A. Lange & Söhne’s Handwerkskunst Watches

On the occasion of the announcement of the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst, German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne journeyed to the heart of Europe’s 14th-century Renaissance city: Florence, Italy.

Why this pilgrimage? There are perhaps many ways to answer this question, but let’s consider that the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst can almost be called a summary of all the forms of craft that have gone into creating the complete range of A. Lange & Söhne’s watches. Be it the craft of technical watchmaking, dial decoration, movement decoration, et cetera. And if there’s one place on earth where craft — particularly craft that requires the love and labor of the human hand — is held with a great sense of reverence, it is Florence. And if Lange was to celebrate the culmination of all of its crafts in a single watch, you could say that there is no better place to do this than in Florence.

Before we dive into discovering the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst, it’s important to first understand the significance and value of craft to A. Lange & Söhne. To that end, Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, explains, “Craft is for me, a combination of competence and passion. Just doing the work according to the rule book will bring you to a certain level; if passion is involved, that will give that extra mile that you need to really impress people — to really impress experts, I should say. Because our main focus is always to impress experts and not just the general audience. So that actually, for me, is craft: Competence and passion.”

This competence and passion that Mr. Schmid speaks of is something that is, of course, not unique to just A. Lange & Söhne’s highest executions. He goes on, saying, “We don’t distinguish in the level of quality with regards to what watch you are buying from us. You can buy a Saxonia at €14,000 or a Grande Complication at €2,000,000 — the level of quality will always be the same. The difference comes in with the years it took us to develop the watch and, of course, the amount of resources that we put into a watch. That is really the differentiator.”

So, if a high level of craft is an everyday affair for A. Lange & Söhne, what then differentiates the Handwerkskunst watches in the grand scheme of things? Because these are created in very small production numbers and can certainly be regarded as exclusive, what are the characteristics that distinguish these Handwerkskunst watches?

“Now [in every collection] there’s almost always something that is actually over-the-top, and for me, the Handwerkskunst is just that. To illustrate over-the-top,” says Mr. Schmid, “[it is when] you go the last millimeter with a hundred percent, [enhancing the watch with] things you know that you cannot do at a sustainable level for every watch. You create a complicated surface, and then to master it, you create an enamel dial, which is very difficult to deal with. You put things which are even the opposite of what you usually are known for.

“We usually have the understatement on the watch dial and the opulence if you turn it around [to view the movement]. The Handwerkskunst is opulent from whatever angle you look at it. So that’s the difference between the Handwerkskunst and all our other watches.”

In 2011, some 17 years after Walter Lange had brought the name of A. Lange & Söhne back to life, the world received the first chapter of the Handwerkskunst watches: the Richard Lange Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite” Handwerkskunst. Says Mr. Schmid, “I can recall the internal discussions we had [while creating this watch] on what I mentioned earlier — that sort of two-faced approach [opulence on all sides of the watch].

“I can also recall the huge challenges we had to take proper photos of it. The problem with all these watches is that they look much better in real life than on photos. So generally speaking, even on the new 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst, the translucent blue of the enamel will strike you in a very different way if you look at it [in person]. But it is so difficult to capture on photos. The same goes for the movement decorations. If you go into the details, there is so much difference in photos from what it looks like if you have it in your hand.

“So as we went through the different levels, it was all different engraving techniques, then we put enamel — black enamel — on the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst. And now the new watch really is a sort of summary of all the Handwerkskunst watches that we’ve had before. We took whatever was famous in all of the previous Handwerkskunst watches and put it all into one watch, the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst.”

Curiosity then beckons the question: How are these watches picked out for the Handwerkskunst elevation? And what sort of decision process is there at A. Lange & Söhne to arrive at the different artisanal techniques used in each watch? Finally, how was it that the 1815 was chosen to become the summary of all of the other five chapters in the Handwerkskunst thus far?

Explains Mr. Schmid, “Let me give you one instance, when we worked on the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst and we put what we call the ‘Glashütte escapement’ into it. This escapement is made out of pure gold, and we’ve learned that there is a good reason people don’t generally make precision components out of gold, because it’s so difficult to work with. I’m glad we did it with this watch and we did it, of course, for the Grande Complication. But it’s something which we usually wouldn’t do because that is what I meant by over-the-top. So, you have a very, very contemporary-looking watch and then an escapement within, which we had stopped utilizing about a hundred years ago.

“With the 1815, we did it completely differently. We wanted to almost mirror a pocket watch, you know one of the showcase pocket watches that you can find at the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon in Dresden, and you think: Jesus! That’s almost too beautiful to use.

“And of course, if that is the target, if that is what we aim for, then the 1815 family automatically comes into play, because the 1815 collection is what we regard as the modern interpretation of a pocket watch but around the wrist.”

When you think about the intricate engraving and enamel work done on the dial and hunter caseback cover of the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst, and the relief and tremblage work done on its caliber L101.1, this watch, too, can be said to be “too beautiful to use”. Much like the showcase pocket watches  Mr. Schmid speaks of.

Because craft is such an important strand in the DNA of A. Lange & Söhne, it’s absolutely imperative that the maison takes time to break away from its everyday practices and its own bounds of practical limitations to push itself past ever new horizons. In doing so, A. Lange & Söhne, thus far, has given us six opulent examples of what the Glashütte-based manufacture is capable of when no holds are barred.

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