A. Lange & Söhne Chime Time
The dynamic and creative Anthony de Haas of A. Lange & Söhne reveals the secrets behind this year’s supremely classical Richard Lange Minute Repeater
Suzanne Wong: Let’s start with this year’s highlight from A. Lange & Söhne: the Richard Lange Minute Repeater. The first question that came to mind for me was — why did you choose to follow the conventional hours-quarters-minutes sequence for the chime instead of the decimal system that you implemented in the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater? On the one hand, A. Lange & Söhne is known for its mastery of traditional techniques, but its motto “Never Stand Still” tells us that the brand is always looking towards the future. I thought the decimal minute repeater represented this spirit very well and yet…
Anthony de Haas: …and yet now we have gone completely classical! Why? Why not a decimal minute repeater in an analogue watch (because the Richard Lange is an analogue watch)? I don't know how it is in every single country, but in Holland or in Germany, if you read the time from an analogue display, you say “it’s a quarter past 11,” whereas if you read the time off the Zeitwerk, with its digital display, you say, “it’s 11:15”. With the Zeitwerk, you don't think in quarters because there's no dial which is easily divided into four sections, and that was the reason the decimal repeater was the perfect choice for the Zeitwerk. If we had put a decimal repeater in the Richard Lange, then I almost would feel a little guilty about it, so we said no and went instead with a classical and compact minute repeater.
Richard Lange Minute Repeater © A. Lange & Söhne
SW: Should we understand from what you just said that a conventional minute repeater is more compact in construction than a decimal repeater?
AH: It might not be more compact than the decimal repeater in the Zeitwerk, because we had to go very compact in that example. The Zeitwerk movement is already very technical piece with all the components required for a digital display, so we had to minimise the space to be taken up by the repeater mechanism. Nothing about the Zeitwerk is classical, so you can see that we went completely the other way for the Richard Lange Minute Repeater. You might recognise how we’ve made it in the same style that they do in the Vallée de Joux. We have the racks that fall down on the hours snail, quarters snail, minutes cam, the security system that prevents you from pulling out the crown when the racks are down and the repeater mechanism is active. The levers, the hammers and the gongs… it’s simple.
Zeitwerk Decimal Strike Honeygold © A. Lange & Söhne
SW: I see what you mean, but I’m not sure many other people would agree with your characterisation of the minute repeater as “simple”! Let’s say rather that the mechanism is straightforward for those who have studied the textbook of minute repeater construction — that the components are readily identifiable in the classical way.
AH: Yeah, it's very classical indeed. No hocus pocus. It was our goal to make a beautiful, classical minute repeater, because many of the collectors had come to us to say, “Yeah okay, the Grand Complication [with grande et petite sonnerie] is great, but it’s out of reach and the Zeitwerk is way too big for me. Why not do a classical minute repeater?” Now here we have it. That's it. And that's why we’re not going on and on, blah blah blah, innovation this and innovation that. I am not a fan of that at all. My dream when I started at A. Lange & Söhne was to bring the know-how of chiming watches here. That’s how I started the conversation. And I didn’t want to start with just a classical minute repeater, because I felt that was something we could do anytime. Our first step into the field of chiming watches was therefore the Grand Complication, an homage to our pocket watch from 1902. We started right from the top, with the most difficult feat, but the advantage of doing this is that afterwards you have enough know-how for whatever other kind of chiming watch you like.
SW: It has to be said that the quality of the chime in the Richard Lange Minute Repeater is really exceptional.
Richard Lange Minute Repeater © A. Lange & Söhne
AH: Funny story about the first prototype, we encountered a very strange phenomenon after we cased the movement. There was this strange rattling sound when the repeater was activated, and we thought, “What is this noise?” When we took the movement out of the case to try and figure it out, the rattling was gone. And you know what it was in the end? In minute repeaters that are activated by a slide, you have a long spring that returns the slide to its original position after you’ve activated it. We had constructed this spring according to the dimensions of the watch. By coincidence, it ended up being the exact dimensions and frequency that would vibrate in sympathy with the gongs as they were struck. We went crazy trying to find out what was making this rattling noise. Now that we’ve switched to a different spring, a bit thicker and shorter, it's all fine, the rattling is gone. Trust me, we were looking everywhere for the source of this rattling. "Ahh!! Where is it coming from? Where??" It was like trying to find out where the random beeping in your house is coming from, or one of those little quartz alarm clocks that are so easy to lose. It goes off and you lose your mind trying to find it.
SW: I’m so glad you guys solved it and didn’t lose your minds! You said to me yesterday that this watch is just the start of what A Lange & Söhne is going to do with chiming watches, which I’d like you to explain a little more — because most people would take it the other way, that you have now the complete set of chiming complications. But you see this as a beginning rather than as a finish.
Zeitwerk Striking Time © A. Lange & Söhne
AH: We have lots of ideas for the future when it comes to chiming watches. We have the Richard Lange Minute Repeater because we really wanted a classical repeater in our repertoire, we knew this was something that our collectors were asking for too, and yes in a sense we can say it’s done. Chiming watches — we can take it off our list of things to do. We have the Zeitwerk Striking Time, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, the Grand Complication with grande et petite sonnerie, and now the Richard Lange Minute Repeater. Not many brands have achieved this. And now A. Lange & Söhne, these strange birds from Germany, we have done it too. But you know what this means now? Now that we have all the main chiming complications, we can start to do some fun stuff. Now, we can play.
Following the vision of Ferdinand Adolph Lange to build the world’s best watches, A. Lange & Söhne strives for ultimate precision and explores new avenues in order to advance the art of fine watchmaking.Find out more >
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