Style / World of Watches (WOW)

A. Lange & Söhne’s Tino Bobe On Creating The Little Lange 1 Moonphase

A. Lange & Söhne Head of Manufacturing Tino Bobe completes our troika of conversations with veterans at the brand.

Sep 10, 2021 | By Ashok Soman
A. Lange & Söhne, Tino Bobe, Head of Manufacturing
Tino Bobe, Head of Manufacturing. Image: A. Lange & Söhne

If you are a regular reader of WOW on LUXUO, you will have noticed that we brought you conversations with Wilhelm Schmid and Anthony de Haas — CEO and Director of Product Development of A. Lange & Söhne, respectively — within the last 12 months. Ordinarily, we would have stopped right there because we do care a little bit about balance in our coverage. When Watches & Wonders rolled around, we were set to avoid full A. Lange & Söhne interview pieces… until the manufacture offered us half-an-hour with Tino Bobe, the Head of Manufacturing at the German brand.

The last time we featured Bobe, it was 2019 right after the SIHH fair, and that alone might have justified our decision to do the interview. If you know anything about A. Lange & Söhne, and have followed the brand for a few years, you will have realised that senior management tends to stick around for the long haul here.

This is remarkable, with Schmid having the shortest tenure of the top executives, at just over 10 years. We talked with both Schmid and de Haas about this but we really wanted to get into it with Bobe, who is a 20-year veteran with the firm. Only Arnd Einhorn, the head of communications, has been with A. Lange & Söhne longer (by perhaps a year, Bobe reckons).

Bobe is also a veteran of Glashütte, being a local, and that adds to his stature. According to him, he spent 40 years in the little Saxony town proper, and now lives just 10km outside with his family. With home and work having taken on new dynamics, it is worth hearing the perspective of a person with an unusual situation in the first place. Bobe does not disappoint.

While he echoes Schmid and de Haas’ comments about putting the safety of the workforce first, he also inadvertently reveals his passion for teamwork and his colleagues. Although we asked him directly about the work-from-home situation at the manufacture, his most distinctive answer came in relation to how the new movement for the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar took shape.

Image: A. Lange & Söhne

To make that watch, the teams of de Haas and Bobe not only looked at the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, they also decided to study the Lange 1 Daymatic. “In the end we also integrated our people in the movement assembly department, combining their expertise with those of the movement designers, to do a more complete analysis.” This is why the manufacture elected to begin work on the new perpetual calendar by using the Daymatic as the base, not the tourbillon perpetual calendar.

Such collaboration is key to watchmaking in general, and the pandemic situation has challenged that, as Bobe reveals. Nevertheless, business continues even as the world progresses through the peaks and troughs of Covid-19. Obviously, this interview was conducted digitally, for example. Happily, we were still able to see each other, otherwise one of Bobe little jokes would have missed its mark. With that, we invite you into the mind of Bobe, and a fuller explanation of the new perpetual calendar as well as the Little Lange 1 Moonphase.

How has the pandemic shaped working reality in watchmaking?

It is a real challenge to find ways for everyone to work together [while being apart], especially in watchmaking where you need perfect interaction. You can’t just give directions to the movement designer, wait a few months, then give the results to the dial designer and say you have to come up with something beautiful now. It doesn’t work like this. It’s more like ping pong — we had to ensure that everyone could still work closely together [to maintain that dynamic].

This is one problem, the other is about the people who had to work at the manufacture, including the 154 watchmakers in the assembly department. We had to put measures in place to keep them safe. This included maintaining safe distancing, putting clear barriers up between spaces and workstations. <All of this had a clear impact on production and efficiency, with A. Lange & Söhne reporting reduced production for 2020, and presumably continuing even today because we are clearly not quite out of the woods — Ed>

Your approach in putting your people first is admirable. Speaking of the A. Lange & Söhne team, you have been part of the picture since 1999. Tell us about this long tenure, and if you do indeed find yourself a part of the furniture, as they say.

<Laughs> I joke that I have an A. Lange & Söhne barcode on my body <gestures to his heart>. In fact, you are a witness to your statement <which is too kind as I probably met Bobe in 2007 alongside de Haas and Einhorn>.

I’m really proud to be part of this team, and to be part of the success we have here, in making really beautiful watches. But it is also about managing the heavy load on my shoulders… It is different than at other brands, especially in Switzerland where people come and go [more often than they do at A. Lange & Söhne], and sometimes they want to follow their own plan and make their own mark.

After the first maybe 10 years or so [at the manufacture], I really had to take responsibility for everything. I cannot [for example] say something is not my responsibility because the other guy [who preceded me] did it. It’s a big responsibility and there is a lot of pressure there.

There is less space maybe for individual things because you have to be part of the company spirit here. In our case that is Never Stand Still… and this is not the same as when we started as you know because [our words were the legend has come home, or the legend reborn] and there were other phrases over the years. The words are different — the claims changed — but the meaning is the same, from the beginning until now.

Turning to another sort of evolution, tell us about the new Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, and how that evolved from the existing Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. Did you really need to develop a whole new movement for the watch?

Well, I think you know that there are certain restrictions for a tourbillon — you cannot just swap out a tourbillon for a regular escapement… For one thing, the size of the balance will no longer be constrained by the size of the tourbillon cage. The entire movement has to be adapted to use a normal escapement.

For us it is about the challenge, not just to do a new complication, which we had from the start (and the Langematik Perpetual Calendar in 2001). And [subsequent to that] we wanted to prove something to ourselves so we started with multiple complications [in one watch]. This is how the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar came about. In the end, we got feedback from our collectors that they really wanted a [Lange 1] perpetual calendar but the cost of a [multi-complication watch] was too much. We heard that people absolutely loved the non-traditional arrangement [of the indications such as the month ring] and that it would be great if we would do just a Lange 1 perpetual calendar one day.

We heard this, yes, and it was not possible to do it immediately, but we wanted to do it, and because we are A. Lange & Söhne we wanted to do it as perfectly as possible. This is not only about the design but also the movement. We want the movement to be perfectly optimised, so this meant we did not simply want to remove the tourbillon [and adapt the rest of the movement].

Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, caliber L021.3
Image: A. Lange & Söhne

This is why the calibre L021.3 (pictured, above) is based on the Lange 1 Daymatic L021.1 and not the tourbillon perpetual calendar movement. Now the movement is completely new [not just an adaptation] because both the Daymatic and Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar movements had indirect seconds, while the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar has direct seconds. We did this by changing the direction of the balance cock [in the Daymatic, it points away from the crown, in the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, it points towards the crown] and you know this means the entire wheel train is different in calibre L021.3.

And then of course, we had this idea that we should put the day/night indicator into the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar. We had it in the Lange 1 Moonphase, and of course we thought of having the first-ever day/night indicator in a perpetual calendar. It was not so easy because we had to consider the thickness of the movement, and it was already quite dense. In the end, we have 621 parts in calibre L021.3, which is more than the Triple Split even! This is why we can say (in good faith) that calibre L021.3 is a new movement, even if the principle is the same.

So the complexity is not from the moon phase indication?

Well, immediately you need 0.4mm (additional) thickness to include the moon phase indication. Even the way the day/night function and the moon phase are activated is completely different from what we did with the Lange 1 Moon Phase. The components are not the same. We had to find new ways! You can ask my watchmakers too, if the L021.3 movement is the same (just with adaptations), and they will tell you so. If I say otherwise, well they won’t kill me but they won’t be very happy.

Moving on to the moon phase element then, and then the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase, the implication of what you are saying is that the moonphase complication is not a module? No it is not a module.

In any case, to avoid adding thickness to the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, you have to integrate the complications. Remember that the indications change instantaneously, and that includes the moonphase. The mechanism to control all this sits on the back of the mainplate. This means that we have an integrated solution here. <As for the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase, it features the same movement as the existing Little Lange 1 Moon Phase models – Ed>

And on the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase (pictured below) then, please explain the gold flux on the dial.

Little Lange 1 Moon Phase
Image: A. Lange & Söhne

It is glass [aventurine glass, not aventurine quartz]. You know that we are doing in-house some enamel dials, and enamel is also a kind of glass. This one has bits of copper in it, and the craftspeople are able to spread them out equally, and in slices, and even polish them. The idea is a little like the Lumen [the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase, for example] piece, where you can see something going on with the dial, but another person across the conference room table doesn’t see anything. It looks like a regular blue dial basically. We like this idea, that the watch is really beautiful for the person wearing it. The pictures really do not show the true beauty of the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase. When you see this watch, you will agree, and if not, then write me an email and I’ll apologise.

Also, you must remember that we need three parts to make this dial [hence the importance of being able to slice the glass], and it was very tricky, especially when you consider that we need an opening on one part of the small second subdial to show the moon phase. We had to use solid silver underneath [the aventurine glass] so that it would pass our shock tests. So it was a challenge, and we had to throw away [a number of spoiled pieces].

You know, the beauty also [with the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase] is that it is not a ladies watch. I have had such positive feedback on this watch that we never thought of calling it a ladies watch. I know a couple of men who immediately wanted the watch! One even wanted the version with diamonds. This is perfect because we don’t want to exclude people from buying our watches, just because something is [gender-specific]. No, it is just about beautiful watches.

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