Who was Ferdinand Adolph Lange?
Portrait of the Dresden-born watchmaker who in 1845 inaugurated
the first manufactory in Glashütte
18 February 2015 marks his 200th birthday. The gifted watchmaker, whose pocket timepieces are still highly coveted today, dedicated his life to the establishment of a watchmaking business in a structurally weak region and thus laid the foundation for Saxon fine watchmaking.
In May 1844, Ferdinand Adolph Lange wrote a letter to the Saxon Ministry of the Interior saying that his ambition was to perfect timekeeping instruments. The Dresden-born watchmaker planned the establishment of a modern manu- factory along the lines of what he had seen during his travels to the watchmaking centres in France, England and Switzerland. His main motivation was to create a branch of industry that would “subsequently provide thousands with sustenance and prosperity”. Ferdinand Adolph Lange was not only a well- educated individual but also a deeply religious man with a social conscience.
|The first workshop in Glashütte|
Due to a lack of aptitude, some of the young men had to be dismissed after a short trial period, but the others persevered and constituted the core of Lange’s original crew; soon thereafter, the team consisted of 30 novices. Initially, he hardly had qualified personnel, except for Adolf Schneider, who later became his brother-in-law.
Born in Dresden on 18 February 1815, the son of gunsmith Samuel Lange, Ferdinand Adolph Lange did not have his career laid out for him. His mother and father, described as a “coarsely hewn man”, separated early on. Another family gave the intelligent youngster a new home, encouraged him, and arranged to have him trained by acclaimed court clockmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes. This would soon prove to have been a wise decision. It did not take Gutkaes long to recognise not only the above-average manual skills, but also his protégé’s eagerness to excel, with a far stronger urge than was commonplace for a clockmaker in Dresden in those days.
|Excerpt from correspondence with the Saxon government|
The journeyman period
In 1837, three years after having completed his apprenticeship in Dresden, Ferdinand Adolph Lange packed his belongings, including his journey- and workbook with a recommendation by his mentor Gutkaes, and signed up in Paris with famous chronometer maker Joseph Thaddäus Winnerl, once among Abraham Louis Breguet’s finest students. In brief: the planned study trip ended up being a three-year tenure during which Lange was promoted to foreman. Ultimately, he even had to turn down Winnerl’s request to stay on, because his itinerary still included England and Switzerland.
Pendant tout ce temps, le fameux carnet d’esquisses et de voyage se remplit peu à peu de dessins de mouvements horlogers, de croquis de détails, et de tables de calculs relatives aux rapports d’engrenage. Ferdinand Adolph Lange n’était pas un adepte du principe «trial and error», consistant à faire des essais, à se tromper puis à corriger les erreurs; un principe heuristique qui prédomina alors en horlogerie et qui lui paraissait incompatible avec la recherche d’obtenir une qualité constante et reproductible à l’infini. Avec la ferme intention de changer cette pratique, il retourna à la manufacture horlogère de Gutkaes, épousa en1842 la fille de son employeur, Charlotte Amalie Antonia, et devint copropriétaire et moteur de l’entreprise de son beau-père. À cette époque, l’atelier était réputé pour ses régulateurs de précision qui y étaient fabriqués à la demande de divers observatoires d’astronomie. L’un d’eux, le régulateur numéro32 qui est toujours exposé au Musée d’Histoire des Sciences de Genève, indiquera l’heure officielle de la Suisse, pays horloger par excellence, pendant pas moins de soixante ans.
|Two pages of the journey and workbook|
|Dixième gauge developed by Lange|
Upswing in Glashütte
|Family photograph of Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s children|
|Early pocket watch dated 1861, |
signed “A. Lange, Dresden”
But his ambitious concept began to take shape: besides his own company, Glashütte – whose infrastructure he had decisively improved during his 18-year tenure as its mayor – now counted many small specialised workshops that produced jewels, screws, wheels, spring barrels, balance wheels and hands. Case makers, gilders, guillocheurs and three additional manufactories, with which Lange sometimes collaborated, were able to establish themselves thanks to his encouragement. They were often founded by people who had previously apprenticed with and worked for him. So gradually, hundreds of safe and well-paid jobs changed the hardship into modest affluence. Lange’s company, which rarely had more than 100 employees, remained the nucleus of German precision watchmaking that grew in and around Glashütte. With the German school of watchmaking (DUS) initiated by his friend Karl Moritz Großmann in 1878, Glashütte completely detached itself from Switzerland and France as regards the practical and theoretical training of specialists, and consolidated its reputation as the German hub of fine watchmaking.
When Ferdinand Adolph Lange suddenly passed away at the age of only 60 on 3 December 1875, he left behind not only a flourishing business and an impressive repertoire of international awards to his sons and grandchildren but also – to the Glashütte region – secure economic perspectives. For these accomplishments, the city honoured him with a monument in 1895. Ferdinand Adolph Lange repatriated precision watchmaking to Germany, enhanced with sweeping reforms. His designs, with wheel train parts exactly calculated for the first time, a new frame configuration with three-quarter plates, the special Glashütte lever escapement and compensation balance, precision adjustment devices and hairsprings with special terminal curves represented the highest standards in watchmaking. At auctions today, precision timepieces signed “A. Lange & Söhne”, among them highly complicated watches, fetch exceptionally high prices. For connoisseurs of mechanical timekeeping, they preserve the philosophy of a man who wrote many chapters of horological history and significant parts of Saxony’s history. The new watches from Glashütte signed “A. Lange & Söhne” carry this proud legacy forward into the future.