The watch industry lost one of its acknowledged giants earlier this year when Walter Lange — great-grandson of A. Lange & Söhne founder Ferdinand Adolphe Lange and the man credited with bringing high watchmaking back to Germany — passed away on January 17, the second day of SIHH 2017. Fittingly, at the upcoming SIHH 2018, the watch brand that Walter Lange resurrected in the wake of German reunification will pay tribute to him in a way he would likely have appreciated — with the 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange” timepiece, which features a modern version of a 150-year-old horological invention conceived by his great-grandfather.
The featured complication in the “Homage” timepieces is a stoppable, jumping sweep-seconds hand, an innovation that Ferdinand Adolphe Lange developed in 1876. Further advanced by F.A. Lange’s older son, Richard, it received one of Germany’s very first patents one year later, in 1877. The mechanism, which is referred to in the patent as a “one-second movement with a jumping hand,” was first implemented in a pocketwatch by Ferdinand’s second son (and Walter’s grandfather), Emil, shortly thereafter. Those watches, of which more than 300 were made, featured a subsidiary subdial for the jumping sweep seconds, a design also used in the contemporary wristwatches.
What makes this function so special, and so rare in mechanical watches? Simply put, depending on a movement’s balance frequency, the seconds hand takes five to ten tiny steps to advance from second to second, thus appearing to the naked eye that it is making a continuous sweep around the dial. In a jumping seconds movement, however, the second increments are divided into coherent units of time, with the hand making just one discernible jump each second, thus allowing for more precise measurements of short periods when the hand is stopped.
The “Homage to Walter Lange” watch, in fact, offers both types of seconds displays. The blued small seconds hand in the 6 o’clock subdial takes six steps to go from second to second for a smooth, traditional display, while the central sweep seconds hand performs precise one-second jumps and can be stopped by the press of a pusher at 7 o’clock in order to read elapsed times under one minute on its outer railway-track scale — somewhat in the manner of a chronograph, only more subtle and elegant.
The newly developed, in-house movement that provides this functionality has been dubbed Caliber L1924, with the numeric designation referencing Walter Lange’s birth year. Like the historical pocketwatch movements that inspired it, it controls its seconds jumps with a “flirt-and-start” mechanism that operates thusly: after each full second, one of six tips on a star-shaped wheel frees the tensioned lever arm — watchmakers refer to it as the “flirt” — which then swiftly rotates by 360 degrees before being halted again by the next tip. This motion sequence causes the seconds hand to advance one marker at a time. Meanwhile, the ratchet wheel located above the three-quarter plate has a dual function, storing the power needed for the seconds jump, and at the same time stopping the sweep seconds hand.
Ticking inside the 40.5-mm case, and under the solid silver argenté dial, the manually winding Caliber L1924 features the traditional elements and decorative flourishes associated with Saxon watchmaking, including plates and bridges made of untreated German silver, a hand-engraved balance cock, screwed gold chatons, and Glashütte wave finishing. Made up of 253 components, including 36 jewels and Lange’s own in-house-manufactured hairspring, the movement offers a power reserve of 60 hours and is visible through a clear caseback.
The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange” is available in three gold-cased versions, each with hand-stitched alligator straps with case-matching gold buckles, and each in limited edition numbers that reference milestones in the life of Walter Lange and in the history of A. Lange & Söhne. The yellow-gold watch is limited to 27 pieces, referencing the 27 years between the 1990 relaunch of the brand and the unveiling of this tribute watch. The rose-gold watch is limited to 90 pieces, another reference to the seminal year of 1990. The white-gold watch is limited to 145 pieces, for the 145 years that elapsed between 1845, when F.A. Lange founded the brand, and 1990, when his great-grandson resurrected it. In addition, Lange is offering a single piece in a stainless-steel case and a black enameled-finish silver dial, which will not be priced for retail sale but auctioned for a charitable cause, according to the company, sometime in 2018.