Anthony de Haas, Director of Product Development: Future Proofing at A. Lange & Söhn:
A. Lange & Söhne debuts three watches that are the result of careful planning and consideration, including the vagaries of market forces.
In this trade, you know you have gone off the rails when you start talking as much as your subject. This is a real problem when one is doing an interview because one wants to hear what the other person has to say. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened in my interview with A. Lange & Söhne Director of Product Development Anthony de Haas at Watches & Wonders. The editorial team has spoken with de Haas many times over the 18 years he has been at the Glashütte brand. On this occasion I got fired up and lost the plot a little, for which I offer an unreserved apology, both to you, dear reader, and to de Haas. If you are reading this Mr de Haas, I blame the cacophony behind the A. Lange & Söhne booth!
To make amends, I can confirm that we will be speaking with A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid in Singapore soon, for a story that will run in our new Legacy issue. We do not normally engage with the same brand in the same way over multiple issues, although A. Lange & Söhne has always been gracious and generous about interview opportunities.
In any event, the conversation was actually rather animated and, hopefully, enlightening. Of course, one can always count on A. Lange & Söhne to bring the horological heat at watch fairs and the conversation revolved around the three highlights of the fair: the Richard Lange Minute Repeater, the Odysseus in titanium, and the Grand Lange 1. This is not to say that this will be the only story on these three novelties — we have a separate piece in this very issue on the aforementioned Odysseus, for example. Like Watches & Wonders Geneva itself, this story is a mere introduction. But before we get into that, a brief introduction about de Haas.
Product development at A. Lange & Söhne is timepiece creation, essentially, so de Haas and his team dream up future watches here. “As Product Development Director, I do not only come up with products but also develop the parts that will feature in future timepieces. So everything will continue even if I’m not there,” said de Haas. This certainly applies to all three highlights in this story, because the story of the minute repeater begins with the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication in 2013, while the development narratives of the Odysseus and Grand Lange 1 go way beyond the first appearances of these models. In some ways, they go back to the very re-start of A. Lange & Söhne after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, with de Haas telling us that he envisioned a minute repeater from the start of his tenure at the brand. “I knew that we needed to one day have the knowledge to make a striking watch (even if Glashütte did not historically produce such watches), because that is what you need as a top (watchmaking) brand.”
Besides being a veteran at the Saxon brand, de Haas also worked with the late great Gunther Blümlein at IWC. He would work with him again at the revived A. Lange & Söhne but Blümlein also gave de Haas a hint about this future when he was on his way out to join Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. In many ways, vision being only one of them, de Haas carries on the work of Blümlein — who is something of a legend — at A. Lange & Söhne.
Richard Lange Minute Repeater
Now, we have already begun to speak about the Richard Lange Minute Repeater so we will pick it up from here. Believe it or not, this is the first classical minute repeater from A. Lange & Söhne, and that requires an explanation. Following up on his own comments about striking watches, de Haas confirms that A. Lange & Söhne could have gone with a classical minute repeater — this means a chiming mechanism that sounds out the hours, quarters and minutes on demand — all the way back in 2013, then moved on to the other sorts of striking watches from the manufacture.
“But then, I guess collectors would just say ‘I’ll take the minute repeater’,” said de Haas, miming a sort of ho-hum shrug. This is clearly not how A. Lange & Söhne wanted to do things, and we do have to say that it makes for a nice story. That is to say, the new Richard Lange Minute Repeater has an interesting origin story that feels organic.
On that note, the story on striking watches at A. Lange & Söhne starts in 2011 with the Zeitwerk Striking Time, which we remember very well. Purists might object but that watch must be counted in the continuing saga of striking time at the Glashütte manufacture. Another point here is that the minute repeater itself is not new here, with the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater having debuted in 2015. That watch, and subsequent iterations and developments, had us convinced that a completely traditional minute repeater was out of the question for A. Lange & Söhne. Boy were we wrong!
“Now we have three watches, three repeaters with completely different systems. Who else has that? Most of the time they have one minute repeater movement and they put it in all minute repeater watches,” said de Haas. We shall leave the specifications for a later story, but we do want to go over a few salient points, one of which is the three-part enamel dial. Not exactly unprecedented at A. Lange & Söhne, which you might recall from the 1815 Thin or more accurately the Richard Lange Pour Le Mérite, this new dial was made in-house, which would have been a considerable undertaking. For his part, de Haas thinks this dial perfectly represents the classicism and painstaking attention to detail in the Richard Lange Minute Repeater.
These details represented the rabbit hole that this conversation went down, but we did come away with some interesting notes (no pun intended) on the watch as a result. For example, de Haas is critical of chiming watches that rush through sounding out the time. He was particularly keen to ensure that rhythm of the chiming was on point, neither too quick nor too “sleepy,” as he puts it. He also ensured that there are no awkward pauses, when the quarter is skipped (before the first quarter passes), while keeping it easy to tell the time just by listening to the chimes.
Typical chiming watches often offer a pause in place of the quarters when there are no quarters to sound, which is both a feature of the repeater mechanism and something to help people actually use the function as intended — to tell time in the dark. For a watch at this level, and given that A. Lange & Söhne’s theme this year is “devoted to the highest standards,” it is very appropriate that this sort of detail gets a bit of attention.
To close out on the minute repeater, the watchmakers at A. Lange & Söhne have also paid a lot of attention to the safety aspects, which are critical but frequently critically overlooked. With this watch, you cannot pull out the crown while the watch is chiming, nor activate the repeater while the crown is out. It seems a minor thing, but many brands do not bother with this level of caution. That is a shame because the greatest hazard a chiming watch faces is its owner!
Grand Lange 1
Moving now to the Grand Lange 1, this watch offers some impressively unexpected specifications, including the fact that it is the thinnest version of this model ever made, at 8.2mm. It certainly wears quite slim, although we did not have the previous Grand Lange 1 on hand to compare and find out if it feels slimmer. So, there must be a new movement in place no? Well, no. The specifications contradict our expectations because good old L095.1 remains in play — this movement has been used for the 41mm Grand Lange 1 since at least 2013.
“I prefer to have people say ‘Wow! What is this?’…the fun thing for us, or what we at least try to do is to create surprises. I think for most collectors and also journalists, and for us also, that the SIHH or Watches & Wonders today is kind of like Christmas. It’s all about pleasure,” said de Haas. It was certainly with pleasure that the movement debuted for the Grand Lange 1, especially since de Haas is plenty critical of watches that use calibres that are too small for the case, a point he revisits in this chat.
The current Grand Lange 1 achieves its reduced profile thanks to enhancements in the case structure, namely in the sapphire crystal over the dial. It now looks for all the world like the dial is open to the world, which is a neat effect. There are two versions of the Grand Lange 1, in white gold and rose gold, as seen here.
Finally, the Odysseus in titanium, which is as far removed from the steel and gold versions as can be. The movement remains the same, of course, but the dial and the finishing of the case and bracelet are quite different. This feels quite fitting for a watch that has divided connoisseurs and given the A. Lange & Söhne team some shocks, which de Haas recalls with a fair amount of dismay. “Look what happened to the Odysseus in steel, which I hear there is a three-year waiting list! I know people say that we are playing with that… restricting access…and that’s true because we had a bad experience (at the start),” said de Haas.
Here de Haas is referring of course to the Phillips auction that saw a brand new Odysseus in steel sell for something like three times its retail price. “That’s sick! For a watch that is still in production, how is that healthy? You know, I have nothing against people selling their watches, like maybe a collector sells his Tourbillon Pour Le Merite (out of production now for at least a decade) at an auction and getting (top dollar). I feel honoured when (a result like that) happens.”
The new titanium version of the Odysseus solves one problem for A. Lange & Söhne in that it is neither a steel model nor one in a precious metal. It is also a proper limited edition with only 300 to be made, which is unusual for the brand. Typically, A. Lange & Söhne core collection pieces are limited by production, not by a set figure. This may lean into the crazy collectibility of the Odysseus and represent a response to the aforementioned initial experience with the watch in steel, as well as the extended wait time for that watch.
For now, we close out this story with a note about why people buy watches in the first place, which as de Haas notes, is primarily about fun and pleasure.
“Our watches are for collectors; for people who know A. Lange & Söhne and want to wear an A. Lange & Söhne, and are comfortable wearing it. I think nobody’s going to buy a Lange, in general, to show off. We are a collector’s brand,” said de Haas. He is referring to the fact that most people do not know what A. Lange & Söhne is, much less how to spell it or say it. If you expect your peers to be impressed by the Zeitwerk you are rocking, they have to first know what A. Lange & Söhne is, and be able to recognise any given watch from the brand. “If people want to show that they are rich and successful, they do not do it with an A. Lange & Söhne watch,” said de Haas. Fitting words to end on.
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