This is the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite 701.001. It was one of the first watch models introduced when A. Lange & Söhne relaunched in 1994, and it is named after a centuries-old German order of merit that King Frederick II of Prussia created. The merit is a prestigious award given to civilians and military alike, recipients include Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, and A. Lange & Söhne decided that of all the watches released at their relaunch, this was the one deserving of the title. This yellow gold reference was launched alongside a white gold variant (reference 701.007), a rose gold variant (reference 701.011), and a platinum one (reference 701.005).
Released in 1994 alongside the Lange 1, Arkade, and Saxonia, this Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite reference 701.001 was a special watch among special watches. Maybe more than any of the other inaugural watches from Lange, the Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite bridged the gap between the brands past and present. It pulls inspiration from some of Lange’s most legendary vintage tourbillon pocket watches like the reference 41000 “Jahrhunderttourbillon.” Despite having almost 100 years between the two watches, the Pour Le Mérite borrows finishing techniques seen on the 41000, such as its heat-blued screws, hand-engraved balance cock, and the black polished three-armed tourbillon cage. However, this reference isn’t stuck in the past and was the first model to employ Lange’s fusée and chain mechanism.
This advanced mechanism allows for constant force on the escapement regardless of the power reserve left and ensures a high level of accuracy. The introduction of this innovative mechanism is precisely makes this watch worthy of merit. To add to the preciousness of the piece, Lange only made 200 examples of this model with 150 in yellow gold and 50 in platinum. While other metals would be introduced later, as would additional Pour Le Mérite models that utilize the fusée and chain mechanism, this reference remains among the most collectible. There can only be one first.
If you’re a Lange fan, the first thing you might notice about this watch is just how much it looks like an 1815, and you’d be right. Though the model predates the 1815 line, design traits like the numeral typeface and the outer chapter ring and flourishes within it show that it obviously served as a design proof of concept that now lives on in the popular 1815 watch line. The watch case is also classic Lange with its three-step structure, brushed mid-case, and prominent lugs. The dial is German silver with black painted numerals and beautifully blued steel hands. The blued steel hands are one of my favorite details; they manage to enhance the look of the watch without sacrificing legibility. Overall, what stands out to me about this watch’s design is just how balanced it is across the board.
The bold solid gold case and bracelet are offset by the svelte proportions, with the watch measuring 38.5mm—a size that’s almost universally loved—and just 10mm thick. This allows what could easily have been a loud, garish watch to come of more reserved and elegant. Additionally, the dial is almost totally symmetrical. The running seconds and power reserve mirror each other, and the “A. Lange & Söhne” logo is curving to match the shape of the tourbillon cut out.
One complaint I could see is someone thinking the watch dial is a bit busy, especially for a watch that doesn’t have any true complications, but I don’t think it deserves that title. I’d prefer to call it interesting as I don’t find anything hard to read and quite like the little details that have been included, plus with a tourbillon that beautiful, it would be a sin to hide it.
The reason this watch is worthy of the title Pour Le Mérite is really all because of its movement. The in-house caliber L902.0 is a manually wound tourbillon with a 36-hour power reserve and notably a fusée and chain mechanism. It’s this impressive mechanism that links all Pour Le Mérite models. The whole movement is made up of a whopping 953 components, 633 of which are used just on the fusée and chain mechanism. Essentially it’s a shrunk-down version of the technology used in marine chronometers that acts like an infinitely variable gearbox equalizing the waning force of the mainspring. This makes sure that the caliber is always receiving a uniform amount of energy, ensuring that no matter the power reserve, it operates at the same rate.
In addition to this innovative mechanism, the caliber L902.0 is exceptionally finished. The whole bridge is finished with a gorgeous perlage, the tourbillon has diamond end stones, and its bridge is hand engraved. The attention to detail is visible from the front to back, and I don’t think you can fully appreciate it without studying it in detail with a loupe.
Versus The Competition
When thinking of competition for this watch, the first timepiece that came to mind was the F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Remontoir d’Egalite. This model with a platinum case and bracelet measures 40mm making it slightly bigger than the Lange but still versatile. It’s a tourbillon like the Lange, and it too has a constant force mechanism in the Remontoir d’Egalite. However, the mechanisms work very differently. As a bonus, this Journe has a dead beat seconds hand which the Lange does not. However, the Journe is not a limited edition like the Lange, but Journe being a very small manufacturer, this is still a rare timepiece. If you like the Lange but want something a little more quirky, this is the watch for you. There is a full review of this piece here.
Another alternative to consider if you want something a bit simpler is the 1815 Tourbillon. The two watches have a lot in common, but this limited edition platinum model has a much cleaner look without the power reserve or sub-seconds dial. Its enamel dial is gorgeous, and the use of red for the 12 adds a dash of flavor to keeps things interesting. This specific model was launched in 2018 as 1 of only 100, making it slightly rarer than the Pour Le Mérite. For more details, there is a full write-up on this piece here.
Make no bones about it. This watch is for an elite collector and Lange fan who wants a piece of the brand’s history in their collection. This is a crown jewel dress watch for almost any collector and instantly announces its wearer as someone with ample means and watch knowledge.
This is a gorgeous and meaningful watch for A. Lange & Söhne and one that continues to display its influence on the brand to this day. I could write another 1,000 words about what makes it special, but I think one simple fact encapsulates the importance of this watch more than all others. With the entire Lange lineup at his disposal, Walter Lange chose to wear this watch.