Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne
Angus Davies interviews Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne. The Director of Product Development at the German brand provides a fascinating insight into his background, the company’s Manufactory and some of the Lange’s ingenious models.
This detailed article about Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne includes discussion about the Dutchman’s early career, the changes to Lange’s Manufactory, staff recruitment, complications, including the TRIPLE SPLIT, and much more.
A mistake sometimes made by watch collectors when choosing a high-end timepiece is to focus solely on Swiss products. There is a German Manufacture which, by virtue of its sublime creations, stands comparison with the finest Switzerland has to offer. A. Lange & Söhne is an exemplar of haute horlogerie, familiar to ‘those in the know’.
Hand engraving a balance cock
In 1845, Ferdinand A. Lange established his ‘Manufactory’ in Glashütte, a small village in Saxony which has since become synonymous with German watchmaking. The ownership of the company passed from generation to generation.
A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte in 2015
Shortly after World War II, the brand disappeared from view. In 1990, Walter Lange, the great-grandson of Ferdinand A. Lange, rekindled the family’s watchmaking business, ‘re-registering’ the ‘A. Lange & Sohne’ brand. The inaugural model, the aptly named ‘Lange 1’ soon emerged. This timepiece was not a cynical pastiche of former Lange watches, but a wholly new design with a contemporary aesthetic. However, despite the modernity of the Lange 1, it housed a three-quarter plate, a feature conceived by Ferdinand A. Lange in the 19th century.
In 2019, A. Lange & Söhne will commemorate 25 years since the unveiling of the Lange 1. However, despite the importance of the Lange 1 to the company, the German brand has not relied solely on the iconic status of its initial model. Lange has repeatedly created new timepieces that elicit admiring glances courtesy of handsome aesthetics and, in some cases, technical complexity. One of the key figures at A. Lange & Söhne, partly responsible for developing the company’s impressive product portfolio, is Anthony de Haas.
The opportunity to learn more about Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne and gain an insight into the man and his work proved an exciting prospect for this self-confessed Lange fan. Anthony is the ‘Director Product Development at A. Lange & Söhne’.
Interview with Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne (AH) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: Can you provide a quick overview of your watchmaking career, starting with your time as a student of horology?
AH: At an early age, I decided that my future profession should encompass fine mechanics, this ultimately led me into the watch industry. After studies in micromechanics and watchmaking, I worked with Seiko in the Netherlands and later with IWC in Switzerland, as well as high-end movement supplier Renaud & Papi where I was Head of the Grandes Sonneries Department and, later on, responsible for sales. Since 2004, I have been Director of Product Development at A. Lange & Söhne.
AD: Last year I visited your atelier in Glashütte. I was surprised how the production areas had changed from my previous visit. Did you have much input into the design of the new buildings? And, have your staff had much to say about their improved working conditions?
AH: The idea behind the new building was to create the best possible working conditions and to optimise production processes in a virtually dust-free environment. For this to succeed we worked closely with the architects from the very early design stage.
AD: Another thing I noticed when I toured your Manufactory was that the workforce comprises of not only German watchmakers but citizens from Holland, Sweden, USA etc. What is it about Lange or Glashütte that attracts these individuals?
AH: For young watchmakers who want to have a successful career in haute horlogerie, A. Lange & Söhne offers attractive opportunities to prove their skills at a very high level. For watchmakers from other EU countries, the free movement of workers is a major advantage compared to Switzerland.
AD: The A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication is the most complicated watch you have ever made and commands a price of nearly two million euros. While I accept that your watches are a team effort, someone has to have the initial idea. Was that person you? If so, where did your inspiration come from?
AH: At Lange, ideas don’t belong to anyone, they are the result of a team process. The technical highlights of the Grand Complication are inspired by A. Lange & Söhne’s tradition of inventing, something which took the company to new levels in the late 19th and early 20th century. The most prominent and sophisticated example of this era was the one-of-a-kind pocket watch No. 42500, which was rediscovered in 2001 and eventually restored at our premises. The know-how acquired during the restoration provided valuable insights and sparked many new impulses.
A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication
AD: Clearly, the Grand Complication is an incredible feat of watchmaking. How do you surpass this exemplar of haute horlogerie?
AH: In specific areas, we already have. Take the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, for example, or the Triple Split. The first chiming wristwatch to combine exactly jumping numerals with a decimal minute repeater and the first split-seconds chronograph that allows measuring lap times for up to 12 hours are unprecedented solutions that set new benchmarks in the league of complications.
A. Lange & Söhne Striking Time (above) and its movement, Calibre L043.2 (below)
AD: A. Lange & Söhne has created numerous watches endowed with a variety of complications. In several instances you have created some watches that combine several complications in one watch. Are there any complications or combination of complications that you would like to explore in the future? Can you discuss this!
AH: I’d love to, but I can’t – it would be a spoiler alert. Lange’s strength lies in the ability to explore new avenues in the field of horological complications. In this respect, SIHH has always been good for surprises and the next one will live up to the expectations of our fans.
AD: When some lesser brands design a watch, the layout is strongly influenced by the third-party movement they use. In the case of A. Lange & Söhne, you are a Manufacture, designing and making your own movements. How much does this freedom influence the design of your new watches and does a new model invariably mean a new movement is needed?
AH: Product and calibre designers work hand in hand which gives the greatest possible freedom to reconcile technical ideas with aesthetic ideals. Let me return once again to the Triple Split as the most recent example. To provide more space for the rattrapante hour counter in the upper part of the dial we decided to move the power-reserve indicator down to the 6 o’clock position and integrate the additional components without the movement growing in height.
A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split
AD: Do you personally design the watches? If so, what inspires your ideas e.g. architecture, aviation, furniture?
AH: We have a small in-house team of product designers who work under my supervision. Our sources of inspiration are as diverse as in any other creative unit. Our main strength as a team is that we draw our ideas from a wide range of areas like architecture, watchmaking history, car design, science, metallurgy, art and music.
A. Lange & Söhne Head of Design – Martin Schetter
AD: How far ahead do you work in terms of design and product development? For example, are you currently working on the novelties for SIHH 2021?
AH: On average, it takes four to five years to develop a timepiece with a new calibre. So, yes, we are working on novelties for 2021 and beyond.
AD: The chronograph is one of my favourite genres of watch. However, because several mass-produced chronographs are available for modest sums, I believe some of the watch buying public do not always fully appreciate the complexity of a high-end, fully-integrated chronograph. For the benefit of our readers, could you state how long it usually takes for a newly qualified watchmaker to progress onto working with chronographs? Furthermore, a chronograph movement, like all your movements, will be assembled, tested, disassembled, reassembled and tested again. I’ve probably forgotten some stages! How long does the total assembly process take?
AH: For a watchmaker, one of the biggest challenges is building the chronograph mechanism, especially if the movement includes complications such as a flyback function or a rattrapante. This is why, at A. Lange & Söhne, a team of seasoned experts is entrusted with this special discipline. One and the same watchmaker is responsible for the first and second assembly sequences. Although all movement parts are crafted with manufacturing tolerances in the range of thousandths of a millimetre, the chronograph assembly process requires the watchmaker to execute a series of individual adjustments. Even for the best of them it will take a few days until everything is perfectly harmonised. After the second assembly, the watchmaker again performs a full check-up of the movement. This requires using a microscope to verify the mesh of all levers and wheels – for instance, between the clutch and the chronograph wheel – and making final adjustments. Additionally, the watchmaker tests all the switching processes to guarantee functional reliability and to ensure that the future owner will derive long-lasting pleasure from his watch.
Calibre L951.5 – used in A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph
AD: My favourite A. Lange & Söhne timepiece is the Zeitwerk. Where did the inspiration for this model come from?
AH: Many attempts have been made to develop the perfect mechanical digital watch. But none of them produced an easily legible and dependable timepiece. So, we decided to explore new options. We knew that we didn’t want displays with continuously rotating numeral discs or tiny numerals in a vertical configuration. The question was: “Can the principles of a mechanical watch and a modern time indication format be persuasively combined?” The answer was the Zeitwerk with exactly jumping big numerals arranged horizontally by means of three separate discs. The main technical highlight is the constant-force escapement which controls the enormous power of the mainspring barrel and advances the numeral discs.
AD: I always perceive A. Lange & Söhne as a high-end watch company, making contemporary timepieces imbued with traditional craftsmanship. Could you ever envisage using silicon escape wheels, hairsprings and pallet levers? In addition, would you ever utilise techniques such as LIGA for the creation of intricate parts?
AH: Technical progress has many facets. We have, for instance, moved with scientific advances in the fields of case materials and technical coatings, by using tempered honey gold, semi-transparent sapphire-crystal dials and moon-disc coatings that rely on the principle of light interference. As for the movement parts, sustainability and longevity are at the top of our agenda. This means that our movements should still be repairable in 30 or 50 years time. Therefore, we prefer to concentrate on driving the development of mechanical design. For instance, there is hardly any other watch company that has dealt as intensely and exclusively with constant-force mechanisms. A. Lange & Söhne has presented different examples of such devices, ensuring the highest possible rate of rate accuracy.
AD: Your company is noted for its efforts in nurturing watchmaking talent from around the world with its F.A. Lange Scholarship & Watchmaking Award. Has this activity purely been philanthropic or have you also derived some additional benefits? For example, does this scheme provide a useful source of new talent for Lange?
AH: These are not mutually exclusive objectives. If there is to be a future for fine watchmaking we need to promote new talent. This is why we established the Lange Watchmaking School more than 20 years ago. The competition, which has recently been renamed to Walter Lange Watchmaking Excellence Award, complements our approach by reaching out to the best watchmaking schools and up-and-coming watchmakers on an international level. It has proven to be rewarding for both the company and the participants, who become acquainted with our understanding of fine watchmaking and get the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.
A. Lange & Söhne Watchmaking Award 2011
Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne is a remarkable watchmaking talent. Prior to this interview I did not know that he had worked at Renaud & Papi. This company, based in Le Locle, has proved a cradle of learning. It is here where some of the finest watchmakers, including Andreas Strehler, Tim and Bart Grönefeld, Stephen Forsey, Robert Greubel and Peter Speake-Marin, spent their early years honing their skills. The fact that Anthony de Haas was Head of the Grandes Sonneries Department, arguably the most challenging of complications, further illustrates his watchmaking prowess.
The state of the art Manufactory provides the ideal working conditions for Lange’s workforce which, in turn, has a positive influence on the products the company makes. Furthermore, the dust-free environment mitigates the risk of product contamination. Despite the expansion of the company’s facilities, productivity is unlikely to grow exponentially. The protracted, uncompromising creation of each Lange timepiece precludes mass production.
Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne clearly understands that for the German firm to continue to flourish, traditional watchmaking skills need to be respected and, in terms of the future, new talent must be nurtured. The Walter Lange Watchmaking Excellence Award has a global reach and promotes watchmaking as a career to ‘up-and-coming’ talent. Lange’s impressive working conditions and the ability for EU citizens to easily relocate to Saxony are two key attractions for young watchmakers making Glashütte their home.
There is another reason why said individuals, possessing natural aptitude and skill, choose to work at A. Lange & Söhne. The company never ceases embracing the seemingly impossible. Some of its watches encompass technical solutions few ever thought of. For example, the TRIPLE SPLIT surpasses a ‘simple rattrapante’ which is in itself a misnomer for a complication most brands choose to expediently sidestep.
My admiration for A. Lange & Söhne shows no sign of abating. Its magnificent timepieces are the product of an incredible watchmaking team, often young, but always accomplished. At the head of this technical proficiency is a remarkable man, Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne, a genius watchmaker who continuously inspires others.