REVIEW: Lange & Söhne "Grande complication No 42500"

Richard Watkins

NAWCC Fellow
May 2, 2004
96 pp, ill, 2010, Glashütte: Lange & Söhne

Ten sections: Grande complication (24 pages, where perfect craftsmanship is combined with the beauty of an idea - a gallery); What is “irreplaceable” worth? (2 pages, an interview with auctioneer Stefan Muser about the value of the 42500 pocket watch); Fantastically rich (36 pages, restoration of the 42500 - timeline of an adventure); Anatomy of a treasure (2 pages, a journey into the inner workings of the movement); The functioning of the perpetual calendar (2 pages); The functioning of the chronograph (6 pages); The functioning of the striking mechanism (8 pages pages); Great art (2 pages, the grande complication in the history of watchmaking); Devine handiwork (10 pages, about engravings by A. Lange & Söhne and the designs of Professor Graff); and A lot of money (1 page, the value of money in 1902).

The grande complication, serial number 42500, was made in 1902. It includes a perpetual calendar with moon phases, split seconds chronograph (with jumping one-fifth seconds and 60-minute displays, and separate barrel), quarter-hour striking (also with a separate barrel) and minute repeater. The watch was then “lost” to reappear in 2001, rusty, incomplete and partially destroyed. Lange then invested some 5000 hours over 5 years to restore it.

The book begins with an extensive and excellent photo gallery showing the restored watch. Some concrete information is given in the captions, some of which will only make sense to the knowledgeable reader. This is followed by the predictable comments of an auctioneer on the probable value of the watch.

In the third section (“Fantastically rich”) Jan Sliva provides a history of how the watch came to Lange in 2001, the problems and questions raised when considering restoration, his experiences disassembling the movement, and how components were restored or remade. A few sentences are obscure, as when he refers to the “dragging counter-hand wheel” without explaining what it is, and there are a couple of annoying and unnecessary errors, such as describing a mainspring as a gong. But it is a fascinating account. (Other strange terminology appears elsewhere in the book, and I presume this results from using a translator not sufficiently familiar with horology, unfortunately too common.)

The following technical description of the perpetual calendar is quite good. However, that of the chronograph is much more difficult to understand. In part this is because photographs of the mechanism are used whereas drawings showing the various positions of the pieces and their interactions are needed. The striking and repeater mechanisms are, naturally, even more difficult to comprehend. This part of the book is weak. It would have been better to either gloss over the mechanisms or devote many more pages to them and so explain them more fully.

The remaining three short sections are a very brief history of complications (too superficial), an interview with Lange’s head engraver about Graff, the probable designer of the case (interesting) and a comparison of what could be bought for 5,600 marks in 1902 (trivia).

The book is worth reading for the description of the restoration, and some information on the mechanisms can be gleaned from the technical notes.

[Remark] At the time of writing I found no information on what has happened to the watch; certainly it has not been sold at auction. So who now owns it? And who paid for the restoration?

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
Sep 23, 2001
The book has never been published comercially, it was a PR piece by Glasshuette distributed to the press and to its licenced retailers as a giveaway to prefered customers. See also the synopsis of the book as published in the Horologica section (page 81) of the January 2013 NAWCC Bulletin. Unfortunately a grat horologogy book that has NOT been released commerically.

As soon as I get back home again I will also post the full text of my review here. as well

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
Sep 23, 2001
A Supercomplicated German Pocket Watch Restored
Bookreview and Synopsis

A.Lange & Söhne Grande Complication No. 42 500. By Arnd Einhorn (Publisher), Christoph Scheuring, Joerg Wischmann (Photography). Published 2010 by Lange Uhren GmbH, Glashutte i.S (Germany). No ISBN. 96 pages, hardcover, 27 cm x 22cm. English language edition (also published in German). Book not commercially distributed. Members may borrow the book from the NAWCC Lending Library in Columbia PA.

The firm of A. Lange & Söhne, in the German watchmaking town of Glashutte in Sachsen, was near the peak of their reputation, the best known and most prestigious watch manufacturer in the country at the turn to the 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century, when in 1902 they undertook to make a watch, their serial number 42’500, incorporating most known complications: hours and minutes, perpetual calendar with moon display, a slit second chronograph with fly-back, and jumping 1/5 of second display, minute repeater (striking on 2 gongs). It turned out to be a onetime effort, never attempted again. No.42’500 was sold in Vienna, Austria in 1902 and was never seen or of heard again for 99 years.

By that time the Lange brand had survived two world wars and decades of communist rule and was re-emerging as a high grade watch manufacturer. And on 20 September 2001 the long lost masterpiece was dropped of at the factory workshop, enquiring if it was ‘worth repairing”? Much of the watch was in very bad shape. While the gold case and the enamel dial had stood up well to time, the movement was a different story: “Where there would normally be a complex, delicate mesh of bridges, springs and wheels there was nothing but a grey-brown amorphous mass of dust, gummy oil and blossoming rust, hardened into a ugly lump.”

[Note: The images are rough scans from the book. If this is accepted for publication the publications staff should try to get original high res images from the publisher. The ‘before image is on pages 30/31 of the book. The ‘after’ image on pages 14/15]
Before restoration

What had happened? In the 1930s the watch, broken and inoperable at the time, was given by its owner as a recognition, “… but at least it’s still worth the value of the gold”, to their young housekeeper who stored it in her basement for many decades. The Lange firm acquired the wreck from the former housekeeper and decided to restore it to its original glory.

The book under review is a book length, detailed documentation of both the restored watch and the restoration process, led by Jan Silva, the head of their repair department for historic pieces. The effort took over 5000 working hours, or approximately four men years of highly skilled work.

The first section of the book (Pages 4 to 27) is essentially a photo documentation, with very little text, of the restored watch. The second section (pages 30 to 65) is the torough and well illustrated restoration report. The third section (pages 66 to 83) is a detailed description of the various functions of the watch. The book ends with a short essay on the history of Grand Complication watches by Dr. Peter Plassmeyer, Curator of Horology at the Mathematish Physikalisher Salon in Dresden..

After restoration

The book is a fascinating testimony of what is technically feasible when restoring a timekeeper if cost is no consideration, but also a statement of how much todays luxury watch brands are willing (and able) to spend to support their corporate patrimony.
Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ -- (September 2011)


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