JULY 2021

Lange 1: Going Deeper with the Modern Icon

by Tony Traina

Perhaps you lament the term’s over usage in modern language — “icon.” Often, it’s used for ephemera that are more aptly described as memes or as having gone “viral” rather than achieving some sort of truly enduring status. But sometimes, the term is deserved.

Such is the case with the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1. While only 25 years old, the model has already cemented itself as a defining design of its generation, with hagiographies littered across the internet to prove it. But even beneath this mountain of exaltations there still lie stories untold, references largely undiscovered.

The Lange 1 was introduced in 1994, reintroducing the world to A. Lange & Söhne and fine German watchmaking after the fall of the Iron Curtain. “When [Lange 1] was introduced in '94, it came with broad applied Roman numerals, coupled with champagné dial and yellow gold — a highly traditional layout for such a controversial design,” Alp of Langepedia explained to us. Soon after the model’s launch, Lange started experimenting with different dial and metal combinations. At first, the changes were subtle — different metals, printed numerals instead of applied markers — Lange still feeling its way out of the shadows after years languishing away in a communist-induced darkness. Soon though, the changes became more bold, audacious modifications that live up to the original daring design that was the Lange 1, with its large digital date display inspired by an Opera House clock and scattered dial layout that manages to exist in perfect harmony. 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 101.027

Lange 1 101.027: True Blue

One of the first of these efforts is the Lange 1 reference 101.027, introduced by Lange in 1997 and produced only until 2002. At the time, its dark blue dial and white gold case set it apart from every other Lange 1 in the young brand’s collection. It’s the first time Lange used white gold in the Lange 1, and the first Lange 1 with a blue dial.

A quick digression before we get much further with the 101.027. To me — nay, objectively speaking — dress watches in precious white metals (platinum and white gold) are, aesthetically, the very pinnacle of watchmaking. Totally understated, but also for those discerning (or shameless) enough to stop and stare for just a moment, there’s more to them than the stainless-steel guise that meets the eye. Indeed, there is a reason why books like Patrizzi’s Cartier Bianco, which explores the magic of mid-century white metal Cartier watches, are just as hard to find as the watches the book takes as its subject.

In another 50 years’ time, white metal watches from this early era of Lange will be the Cartiers Bianco of collectors' collective desires. Imagine at a meetup in 2070: whispering to someone across the table, “you see, this was the first white gold Lange 1 the brand ever produced, way back in 1997.” You whisper it because you’re the elegant type, reticently chic in the way gentlemen were a century prior (not like those garish types from the early 2000s), not one to wear showy yellow gold watches or big stainless steel pieces that might be the object of a lesser man’s desire.

Back to the reference 101.027.

As is to be expected with Lange, the deep blue dial is crafted from German silver, with a vertical brushed finish and subdials that are recessed and appear slightly darker, providing a bit of contrast to the rest of the dial. Blue dials actually remained quite rare at Lange until 2017, when it introduced the “Blue Series,” a collection of blue dials in various models, which clearly drew inspiration from this original blue Lange 1. The dial is complemented by applied white gold indices and hands to match the case. While certain cult-favorite Lange 1 references have earned nicknames like “Stealth” (the platinum reference 101.025) or “Darth” (the platinum with black dial reference 101.035), the reference 101.027 has dodged such designations, its enduring allure incapable of being reduced to a single word.  

“The 101.027, showed us that Lange 1 can actually take on colors and it does not have to be classic,” Alp of Langepedia said. “101.027 adds even more value to Lange 1’s eccentric, separated design by highlighting different parts with its brushed finish, and contrasting subdials. Just take a look at the [modern] 191.028 and 101.027 side by side, and it gives an idea on how A. Lange & Söhne evolved over the years.”

While blue dials (particularly in sports watches) are voguish now, it feels more pure to see this one from 1997, when Lange seems to have produced it just to try something different. Judging by the fact that it was only produced for a few years, it’s also quite possible their azure experiment largely failed, with the bold, blue Lange 1 languishing on shelves next to its more demure ancestors.

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 101.027

Of course, inside the white gold case sits Lange’s caliber L901.0, its hand-winding mechanical movement with twin barrels and a 72-hour power reserve that powers early Lange 1 models. Lange’s movement finishing is superlative. I never thought I’d drool over the phrase “hand-engraved balance cock” (unless, perhaps, it were innuendo for something more aptly described in the pages of 50 Shades of Grey), but its presence in each Lange caliber makes the movement an artistic achievement just as much as a technical one. As with other Lange movements, the caliber is defined by a three-quarter plate and use of untreated German silver for the plates and bridges. Over the years, this silver often develops a warm hue, giving these German movements a character their Swiss counterparts can only dream of.

Lange 1 101.027X: Once in a Blue Moon

There are only two early Lange 1 references that never actually appeared in the catalogs of A. Lange & Söhne. The first is reference 101.026, the much sought-after stainless steel Lange 1.

The other is reference 101.027X. While the stainless steel Lange 1 has become a certifiable grail, with healthy six-figure auction results to back up this status, the reference 101.027X has achieved no such prominence. Not yet, at least.

So what exactly is this reference 101.027X?

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 101.027x

As Langepedia explains, the reference was originally intended to celebrate the Elbe Valley (which cuts through Dresden, about 30 minutes north of A. Lange’s home in Glashütte, Germany) becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. But, the city of Dresden then decided to construct a bridge spanning the river through the middle of the designated World Heritage Site, which led to UNESCO revoking the designation in 2009.

Lange originally intended to launch the reference 101.027X to commemorate the Elbe Valley becoming a World Heritage Site. Ironically, the brand took another bridge, the Loschwitz Bridge — the “Blue Wonder”, as it has fondly been nicknamed — as inspiration for its commemorative watch. With the blue dial 101.027 already in production, it chose to produce the hands in blue instead.

But since UNESCO revoked the Elbe Valley’s designation after only a few years, Lange never had the chance to release the reference 101.027X the way it intended. So, Lange seems to have sold them off quietly during the early 2000s. In all, different collectors and scholars have estimated that only 200-250 pieces of the reference 101.027X were ever produced.

In addition to blued steel hands, the reference 101.027X features printed numerals, the second Lange 1 to do so (the first being the stainless steel Lange 1). With the white gold case and this particular dial configuration, the result is a reference that, for all purposes, looks the same as a stainless steel Lange 1 that might cost ten times the price. Sure, a stainless steel Lange 1 is also about ten times as rare (most estimates put production at 25-30 pieces), but opting to pursue a stainless steel example over the white gold 101.027X would make one grapple with the more existential questions endemic to collecting. Why do I want this particular piece? Is there any virtue in pursuing rarity for rarity’s sake alone?

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 101.027x

“There's a joy in controversy, I'm not going to lie; some things are just better when they're harmonious and to me, this is where the 101.027x or the 101.026 steel comes in,” Alp of Langepedia said. “With printed numerals, slate dial, and the cool white gold case, the .027x transforms the original 101.001 in such a sporty, classic way like no other reference can. It is understated, so easy-going, and versatile. 101.027x highlights an aspect of Lange 1 that we did not know it existed.”

While the white gold case stays true to the model’s roots as a dress watch, the rest of the aesthetic presents the sportier side of Lange, perhaps not more fully realized until the brand released the Odysseus 20 years later.

Like the blue dial reference 101.027, Lange eventually used the 101.027X as inspiration for its 25th Anniversary Collection in 2019. If this is any indication of the status the formulation holds in Lange’s imagination, surely it should hold the same standing among collectors.

Collecting Modern Icons

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 101.027x open caseback movement

As mentioned, mountains of ink have been spilled on the Lange 1, heralding it a “modern icon,” the “most important watch of its generation,” and other such superlatives. While such generalizations might be true, they also skip over the details of how it achieved such a position. Only by diving deeper to appreciate important early innovations on the original Lange 1 — like the references 101.027 and 101.027X — can we truly begin to understand how the Lange 1 became the modern icon it is today.

For more on the Lange 101.027X, also check out Langepedia’s article A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 101.027X.

Tony is the editor of Rescapement. Sign up to his newsletter about important watches