Some Lange watches put me in actual pain, I want them so much. To make this issue sound more serious than it actually is, I’ll call it Futile Unattainable Watch Acquisition Syndrome (FUWAS, for short). If someone has copyrighted that already, have his lawyer contact mine. Weirdly, the heavyweight horological muscle-flexer A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual ‘Pour Le Mérite’ is not such a Lange, and I have even managed to finally figure out why.
Why? Exactly because it is a heavy weight horological muscle-flexer of a watch, a watch that’s so overdone, its doping has allowed but a few little segments in the Lange DNA to survive such abusive treatment. In truth, we have seen the combination of a round case, perpetual calendar and moon phase in sub-dials, and a chronograph many times before. Many, many times, because that’s how genuinely spoiled we are. The Tourbograph even shows some skin (beautiful skin, in fact) at 6 o’clock to let you know not just with its font choice and ever-so-slightly unique lugs that it’s a Lange.
I fully understand the value and the awe-inspiring goodness in the bespoke, not-copied-from-anyone-else engineering that’s under the hood of this Tourbograph Perpetual, but we are not talking about an uncased movement here, but a complete watch. On that note, anyone who doesn’t tingle at the sight of this movement should seek medical attention, quick! To take a more positive approach to what unquestionably is a watchmaking masterpiece, we have to look at the myriads of fine details the Tourbograph offers.
Let us stick with the dial side and start with its most immediately apparent feat: its proudly displayed tourbillon bridge and assembly. The bridge itself features a curve on each end that is visible from the slightest of viewing angles. Take a closer look and you’ll see what appears to be one of the most challenging anglages ever: in the shape of a “V” the edges are bevelled and polished by hand. The two prongs lead to a gold chaton with a diamond endstone inside – a long-forgotten element reserved for only the finest pocket watches of old.
The tourbillon’s cage itself features unusually romantic curves and eye-wateringly mirror polished top surfaces. The second image above shows how that mirror finish works: it is either silky-shiny white, or pitch black. Because the tourbillon sits so deep under the dial, light finds funny ways to make it to just some bits and pieces of the tourbillon assembly – a different, but fantastic light show on display.
Lange say the tourbillon “overcomes the pull of gravity” and I’m sorry, but I can’t help but cringe every time I read or hear that. Jedi and astronauts onboard the ISS can overcome the pull of gravity, but not many others – and a tourbillon certainly can’t. It isn’t 2002 anymore, when the tourbillon is a mystical thing that’s impossible to explain. I may be nitpicking here, sure, but what is it if not attention and understanding of such details that we expect from the big guns like Lange? The tourbillon, fully exposed to the pull of gravity, over time averages out the rate errors of the watch’s timekeeping organ, something largely and totally unnecessary in a wristwatch, unless we’re speaking multi-axis tourbillons.
The dial side has many other treats for the onlooker, namely those linked to the perpetual calendar and the rattrapante chronograph. The former is composed of 206 parts, almost a third of the 684 total component count of the L133.1 caliber. Lange’s moon phase is “accurate to 122.6 years” – mind you, that “accuracy” means that it takes that much time for the moon phase display to be off by a complete day. This sort of arbitrary way is how the accuracy of moon phase displays in watches is usually determined, not that anyone really cares about actual practicality beyond its aesthetic and engineering element.
The rattrapante chronograph on the other hand is one of the most technically impressive and challenging complications out there. Some watchmakers I asked told me they find it more challenging to do than a sonnerie or minute repeater, and definitely a much bigger pain in the neck than a perpetual calendar (unless it is instantaneous and/or further complicated). The two laser sharp chronograph seconds hands rest a hair’s width above one another in their reset position, with the blue being the rattrapante hand, operated by the pusher at the 10 o’clock position of the case.
The rattrapante chronograph also gives us the perfect reason to turn the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual ‘Pour Le Mérite’ around and take a better look at its caseback. It is one metropolis of a movement, truly like a small-scale city of gears and plates. A complicated Lange, and especially a chronograph, will forever be among the most splendid-looking calibers in all of watchmaking history.
As we have seen with the Lange Double Split, there is not one, but two column wheels in the movement. As you can see on the image above, this column wheel is directly linked to the two arms that control the splitting (or rattrapante) function: some extremely finicky geometrics come to play to stop and let go of the wheel linked to one of the two central chronograph seconds hands. The other column across the movement (the one to the left on the image below) serves as a regular chronograph function’s column wheel, responsible for stopping and starting the chronograph itself.
There are simple movements that amaze with their finishing and there are not-so-amazingly finished complex movements that amaze with their mind-boggling layout. The Tourbograph merges the two and creates a watch that is a sensual overload with a window onto a world where stunning surface treatments and decorations meet with some of the challenging geometrics and interactions of components.
It is filigree and yet rugged in a way few movements with ~700 components are. All the parts appear to have substantial volume to them, almost begging the question why so many other movements we see incorporate fragile-looking little springs and cams in their design. The Tourbograph looks like a beautifully decorated machine that dwarfs other movements.
Hidden deep inside the bowels of the L133.1 is a fusée and chain transmission system, designed to ensure a more even delivery of torque as the mainspring unwinds over its short, 36-hour power reserve – 36 hours is indeed brief, but a shorter than average power reserve isn’t exactly unusual among such outrageously complicated movements. The chain itself is 636 parts, but Lange counts it as one (yes, one) part in the 684 component count of the movement itself.
On the wrist, the 43mm-wide and whopping 16.6mm-thick platinum case is a hefty, hefty beast. It wears fine, but the weight of the case and the ~1,400 components inside it do make for one very heavy watch. Weapons grade, I think is the word. Few watches make me feel invincible, but this one did in its strange way – because it, in all fairness, is a fragile thing.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Lange is a powerhouse in modern watchmaking – the flippin’ Death Star that slowly moves in the vast horological space, filled with little planets of miserable but strangely likable brands. If sheer engineering awesomeness and quality of execution could somehow allow a watch to shoot lasers, I’d expect to see a Lange do it first – and there’s no point to coming second in that game, is there?
The Tourbograph Perpetual ‘Pour le Mérite’ is yet another weapon in the manufacture’s armada that testifies to the excellence and almost frightening know-how of Lange – and for this, I respect it without a morsel of reservation. But, strangely, for the same reasons, somehow it is still overshadowed by other pieces in Lange’s range that are, in their own ways, equally impressive, but much more Lange. Think of any of these three incredible Zeitwerks (hands-on here), the badass Lange 1 Lumen (hands-on) or, of course, the Datograph.
After all is said and done, seeing the Tourbograph Perpetual hands-on was a memorable and fantastic experience, as it damn well should be for any true watch enthusiast – but why I’m looking forward to SIHH 2018 is to see more Lange 1s and Zeitwerks, not just muscle-flexing, irrespective how impressive it is.
Price for the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual ‘Pour le Mérite’ is around €480,000. alange-soehne.com