January 13, 2014
by Ariel Adams
A. Lange & Sohne movements are primarily made of a material called “German Silver,” which actually has no silver it in. This metal offers a steely appearance with the ease of working like brass. Most watchmakers use brass, and later electro-plate the movements (often with rhodium). This doesn’t need to happen in a Lange watch, and so they have a distinct look to them. They also happen to gain a nice golden patina over time.
Brass is used in some parts of the movements, and blued steel screws and red synthetic rubies are also heavily relied upon. I believe many movements (or all of them) also use gold chatons. For this reason Lange movements are delightfully colorful and bold to look at. Many of their best looking movements are chronographs such as the caliber L.951.6 used in the Datograph Up/Down. This is because of the chronograph system which is what you see through much of the exhibition case back window. German watches tend to use a 3/4 plate system that means there isn’t much to see through the rear of the watch in most pieces. However, chronographs require a lot more distinct parts and what you get is a much more elaborate display. I like to call it a “city of gears,” and admiring their hand-decoration and fine finishing is a pleasure in Lange chronographs.
The movement is at the heart of the Datrograph Up/Down which is actually a follow-up model based on the original A. Lange & Sohne Datograph. The Datrograph Up/Down debuted in 2012 (hands-on first look here), about a decade after the original Datograph. Lange had stopped making the original and due to consumer demand decided to come out with a new version. Three things changed from the original. First, the size of the case increased two millimeters to 41mm wide. Second the movement’s power reserve increased to 60 hours (from probably about 40-45 hours), and last, the dial now contains a power reserve indicator. “Up/Down” is a translation from “Auf” (up) and “Ab” (down) which is written out in German on the dial for the power reserve indicator.
Adding a power reserve indicator and some extra time between having to wind the movement really changed the nature of the Datrograph watch. I am not a huge fan of wearing manually wound watches unless they have a power reserve indicator. To me it is like driving a car without a fuel gauge. With 60 hours of power reserve you can easily go the entire weekend without paying attention to it and it will still be running when you pick it up. The name “Datograph” is derived from the fact that the piece contains a big date (“outsize date” as Lange calls it) and a chronograph. That is of course in addition to the time with subsidiary seconds dial.
Functionally the Datrograph Up/Down is very useful. The power reserve indicator makes living with it easy, and the big date indicator is handy. Thirty minute chronographs have limited use as many things we want to time are longer than that, but it is still a very useful feature. The dial is further beautifully appointed with crisp appliques and properly proportioned hands and hour markers. 18k white gold is used for the main hands and hour markers, while the sub dial hands are in blued steel. I quite like the subtle nature of the power reserve indicator as well – there when you need it, but hardly visually overpowering when you don’t.
Many people also know that A. Lange & Sohne rarely produce black dials. They have a few for sure, but they are certainly not the norm. I believe that the original Datrograph was the first one. This black and silver (“tuxedo”) dial is handsome and distinct for the brand. There is a sportiness to it that is still very composed and proper (yes of course it has a tachymeter around the periphery of the face). The hands even had luminant on them for darkness viewing – another rarity among the more formally-themed Lange collection.
At 41mm wide I very much enjoy the size of the Datograph Up/Down. I could probably take another 1-2mm easily, but not less. The case is thick which makes it feel even larger despite the thick and curved bezel. The original Datograph was just 39mm wide, and I’ve stated in the past this new larger size helped bring it into the modern era. The case comes exclusively in 950 platinum. It is entirely possible that Lange will decide the Datograph Up/Down deserves to be gold in the future, but for now it only comes in platinum. Sure it is heavy, but you want that in a watch such as this. The bezel and lugs are polished while the middle case and back is brushed. Excellent AR coating on the sapphire crystal as well, only downside is a relative lack of appreciable water resistance (OK for basic things like washing your hands, but I’d suggest you take it off for other water-related activity).
A few years ago A. Lange & Sohne were big on the idea of them epitomizing the concept of “stealth wealth.” For now that is perhaps still true. A watch like the Datograph Up/Down is a symbol of taste and success, but only when you are in the right social circles. Its handsome, calm nature doesn’t scream wealth or luxury. Some call it a watch of old money or for those more humble about their station in life. That is mostly true, but I can’t fully agree. The right watch lover will spot one and spark up an interaction rather quickly. Perhaps that is an unintended side-effect of what the brand has been doing right, but more and more, A. Lange & Sohne is becoming a known ultra-luxury brand. So even though their products are still conservative, they are doing a better job at communicating something about the wearer.
Still, I think the people who enjoy pieces like the Datrograph Up/Down do so because they appreciate the purity of fine traditional watch making with minimal BS. For the time being, A. Lange & Sohne is rather refreshing as a luxury brand. They don’t sponsor that many obscure high-society events nor do I find myself being annoyed by kitschy advertising campaigns that degrade what the brand is worth to loyalists. It is a brand that does a great job of communicating the right message because they are producing the right product. For many a piece like the Datograph Up/Down is a fantastic daily wear. It can certainly be that as much as it can be a piece in the safe for special occasions. It really is a “fine watch” in many senses of the term. It doesn’t get too excited but it will rarely let you down. Dependable and stately, this is what good watch pedigree is all about. I freely suggest any watch lover to aspire to own one. The A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Up/Down ref. 405.035 retails for $87,500. alange-soehne.com
>Brand: A. Lange & Sohne
>Model: Datograph Up/Down ref. 405.035
>Price: $87,500 USD
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Says he wants the best watch money can buy that he can wear anytime – and has a bank account to support it.
>Best characteristic of watch: Catnip for watch aficionado appeal with a design that will look good forever. Gorgeous movement to boot.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Would have to get nit-picky. Might benefit from luminant points near the hour markers. Given sporty-ish nature, 100 meters of water resistance would be welcome.