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|
During this period, his famous journey- and workbook was filled with movement sketches and detailed drawings as well as mathematically sound ratio calculations for wheels and pinions. Ferdinand Adolph Lange was not an adherent of the trial-and-error principle which at the time still governed much of a watchmaker’s work, making it impossible to assure consistently reproducible quality levels. Determined to change this, he returned to Gutkaes’ workshop for fancy clocks, married the owner’s daughter Charlotte Amalie Antonia in 1842, and became co- proprietor and horological architect in his father-in-law’s business. Precision regulators for observatories were crafted there during this era. For some 60 years, one of them – No. 32 – delivered the precise time for Switzerland, the quintessential watchmaking country, from a Swiss observatory. Today, it is on display at the Musée d’histoire des sciences in Geneva.
|Dixième gauge developed by Lange |
In 1851, Ferdinand Adolph Lange wrote a letter to the government describing his accomplishments so far: “My first and decisive step was to design a gauge for executing with the greatest accuracy any calculated ratio in the smallest of scales. This was followed by my work on the ratios of pinions and pieces as well as the respective machines, and I finally established the principles to be observed when building watches and designing escapements in accordance with scientific fundamentals, and introduced methodologies and reliable processes where previously arbitrariness, prejudice and disaccord had reigned. These are the fruits of twenty years of painstaking deliberation and labour, parts of which have found practical application in our factory and make our watches good, but many others, whose time has come, remain unexecuted.”
|Family photograph of Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s children|
Glashütte, the impoverished town in the Ore Mountains that in 1845 had merely faint memories left of its erstwhile prosperity as a silver-mining village, was connected to the world only via a dilapidated roadway on which a postal coach travelled once a week. When the illiterate coachman arrived, he would empty the bag and let the people find out for themselves to whom the letters were addressed. The townscape was accentuated with muddy goose ponds and manure heaps. This is where Lange set up a workshop, taught his apprentices and initiated the production of watches while at the same time designing better machines for manufacturing precision parts. He also handled the correspondence and took care of the bookkeeping. His daughter Emma pointed out that Lange, who worked day and night, would occasionally collapse, and that he sacrificed his entire savings, those of his wife, and even prize money from horological awards, to keep the jeopardised enterprise alive.
|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.