I once stood at a deserted intersection in Frankfurt at 2am with four random Germans. Not a car in sight. No one in sight. Did anyone jaywalk? Nein! It’s not just about following the law. It’s the belief (shared by Britain’s George Banks) that tradition, discipline and rules prevent disorder, chaos and moral disintegration. Which is why A. Lange & Söhne builds their timepieces twice. Here’s how they describe their philosophy . . .
There are two sides to immaculacy. Obviously, it is forever unattainable. Then again, some people spare no effort to gradually approach it step by little step. That, in a nutshell, is the Lange way. The watchmakers in Saxony have but one goal: the perfect timepiece.
Perfection is impossible – but it’s our only goal. So we approach it step-by-little-step – knowing we’ll never achieve it.
Sisyphus much? Instead of condemning the death-disrupting King to almost getting a boulder to the top of a hill for all eternity, Zeus should have made Sisyphus an A. Lange & Söhne watchmaker. Or at least German.
The anal retentive OCD elves at Lange have a motto: doppelt hält besser. Double-checked is better. (Better. Not best. Perfection is unmöglich.) So Lange builds a watch, checks that everything works “immaculately,” takes it apart, builds it again, checks it again, then sells it.
Hang on. If a Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, Odysseus (speaking of Greek mythology) or Lange 1 works “perfectly,” why take it apart and build it again? Surely, there’s no less chance of making a mistake the second time ’round.
A. Lange & Söhne’s website solves the mystery, using the “p” word and qualifying it (lest anyone think it attainable).
The interactions of all mechanical parts are adjusted to the highest degree of perfection. But then, the movement is taken apart again. Now, all parts are painstakingly cleaned, and many of them are lavishly decorated and polished.
Decoration and polishing is performed by highly skilled union labor. It’s enormously time consuming (especially compared to a non-unionized machine). Spending time and money decorating and polishing a defective part would be lächerlich.
Yesterday’s press release on the LANGE 1 MOON PHASE (posted below) shows how Lange’s DHB (doppelt hält besser) process stops customers from getting badly screwed (except maybe on price):
The calibre L121.3 is assembled a second time. Brand new blued steel screws replace the previously used temporary ones because they, too, just like the entire movement, must be scratch-free.
“After all, our movements are visible through the sapphire-crystal casebacks, so we want them to be immaculate,” says Tino Bobe [director of the A. Lange & Söhne manufactory].
And there you have it. Only I’m thinking this double-build thing isn’t what makes A. Lange & Söhne watches so . . . dare I say it . . . perfect. It’s the fact that the watches’ design and production involves a lot of people double checking people who double check work that’s been double-checked by other people – in the great East Germany tradition.
I also suspect A. Lange & Söhne is exploring nanotechnology. They’d love to build watches on the molecular level – knowing all-too-well that quantum mechanics will make a mockery of their pursuit of perfection.
Angsty people. Great watches.
Double-checked is better – two-fold assembly
The motion is hardly discernible with the naked eye. With great caution, the watchmaker uses narrow tweezers to grasp a golden wheel by its outer edge and wiggles it just a little bit. The loupe in front of her right eye is merely a few centimetres away from the movement.
In this situation, a deep breath would be fatal. Then, she raises her head and swaps the tweezers with a thin screwdriver to loosen the individual screws of the train bridge, a routine step. She carefully lifts the bridge out of the movement and places it on a small green apparatus. It allows her to press the bearing of the wheel deeper into the gold chaton by one hundredth of a millimetre.
“To assure precise functionality, the arbor of the wheel should neither jam nor have too much play,” says Tino Bobe, director of the A. Lange & Söhne manufactory, as he explains this step in the initial assembly of the LANGE 1 MOON PHASE. “To give it the correct endshake, the position of the bearing jewel is shifted by a minuscule amount.”
Again and again, the three-quarter plate is screwed on and off until all endshakes are optimally adjusted and perfect interaction within the wheel train is achieved. In the process, the young woman wears white finger cots that are hardly visible at first sight.
438 parts – assembled by hand
“They are indispensable,” notes the 51-year-old Dresden native who has been supervising the manufactory since 2004. “All frame parts of our watches are made of untreated German silver. It is an extremely sensitive alloy.” Every fingerprint would leave lasting traces and prevent the formation of the beautiful patina with which the metal protects itself against corrosion.
Each A. Lange & Söhne watch is assembled twice and German silver is one of the reasons for this effort. Despite all the precautions, the work involved in the numerous adjustments during initial assembly heightens the risk of damaging the material. So once the watch has been completely assembled and checked for accuracy with the timing apparatus, the watchmaker takes all 438 components apart again and places them in various small containers.
“At this point, they are cleaned,” Tino Bobe explains. In a finishing department, the three-quarter plate is decorated with Glashütte ribbing, which gives the watchmaker the time needed to mirror-polish the gold chatons.
Every work step twice – for the sake of beauty
But why this effort? “Simply put, German silver is truly beautiful. In time, it takes on a fine golden hue and impressively emphasises the Glashütte ribbing on the three-quarter plate,” Tino Bobe adds.
Beyond that, it is a particularly robust material that allows thin silhouettes, mainly where complications are involved. That is why Ferdinand Adolph Lange was already using this German silver for the frame parts of his pocket watches.Later, when all 438 parts are returned to the watchmaker’s bench, the calibre L121.3 is assembled a second time. Brand new blued steel screws replace the previously used temporary ones because they, too, just like the entire movement, must be scratch-free.
“After all, our movements are visible through the sapphire-crystal casebacks, so we want them to be immaculate,” says Tino Bobe. In the end, the finished movement of a LANGE 1 MOON PHASE will materialise on this table. Only when it has also passed the second test on the timing apparatus will it be fitted with a dial and hands in another department and then cased in pink gold.
“doppelt geprüft ist besser” should be “doppelt hält besser”. The saying does not originate from “prüfen” / checking but from “nähen” / stitching. 😉
Thanks! Fixing now.
Kudos on refraining from a “so nice they built it twice” rhyme.
I’d be mortified that the part rejection rate is so high that it was cheaper to just put the thing together before finishing the parts. That should be a dirty little secret, not a bragging point. It makes me think of the monologue on overnight engine replacement in “LeMans” except in that case the moral of the story was that the German parts worked the first time.
Having gone through the factory sales rep training, and seeing the process of these watches being put together, I can confirm the immaculate detailing that goes into these works of art. The people doing the actual construction are surprisingly young, because you have to have great eyes and very steady hands. As an immersive exercise, our team was asked to polish and set a chaton into a blank German silver plate with the blues screws, and it was a hilarious disaster, with scratches and rough sets from all ten of us. I came away with a deep appreciation for their work.
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