25 November 2021

Lange 1 - Made in Germany

by Perth Ophaswongse

 A. Lange & Sohne’s early history is inextricably linked to the Lange 1. When the brand debuted its first four families of watches in October 1994, the Lange 1 was there, first on display. Its never-before-seen design caught the attention of the industry’s media and retailers, and by the end of the day all 123 pieces (across all model families) had been spoken for. While it might be surprising that a brand new watchmaker had been so immensely successful within such a short period of time, upon closer inspection it becomes obvious that the Herculean effort put into perfecting the design and manufacturing process could only result in a watch that would go on to become an icon. 

The team behind the brand's relaunch | A. Lange & Söhne

The Lange 1 drew upon a plethora of classic horological and artistic influences for its design. The collection developed throughout the 2000s, with variants featuring different dial colours and case materials being added to the lineup. As Lange matured as a brand, however, it seemingly pivoted away from the more adventurous or unusual references, choosing to stick with tried and tested classical designs.

The Lange 1 ref. 101.035

Accordingly, these early Lange 1 watches have become highly collectible for fans of the brand. These references, including the very first closed caseback models but also more inventive and contemporary designs such as the 101.035 “Darth” or the blue dial 101.027, have seen a spectacular rise in popularity, manifested in both media coverage as well as prices.

Discovering the dial differences

When Lange released the new Lange 1 in 2015, many in the industry focused on the differences between the new model, bearing the L121.1 movement, and the “old” watch, which used the L901.0 movement. Far less has been said, however, about the differences between early “first generation” Lange 1 examples and those that were released much later on. 

The newer L121.1 calibre on the left and older L901.1 calibre on the right | HODINKEE

Why is this? It’s not unusual for collectors to fixate on the minutiae of their watches - Rolex collectors in particular are highly cognizant of seemingly minor dial differences that can command substantial pricing premiums. It’s not just about vintage watches either - consider the monetary value a “Flat 4” bezel adds to the Rolex 16610LV “Kermit” - a model which was produced until 2010.

One of our friends, a seasoned collector of both independent and vintage watches, began seeing small but noticeable differences between earlier and later Lange 1 dials. Remarkably, these differences were apparent to the naked eye and could be fairly easily recognised at a glance. 

The discovery that led us down the rabbit hole was the most obvious one, and lends its name to the general term with which we use to describe the package of dial differences. The first difference is that earlier Lange 1 dials use a smaller and sans-serif typeface for the “MADE IN GERMANY” text which sits just below the central portion of the dial. Later examples use a larger text, and employ the serif Engravers MT font which Lange is known for. We refer to them respectively as “early MIG” (for “MADE IN GERMANY”) and “later MIG”.

Two reference 101.022 watches, showing the different MIG texts.

Looking at these two reference 101.022 watches, we can clearly see that the early MIG dial uses a font that is much simpler and lacks the elaborate styling of the Engravers MT. Instead of the bulbous and organic serifs, it is angular and geometric in nature. This difference is significant as it acts as a rare departure from Lange’s strict adherence to Engravers MT, which it based its brand around upon relaunch.

A closer look at the Early MIG text on the left, with the Later MIG style on the right.

In addition to using a different typeface, the later MIGs also display the text differently. While early MIG texts are more condensed, later MIG texts are more spread out. A very easy way of spotting an early MIG dial is to look at the bottom of the main subdial. The MIG text on an early MIG dial sits within the 27 and 33 minute marks on the minute track, while a later MIG dial’s text extends just outside the 27 to 33 minute markers. This is an easy way of locating the difference without looking closely at the font, since MIG dials are either early MIG with the sans serif font, or later MIG with the Engravers MT - we don’t believe there to be any transitional dials.

Lange’s case numbering started at 110,001, which was a yellow gold Lange 1 owned by Walter Lange himself. All three Lange 1 models with closed casebacks (101.001, 101.002, 101.005) feature early MIG dials, which continued as the models transitioned to those featuring display backs (101.021, 101.022, 101.025 respectively). Further models were later introduced, still featuring early MIG dials. These included:

• 101.027
• 101.028
• 101.031
• 101.032
• 101.035

A closer look at the early MIG text.

From our research into both case and annual production numbers, we believe the transition from early MIG to later MIG took place some time in the early 2000s. We also know that Lange’s annual production numbers were lower than they are today during the time which early MIG dials were being produced, making them substantially rarer.

By 2015, production of the 101-series watches came to an end, being replaced by the 191-series models which featured a brand new movement as well as some further subtle changes to the dial.

Interestingly, the case numbers on the final examples of early MIG dials vary for each reference. For example, the last known case number for an early MIG dial 101.021 and 101.022 is 131xxx, while the final case number for an early MIG dial 101.031 is 145xxx. We believe that this was the result of batch-produced dials being mounted in cases which may have been produced at different times, and as such, there have been some overlaps.

As shown in the chart, the earliest case number for the rose gold 101.033 (which never featured early MIG dials) is 138xxx. At the same time, we know that the latest early MIG case number for the 101.031 sits around 145xxx. This means that there is a substantial overlap in case numbers across models - early MIG dials were still being used on cases whose numbers came after those featuring later MIG dials.

Lange 1 - Early MIG vs Later MIG

We’ve also seen a few watches with case numbers which we believe should have originally been presented with early MIG dials, but instead feature later MIG dials. While this is only speculation, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that damaged or worn early MIG dials were replaced by later MIG dials of the same type during Lange servicing. 

Other noted differences

In addition to the eponymous “MADE IN GERMANY” text, early and later MIG dials also come with other interesting differences. 

The I/SA (“In Sachsen” - “in Saxony”) markings on early MIG dials are noticeably different from those on later MIG dials. On the early dials, the bottom of the “I” in “I/SA” sits just above the halfway point of the slash, whereas on later dials the bottom of the “I” is below the halfway point. An interesting note is that the brand’s corporate logo retains the early MIG-style “I/SA”, which can be seen on the website.

Another typographical difference is in the umlaut above the “ü” in “Glashütte”. In the later MIG dials, the two dots practically hug the top of the “u”, almost touching the letter. Early MIG dials feature a much more spaced out “ü”, where the two dots are spaced further up from the letter.

Later MIG version of the I/SA and umlauts on the left and Early MIG version on the right.

Another difference can be spotted in the “Doppelfederhaus” (“double barrel”) text. In early MIG dials, the font is smaller and more spread out, while later MIG dials feature a more condensed arrangement. Early MIG dials also have the “D” in “Doppelfederhaus” beginning just under the 35 minute mark, while later MIG dials have the “D” sitting just to the right of said mark.

The two dials' "Doppelfederhaus" text, with later MIG on the left and early MIG on the right.

Other noted differences

Before we conclude, we have two caveats to briefly highlight. We came across this excellent article by the Singaporean design company &Larry during our cross-referencing research which briefly mentioned the difference in the “MADE IN GERMANY” font. We believe, however, that we’re the first to discuss this as a significant marker for Lange 1 production.

Secondly, other Lange 1 references, such as the mother-of-pearl and guilloche dial variants have differing dial layouts, and the differences we’ve noted either do not apply or manifest in different forms. We believe all of the original Little Lange 1 references (111-series) only came with early MIG dials. Likewise, all Grand Lange 1 (115-series) references are later MIG.

Little Lange 1 ref. 111.021

Conclusion

We can speculate as to the reasons behind the design change from early MIG to later MIG dials. The first is that early designers would have had their hands full with not only designing the watches and movements, but also building up a brand from scratch. It is entirely conceivable that the printers misinterpreted Lange’s instructions and printed a different font.

Another potential reason the dial printers may not have had the ability to print at the required resolution to satisfactorily reproduce the Engravers MT font in such a small size, leading them to apply a more standard font.

Finally, it is entirely possible that this was a conscious choice that the design team then decided to change. Iconic designs evolve all the time, and it’s almost surprising how faithful to the original the Lange 1 has remained. Never mind the early versus later MIG dials - even the transition from the 101-series to the 191-series was more about introducing a brand new movement than changing the watch’s aesthetic. Subsequently, even a change as small as the choice of a secondary font stands out to the informed observer.

The story of A. Lange & Söhne is closely tied to the story of the Lange 1. Surprisingly, however, relatively little attention has been paid to the design’s subtle evolution over the early years the watch was in production. While we like to think of the “old” Lange 1 as being replaced by the “new” Lange 1 references in 2015, in reality the Lange 1 dial was never a static design. Although we’ve classed the dial differences under the “early/later MIG” umbrella, there are numerous other differences that can point to a Lange 1 being from a particular time period. We’ve talked about the MIG text, I/SA and Doppelfederhaus, but there are also notable differences in the printing style on the subdials as well as the locations of the engraved text on the reverse of the watch.

Currently, the market doesn’t differentiate between early MIG and later MIG dials, and it remains to be seen whether collectors will begin to do so. Ultimately, only time will tell whether these MIG differences attain the same level of scholarship represented in other collecting circles. Knowing watch collectors, however, we shouldn’t be too surprised if these early MIG dials join the hallowed ranks of early Journes or “sigma dial” Rolex watches in having their minor yet significant differentiations noted and appreciated by passionate fans.

We would like to thank our friends who first noticed these differences and compiled the data on Lange's case numbers, as well as for providing us with precious insight into the context of the early Lange 1 references.

Perth is part of the Subdial  team, focusing on research and editorial content. In addition to his role at Subdial, he is also active on Instagram at @edinburghtimepieces.