LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One: Gerd-Rüdiger Lang’s Fascination Of Mechanics Continues
The two days I spent in a posh hotel on Germany’s breathtaking Tegernsee learning about the LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One were filled with all kinds of emotion.
I was filled with expectation ahead of the event, filled with nostalgia while the event was taking place, and definitely filled with some relief and excitement (as well as perhaps a little pride in the work of friends I have known for decades) when I discovered that the watch I had been longing to see fulfilled every single expectation and ticked every box I hoped it would.
Now that’s a lot of feelings to throw at you all in one paragraph, so allow me to back up and explain why all this was roiling inside of me at a watch launch. For a new brand very few other people had ever heard of until then.
Who is behind LANG 1943?
First and foremost Georg Bartkowiak, a creative designer and behind-the-scenes “maker.” You may know him as the former CEO of boutique brand Grieb & Benzinger. Bartkowiak and I live quite close to each other and share interests that go above and beyond watches. Our lives have been intertwined in a friendly way for a couple of decades now.
Bartkowiak was a big fan of the original Chronoswiss brand. And anyone who follows my social media knows that I am too. I have seen Bartkowiak’s growing friendship with Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, founder of Chronoswiss, blossoming over the last 20 years and watched how some of his watch sketches became reminiscent of Chronoswiss in its heyday. Like many of us watch fans, Bartkowiak missed these classic watches and felt there was still a place for them.
One of Bartkowiak’s notable early collaborations with Lang was the Chronoswiss Zeitzeichen, a collaborative watch that appears to still be in Chronoswiss’s catalogue even though this company has been under new ownership since 2012 (more on that below).
Bartkowiak had the idea for LANG 1943 several years ago. It took him some time to get the right partners to aid in financing and infrastructure for the venture. But once that was worked out, it was all systems go. And he’s been off like a rocket, designing and working on prototypes throughout the pandemic so that there must be hundreds of ideas on paper and in prototype dials and cases, some of which I’m sure we’ll be seeing emerge over the next few years.
The cherry on top of all of this crazy creativity is that Gerd-Rüdiger Lang agreed to become the new brand’s consultant and ambassador. Therefore, 79-year-old Lang was also present at the intimate launch event at Tegernsee – along with his wife, Antonia Lang, and Bartkowiak’s wife and three-month-old son. This was truly a family affair – and yet another example of how meaningful these people are to each other. Like family. And that really shines through, not just in the way all the partners interact with each other, but in the watches as well.
The LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One vibrates with nostalgia, a desire for perfection (in good Chronoswiss tradition!), and the honorific glory that Bartkowiak always wishes to bestow upon Lang, a watchmaker who everyone in the German watch industry not only looks up to, but venerates.
The brand’s name – LANG 1943 – is a direct homage to Lang, with 1943 being his birth year.
Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, founder of Chronoswiss
Gerd-Rüdiger Lang was also one of the first important watchmakers I met after my own entrée into the watch industry in 1991 (working for a German watch magazine at the time, it would have been nearly impossible to get around him). My own “education” in this specialized world of ticks and tocks would have been far poorer without ever having known him, that’s for certain.
I was young and inexperienced, and I’ll admit that his stoic, introverted manner at times threw me. But I learned to respect his way of doing things as I matured in watch years, and two Chronoswiss classics became my first “good” watches. One of them I still wear to this day on a regular basis, more than 20 years later.
I learned what is important for making good, solid watches from Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, who could spend hours lecturing on the exact length an hour or minute hand should be, why a certain movement was chosen to power a given watch over another, and why he prioritized the experience his customers had with his watches. The movements were always easy to have serviced, the crowns were always easily grippable and turned easily to wind and set, and one could ALWAYS see the movement on the back of the watch through a pane of sapphire crystal. Today’s ubiquitous display backs were rare in the early 1990s.
Not many people mention this anymore, but in the annals of watch history it is noted that Gerd-Rüdiger Lang was the first watchmaker to put transparent case backs on his wristwatches. At the time, he told me during the Tegernsee launch, he chose not to patent this. Instead, he left it available for other watchmakers to use in the hopes that clients could see the watchmaker’s work inside the case and become fascinated by the mechanics. On the Chronoswiss Opus – the world’s first machine-skeletonized watch – we can even see the movement from the front.
As time progressed, the transparent case back became so ubiquitous in wristwatches that people forgot who did it first, and Lang’s name is not generally remembered in conjunction with this important design element, which is a shame. But it is true. (The same might also be said of the annual calendar, which is a Patek Philippe invention.)
Every year I looked forward to the inevitable Saturday night dinner at Baselworld that Lang’s brand Chronoswiss held to celebrate the year’s new watches, a dinner whose guest list grew with each passing year until he was renting out entire restaurants and greeting guests from every corner of the world, who came to pay homage to this master of details. Even those dinners felt like family affairs despite their later size. It was always friends and “family” there.
If you were a fan of pre-2012 Chronoswiss you surely understand what I’ve written here. If you came to watches later, you might not be able to believe the influence this man’s ideals had on what has become today’s watches – it’s rarely mentioned anymore. So I’ll leave you with a personal anecdote that might illustrate how widespread his influence was during the halcyon days of Chronoswiss.
Around the same time I was getting into watches, my husband and I were starting to discover the joys of visiting vineyards on the weekends to taste and learn about wine. It remains one of our delights to this day, and one we have at times shared with Georg Bartkowiak – certainly not coincidentally as we live in Baden, a leading German wine region with sun-kissed grapes.
Germany and nearby France must have thousands of little vineyards, and to me there is hardly a better way to spend a weekend than going through a cellar with a winemaker, hearing stories, and tasting the hard-won results of meticulous efforts. Sometime in the 1990s we discovered Otmar Zang in Sommerach, a tiny producer, but one whose wines we find very agreeable. Our infrequent trips to this adorable village in Franken are always charming. Otmar has now handed his vineyard down to his son, Johannes, who has learned his father’s art of winemaking well.
We landed on Otmar’s mailing list in the 1990s and annually received a price list and cover letter in the mail. One year, I think my jaw hit the floor as I read through the cover letter: Otmar had started it out by philosophizing on the precision of watchmaking and how it relates to his winemaking, beginning with a quote from Gerd-Rüdiger Lang!
Some time later, on one of our visits to Zang’s winery, I asked Otmar whether he knew Lang. The answer was no, but that he really admired Lang’s philosophy. And so it went: just a decade after founding Chronoswiss, Lang’s influence had reached other artisanal trades, a fact whose significance never escaped me. But I digress.
Lang sold Chronoswiss in 2012 at the age of 69 after becoming one of the architects of the mechanical renaissance, enjoying the fruit of his many labors during the boom of the next years and, ensuingly, an epic economic downturn during which he had undertaken building a beautiful new factory on the outskirts of Munich. The new owners of Chronoswiss chose not to use it. They also chose not to take over the many thousands of vintage ébauches (raw movements) that Lang had bought with much foresight in the 1980s – some of which he used in special Chronoswiss watches, but the bulk of which were still stored as new old stock.
It is these vintage ébauches that now form the foundation of the new LANG 1943 watches.
Why the LANG 1943 launch watch is not a chronograph or a regulator
Aside from being a watchmaker, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang was always a collector of watches. He appreciates all kinds of timepieces, but chronographs have always been his one true love, which is reflected in his 850-piece collection of chronographs. He wrote the book on the chronograph. Literally.
Yet the LANG 1943 team chose to launch the new brand with a rejuvenated field watch design. And the reason why lies in the nature of these movements that Lang had the foresight to buy entire stores of in the 1980s at the height of the quartz crisis.
One of the rescued reserves of movements is the entire remaining stock of Marvin Caliber 700, which was made in the 1960s. Lang bought the whole inventory of these movements, only a few of which were used in limited editions of Chronoswiss watches like the Orea and the Régulateur 24 (Lang was also the first to use the regulator style in a wristwatch). Lang wanted to keep these movements for special occasions. “That was our good luck,” Bartkowiak explained of the remaining movements. “At the same time, we have also invested in their further development and executions. There will be chronographs and regulators based on this Marvin movement in the future, but that all takes time.”
I have learned that independent watchmaker Andreas Strehler is involved in the development of LANG 1943’s Marvin-based regulator, which is an excellent sign of quality as well as a nod to Lang’s past: Strehler was involved in developing the Chronoswiss Chronoscope, which was incidentally also introduced in 2009. The new regulator will probably be arriving as early as 2023. The chronograph, however, which will be integrated into the Marvin ébauche, needs about two more years. “It’s a logical watch for us to make, considering our history,” Bartkowiak added.
Bartkowiak has spent the bulk of the last couple years finding the right partners to help refurbish these manually wound movements for use in LANG 1943 watches, beginning with the 2022 field watch.
“When Rüdiger [Lang] told me he had this stock of vintage movements, I asked how many. And he answered, ‘Well, until the end of your life’,” Bartkowiak laughed. “These were only ébauches, though, so we’ve had to build and refurbish them – nightmarish work like getting the pittonage for the balance springs [very precisely positioning the stud that determines the regulating point between the curb pins]. We also had to buy ruby bearings, get the movements finished and decorated, and so on.”
“We are turning this raw gem into a sparkling diamond,” Bartkowiak explained. “Just collect the best cherries for your brand and you will have a fantastic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte [Black Forest cake]!”
And all of this work on the movements was begun during the pandemic, a truly dreadful time to work with suppliers, who have been struggling over the last two years, a situation that is still ongoing. It borders on miraculous how well things have worked out for the LANG 1943 team.
Everything about LANG 1943 is created, crafted, and manufactured in Switzerland and Germany. A lot like the way Chronoswiss used to work, but with one major difference: there is no “Swiss made” on the dial of these new watches. And that even though this watch would easily qualify to carry the label.
“Newcomers all arrive with a ‘Swiss made’ label,” said Bartkowiak. “I just don’t trust in it anymore. We only say ‘designed in Germany, made in Switzerland.’ But it’s not on the dial. I want to be a German brand and we are authentic this way: I am German, Rüdiger is German; it’s our heritage.”
The LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One
Is this the right time to bring a new brand to the market? That’s a good question. But one thing is certain: the Swiss watch industry has gone through a lot of crises, and the coming recession is probably just the next speed bump along the way. “There is certainly space for us in the market in this price range,” said Bartkowiak. “At under $4,000 with a manufacture movement and no Far Eastern parts – we are entirely German and Swiss – we have very good chances.”
Despite the recession, this new brand does have good cards: limited production, accessible pricing, comfortable unisex sizing, beautiful design, high-grade manufacturing, enthusiastic people behind it, and a pedigree that hardly any other new brand would be able to enjoy: Gerd-Rüdiger Lang as mentor and ambassador.
The Field Watch Edition One is the premier introduction. But it won’t be the last new watch we see this year: variations of the Field Watch are slated to arrive as 2022 progresses.
“Rüdiger’s birth decade is the 1940s, so we decided to bring the design of our Field Watch Edition One to a logical place: the Dirty Dozen, which has become a topic again at auction. And you’ll see that the Jaeger-LeCoultre Dirty Dozen had a huge subdial for seconds, which we used as our inspiration, transferring this cherished design of the 1940s into the 2020s. It was a long journey. And we have invested a lot in what I call the ‘Rüdiger DNA’.”
The dial of the LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One is a surprising fumé with luminous hour markers in an old radium-style color. The fumé style has experienced something of a comeback thanks to brands like H. Moser & Cie and anOrdain. Most recently, Patek Philippe released its own version of the fumé. LANG 1943’s fumé dial is different yet again from all of these – and in no way inspired by that of the Patek Philippe timepiece, which only came out at Watches and Wonders 2022. Though I would say that in a year in which Patek Philippe also releases such a dial, there is no way that LANG 1943 can go wrong.
The fumé dial finds its roots in the 1960s and 1970s, which fits perfectly with the era of this Marvin movement from the 1960s. “I started working on the dial about three years ago, thinking to bring a cherished design with a modern update. This is now our interpretation and has its own character,” explained Bartkowiak. “The behind-the-scenes work in bringing a dial like this to fruition cannot be underestimated.”
The brushed stainless steel case, which is sized to perfectly house its manufacture movement, is silky to the touch and wears like a dream. It is available in 39 mm, a size that the markets very much appreciate today due to the trendy decrease of case sizes and the ability for it to be worn ubiquitously. “We wanted more of an elegant sporty case rather than a pilot’s case,” added Bartkowiak.
The LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One comes with two straps that can be easily exchanged using a quick-release pin: one in a beige-colored woven textile and one in a naturally tanned leather with no chemicals used in the tanning process. This leads to the strap receiving a “patina” over the course of time that is unique to the wearer. The quick-release straps are lined with skin-friendly Alcantara. And they are supremely comfortable.
“Legacy is one of the things we wanted to bring to this ‘new brand with heritage’,” noted Bartkowiak. “We are a newcomer, but we are not really a startup. And the brand is built around the aura of Rüdiger, an advantage money can’t buy.”
The “fascination of mechanics” continues . . . and if you weren’t around to know what I am referring to, then know that “the fascination of mechanics” was classic Chronoswiss’s tagline. But it was also more than that. It was a way of life.
For more information, please visit lang1943.com.
Quick Facts LANG 1943 Field Watch Edition One
Case: 39 x 8.4 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Caliber L431 based on Marvin Caliber 700 from the 1960s, appx. 46-hour power reserve, 3 Hz / 21,600 vph frequency,
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds