This Datograph Up/Down is the stuff grail watches are made of. A sublime Teutonic expression of watch making perfection so timeless it escapes all notions of era, style, or trend. A watch for all times and ages, pieces by German A. Lange & Sohne are what many watch lovers strive to acquire. Sounds lofty? That statement isn’t so unreasonable considering our monitoring of what colleagues and your fellow readers have said and felt about A. Lange & Sohne watches over the years. Not to mention my and the team’s own feelings about A. Lange & Sohne as a brand. What it comes down to, is that Lange has a unique formula that attracts watch lovers like bees to honey. So before I get to the actual review I feel it is a good idea to discuss more about what we feel about this brand and why we feel it.
The funny thing is how different people are attracted to the brand. I don’t know anyone who dislikes A. Lange & Sohne, but everyone has their own relationship with it. For instance some people have a particular piece they fawn over and consider a real grail watch. Perhaps your dream timepiece is a Datrograph Up/Down such as this or maybe a Lange 1. Other people however don’t have any particular Lange watch they are currently pining for, but simply have an immense level of respect for the brand. In understanding the appeal of A. Lange & Sohne, I think it is more valuable to focus on this latter idea – that people identify and respect the brand’s values as a watchmaker.
Those values are plentiful and not wanting to sound like a Lange marketing person I will identify those that I think they succeed at the best. This is important because when it comes down to it, people freely spend their money on luxury products because of a sense of confidence in the brand. Confidence that the product is worth the asking price, and confidence that the brand has a collective sense of wisdom and skill gained from years of experience, and that few others are able to replicate their work output.
Allow me to mention three things about Lange as a brand and watchmaker that they do quite well. First, they produce products that are undoubtedly useful tools. That doesn’t mean their tools are necessarily modern or advanced, but rather that they are precision instruments designed to perform a task. That task being to tell the time and perhaps other related information. Lange watches are easy to read with properly sized hands and legible dials. The functionality is logical and easy to understand, while the tools sit comfortably on the wrist and are designed to work well and last a fair amount of time. You rarely get the impression that much on an A. Lange & Sohne watch is just for show. It holds true to what many people feel is the most important definition of luxury – a well made object of utility that is expensive because it was produced without consideration for cost rather than to merely be expensive due to the inclusion of valuable materials. The point is that Lange makes something valuable rather than assembles valuable things into a final product – and they’ve held true to this ideal rather well.
A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Up / Down Watch
Second, A. Lange & Sohne watches are designed without any focus on modern trends or contemporary style. In my opinion the surest way to destroy any hope a product has of being timeless is by designing it to be trendy. If you make something intended to fit in “right now” the typical result is making sure it is “out” tomorrow. I’ve never seen a Lange watch that looks like it is trying to be stylish or fit in with an upcoming runway show. Frankly speaking, in my opinion “fashion” is a dirty word when it comes to pure watch design. To me “fashion” implies form over function, and I believe that concept has no place in the design of a precision instrument.
Lange watches clearly have a style, a sense of traditional German design taken originally from pocket watches and other instruments, but that doesn’t mean they appear to be embellishing their cases and dials with too many decorative elements that don’t assist the core design. Sure there are rare exceptions such as the extremely uncommon A. Lange & Sohne Handwerkskunst pieces (with unique hand engraved dials), but when it comes down to it, there is a conservative cleanliness with simple traditional personality to these watches that few people take issue with. The worst thing in the world one could say about some Lange watches is that they are boring. I probably thought so at some point early in my appreciation of watches when I was new and looking to be wowed by wild designs. I think many people go through that phase. Eventually I came to appreciate, and finally prefer designs such as this which focus on purity and functionality above all else. People used to wild contemporary designs intended to attract attention will perhaps feel underwhelmed by the conservative approach of Lange… but eventually all people with good taste will come around.
Finally, before I delve into the topic of the Datograph Up/Down itself (which is why you probably came here), I’d like to briefly mention the last reason we are discussing what makes A. Lange & Sohne an attractive brand. It is that they take the production of movements as seriously as watch lovers want to believe brands do. The allure of a luxury mechanical watch is really the allure of hand-made items of function and art. Purchasing a mechanical watch doesn’t require a large investment, but purchasing one produced with love, care, and a German sense of meticulousness is. Many mechanical watchmakers sell the idea of trained artisans sitting and toiling under magnifiers to carefully build small machines dedicated to telling time (relatively) accurately for their lives and the lives of their children. It rarely works that way, but it really does at A. Lange & Sohne.
The brand actually only makes movements. They don’t make dials or cases; their forte is purely in the mechanisms, and they do so wonderfully. What Lange offers is one of the finest operating and decorated mechanical movement in the watch market that is produced with any appreciable volume. Merely viewing their movements appears to be a validation of that fact. They look amazing, and A. Lange & Sohne is setup to producing them with German efficiency and detail. The manufacture is rather modern and growing. In the modern sense the brand began in the mid 1990s. Even though it is more historical than that, it was shut down for many years being located in the former East Germany. So their facilities are modern, but their techniques are quite traditional.
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.
A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Watch
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.