eorg Bartkowiak, the German entrepreneur who has just co-founded Lang 1943, is no stranger to our columns. On several occasions over the past few decades, we have reported on his work, notably as head of the independent watch brand Grieb & Benzinger. The private label and personalisation specialist based in Pforzheim, Germany, has also developed a large number of customised watches through his company ChronoSeven. Over the years, he has created special series for brands such as TAG Heuer and Chopard (both in association with the Porsche Club of America), as well as for numerous individuals around the world.
The Lang 1943 brand arose out of a very special dialogue between Georg Bartkowiak and German master watchmaker Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, whom he considers his “subconscious mentor”, that has been going on for almost twenty years. As well as watches, both share a passion for vintage cars.
- In 1994, Europa Star devoted an article to Georg Bartkowiak, a young entrepreneur then at the head of Montres Cogito.
- ©Archives Europa Star
- A model by Grieb & Benzinger, the brand long managed by Georg Bartkowiak, featured in Europa Star in 2013.
- ©Archives Europa Star
The founder of Chronoswiss, born in 1943, is one of those figures whose prescience is recognised today. In the 1980s, he fought to maintain innovation in mechanical watchmaking when the arrival of quartz meant that many in the industry assumed that the traditions of the past had no future.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang worked in chronometer production, then in customer service at Heuer, travelling between Switzerland and Germany. At the age of 37, when the quartz crisis hit and the Munich subsidiary where he worked closed, he recovered a batch of mechanical movements and fitted them into a classic cases. This was how Chronoswiss started in 1983.
- In the years of doubt about the future of watchmaking, Chronoswiss was one of the brands betting on the resilience of the mechanical watch. At the end of the 1980s, its founder Gerd-Rüdiger Lang bought the stock of Marvin calibres that form the basis of the Lang 1943 project today.
- ©Archives Europa Star
- Interview with Gerd-Rüdiger Lang published in Europa Star in 1998: “I believed that there would be a renaissance of the mechanical timepiece and so I took the risk and continued to make traditional pieces.”
- ©Archives Europa Star
He was a prolific innovator, a trait that set him apart in an uncertain time. For instance, he pioneered the transparent case back, a commonplace in wristwatches today. On the dial side, he adapted the regulator type display to the wristwatch. In 2012, after thirty years at the head of the brand, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang sold Chronoswiss to Oliver and Eva Ebstein. Today they are still at the helm of the brand, now based in Lucerne.
- In 2012, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang sold Chronoswiss to Oliver and Eva Ebstein. The brand is now based in Lucerne.
- ©Archives Europa Star
A meeting of two friends
Over the years, Georg Bartkowiak and Gerd-Rüdiger Lang collaborated a number of times on special commissions. Their paths crossed again in 2017, when the latter commissioned the former to catalogue his collections and archives. Having seen the extent of the heritage material, the entrepreneur then made a proposal to the watchmaker to create a new brand. Lang was not immediately convinced. At nearly 80 years of age, should he take the plunge again? Two years later, after developing a brand concept, he agreed – but on the condition that he remain a simple advisor to the company that today bears his name and honours his heritage.
At almost 80 years of age, was it time to jump back into the fray? Gerd-Rüdiger Lang agreed... but as a simple advisor to the company that today bears his name and honours his heritage.
And it all started again – just as it had for Chronoswiss in 1983 – with a batch of mechanical movements recovered by Gerd-Rüdiger Lang. In fact, among the personal collection catalogued by Georg Bartkowiak, there was the entire remaining stock of hand-wound movements and components made by the defunct Marvin brand, comprising several thousand pieces dating from the 1960s, which the German watchmaker had acquired at the end of the 1980s. A treasure trove.
- Inspired by the aesthetics of the 1940s, the decade of Gerd-Rüdiger Lang’s birth, the Field Watch Edition One features a smoked dial with sunburst finish and a small seconds counter.
These movements, marketed under the name Marvin Calibre 700, were recognised for their reliability. Founded by brothers Marc and Emmanuel Didisheim in 1850, Marvin experienced extraordinary growth (it had 300 employees in the 1950s) and acquired a solid reputation by equipping other brands such as Zenith with calibres, before going bust during the quartz crisis – the same 1980s that just so happened to see Gerd-Rüdiger Lang launch his own brand. (N.B. An attempt was made to revive Marvin in the 2000s.)
As Lang 1943 is being launched following a global pandemic, with all the logistical constraints that this situation implies, the use of vintage calibres enables the brand to position itself directly in the niche of updated “manufacture” movements. The renamed Calibre L43.1 is minimalist in its functions (hours, minutes, seconds), in keeping with the refined design of the watches themselves. Although not (yet?) regulators, the Lang 1943 watches reflect the supreme functionality of Gerd-Rüdiger Lang’s designs.
- The model is equipped with a transparent case back – a now-common feature that was pioneered by Gerd-Rüdiger Lang. This allows the modified Marvin 700 movement to be seen.
“Before I saw those calibres with my own eyes, I knew that he had recovered a number of Marvin movements, but I didn’t know the volumes, nor the value of the batch,” Georg Bartkowiak points out. “They lend themselves to a number of modifications and we can also use them for additional modules and complications.”
It all started again – just as it had for Chronoswiss in 1983 – with a batch of mechanical movements recovered by Gerd-Rüdiger Lang.
A design inspired by the Dirty Dozen
The Lang 1943 launch series is inspired by military field watches, specifically the Dirty Dozen, the 12 legendary watches commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence in the 1940s. Manufactured by Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex, these watches had to meet strict specifications including water-resistance, luminosity, chronometric regulation and a robust case. The dial had to be black with Arabic numerals.
- The stainless steel case is decorated with straight and circular brushed finishes. A screwed bezel with an invisible gasket system surrounds a domed sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective coating.
Why start with this type of watch rather than a regulator or chronograph? “The dimensions of the calibre were ideal for watches that precisely corresponded to the decade in which Gerd-Rüdiger Lang was born,” replies Georg Bartkowiak. “And thanks to this choice, we were able to complete production within just two years.”
For these extremely refined watches with their smoked dials and clean, classic lines, it’s all in the details, such as the luminescent indexes evoking the radium colours of the Dirty Dozen. The models combine old and new components and are assembled in Switzerland. “As far as the brand inspiration is concerned, I think we’ll stick to the 1940s at this stage, because it is such a classic and rich era for watchmaking,” says the entrepreneur.
Key partners in the Middle East
The price of the Field Watch Edition One model, which will be launched this autumn, is expected to be in the range of 3,500 to 4,000 euros: “When we started the project, Gerd-Rüdiger insisted on keeping the price fair and that’s what we wanted too. The aim is to bring the beauty of the mechanics to the customers, through an exclusive movement, as well as a strong historical and heritage value. In any case, there is little point in trying to identify a typical customer: every time I have ventured into this area, a different customer profile has responded!”
One of the key partners in the project is the new Perpetuel boutique in Dubai, founded by Hamdan Alhudaidi and Melika Yazdjerdi, a well-known figure in watchmaking circles and a former organiser of Dubai Watch Week. A limited edition will be reserved for them. “Distribution will be hybrid: e-commerce is important, but being able to touch the product is just as important,” continues Georg Bartkowiak, who expects to produce around 600 watches for this first year.
- The price of the Field Watch Edition One model, which will be launched this autumn, is expected to be in the range of 3,500 to 4,000 euros.
Lang 1943’s Marvin calibres will be developed in different forms each year. Gerd-Rüdiger Lang will celebrate his 80th birthday in 2023, and we can certainly expect to see some strong inspiration from his flagship designs. “His watch designs are based on one principle: that of eternal mechanical beauty. I wouldn’t want anyone to think of us as a new brand: we are continuing his legacy. Many are already rediscovering it today.”
“I wouldn’t want anyone to think of us as a new brand: we are continuing his legacy. Many are already rediscovering it today.”
TECHNICAL INFORMATION – LANG 1943 FIELD WATCH EDITION ONE
- Diameter: 39 mm
- Height: 8.4 mm
- Water resistance: 5 ATM
- Mechanical hand-wound movement Calibre L43.1
- Number of jewels: 17
- Power reserve with fully wound main spring: approx. 46 hours
- Frequency: 3 Hz / 21,600 vph
- Shock absorber: Incabloc
- Balance spring: Nivarox 1
- Main spring: Nivaflex
- Balance wheel: Glucydur
- Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds at 6 o’clock
- Dials with Swiss Super-LumiNova in several colours
- Straps with quick change system
- Solid stainless steel pin buckle