A Grand Complication is, exactly as the name indicates, a GRAND complication. Not many brands can say that they have a Grand Complication in the collection and when counting there are really just a few of the oldest and most admirable watch brands that do. Of course there are the three ‘Grande Dames’ of the Haute Horlogerie, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet.
Also brands like Blancpain, Breguet, IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre are among the few who have at least one Grand Complication in the collection. Since this year, A. Lange & Söhne introduced their first Grand Complication that is also the most complicated German watch ever created.
But what is a Grand Complication? Well, in horology the word “complication” refer to any feature beyond the simple display of hours, minutes and seconds. A watch that indicates time (hours, minutes, seconds or HMS) is also called a simple movement. Any further addition is a complication. So that mans that your daily beater with a date indication, is not a simple watch but one that features a complication. Also a chronograph, even when it’s engine is a pretty standard caliber ETA/Valjoux 7750, is a complicated watch. Complicated, but still no grand complication.
Maybe you saw this one coming, but there is in fact no official definition of a grand complication. Commonly accepted is that a grand complication is a watch that features at least one complication of the three groups of complications as listed below.
One things is certain: a grand complication is far from your average watch. Mechanically they are extremely complex, the finishing is of the highest level and of course prices are on par with that. There are many difficulties in creating a grand complication. For starters, there’s just so much space in a 40/42/44 mm round watch. Another factor that makes it extra difficult, is related to the forces that come into play, and the additional power that complications require. This has its effect on the construction and, because it often means adding an additional main spring barrels for extra power.
Creating a grand complication is an immense accomplishment for A. Lange & Söhne. This German watch brand does not simply buy complications, but develops, manufactures, assembles and tests everything in-house. And although we know Lange for some very complicated timepieces, like the Double Split (click here for our review), the Zeitwerk and Tourbograph.
The German brand doesn’t have a history of creating watches with a striking complication. In fact only once before they made a watch with a striking mechanism, which was the Zeitwerk Striking Time. So the introduction of their first Grand Complication was much, much more that “just another watch”. As Anthony de Haas, Director Product Development, calls it, this marks the beginning of a new era for A. Lange & Söhne.
A. Lange & Söhne’s Grand Complication features both a grande and petite sonnerie (see wikipedia), minute repeater, a chronograph with rattrapante as well as flying seconds and a perpetual calendar. Anthony de Haas, Director Product Development, answers questions on the most complicated wristwatch ever crafted by A. Lange & Söhne.
What does the Grand Complication mean for A. Lange & Söhne?
With the development of the most complicated wristwatch ever built by A. Lange & Söhne – and in Germany – we entered uncharted territory in the domain of horology. The unique combination of seven, some very rare, complications is not only a tribute to the tradition of our brand, but marks above all the beginning of a new era in the history of A. Lange & Söhne.
What do you mean by ‘a new era’?
The building of this multiple complication with the most complex of chiming mechanisms that bears the distinctive signature of our unique Saxon watchmaking culture has expanded our knowledge and released a lot of creativity. It is not an exaggeration to say that this project has opened the gate to many new ideas and designs.
What was the biggest challenge in the development of the Grand Complication?
The project was an adventurous expedition into the universe of complexity where danger lurks on every corner. It imposed extreme requirements on the perfect interaction of many intricate mechanisms and hundreds of parts. To give an example, we had to avoid any loss of amplitude when at midnight all indications of the perpetual calendar are switching and the grande sonnerie is striking simultaneously. We succeeded in mastering this challenge and have even made it possible for the owner of the timepiece to operate the rattrapante mechanism at the same time.
What is required of watchmakers to assemble the movement of the Grand Complication and how long does it take them?
Assembly must adhere to exacting requirements in terms of precision and the perfect interaction of intricate mechanisms. Only the most talented and experienced watchmakers will be able to master the challenges associated with assembling the movement and its 876 parts. Even the most experienced watchmakers will take about a year to accomplish the mission. It requires the highest level of concentration, experience and sensitivity – and a lot of patience.
What happens during this rather long period of assembly?
The assembly time of one year includes above all elaborate and comprehensive test procedures. For example, the chiming mechanism is monitored day and night. In turn, this recording has to be evaluated to check whether the mechanism has been chiming correctly every single quarter. If not, it has to be dismantled, adjusted, assembled and checked again to see if it is functioning properly. ‘Free, with no shake’ is the mantra that governs the interplay between the moving parts of a chiming mechanism.
Why did you choose 2013 to present this fundamental piece in the history of the manufactory?
This year is dedicated to our horological heritage. ‘Unique by tradition’ is the theme we have chosen for 2013. By tradition, A. Lange & Söhne is a unique brand that follows its own path and in doing so constantly tries to outperform its own achievements. The Grand Complication is the perfect embodiment of this idea.
What is the message that A. Lange & Söhne is sending with the Grand Complication?
More than any other watch ever built by A. Lange & Söhne the Grand Complication manifests the endeavour of our product developers and master watchmakers to extend the boundaries of fine mechanical watchmaking. And what is more, it contains a promise to our collectors: our ambition to never stand still will keep us committed to enriching the world of fine watchmaking with meaningful contributions.
After the Grand Complication, what can we expect from A. Lange & Söhne in the future?
As a matter of principle, we do not comment on future developments. However, we are constantly working on a number of product development projects. There is an unrelenting demand for timepieces with sophisticated complications. We have responded to this trend in the past two decades with many exciting developments and we will have attractive new products to address it in the future. In other words: we will continue our product policy of watchmaking excellence and unmatched craftsmanship. The Grand Complication has opened the gate to new ideas and designs.
How does the Grand Complication compare to the pocket watch No. 42500 that Lange presented three years ago?
The Grand Complication is an independent development that opens new gates as regards technical and manual demands. The technical highlights are inspired by the tradition of horological complications that A. Lange & Söhne took to new levels in the late 19th and early 20th century. The pocket watch No. 42500 is perhaps the most prominent and sophisticated example. The know-how acquired during its restoration provided valuable insights and sparked new impulses. The same holds true for the development of the Grand Complication.
How does the Grand Complication command its price of almost two million euros?
Looking at the price one has to bear in mind that it took our product developers seven years to master all of the technical challenges involved in the design of this exceptional timepiece and that the entire series consists of six pieces only.
Is it true that all six pieces have been sold?
It is true that the number of serious A. Lange & Söhne collectors interested in the watch is higher than the supply. But it has not been decided yet which of the potential buyers will eventually receive one. Unfortunately, we cannot produce more as it would tie up capacities that we need for our new projects.
More information on the A. Lange & Söhne website.