Hands On With The Unique Piece A. Lange & Söhne Homage To Walter Lange In Stainless Steel: Tribute Through Charity
In December of 2017, our friends at A. Lange & Söhne surprised and intrigued the collector world by introducing a most unusual watch in memory of the firm’s beloved patriarch, the late Walter Lange.
I say “intrigued” rather than “delighted” because at first there was some question about the specific displays utilized on the watch: a large central dead-second hand that can be started and stopped with a pusher but not reset to zero accompanied by a conventional running seconds indication on a subdial.
Why this particular combination? The answer of course lay in the desires of Herr Walter Lange himself, who for many years had advocated to A. Lange & Söhne’s product development team to create a watch with this specific combination, based on the nineteenth-century Lange pocket watches that included the stoppable jumping second mechanism developed by Ferdinand Adolph Lange himself and first included in a watch design by Walter Lange’s grandfather Emil.
At SIHH 2017 on the evening of Walter Lange’s passing, product development head Tony de Haas told us that finally, after many years of lobbying, the team did in fact develop a jumping-second watch based on modern watchmaking techniques, 2016’s Richard Lange Jumping Seconds. When this watch was first shown with considerable pride to Walter Lange his reaction was reportedly, “But that’s not my grandfather’s jumping seconds!”
Very soon after SIHH 2017, the Lange team took on a monumental challenge: developing, from scratch, a watch based on the original 1877 Lange patent just as Walter Lange had wished and in a period of less than a year.
At SIHH 2018 we saw the marvelous result: a watch to be made in limited editions of 145 pieces in white gold, 90 in pink gold, 27 in yellow gold (the case color preferred by Walter Lange himself); and a solitary piece in stainless steel with black enamel dial to be sold at auction by Phillips in May of 2018 to the highest bidder for the benefit of charity.
The weekend before the auction, I had the opportunity to join a group of collectors in New York City for an intimate gathering with A. Lange & Söhne and Phillips executives to see and hear more about the watch and the upcoming auction, then the chance the following day to set up my light tent for a formal photo shoot with the Homage to Walter Lange unique piece and some other watches with connections to Walter Lange.
What to do with a unique piece
Of course, the production of a stainless steel watch by Lange is a rare phenomenon: over the years we’ve seen a small number of Lange 1s in steel with white and (even rarer) black dials, a steel Double Split, and even a Pour le Mérite tourbillon in steel (see The Mythical Stainless Steel A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite).
As with most leading brands, A. Lange & Söhne is assailed with requests from loyal collectors for allocations of its limited-edition pieces, and upon deciding to make only one steel example of this watch the brand might have been expected to allocate it to a favored customer. Well before the announcement of the Homage to Walter Lange, however, brand president Wilhelm Schmid told me to be on the lookout for something special: a highly desirable watch that would be openly available to anyone with an interest, both providing access to enthusiast collectors who may not yet be major A. Lange & Söhne collectors and at the same time ensuring fairness.
It will be interesting to see whether future special pieces from A. Lange & Söhne will also be made available to the market through open auction; Schmid hinted at this during our New York collectors’ dinner, and it will be interesting to see whether it actually comes to pass.
The watch itself
At dinner, A. Lange & Söhne had thoughtfully set up a small viewing table with a watchmaker’s light to allow clear viewing of the unique steel Homage watch, and in person the piece really impresses. I should mention that the watch that we handled (and that I photographed on the following day) is a prototype that will be shown through the time of the May 13 auction in Geneva.
That watch will then be retired permanently, and the high bidder will receive a freshly made and untouched new piece. This is the same practice that Patek Philippe follows with its Only Watch offerings, and I quite like it. After all, a global tour during which dozens if not hundreds of viewers handle your new watch before you get it in hand is sure to take a bit of the new-watch glow from it.
As you’d expect, the watch feels light, but not overly so – A. Lange & Söhne is proud of its reputation for robustness, and to me this piece didn’t feel any lighter than a platinum F.P. Journe watch, for example. At 40.5 mm in diameter it is not a small watch, but the black face and generous bezel make the watch wear a bit smaller – certainly a much tidier size than the Double Split!
The black enamel dial is in three sections with a clearly demarcated seconds subdial and slightly domed round central dial section that does a nice job of catching the light. Under high magnification there were some small blemishes visible in the enamel, but that’s to be expected in a prototype and I expect that the enamel work on the finished watch will be as gloriously glossy as that on the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst that was on the wrist of my dinner partner.
Another collector pointed out that even in the relative darkness of the restaurant, the hands on the Homage watch were always visible and the time easily readable. I’m not sure how A. Lange & Söhne did it, but once I was looking for it I did notice that regardless of the lighting conditions I found the watch easier to read than many other black-dialed pieces I’ve worn.
Into the tent
On Saturday morning at Phillips, I had the opportunity to set up my light tent on a corner table and catch some more practiced shots of the unique Homage watch. And it was in this more neutral light that the watch, and in particular its movement, had the opportunity to shine even more brightly.
Caliber L1924 (designated in honor of Walter Lange’s birth year) is just marvelous to look at, with the jumping seconds mechanism clearly on display above the level of the three-quarter plate, finishing features including double snailing on the ratchet wheel, and what to my eye looked to be narrower-than-usual Glashütte ribbing on the plates and bridges. It’s not that often that a watch movement “pops” in front of my lens without a lot of jiggering of the watch, lights, and camera but finding angles at which Caliber L1924 looked great was child’s play.
While I was shooting, I took the opportunity to introduce two other watches that are associated with Walter Lange. The first was a friend’s 1815 Up/Down from 2005 with his signature engraved inside of its officer case back, one of 50 made in pink gold (there were also limited editions of 50 each in yellow and white gold).
As the tale is told, Walter Lange was actually quite displeased to see a tribute to him in the form of his signature on a watch and dictated that future efforts be directed toward the mechanical aspects of A. Lange & Söhne watches – one major reason why no signature or inscription of Walter Lange’s name appears on the Homage watch.
The final piece that I introduced to the mix was my Pour le Mérite Tourbillon in yellow gold, a piece that I bought in 2016 primarily because of its close association with Walter Lange (see Why I Bought It: A. Lange & Söhne Pour Le Mérite Tourbillon). While both are members of the 1815 family and utilize similar design codes for the numerals and indices, for instance, the newer watch is to me considerably more contemporary in look than the vintage appearance of the Pour le Mérite, and they make quite a pair when seen together.
All I was missing was a watch I’ve never seen, and never may see: the unique eightieth birthday watch with engraved case back awarded to Walter Lange by his A. Lange & Söhne colleagues.
Tribute through charity
So how do you pay tribute to a great man with a watch when you can’t put his name on it? As we all know by now, the answer is to sell a unique example of that watch for the benefit of a cause that is near and dear to the honoree’s heart: in Walter Lange’s case, the wellbeing of children.
Walter Lange took an active interest in the development of youth throughout his later years and to the very end of his career; the last event he attended during his life was with junior A. Lange & Söhne employees. His encouragement of younger A. Lange & Söhne watchmakers is a core element of brand folklore.
Children Action, the charity selected to receive the proceeds from the auction of the unique Homage watch, is a Swiss organization with global reach that helps children in multiple ways, from conducting surgical missions in Cameroon to improving children’s nutrition in Vietnam to fighting the plague of youth suicides that is the largest cause of death among young people in Switzerland.
All of the administrative costs of Children Action are paid by its founder, so 100 percent of the amount paid by the winning bidder will go directly to helping children in need through Children Action’s surgical programs around the world.
What will the result be?
I suppose that we will need to wait for the conclusion of the auction to find out!
The lot (number 233 at Phillips Geneva on May 13) is offered without reserve, so theoretically a single bidder could walk away with it for a single Swiss franc, but that’s not going to happen of course. I think it is more likely that the benchmark is the pair of Lange 1s in steel that sold in 2016 for CHF 143,750 (white dial) and $233,000 (black dial), although neither one of those pieces was unique – there are perhaps 20 white-dialed examples and three in black.
If the spirit moves two or more charitably minded bidders to go for it, the next step up is the mark set in 2013 by the unique Double Split in steel at CHF 461,000 – against an estimate of CHF 120,000 to 180,000 prior to the auction.
We were told that there will be an additional “surprise” to be announced at the auction itself as a premium for the winning bidder, so depending on what that is the final realized price for the Homage watch could be quite surprising as well. I will certainly be online and actively interested in the outcome and hope that our readers will bid early and often!
For more information, please visit www.phillips.com/detail/LANGE–SOHNE/CH080118/233.
Quick Facts: A. Lange & Söhne Homage to Walter Lange unique piece
Case: stainless steel, 40.5 mm
Dial and hands: three-level fired black enamel dial with railway-track minute scale and polished hands
Movement: manually winding Caliber L1924
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; central jumping seconds with stop function
Limitation: unique piece
Price: to be auctioned at Phillips Geneva, May 13, 2018 without reserve
Production year: 2018