A. Lange & Söhne: From Dresden To Madison Avenue
In today’s focus on creation and creativity, it is sometimes easy to forget that it is at least equally as important to be able to sell a beautiful watch as it is to make one.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange (1815-1875) was a man of many talents. Not only was he an inventive watchmaker, he was a gifted entrepreneur as well, founding his own factory, initially called A. Lange & Comp., in Glashütte on December 7, 1845.
In a nutshell, Lange had been casting around for the right place to establish a watch factory and settled on Glashütte – located about 40 kilometers away from Dresden. His foremost reason for selecting Glashütte was to bring work and affluence to a region in need of an industry, and, despite all the red tape involved, he was able to get the backing of the Saxon government.
Lange not only founded a factory making a quality product that would bear his, and his descendents’, name right up to the present day, but he also founded an entire watchmaking industry in the region that still thrives today.
In fact, thirty years after Lange’s founding, the watch industry was already supporting one-fifth of the Muglitz Valley’s population. Today it is certainly much higher than that.
1844 in Dresden
Lange was born, bred and educated in Dresden. He attended the city’s technical trade school, where he came into contact with the Gutkaes family, eventually apprenticing to Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, who was at the time the head keeper of the timing instruments of the Mathematics Physics Salon – the royal cabinet of mathematical and physical instruments, which also kept Saxony’s official time – and later watchmaker to Saxony’s royal court.
Lange returned to Dresden in 1841 from his journeyman years in Paris and Switzerland to become co-owner of Gutkaes’ business. He sealed the relationship by marrying Antonia Gutkaes in 1842, thereby becoming Gutkaes’ son-in-law
By 1844, Lange and Gustav Bernhard Gutkaes – Lange’s brother-in-law – ran the retail outfit in Dresden, which was responsible for selling the output of the Gutkaes-Lange company. This shop was located just around the corner from today’s A. Lange & Söhne boutique at Töpferstrasse 8, in Dresden’s city center.
Back in Lange and Gutkaes’ day, this street was called Töpfergasse (“lane” in the style of the day as opposed to “street” in the modern sense).
Perhaps it was his travels through Europe as a journeyman, where he had the opportunity to see how other watchmakers in cities such as Paris lived and worked, or perhaps it was his apprenticeship and intimate involvement with the Gutkaes family that lent him the innate understanding needed to implement successful sales and marketing techniques. Most likely though, it was a mixture of the two combined with Lange’s natural business sense.
Either way, Lange’s business ideas flourished. And it is important to note that he understood this, even if we don’t often stop to think about it often: for a watch manufacture selling watches is just as important as making them, because if you do not sell, you will have no money to make. Both competences are essential for success.
And this is something that both the historical and the modern A. Lange & Söhne incarnations have well grasped.
A modern retail location
In July of 2007, the resuscitated A. Lange & Söhne – the brand was expropriated by the East German government in 1948 and “rebooted” in a united Germany in 1990 – opened its first modern retail location just steps away from the position of the original store.
This simultaneously marked the advent of A. Lange & Söhne’s first monobrand boutique in the modern sense. Only a handful of boutiques have followed, as the brand believes in a healthy balance between retail partners and brand-building boutique presences in major cities.
Following Dresden, A. Lange & Söhne has opened its own stores in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Munich, Paris, Lisbon, Moscow, Palm Beach (Florida) and Dubai. Yet to come is a presence in Miami.
And on September 24, 2014 the brand celebrates the opening of its own store in New York City.
785 Madison Avenue
As an American ex-pat living in Germany, I do feel like I have one foot on each continent. Both Germany and the United States are places I call home. Therefore, I personally feel a certain sense of pride in A. Lange & Söhne opening such a grandiose store in such a commercially important location: New York City’s Madison Avenue now plays host to Germany’s finest timepieces.
And what a location! Watch lovers visiting from all over the world will have the opportunity to learn more about Saxony’s art of horology across more than 260 square meters (2,565 square feet) of space on two floors, which includes a watchmaker’s workstation and a small library, making it easy to read up on the history of Saxon horology.
In addition to A. Lange & Söhne’s two (soon to be three) monobrand boutique presences in the United States, there are 18 authorized retailers including Wempe and Cellini in New York City; the latter were among the very first retail partners of the revitalized brand from 1994.
Worldwide, A. Lange & Söhne is available at 260 points of sale. You can find them all at www.alange-soehne.com/retailers-and-boutiques/#boutiques.
The German word Handwerkskunst means “the art of craftsmanship,” which makes it an excellent name for a special collection.
The premise of the Handwerkskunst line is to take the artistic finishing found within A. Lange & Söhne’s movements (engraving and other crafts) to the outside of the watch to embellish its appearance.
The Handwerkskunst watches that the brand has brought out to date have mainly been in honor of certain boutique openings. I had the pleasure of witnessing the introduction of the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst at the opening of the Dubai boutique inside the Dubai Mall in September 2012.
The Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst is housed in a 41.9 mm platinum case and limited to just 30 pieces. It boasts a hand-engraved case back, a hand-engraved balance cock (in the more difficult relief technique as opposed to the regular line engraving of the regular collection), and a white gold, black rhodium-plated dial engraved in the rare tremblage technique. The latter is created by multidirectional movements of the engraving tool to produce a sort of large grainage effect. It takes an engraver a full day to create just one using this technique.
Additionally, the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst’s Caliber L043.4 contains something very special: a vintage-style Glashütte lever escapement crafted in hardened 18-karat gold.
At the time, CEO Wilhelm Schmid explained, “This [escapement] was Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s invention and he used gold to make it because in 1850 anti-magnetic steel alloys were hard to come by.”
According to A. Lange & Söhne’s technicians, this style of lever escapement is as reliable as the ubiquitous Swiss lever escapement. The main reason it is no longer used is the difficulty of correctly positioning the pallets, which are slightly curved to reduce friction. The movement also contains a gold escape wheel, just as Ferdinand Adolph Lange would have utilized in his day.
Though I have no idea if there will be a new Handwerkskunst model to celebrate the opening of the New York City boutique (but I certainly hope there is!), I do know that looking back at history helps us to understand the future better. And after taking a special journey to Dresden’s Töpferstrasse to see, feel and hear about retail in Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s day, I am convinced that the new Madison Avenue location can only add to the legacy of the legendary reborn brand that is A. Lange & Söhne.
For more information, please visit www.alange-soehne.com/home.
For more on the Madison Avenue boutique (with lots of photos), please check out Hodinkee’s Photo Report: Inside The New A. Lange & Söhne Boutique In NYC.