A third instalment of our selections from the Phillips HK Watch Auction XII, taking place June 5-6.
The A. Lange & Söhne story is well-known now, as one of Germany’s most prestigious brands. Its origins lie in Glashütte, a small town in the region of Saxony, not far from Dresden, a city that has been compared to Florence, Italy, for it was a similar hub of science and arts, with a beautiful architecture that drew many visitors. The war years brought considerable strife to the region though, as it was nearly destroyed in the waning years of World War II, and it would become part of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, closed off to much of the Western influences for a half century. The watchmakers and the brands that had been established in Glashütte would be absorbed into a nationalized conglomerate that produced rather plain, functional watches, until the fall of the Berlin Wall. This opened the door for the return to Glashütte of Walter Lange, a direct descendant of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who, with industrialist visionary Günter Blümlein, set about re-establishing the Lange name in Glashütte and showing the world that it was capable of rivalling the finest Swiss brands. History shows us that this is certainly mission accomplished, with today’s A. Lange & Söhne firmly ensconced in the haute horlogerie firmament.
The Lange 1 Time Zone was introduced in 2005, in a well-coordinated global launch that we would take almost for granted today, but was a technological and logistical feat at the time, echoing the horological content of the timepiece itself, with a simultaneous presentation through video links and local events across dozens of cities around the world. It takes considerable skill to make such a watch which displays a considerable amount of information on its dial, and yet keep it simple to use and easily legible. Even with the dual time displays, day / night indicators, and signature oversized date display, the Lange 1 Time Zone maintains the golden proportions which make the Lange 1 such an aesthetically balanced watch. This particular design, as shown in this special and highly limited Buenos Aires edition, stayed virtually unchanged for 15 years. Its successor was presented just last year, with some aesthetic and technical changes, but we maintain a preference for this original dial layout, which we find more readily legible with the smaller separate day / night indicators. Of course, the maison’s legendary finishing, which cuts no corners by being applied to every single component, even those that only the watchmaker who assembled the watch would ever see, is present, and it continues to ensure that Lange watches remain quite rare, especially when compared with its Swiss counterparts.
It must be said that the 60s and the 70s were an incredible period of creativity for the Swiss watch industry from the design standpoint, as it sought to differentiate itself from the quartz watches that were coming to market, particularly when it came to sports watches, as the world turned its attention to the themes of exploration and adventure. Functionality and durability became key, whether it be chronographs or diving watches, and the watchmakers stretched the limits and created watches that were unsurpassed for many years. Some of these designs have endured until today; you’d be hard pressed to come across a watch enthusiast who is not familiar with the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph or the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. However, there are many more treasures to be found from that era, such as this Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Mariner Deep Sea. It stands out as a vintage diver’s watch, and within the Jaeger-LeCoultre history, for its cushion-shaped case, giving it a distinctive profile. By today’s standard, it’s also smaller than your usual “tool watch”, with a diameter at 36.5mm, somewhat unusual even for its time, where these utilitarian timepieces were already starting to explore case sizes at 39mm and above. The inner rotating bezel also contributes to giving it a sleeker profile that belies its intended purpose as a diving watch.
Of particular interest in this piece is that it is virtually as-new, a rare find as many of these watches were worn as intended, and most of the pieces that come to auction have been restored or show significant signs of wear, and it is also rather rare, for less than 1,600 pieces were made during a four year production period. Although the maison has today chosen to focus more on its other offering from that era, the Polaris, we would argue that the Master Mariner is an important part of its history and deserves a closer look, perhaps with an eye towards a modern re-interpretation.
Richard Mille broke all the traditional rules when he launched his eponymous brand just 20 years ago. The first watch, the RM 001 Tourbillon, showed the world that the complex mechanism, usually considered rather delicate, could be implemented with a more active lifestyle in mind. His passion for classic sports cars influenced his early timepieces, as his tagline, “A racing machine on the wrist”, clearly indicates. While the tonneau design remains his most famous, Mille has ventured into a number of other shapes and also sectors beyond motorsports, as we can see with this RM 39-01 Automatic Winding Flyback Chronograph Aviation.
The rather anodyne name belies this watch’s complexity, for it’s a veritable tour-de-force to cram so much functionality within a mechanical watch, even when we consider its significant 50mm diameter. Although many of these complications are familiar, such as the flyback chronograph, they have been adapted for aviation applications. Take the chronograph’s minute counter, for example: although it is located at a familiar 9 o’clock position on the dial, the hand has been replaced by a rotating disc such that the pilot can read either elapsed or remaining minutes. The hour counter is based on 24 hours, which correlates with the UTC display. Inadvertent activation of the pushers or crown can be prevented through the oversized locking mechanism, not only clearly visible, but also easily operated even when wearing flight gloves. The automatic winding is assured through a key innovation from Richard Mille, the variable geometry rotor, which can be adjusted to ensure optimum efficiency based on the wearer’s activity level. Perhaps the most important function though is the RM 39-01’s E6B circular slide rule, which facilitates the mechanical calculation of critical flight data such as fuel consumption and radius of action. Although modern flight computers are certainly capable of all these calculations and more, the E6B is still used by pilots who are familiar with its operation, and it’s required learning in flight school, as an infallible backup to the electronic tools they normally rely on (in a similar way that divers may wear a mechanical watch to supplement a dive computer). All in all, the RM 39-01 is a perfect representation of the Richard Mille ethos of crafting highly evolved technical instruments.