It is one of the smallest departments at Lange: only consisting of six staff members and situated on the ground floor of the historic Lange headquarters. In the focused peace and quiet of this small art studio those six master engravers turn each Lange watch into a truly unique item – by applying a freehand engraving onto the balance cock, which is not even the size of a fingernail.
With engraving the balance cock and other parts of the watch, Lange draws on an old craftsman tradition and diligently carries it into the modern age. Generations ago the high-end pocket watches by A. Lange & Söhne of the so-called 1A-quality had been artistically finished with delicate engravings. With good reason the master engravers back in those days are still appreciated today. Their works are perceived as a source of inspiration due to the precision, imagination, aesthetics and their balanced proportions.
The good old tradition of engraving the balance cock is based on the historic timepieces. The small balance cock holds the oscillating balance and with it the centrepiece and “heart” of the watch. In terms of design it suited well to emblazon this small component with elegantly curled ornaments. For modern watches even today every balance cock is still engraved by hand at A. Lange & Söhne. Its size varies and depends on the model. Therefore the traditional pattern is adapted to the respective size, yet it has remained the same motif used by the engravers at A. Lange & Söhne for 160 years: petals framing the middle screw of the cock, and floral patterns winding their way into every corner, and a grid that defines the position of the index. A “V“ which stands for “Vorgang“ (fast) and an “N“ for “Nachgang“ (slow) set the limits to the adjustment scale of the index, which is then used by the watchmaker to accurately regulate the frequency of the Lange watch. Every cock is different, however. It is marked by the sweep of the engraver’s stroke, the depth of the pattern and the angle of the lines that has an influence on the splendour of the artwork as such, because this angle determines the degree of reflection.
Bespoke – Requests and Variety
The Lange engravers are happy to do exceptional special requests, as they always add new challenges to their work. Upon request engravings can be applied onto the buckle, the sides of the case, the lugs or the solid caseback. The balance cock can also be customised: engraving the initials of the owner, hardly visible by plain eyesight, make the Lange watch a truly special and individual item. There is almost no limit to the customer’s creative ideas. But the manufacture reserves the right to decide which requests will be realised. The most popular motifs include monograms, weapons, dedications, and portraits. Every engraver has his own signature style. Therefore it will still be possible to tell his work from the work of others years later. By visiting the manufacture the owner of a Lange watch can meet “his” engraver and personally encounter the creator of the little masterwork on his wrist.
The completion of an engraving in freehand technique takes time. To finish a small balance cock takes 45 to 90 minutes depending on the size, whereas more than a week is indeed required for the application of an engraving onto a caseback in gold or platinum. Essentially two different engraving techniques are applied at Lange: the intaglio and the relief technique. The intaglio engraving is a graphical illustration, whilst the relief technique produces a plastic image that protudes from the metal. The intaglio technique is particularly suited for engraving writing. Typical for it is the fine curl of the lines. With the relief the material around the motif is carved away, such that a protrusive relief remains. The incised lines and ground surfaces can be filled with coloured enamel, thus providing a visual highlight. Special tools are required for each type of engraving. Only burins of varying width are used for the intaglio technique, but additionally a chisel and punch are needed for the completion of a relief engraving. It is not rare to find more than 40 different burins on the desk of an engraver. Depending on the cutting edge and area, the burins are classed as follows: onglette burin, round edge burin, bevel burin, lining burin and flat edge burin as well as some special variations. The burin has to lie in the hand firmly and safely. Therefore each engraver manufactures his tools himself and adjusts them to match his own ergonomic requirements.
Engraving is an art “en miniature”. The engravings are therefore exclusively done under a microscope with a magnification of ten to twelve times. In order to accomplish an engraving in perfect manner, the engraver must be able to operate the chisel and burin to 100 per cent. It takes three years to complete the training as engraver. But a certain personal predisposition is required for reaching the master level in this occupation. First and foremost a “quiet hand“ is paramount. Equally important are the faculty of three-dimensional imagination, drawing skills and extensive artistic talents. The independence of an engraver in terms of design is not just reflected in his “own handwriting“. He is also the free creator of his works, which he completes by order of the customer. The name “artist en miniature” suits him perfectly and is by no means an exaggeration.