All Five A. Lange & Söhne „Pour le Mérite“ Watches In The Same Place, At The Same Time.
When it comes to modern mega watches, it’s hard to think of a series that surpasses A. Lange & Söhne’s „Pour le Mérite“ watches in interest, aesthetics, and mechanical complexity. The line started back in 1994 when Lange was reborn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it’s continued through to today. There are five Pour le Mérite watches in total (called PLM for short), with varying levels of complications, but they’re all united by one thing: a fusée-and-chain. This extremely intricate mechanism provides more constant force to the escapement through the duration of a watch’s power cycle by balancing out the torque with a counter force provided by a tiny chair wrapped around a conical gear (the fusée).
Seeing one of the Pour le Mérite watches in the wild is a pretty rare thing, indeed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said hello to collector friends and notice one peeking out from under their cuff. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I was told that I would have the chance to see all five in the same place, at the same time.
I could ramble on about how exciting this was for days, but I’ll spare you and get right to the watches. You’ll notice that serial numbers and movement numbers have been erased through the magic of Photoshop, as these watches belong to a private collector who wished to keep them anonymous.
Tourbillon „Pour Le Mérite“ (1994)
This is where it all started. It’s crazy to imagine it today, but after half a century of no A. Lange & Söhne, this is one of the four watches the then-new brand presented to the world in 1994. Alongside the Lange 1, Saxonia, and Arkade, the Tourbillon „Pour le Mérite“ offered up a new vision of the German watchmaker and thus has been an important part of the brand’s modern history.
The case is a modest 38.5mm across (the perfect size for a watch like this, if you ask me) and the dial utilizes what have become the design codes of the 1815 collection, with the slightly fancy Arabic numerals and the outer chapter ring. With the running seconds, power reserve indicator, and oversized tourbillon opening and bridge at six o’clock, this watch ends up looking kind of complicated, despite basically showing just the time. For the movement, Lange pulled out all the stops. There are 953 components (including the 633 used to make the chain for the fusée-and-chain mechanism), finishing is off-the-charts good, and there are a pair of diamonds used as the endstones for the tourbillon (something that would become a signature for the PLM watches).
Context and technical specs aside, the watch is just damn handsome. I’m most definitely not a „tourbillon guy“ and I can think of many a very finely made watch that I wouldn’t want to wear even if given the opportunity at no expense – however, this is a tourbillon that I would wear very proudly despite the fact that it’s not at all shy about flaunting its craftsmanship and decoration. There were 200 pieces produced in the original series – 150 in yellow gold and 50 in platinum, like the one you see here – and then two later series in pink gold and white gold, each of which was 150 pieces as well.
Tourbograph „Pour Le Mérite“ (2005)
More than a decade went by between the introduction of the first PLM and the sequel. But it was worth the wait. Pour le Mérite number two added a split-seconds chronograph to the mix, while keeping many of the aesthetic cues of the first intact. From a distance, the dials look almost identical, with the addition of the two central chronograph hands for the rattrapante and a 30-minute totalizer taking the place of the running seconds register at nine o’clock.
Obviously, the whole package had to be upsized to accommodate the more complicated caliber L.903.0, but the case still comes in at a reasonable 41.2mm across and 14.3mm thick. That movement has well over 1,000 components including those required for the chain and it once again makes use of those diamond endstones (though you have to hunt a little harder to see the one on the back.
Ultimately, 101 of these have been produced between the original edition of 51 pieces in platinum and a second edition of 50 pieces in the very special honey gold (released in 2010).
Richard Lange „Pour Le Mérite“ (2009)
This is one of my all-time favorite watches. First released back in 2009, the Richard Lange „Pour le Mérite“ is one of the most superlative time-only watches ever made, and possibly the best one being serially made today. On the wrist, the watch looks like a simple three-hander, with the 40.5mm case containing a white enamel dial punctuated by inky black roman numerals and blued hands. It’s classic and good looking, but without rubbing your face in it.
Then you turn the watch over. What you’re greeted by is a three-quarter plate movement in the classic Lange style, but with a few cut-outs revealing the fusée-and-chain mechanism. Just that chain itself is made of 636 individual components, all assembled by hand to extremely small tolerances. The decoration is also superlative, from the ornately engraved balance cock to the wide stripes on the German silver plate to the beveled internal angles.
In all, 468 of these watches have been produced across a few editions. There are 50 in platinum with a white dial like you see here, as well as 200 in pink gold from the original edition and 218 in white gold with a black enamel dial from an edition released last year.
Richard Lange Tourbillon „Pour Le Mérite“ (2011)
There are few watches about which I’ve heard my colleague Jack Forster say more effusively nice things than this one. And I can’t say he’s been wrong about any of it. The Richard Lange Tourbillon PLM is a regulator that shows the hours, minutes, and seconds on three separate registers in the style of nineteenth-century scientific clocks. However, this one has an obvious caveat – the seconds register features a massive cut-out that reveals the tourbillon underneath.
While I know some of you will prefer the chronograph movements, to me the caliber L072.1 used here is the most visually interesting of the PLM movements. The basic construction still uses a three-quarter plate, but it has been so drastically openworked that it almost has the appearance of being a series of smaller bridges. You get a great look at the full fusée-and-chain mechanism and there are so many internal angles to admire that you can easily get lost.
There were 250 of these bad boys in the initial edition, with 200 in pink gold and 50 in platinum, plus a later Handwerkskunst edition of just 15 pieces in honey gold.
Tourbograph Perpetual „Pour Le Mérite“ (2017)
And, finally, we’ve got the newest member of the family, introduced just this past year at SIHH 2017. The Tourbograph Perpetual „Pour le Mérite“ is the most complicated PLM to date, with a tourbillon, chronograph, perpetual calendar with moonphase, and fusée-and-chain all packed into the 43mm platinum case. Considering everything that’s going on here, it’s actually a very wearable watch and the dial is legible and clear despite the density of information (and that massive long-bridged tourbillon at six o’clock).
If you look at the movement from the back, you’ll notice that it’s extremely similar in appearance to that of the original Tourbograph up above. That’s because the perpetual calendar works are what’s called cadrature, meaning they sit on the dial side of the movement, so you can’t see them from that vantage point. Looking closer at the tourbillon however reveals one of the coolest Lange signatures – the diamond endstone on the tourbillon pivot. It’s a subtle touch, but one that I really enjoy.
Seeing as it’s a release from this year, production is far from completed on the latest PLM, but there will only be 50 of these watches ever made, all of them in platinum.