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German watchmaker rebuilds luxury brand from post-war rubble

At the age of 66, when many are already enjoying retirement, Walter Lange was setting out to prove great luxury watches do not have to be Swiss.

In a remote corner of what was East Germany, Lange aimed to rebuild a venerable watchmaking business whose history reads like a chronicle of 20th century Europe, with its wars, dislocation, Soviet-era occupation and finally, unity and peace.

Now watchmakers in the small town of Glashuette again sit bent over work tables in whitewashed factory buildings, magnifying glasses strapped to their eyes, polishing three-quarter plates made of German silver and engraving balance cocks by hand.

Lange & Söhne

"Back in the 1990s, when Lange & Söhne started making watches again, selling a German watch to a Swiss was like selling a fridge to an Eskimo," said Zurich watch retailer Rene Beyer. "But that has changed. At present, half of our Lange watches go to Swiss customers."

Collectors value the brand's characteristic old-style movements including a plate in the shape of a three-quarters full moon invented by Ferdinand Lange in 1864 to add stability, and screwed gold sockets, known as 'chatons', that today only serve decorative purposes.

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