Chronoswiss (Est. 1983 – Since its founding, Chronoswiss, the Swiss watch manufacturer has been guided by the vision and leadership of one man – Gerd-Rüdiger Lang – who started his career by repairing chronographs in his basement.
Prior to establishing Chronoswiss, Lang had experience in the manufacture of movements for other major watch brands. Between 1958 and 1961, Lang learned the art of watchmaking at the Jauns watch shop in his hometown of Braunschweig, Germany. From 1964 until 1979, he worked for Tag-Heuer, the stopwatch and chronograph factory in Biel, Switzerland.
At Heuer, Lang capitalized on his background working with chronographs (mechanical watches) to nurture his interest in timing and scoring – interests complemented by his love of antique sports cars.
In 1971, he worked closely with Steve McQueen during the filming of Le Mans. Not so incidentally, McQueen was seen wearing the famous Tag-Heuer Monaco watch in the film.
During the 1970s and 80s, Lang served as an official timekeeper at many Formula One auto races as well as at other timed sports. He was an official timekeeper at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Also in 1980, Lang attended the master school in Würzburg, Germany and graduated with the title, “Master Watchmaker.
In 1981, many Swiss watch companies were rattled by the introduction of the Quartz movement that, in many cases, undercut the industry’s reliance on old-school and expensive mechanical watchmaking. Lang, now over thirty and trained in time-honored methods of repairing mechanical watches, lost his job at Heuer because he knew very little about quartz movements.
Landing on his feet in 1981, Lang established a Munich, Germany workshop exclusively intended for chronographs. This led to the introduction of the world’s first mechanical chronograph with moon phase display and mineral crystal back under the name, Chronoswiss. At the time, no one could have predicted that this timepiece would lead to a resurgence of interest in and desire to own mechanical watches.
It also set in motion a worldwide distribution structure. Lang registered Chronoswiss as a protected trademark in 1984 and by 1985 had published the first Chronoswiss catalog promoting mechanical wristwatches and pocket-watches made in Switzerland. It did not take long for Lang to begin branching out to do custom watches for wealthy clients.
The name of Lang’s company denotes his love of the chronograph and his desire to create extraordinary mechanical timepieces. His personal collection contains 700-1000 watches and he is the primary author of the book, “Chronograph Wristwatches: To Stop Time.”
Given Lang’s interests in racing, cars, and the timing racing requires, it is no surprise that many of Lang’s watches possess the spirit and design of a time when stopwatches dominated the sporting world. Races are an intrinsic element of his design philosophy.
In fact, the Boardmaster/Wristmaster, consists of a conventional watch and stopwatch with 30 minute and 12 hour sub-dials, each in its own case and mounted side by side for the wrist or the dashboard. Ed Estlow, writing in the September 2015 edition of Gear Patrol suggests, “[it] may be the quintessential Chronoswiss offering.”
With an eye to establishing the Chronoswiss brand early on, the first Chronoswiss ads feature Lang at the wheel of his Jaguar XK120 Alu Roadster OTS, sometimes with his daughter Natalie, also a watchmaker, in the passenger seat.
From its earliest creations, Lang and Chronoswiss have presented numerous innovations. Lang was the first watchmaker to make a display case back in the first Chronoswiss model offered in 1982. If he were fascinated by viewing how a watch’s mechanisms worked, it seemed natural for him to show off the beauty of the little machines inside his watches. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a company that doesn’t offer this feature, called ‘skeletonization.’
It has become an intrinsic element of the Chronoswiss design and on the Company’s official website, it states:
“The art of skeletonizing arrived … about the eighteenth century as a special horological theme. [Though] soon forgotten, [it] resurfaced in the 1930s [and] experienced another heyday. This art [is] the artistic reduction of the movement to its bare minimum: the “skeleton” [and enables] an unimpeded view [of how] … parts are aligned to cover the same areas.
“The historic hand-wound movements … originate[d] in the 1970s and are elaborately decorated after being skeletonized [and] the careful embellishment inside the timepiece is revealed by Chronoswiss’ classic transparent case back.
“It’s hard to tell whether the view is more beautiful from the front or the back, but one thing is for sure: no matter which side [from which] you view the Artist’s Collection models, you will always see impressive art made exclusively by hand.”
In the late 1980s and throughout the 90s, the company introduced numerous chronographs that caught the attention of watch lovers around the world. In 1987 came the Régulateur, a hand-wound offering that was the first wrist watch with a regulator-style dial to be serially produced.
The same year saw the introduction of what is now considered the typical Chronoswiss case: screwed coin edge bezels front and back, signature onion crowns, sapphire case backs, and screwed lugs. Sport models have crowns large enough so they can be wound with gloves like aviators and drivers did in early racing days.
Lang’s Régulateur Automatique, with its Chronoswiss C.122 movement made its first appearance in 1990. The Kairos Chronograph with an off-center display of hours and minutes followed a year later and the Rattrapante appeared in 1992.
More models followed including the Opus (1995) and the Delphis (1996) which was the first wrist watch to combine digital (hours), retrograde (minutes), and analog (small seconds) in its time display.
The Chronoscope debuted in 2001. In another first for Chronoswiss, the mono-pusher Chronoscope was the first automatic chronograph with a regulator dial. In 2009, a bi-directional rotating bezel with minute notations was added and let wearers track elapsed time.
The economic downturn of late 2000s saw Chronoswiss sales slump. Lang, now nearly 70, wanted to retire. His daughter Natalie, who had worked alongside her father for many years, did not want to take over the business. A buyer was found in 2011 and a deal was completed in 2012.
Oliver and Eva Ebstein, a Swiss entrepreneurial husband and wife team, purchased the brand and all assets. Production now continues in a German factory in Karlsfeld, outside Munich and the brand’s headquarters have been moved to Lucerne, Switzerland.
Despite the change in ownership, much is the same at Chronoswiss: the logo, the instantly recognizable case, and the firm’s interest in innovation. The Ebsteins plan to continue the Chronoswiss tradition of manufacturing only fine mechanical watches, but at a new, well-equipped factory in Switzerland. Lang remains with them in an advisory capacity. He is first, last, and always, a watchmaker.
Lang is well known for his love of detail, and his pieces display highly detailed crowns, bezels, and case bands. As a brand valued mostly by collectors, Chronoswiss watches generally sell at the low-end of their price range at auctions.
Lang has said, “…All the watches [in my collection], I made first for me, not for you. I am a watchmaker, not a manager, and this is my toy. I make it for me and when it is good, I make more.”
Gerd-Rüdiger Lang is recognized as having had a significant role in the renaissance and resurrection of the mechanical watch even though he claims he originally only made them as toys for himself, before making them for others.
Chronoswiss produces only about 7,000 watches per year. All watches are hand-finished.