Watches: Resounding Discovery

  • James D. Malcolmson

When A. Lange & Söhne re-entered the world of haute horlogerie nearly 20 years ago, many of the German brand’s watchmaking techniques had been forgotten for decades. But the restoration of a badly corroded yet highly complicated pocket watch now informs the next generation of the company’s wristwatches, which is exemplified by the new A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication.

“I took the watch in my hands and realized that it was something very special,” recalls Jan Sliva, a master watchmaker for the Glashütte-based firm, who was tasked 12 years ago with restoring the pocket watch to its original condition. “Only later, after I did some research, did I realize it was indeed a unique piece.”

The serial number on the watch revealed that Sliva was in possession of the most complicated timepiece the brand had ever made—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a watchmaker. Yet the true value of the 1904 grand-complication pocket watch to A. Lange & Söhne only became apparent several years after its refurbishment, when its mechanisms provided the models for a number of the house’s recent complications, including its acoustic striking mechanisms. Many of these salvaged constructions found their way into the ambitious Grand Complication wristwatch, which A. Lange & Söhne unveiled last September

“There was no historical tradition of chiming watches in Glashütte,” says Anthony de Haas, the brand’s head of product development, who has considerable experience assembling repeaters and sonneries. “Traditionally, German companies bought repeater components from Switzerland, so we had to re-engineer many parts and base them on what we found in the old pocket watch.”

To that end, de Haas and the A. Lange & Söhne product development team began experimenting with the company’s own gongs and strike mechanism—essential components that first appeared in 2011 in the Striking Time watch. The Grand Complication benefits significantly from these recent technological gains and includes both a grande and a petite sonnerie, a significant upgrade from the chiming capabilities of the historic pocket watch.

Because the original was almost completely corroded, the Grand Complication development team re-engineered the high-speed foudroyante hand originally found on the restored pocket watch, which is capable of measuring one-fifth of a second with the chronograph. “In the end,” says de Haas, “the most significant similarity between the old watch and the new is the amount of hand adjustment necessary to complete the piece. With so many functions affecting the amplitude [running energy] of the watch, a watchmaker must literally take the better part of a year testing, readjusting, and reassembling everything before it works properly.”

A. Lange & Söhne, 800.408.8147, www.alange-soehne.com