For 30 potential collectors, the return in July 2021 of the A. Lange & Söhne’s Cabaret Tourbillon was a moment of celebration. Not only did the discontinued Cabaret Tourbillon stage a comeback – equipped with the world’s first hacking tourbillon – but it also staged its return in a lavish Handwerkskunst edition, the apogee of A. Lange & Söhne‘s artistic and artisanal skills. Let’s take a closer look at the rich finissage of this über-exclusive platinum edition rigorously executed by hand by Lange’s team of skilled engravers and enamellers.
A Lange & Söhne introduced the Cabaret in 1997. Not only was it Lange’s first rectangular watch (not to be confused with the Arkade), it bore a whimsical name that was a far cry from the august Saxon spirit of the reputable brand that put Glashütte on the world’s watchmaking map. The non-round Lange watch might have shocked purists, but it displayed its provenance as a legitimate Lange child with its outsize date. Having appeared in time-only and moon phase editions, the Cabaret was fitted with a tourbillon in 2008 with an innovative stop-seconds mechanism but discontinued in 2013 after a somewhat lacklustre performance. For an account of the origins and evolution of the Cabaret, please refer to the section on ‘Life is a Cabaret’.
Before looking at the artistic flourishes, a few words on the gleaming platinum case are in order. It might be rectangular, but it is one of Lange’s most complex, detailed and elegant cases. Like former editions, the 950 platinum case of the A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst measures 29.5mm wide, 39.2mm long and has a thickness of 10.3mm – and its heft and silvery-white lustre clearly denote the presence of this heavy metal. Picking up on the streamlined design cues from the Art Deco epoch, the bezel is stepped and displays smooth, rounded corners.All the elements of the case seem to flow, from the gentle camber on the reverse side to the arched sapphire crystal over the dial. The finishings accentuate the sleek case geometry with brightly polished lugs and bezel and a brushed case middle.
The latest edition of the Caberet Tourbillon has been inducted into the sacred halls (ateliers) of Lange’s Handwerkskunst models. Loosely translated as ‘artistic craftsmanship’, since 2011, Lange’s limited edition Handwerkskunst watches are treated to exceptional finishings and decorative techniques. The Cabaret Tourbillon is the seventh timepiece to benefit from this lavish treatment. As CEO Wilhelm Schmid explained to Frank Geelen in an interview in 2017, the idea behind Handwerskunst “is a bit like a show car for the car industry. So you show what is possible, knowing that you could never do that in big numbers. The difference between all our products and the Handwerkskunst is not the level of quality; it is the amount of decoration that we put into these watches. And of course, I accept that the result is in a way untypical for A. Lange & Söhne because it is quite opulent compared to our normal watches”.
Viewed from a distance, the matte grey dial with its highly symmetric layout conveys a somewhat conservative, august personality. However, when viewed up close with a loupe, the dial reveals a rich topography of surface finishings brought to life by Lange’s artisans. Crafted entirely in-house, the three-part dial is made of solid gold. The layout, which is identical to the 2008 Cabaret Tourbillon, features the oversize date at noon, the AB/AUF power reserve indicator at 4 o’clock, the running seconds at 8 o’clock and the tourbillon at 6 o’clock.
The framed cartouche in the dial’s centre with the iconic Lange big date aperture is hand-engraved with a lozenge pattern that echoes the shape of the six applied lozenge indices. When I first saw the watch, the pattern reminded me of the geometric Argyle (diamond) pattern of Pringle knitwear from the 1920s that was popular with dapper dresses like the Duke of Windsor – not such a far-fetched analogy given the strong Art Deco vibe of the watch. Although the regularity of the pattern might lead you to believe it was guillochage, each individual lozenge is painstakingly engraved by hand, and the gold in its centre scooped out to create depth.
Tremblage is a hand-engraving technique using a burin to create a dimpled, somewhat grainy surface that glistens like sand. Clearly visible with magnification, the border of the central cartouche, the circular post for the hour and minute hands, the double-framed windows of the outsize date and the separate indicators on the dial are all decorated with tremblage. Although I can’t vouch for it, I am hazarding a guess that the applied Roman numerals and diamond indices are also decorated with tremblage. To add extra depth to the engraving and reveal the different metallic shades of grey, the dial is covered by a semi-transparent layer of enamel.
More conventional finishings like the snailing in the power reserve and small seconds counters are also employed. The only polished elements on the predominantly matte dial are the white gold rhodium-plated hands and the upper section of the tourbillon bridge. Suspended between two diamond endstones, the tourbillon bridge is masterfully crafted with a matte finish on the sides and a thin strip on the top that gleams like a mirror thanks to the black polishing. Entirely executed by hand, black polishing is considered one of the most challenging types of finissage and can take several days. Using special abrasive pastes, the parts are manually polished on a tin plate until they appear black at a certain angle.
Taming the whirlwind
Abraham-Louis Breguet’s tourbillon device, patented in 1801, was designed to counter the negative influence of gravity on the regulating organ of pocket watches and, by doing so, enhance overall precision. However, it took more than 200 years for somebody to come up with a way of stopping the tourbillon in its tracks to be able to set the time with absolute precision. Marking a milestone in the history of precision watchmaking, A. Lange & Söhne created a mechanism to stop the balance inside the rotating cage instantaneously. Without going into Lange’s innovative technical solution, which is covered in Xavier’s article, owners of a Cabaret Tourbillon could stop the balance by simply pulling out the crown and activating a V-shaped, pivoted spring that alights on the cage and brakes its rotation. Once the time was set with a reference clock, the balance was restarted by pushing the crown home.
Still powered by the same manual-winding Calibre L042.1 designed for the 2008 model, the shaped movement of the Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst, measuring 22.3 x 32.6mm, is tailored to fit inside the rectangular case. Although the movement inside the 2021 Cabaret Tourbillon is now fitted with an indexless oscillation system and a Lange balance spring, the most dramatic difference lies in the finishing.
The lozenge patterns decorating the dial are echoed on the movement and hand-engraved on the tiny black rhodium-plated tourbillon and intermediate wheel cocks. Inspired by historic pocket watch movements, the three-quarter untreated German silver bridge displays a subtle granular surface and is secured with six screwed gold chatons (9 total), bringing a vivid touch of ruby red and metallic blue to the scenery. The winding train on the bridge is decorated with circular graining, and the edges of the bridge, plates and levers are all chamfered and polished by hand.
The movement is composed of 370 parts, of which 84 correspond to the tourbillon that weighs a quarter of a gram. Beating at a frequency of 21,600, the twin mainspring barrel delivers a power reserve of 120 hours/5 days.
Although I don’t think this platinum Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst heralds the return of the Cabaret collection, it could become a sought-after collector’s piece. First, because the Cabaret Tourbillon was the designated vessel for Lange’s breakthrough tourbillon calibre (L042.1) with hacking seconds in 2008. Second, because it is a rarity and the only rectangular watch in Lange’s universe of round watches. Third, because this 2021 edition is a stunning demonstration of Lange’s skills in the finishing department, and there are only 30 examples of it on the market.
Availability & Price
The 2021 A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst (ref. 703.048) is a limited edition of 30 individually numbered pieces. It comes on a black alligator strap with grey stitching and a 950 platinum deployant buckle. It retails for EUR 315,200 (incl. German taxes).
For more details, please visit www.alange-soehne.com.