The Lang und Heyne Augustus 1: Or When Your Watch Owns You
It’s not uncommon to have a watch personalised for one reason or another: solid casebacks are regularly engraved to commemorate an anniversary, an appreciation of service on retirement, or as a celebration of achievement in one’s life. In the Augustus 1, German company Lang und Heyne take personalisation to another strata.
Nowadays it is relatively easy to have a watch ordered up online and finished to one’s personal taste with options which include strap, dial and even the colour of the hands, as well as a choice of DLC, PVD or precious metal cases. The list goes on, but for the most part we are talking about cosmetic preferences, with the movement being the single constant, regardless of what’s been changed up top.
Charming as those little tweaks might well be, when it comes to personalisation the Lang and Heyne Augustus 1 takes that added touch into very rarefied air indeed. First off, it is worthy of note to be aware that Lang & Heyne are not a company which turns out watches. As a full member of the elite, invitation-only AHCI (Academy of Independent Watchmakers), co-founder and Master Watchmaker Marco Lang oversees his busy atelier in the German city of Dresden, where for five generations now, the Lang family name has been associated with fine watchmaking. The manufactory produces only 40 – 50 pieces each year, so each one is the result of hundreds of hours of loupe-melting manual dexterity, and so it should come as no surprise to learn that the Lang and Heyne Augustus 1 is, by no exaggeration, a masterpiece.
Even before one learns exactly what they are holding, it is spectacular in its appearance. Available in rose gold, white gold or platinum case, the dial in solid silver has been decorated with a radiant guilloché emanating from the centre of the upper month register, just below the roman XII. The hands, blued steel for hours and minutes and gold for other indications are immaculately executed, and the displays contrast delightfully against the ‘rays’ of the dial.
But a closer look reveals an almost alien array of characteristics on a watch face, and these are precisely the ingredients which make the Augustus 1 such a very personal timepiece. As well as featuring date, month and year, the remainder of the features are all about the owner and the events and anniversaries which are important to them.
The Augustus 1 is commissioned to order and prior to work commencing, each customer provides twelve important dates, which correlate to twelve annually recurring events, such as anniversaries or even an individual's birthday, which are then uniquely recorded, opposing each other across one large disc, or programme ring, akin to what is found within a perpetual calendar (which this is not). This disc rotates in alignment with the respective apertures at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions with the anniversary above and the event at the bottom, and with a press of the pusher within the crown, followed by a wind of the crown itself, the disc can be rotated to display any one of the twelve events preserved for posterity.
This is very cool on its own most would agree, but consider the registers at 5 and 6 with curious numeral configuration, or why there are two hands on the month display and where they come into play. Here lies one reason why Marco Lang is counted among the horlogic greats of our time because these display lapsed time – in terms of years and decades! For each event around which the watch has been created, the Augustus’ manual winding manufacture Calibre VII actually ‘works out’ the age for a birthday or the years since an event, with 0-10 years at the 5 and 10-100 years at the 7. The month panel has two hands too, one for the regular date and the other as part of the elapsed time.
This is not just a watch: this is an almost impossibly complicated calculating machine at the same time. The crown and pusher system are used in tandem to select which of five functions to be used and all five (time, year, event and date setting, as well as winding) are displayed just left of the 3, with a pointer to remind what the next turn of the crown will do.
The Augustus 1 then, to take us back to my opening, is a personal timepiece like no other. It carries with it the important events in one’s life, but it does have one fault. Because of the expansive sapphire crystal exhibition caseback, revealing the sublime craftsmanship which has gone into the manufacture and hand engraving of the manual winding Calibre VII, and the immaculate intricate finishing of every component, there is sadly nowhere to engrave your name or to mark years of valuable service, so it will not be to the taste of everyone.
Which is a good thing, because with a production of only three pieces each year, there would be a long and frustrated queue of hopefuls. Lang and Heyne since its formation in 2002 has repeatedly and richly earned the merits which have ensued, and from a small workshop in Dresden with supremely talented and passionate people, great things are happening, and we will be returning to them