The A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Jumping Seconds may just be the ultimate thinking man’s watch with deadbeat seconds and a constant force system. Join me on a tour of the cutting edge of high horology.
The second hand of a watch is a surprising opportunity for a skilled watchmaker. For most watches, it adds life to the dial and brings a together the motion of, in some cases, hundreds of internal components. It is through the second hand that we realise that a watch is working and, through its sweep across the dial, we can also read into the very function of its operation.
But what if you took away that life? What if, in its place, you left the dead ticking of the once-grim reaper of the luxury watch industry: the slow beat of a quartz watch? What you would be left with would be a watch with deadbeat seconds or, if you happened to work for the Saxon watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, jumping seconds. It is this function which was selected to be the leading complication of the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Jumping Seconds released in three editions of 100 pieces in 2016, 2017 and 2019. It is the first which I have here today.
But let’s step back for a moment, because many reviews begin with a sweeping statement and, true to form, this one will too. I believe that, with the possible exception of the Lange 31, the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds is the strangest watch A. Lange & Soehne have ever produced. The reason for this is that, for a tenth of the price, you could buy a regulator setup from Chronoswiss and deadbeat seconds from Habring. By comparison, each and every other Lange can justify its price — often very favourably against Swiss competition — with the complications which it offers. In this case, however, why the hell would you buy this watch for its eye-watering price of 77,000 euros?
I believe that the reason you should look twice at this watch lies in the very namesake of the collection: Richard Lange. Taking its name from the man originally behind this brand, the Richard Lange and the collection (including the Jumping Seconds) steps away from the usual sound and fury of the watch industry and, instead, uses the brand’s technical knowhow to steamroller anything previously made in its genre without worrying too much about justification for specific features.
The Richard Lange Jumping Seconds at First Glance
If you were to handle the case without a view of the dial or movement, you would have little to inform you of just how special it was. This piece is housed in a 39.9mm by 10.6mm, 950 platinum case which, with a domed bezel and distinctive, stepped case back, feels remarkably normal. It is inevitably (and rather appealingly) heavy due to the sheer density of the metal used yet, beyond the knowledge of its 95% platinum construction, this watch doesn’t have the obvious, blue hue which differentiates platinum Rolex models from white gold or, more importantly, steel. The resounding feeling one gets from the case is that of simplicity.
Nevertheless, the quality is unmistakeable. Take, for example, the case back engraving which is deep, luxurious and imbued with a sense of permanence by its depth and resolution. On a steel or gold watch, this would be impressive yet, on a material as reluctant to be machined as platinum, it is fantastic. Even the hallmarks, rather than being hidden away on the back of a lug as though the company would have omitted them completely in permitted to do so, appear proudly stamped.
Then you have the case flanks which are vertically brushed – a curious, Teutonic alternative to the rolled sides of French watchmaking and the work of Breguet. By contrast, the lugs, detached from the other lines of the case, are polished and broaden their shoulders for a refined, gentlemanly masculinity. Everywhere, the level of finesse is exactly what you would expect.
With a beautiful, domed bezel and an immense dial-to-bezel ratio, it seems almost ridiculous not to address the solid-silver dial next but let’s not be hasty. Surely, to truly understand the cold, hard tick of the second hand, you have appreciate the lengths of watchmaking needed to make it behave thus? In the spirit of this, let us brandish our loupes and hasten unto cal. L094.1 at the heart of the Richard Lange Jumping Second.
A Thoroughly German Movement
When you first see this movement, the German origins are obvious. Where a Swiss movement would tend to have a jigsaw of interlocking plates and cocks, Lange uses a single plate to cover half of the movement. Under this plate you will find the mainspring, keyless works, going train and, crucially, the remontoir or constant force assembly. Above this, you will find the escapement, part of the second hand’s assembly and the very extensively decorated hacking system.
Starting with the most superficial level of the movement, the finishing is superb. With plates produced from German silver – an alloy of brass, nickel and zinc – the movement has a delightful warmth whilst Glashütte striping gives order to the finish. This particular finish is matched with perlage as well as sunburst and grained finishes. The result is complex and, for the most part, very beautiful. My only surprise was the relative lack of finishing on the less-frontal components which struck me as an oversight for such a high-level luxury watch.
I must confess, however, that I cannot be sure how realistic one can be about flawless quality whilst hovering over a watch under the most damning of lighting with a high-power lens. In any case, the gold, jewel-holding chatons and their associated blued screws catch the eye like nothing else with the possible exception of the staggeringly good anglage or bevelling performed by hand around most plates and components.
To now address functionality, there are a few key areas to note. First, let’s consider the balance wheel and escapement. This is a stunningly-finished part with the customary hand-engraved balance cock in addition to swan-neck regulation for finer timekeeping adjustment. Interestingly, this movement also has a more subtle way to adjust timekeeping as the balance wheel features six adjustable weights on its outer rim for variable inertia.
Moving a few millimetres, a piece of note is the beautiful black-polished plate housing a diamond as the jewel above the escape wheel. This signals the presence of the jumping seconds as, in this position, you will find a star wheel which releases a component called a flirt once every second. The flirt is, one could say, a small hand on a spring which loads up with energy from the gear train and is released to shoot around a pivot by the aforementioned star wheel. The result is a discrete release of energy to the second hand which is the motion you can see in the centre of the movement.
Quite apart from the beautiful components of the hacking mechanism — a system which resets the seconds to zero for ease of setting — there is one final piece to examine: the constant force or, with the flourish of French, a remontoir which loosely translates as ‘rewinder’. Now, that’s actually not a bad translation given that the job of a remontoir is to become a subsidiary mainspring. You see, as a mainspring unwinds, it doesn’t follow a linear torque curve.
At each extreme, when full or nearly empty, that torque becomes erratic. Most mechanical watches deal with this issue by simply being automatic and thus always remaining at a similar point of winding. However, if you wanted to have a manually-wound watch perform the same task, you would need a remontoir. The remontoir, the spring in the bowels of the movement under a small window, jumps forward each second with an equal burst of energy for the escapement. Through this extremely complex setup, a real thinking-man’s path to accuracy is achieved in the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds.
The Silver Regulator Dial
But now let’s consider the dial which represents the daily face of the movement, its 42-hour power reserve and its 6 ticks per second reduced to just one. This watch is, as you can see, a regulator with the three measures separated. Whether this is an appreciated quirk or an annoyance is a personal sentiment but I think that it plays into the spirit of the watch very well by following the lines of a pocket watch made by Dresden’s Johann Heinrich Seyffert in the 1900s.
The key opportunity here, printed in thick, three-dimensional ink onto a rhodium-plated, solid-silver base, is to showcase a simple but impeccable dial. Under certain lights, the dial appears a harsh silver and in others it warms to gold. The effect is augmented by the fact that, at any angle, the printing is a lesson in precision. There is, however, an irony here as, if you double the price of a £2000 watch, people will expect applied markers or another physical addition. By contrast, for £70,000, such additions become so irrelevant that quality matters infinitely more than substance.
A final dial detail to note is located in the centre of the Venn diagram formed by the sub-dials: a power-reserve indicator. However, this is just a tad different because, rather than telling you how much longer the watch will run, this red indicator appears a few hours before the watch stops as a reminder to take a moment to furnish it with more energy. It’s a simple and elegant solution to the manually-wound watch.
The hands finish off the effect with white gold chosen for the more sedentary hours and minutes on their smaller dials. These hands are curved, and bevelled at their centres as you would expect for the price paid. Nevertheless, their lance form can’t distract from the fact that, for a tenth of the price (or perhaps even less), Grand Seiko produce just as immaculate counterparts. This is, I hasten to add, no criticism of Lange but rather an observation of just how good Japanese watchmaking has become.
The second hand has all the majesty and elegance of this brand’s origins and, courtesy of the size of the sub-dial, strides across the watch face with real gravitas. Its design is simple but, with the most subtle of leaf shapes in blued steel, it stands out with serious dignity.
So, was I right in saying that this is the strangest Lange on the market? Well, I stand by the point. Consider a Lange Datograph: that’s a watch which justifies its price by being the best chronograph available at any price. The Jumping Seconds, however, simply is. If you love it, then that’s all the justification it needs to exist. Ultimately, unless you meet an enthusiast, many will sadly dismiss it at a distance as, dare I say it, a quartz watch. For this reason, the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds is the ultimate thinking man’s Lange: it’s rare, left-field and a piece of mechanical art. I’m thrilled to know that such a piece exists.