forward to 1989: F.A. Lange’s great-grandson, Walter Lange, headed back to Glashütte on a mission. With the country unified once again, and the world at large more watch-crazed than ever, Walter did just as his great-grandfather had done and brought jobs back to Glashütte. With the fourth-generation horologist at the helm, the company recruited the best Germany had to offer and set up shop once again in 1994 to produce the Lange 1—a watch that managed to merge a futuristic look with decidedly conservative touches. I mean, just look at the exploded display, which featured the time, seconds, power reserve, and large date apertures, all scattered asymmetrically across the dial. Most watches don't look like this!
But contrasting that new-world face is everything else: With expertly finished hands, Roman numeral indices, and a now-iconic typeface inspired by Dresden’s Semper Opera House’s five-minute clock, the Lange 1 attracted heritage-focused collectors who might not have expected to consider such a radical watch for themselves. The design was new enough to show that the new A. Lange & Söhne had a unique vision for its future—while being traditional enough to ensure its place in collections as an heirloom piece. The watch-buying masses agreed: The Lange 1 is considered by those in the know as something of an instant classic.
Since introducing the model, A. Lange & Söhne has done a great deal of experimentation with the Lange 1, from the introduction of new hand-wound movements to the development of cutting-edge case materials, including something called “honey gold.” They’ve even gone as far as rolling out tourbillon-equipped variants, along with the hyper-modern Lange 1 Lumen, fitted with luminous hands, numerals, and a translucent dial. In other words: The Lange 1 might be beloved, but the company's not ready to stop pushing it forward.
Originally Appeared on GQ