Here's How You Turn 787 Components Into a $230,000 Watch
You don't need to know anything about watches to know that A. Lange & Söhne's Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna is a complicated beast—just look at it. What's less obvious are the countless difficult design decisions that had to be made, the painstaking work that goes into creating each component, and the sheer number of steps it takes to put all those parts together.
While touring Lange's manufacture in Glashütte, Germany, in October we visited the small workshop where an elite group of watchmakers work on the most advanced watches, including the Terraluna. Here's an inside look at how the $230,000 787-part perpetual calendar comes to life.
The Terraluna started out as an attempt to create a perpetual calendar that would fit into the brand's Richard Lange collection. This meant that there have to be intersecting rings for tracking the hours, minutes, seconds, and all the other information would have to fit around them. Quickly, technical director Anthony de Haas realized this meant there would be no space for a moonphase display, something he thinks is crucial to a true perpetual calendar. So, he did the next logical thing, and turned to the back.
Lange's movement's use a traditional Saxon "three-quarter plate" design where, just as you'd guess, a large plate covers three-quarters of the movement. This space gave de Haas and his team a perfect canvas for creating an oversized moonphase display. Instead of just showing the phase of the moon, the display on the Terraluna also shows the moon's position in relation to the earth and the sun (represented by the golden balance wheel) and the rotation of the earth itself.
Putting it All Together
The making of a single Terraluna takes months and involves dozens of people. Individual parts start their lives when they come out of CNC machines in a dedicated part of the manufacture. This is the unromantic part of the process, where it all begins.
From here, the raw components get finished and fine-tuned by hand, ensuring no burs or imperfections that could affect the accuracy of the assembled movement. Only then does the finishing process begin, when wide Glashütte stripes are added to the plates and bridges, edges are chamfered by hand on both internal and external angles, and wheels are brushed on top and bottom.
Once the components are all ready, the watch is assembled twice. Yes, twice.
The first time, everything is put together, adjusted, and the watchmaker ensures that the final product is working perfectly. During this process, there's risk that components will get scratched or finishing be disrupted, so the watch is disassembled, every part is checked and cleaned, and a second assembly happens. It's laborious—and a nightmare from an efficiency perspective, especially when you consider that this has to be done by the most skilled watchmakers in the workshop, many of whom have spent decades training to do this kind of work.
The finished Terraluna is a thing of beauty. That said, it's a rather large thing of beauty. At 45.5mm across and 16.5mm thick, it's verging dangerously close to unwearable territory, especially when you take into account the heft of the gold case and the German silver movement. But if you're rocking a Terraluna, you're probably not doing any heavy lifting and can probably leave your wrist comfortably perched on the arm of that lounge chair. Size aside, the Terraluna is handsome and does a good job balancing understated finishes and unabashed impressiveness.
Part of creating a watch this complicated is not letting the big flourishes distract from the little details. In fact, the more packed onto the dial and into the case, the more important it is that the finer points be perfect and not detracting from the overall enjoyment of the watch. It sounds simple, but it's one of the hardest things to achieve. Case in point: There's no denying that the Terraluna's dial is crowded, especially at that point where the three dials overlap—right by the red "30" for the minutes indicator—requiring three numbers to each be cropped differently. That's never not going to drive me crazy. But the beveled edges on the windows and the shapes of the hands in relation to the tracks on the dial help ensure overall legibility.
And that's the short version of how 787 components are turned, via technology and tradition (and thousands of man hours), into a functional piece of art that costs as much as a Mercedes Maybach. Complicated horology may be utterly useless in 2015—in the most charming way possible—but the fact that a team of artisans and engineers in the German countryside can come together to produce something like the Terraluna is nothing short of incredible.