A. Lange & Söhne was never a company to overwhelm visitors to the SIHH (now Watches & Wonders) with countless new models and variations of the past references. The Saxon brand always sends a clear message about what the launch of the year is with a huge “replica” of the essential new product welcoming you right there at the entrance to the ALS booth. The giant replica displays the correct time and date but also makes a statement: here at Lange, we are all about making watches, and not marketing stunts, with supercars and aeroplanes and fancy displays – an obvious hint to neighbouring exposants. This year the Saxon watchmakers went minimal and decided to introduce just one new reference – a costly limited-edition Odysseus Chronograph in stainless steel.
We mention stainless steel right here first, before the usual quick recap of the collection, for it is crucial. Until 2019, that is until Odysseus became the sixth member of A. Lange & Söhne’s family, the Germans refused to touch unprecious steel and offered watches almost exclusively in gold and platinum. There were exceptions, like in the case of unique Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, 1815 service watches (not for sale) and a Lange 1 dressed in steel, but the Odysseus collection was a first for watches produced in stainless steel, in series. Should someone think this is no big deal, I suggest trying to find one to buy at retail price. Good luck unless you are on Lange’s clients-collectors’ waiting list.
The first serially produced stainless steel “sports” watch from A. Lange & Söhne was destined for the success it enjoys. The Odysseus debuted in 2019 (15 years after the initial idea and three attempts at creating), a model featuring a blue dial, two Semper-opera-clock-style apertures for the digital display of weekday and date, at 9 and 3 o’clock respectively, and with small seconds sub-dial at the bottom. Worn on an original steel bracelet, 120m water-resistant, powered by calibre L155.1, a specifically redesigned version of the Saxonia Automatic L086.1, the watch was priced at 28,500 euros – at least, when it first came out. In 2020, ALS released the elegant Odysseus in white gold; in 2022, it got a (costly) titanium case and bracelet, and everyone wondered what would come next. Well, here it is, gentlemen (and ladies), the Odysseus Chronograph.
Any new chronograph (movement) is a big deal, and designing and building one is a task that is far more difficult than most people imagine. A. Lange & Söhne, just nine years old in 1999, took the watch universe by surprise by presenting the Datograph Flyback timepiece with in-house chronograph calibre L951.1. If it were not for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s calibre 829, it would have been the industry’s first in many years. Praised by collectors and watchmakers alike (Philippe Dufour was quoted many times saying that the Datograph was one of the best chronographs ever made), the watch is legendary and laid the foundation for other equally beautiful and technically advanced chronograph creations, like the Triple Split, the 1815 Chronograph and the Datograph Perpetual, to name a few.
With this in mind, didn’t we expect a chronograph in the Odysseus collection? Yes, we did, but we couldn’t foresee a new movement; we thought it would be some version of the L951, reworked for the Odysseus case. Well, it wouldn’t be Lange if the company didn’t choose to go the hard way, that is, to create a new calibre L156.1, the first automatic chronograph movement developed by the Saxon manufacture. “It was never a goal to transform the beautiful well-known Datograph into a sporty monster with a rotor. The only thing we took from Datograph was the experience, the experience of how to build a chronograph,” explained Anthony de Haas, Director of Product Development at A. Lange & Söhne, in this video here.
Indeed, since Lange decided to keep the Odysseus dial architecture with two oversize digital displays and a small seconds sub-dial, there was no option for the conventional placement of sub-counters. With its textured black dial, the Odysseus Chronograph measures time intervals with a central red seconds hand, and the minutes are counted by another central “lozenge-tipped” hand. (So, here we have a 60-minute chrono counter, as opposed to the more common 30-minute found in most traditional chronographs). While central minute hand chronographs are not unheard of, they are not many, with Longines’ 13ZN “Doppia Lancetta” springing to mind, followed by the Lemania 1340 and then the Lemania 5100, with more recent attempts by IWC, Panerai and TAG Heuer. But I digress.
A. Lange & Söhne’s engineers packed a few tricks into this new movement. The original Odysseus features wondrously integrated pushers on each side of the crown; one at the top for date correction, and the bottom is for the weekday. The chronograph version keeps the pushers, but now the specially sealed buttons have a dual function. Unscrew/pull the crown, and the pushers are set to correct the date and weekday. When the screw-down crown is in the normal position, they control the chrono functions. Now that’s quite something, isn’t it…?
Before getting to the bit about the Odysseus chrono reset spectacle that everybody seems to like, it is fair to mention that Lange made an effort to ensure the smooth operation of the chronograph, in line with what the lucky Datograph owners experience each time they check the watch’s chrono functioning. As explained by Anthony de Haas, his team created a very smooth operating vertical clutch mechanism that minimises the “smashing” of the parts that occurs in conventional chrono movements.
Now, about the “dynamic reset-to-zero” function. Activate the 4 o’clock Odysseus chrono pusher, and the minute counter will return to its starting position, as expected. The red seconds hand will spin back the entire distance travelled really fast, so if you time up to 30 minutes, the chronograph seconds hand will rotate counter-clockwise, one full circle for each elapsed minute. Both hands move clockwise if the minute counter has passed the 30-minute mark. The chrono seconds hand will spin a complete revolution for each minute needed to reach the full hour. The resetting is done with a heart-shaped cam mounted on the minutes’ wheel; this way, the seconds hand “knows” elapsed time in minutes and performs its trick based on this knowledge.
The new ALS calibre L156.1 has the same oscillating weight found in the original Odysseus, an openworked rotor made of Arcap with a platinum mass. The movement is on display thanks to the open caseback; note the vertical clutch and some of the chronograph levers are visible through the cut-outs on the bridge. However, most of the mechanism is hidden from view by the bridge and rotor, but given the sporty nature of the timepiece, this should not be a disappointment. The L156.1 Datomatic movement is built with 516 components, and it is finished to the high Lange standards, beats to 4Hz to ensure accuracy, and has a 50-hour power reserve. It does require a larger case, which is now 42.5mm in diameter, up from the original’s 40.5mm, and 14.2mm thick, up from 11.1mm.
Still, the stainless steel case of the Odysseus Chronograph retains all the features distinguishing the original model. Its three-part construction has brushed surfaces and chamfered edges, and it is water-resistant to 120 meters. The watch looks big and wears big; the solid integrated bracelet certainly amplifies the effect.
About the bracelet. The design is not the most original, yet it is recognizable and fits Odysseus perfectly. It is very smooth, comfortable and soft to the touch, and it is a quickly adjustable bracelet. By pressing the A. Lange & Söhne logo button on the back, you can adjust the length up to 7mm without taking the watch off the wrist. If bracelets are not your thing, maybe waiting for a white gold Odysseus Chronograph edition on a leather or rubber strap is an option – after all, the 2020 Odysseus provided such a choice.
By now, you will indeed have looked up the price of the new A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph and there is no mistake: it costs about EUR 135,000 (ALS does not provide prices anymore, but here you have it). We are not here to learn the pricing policies, but once in 2013, when the brand revealed its Grand Complication watch with a price tag of EUR 1.9 million, out of curiosity, I asked Wilhelm Schmid, Lange CEO, why this much, and not, say 2.5m. Pensive, he pronounced: “Yes, I think we should have asked for more.” This episode is of little relevance here, but here’s the reality check. The original stainless steel Odysseus was sold a few times at auction shortly after its release reaching almost three times the retail price, so there is no lack of demand, and collectors have lined up to grab the first-ever Lange automatic chronograph limited edition in stainless steel the moment it was announced. This is what you do when you want something and have the means.
To conclude, let us say the new A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph is a well-made, sporty-elegant watch, a fine addition to the new collection with specific historical importance attached. It is also a watch that should be tried and worn before jumping to conclusions (at least if you can since it’s a 100-piece limited production). Having had a chance to try one on, I admit it was hard to part with, an emotion not so frequently felt this year at Watches & Wonders. Well done, Lange. Never stand still. More details at www.alange-soehne.com.