GENEVA — The world’s premium watch industry lost one of its most prestigious names with the death Tuesday of Walter Lange, former head of famed brand A. Lange & Söhne, at age 92.
Lange fled his native eastern Germany in 1948 after Soviet forces confiscated the watch company created in 1845 by his great-grandfather Ferdinand Adolph Lange in the-then independent German state of Saxony. Saxony’s then ruler had reacted enthusiastically to F. A. Lange’s suggestion of promoting watchmaking in the rural village of Glashütte, not far from the state capital of Dresden. At its peak, Glashütte was home to numerous watchmaking and component companies, an inspiration that came to F. A. Lange after a trip to Switzerland’s remote Jura region, where local farmers turned their skills to making mechanical components and watches during the long winter months.
Walter Lange seemed content in self-imposed exile in southern Germany until the collapse of Communism in 1990 prompted many former eastern German residents to seek restitution of their assets. Matters were complicated in Lange’s case by the fact that Glashütte’s once independent watchmakers had been amalgamated into a single state-owned enterprise under the Communist East German regime.
Very complex negotiations led to the reestablishment in 1990 of Lange as an independent brand, in cooperation with Guenther Bluemlein, then head of Switzerland’s IWC. Further changes led to the sale of Lange, along with IWC and Jaeger LeCoultre, to luxury goods group Compagnie Financière Richement. Although Lange retained no economic interest after the sale, he remained a popular figurehead for the A. Lange & Söhne brand, and retained the title of honorary chairman until his death.