In-Depth

Living with the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Steel

The Saxon steel sports watch with true haute horlogerie credentials.

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Frank Geelen | ic_query_builder_black_24px 12 min read |

On 24 October 2019, A. Lange & Söhne introduced something entirely new, an important step for this usually rather conservative high-end watch brand; it was a sports watch, made in stainless steel, with a bracelet – three unprecedented features for ALS that made this very watch, the Odysseus, a hot topic of conversation. During the recent digital Watches & Wonders, the German brand introduced another Odysseus, now in white gold and not on a metal bracelet, but on a leather or rubber strapIt’s been almost a year since I first saw the steel Odysseus, and recently Lange gave me the opportunity to wear it for a period of time. So, it is now time to give it a second thought / look and to report on my experience of having lived with the watch, not just strapped it on my wrist for a photoshoot. 

Introductory note

What exactly is the Odysseus? Well, we can’t avoid the ‘luxury sports watch’ topic… With A. Lange & Söhne’s main competitors – AP, PP and VC – all historical members of this watch category, the immediate reaction when ALS launched the Odysseus was to compare it to the Royal Oak, the Nautilus and the Overseas, the three definitive icons of the 1970s-inspired, integrated bracelet, luxury sports watch gang. Last year it took me a minute to realise, and even today my position towards the luxury sports watches and the Odysseus remains the same: comparing the Odysseus with these three icons is a mistake.

The Holy Trinity of luxury sports watches – Overseas, Nautilus, Royal Oak… And no, to me, the ALS Odysseus isn’t playing in the same category.

For starters, the Odysseus is NOT a luxury sports watch with an integrated bracelet. It is not a 1970s-inspired watch, it is not an ultra-thin time-and-date timepiece, it is not a watch with a barrel-shaped case (like all three mentioned above), it is not a watch with an octagonal/porthole bezel and it doesn’t feature screws or decorative elements on the bezel. So, no, I’m not comparing the Odysseus to these three watches – and you know me, I love luxury sports watches.

So what is Odysseus? To make it short, it is a sports watch made of steel produced by A. Lange & Söhne and featuring most of the original design and technical cues of the brand. It is THE sports Lange, the weekend Lange, the holiday Lange, the daily Lange, the Lange that you can wear all the time. And, in the brand’s history, that is a big first, as in 25+ years of existence A. Lange & Söhne has not produced any watch that could be called a sports watch. Yes, there have been a few steel versions of the Lange 1, but that’s another story. To summarize, Odysseus is an important chapter for the brand, but not one that can be directly compared to the Nautilus or the Royal Oak.

The daily Lange

Up until now, an A. Lange & Söhne was a luxurious dress watch with Haute Horlogerie credentials, featuring a complicated high-end movement and precious metal cases. It was mostly worn on a leather strap, it was not meant to be water-resistant, it was meant to be a relatively delicate, mechanically-demonstrative Saxon piece of horology. Well, the Odysseus doesn’t entirely negate this DNA – far from that, actually – but adds a new dimension to ALS’ usual way of dealing with watchmaking. It is the Lange that you’ll wear anytime, anywhere, with anything. It’s the Lange that will stay on your wrist when your precious Lange 1 (or Datograph, or Zeitwerk, or…) is sitting in your watch box. It is the Lange that you wear for a splash in the pool. It is the Lange you’ll wear this summer drinking a  glass of wine on the beach wearing a linen shirt and shorts. And still, this watch comes with everything you’d expect from a Lange.

Odysseus is nothing else than a sports Lange, and it doesn’t try to be what it isn’t…

To understand the Odysseus and spot the resemblance with other watches from ALS, follow me and try to remove the bracelet from the equation. Once you’ve done that, look at the case and the case only. And then, this becomes clearer. Odysseus has a typical Lange case but it is made of stainless steel. The watch has a fairly compact 40.5mm diameter and a height of 11.1mm. The shape is identical to most Lange watches, with a round, convex polished bezel and a central container that follows the same shape too – at least on the left-hand side. And then there are the lugs… Yes, this watch has classical lugs and not a lug module that extends from the case like a Nautilus or a RO. And if you look at these lugs, they are shaped just like a Datograph or a Lange 1, just slightly more robust.

The right side of the case is what sets this watch apart from the rest of ALS’ production. To ‘masculinize’ the watch and give it a sportier identity, the brand uses a clever trick. What could appear as a crown guard is actually a ‘module’ that hides two pushers. Instead of having two recessed correctors in the caseband, the pushers are oversized and become an integral part of the design. And not only is this a very pleasant visual feature, but it also makes the correction of the day and date complications extremely easy to perform. As you can see, the case isn’t very slim and has a certain robustness, something that I personally prefer in this context – don’t get me wrong, I love ultra-thin watches, but considering the overall design of this watch, I think this 11mm height suits the watch.

Besides the use of stainless steel for the case, the Odysseus comes with a screw-down crown and a screwed caseback guaranteeing its reassuring 120m water-resistance. What’s the point of this waterproofness? Well, on paper, it could handle more than just a jump in the pool and the Odysseus could even withstand some deeper salty waters. Would I, or you, do it? I would, but many wouldn’t, so the whole point of this 120-metre water-resistance is to remove potential risks from the equation, to bring peace of mind, so you’re sure that wherever you’ll wear your Lange (at the beach, while sailing, at the poolside when one of your friends decides to push you in the water…), it will survive. It makes the Odysseus the Lange to be used – and abused.

The dial and the useful functions

The dial of the Odysseus follows the same philosophy we’ve seen with the case. Yes, it is sportier and yet, it features so many elements that are 100% A. Lange & Söhne. For this introductory model, ALS went for a safe dark blue colour, which suits the stainless steel case perfectly, offering contrast and cold tones for a sporty feeling – and also something different from the usual silvery-white dials produced by the brand in the Lange 1 or Saxonia collections.

The dial is well divided in clear sectors, emphasized by the use of different textures and steps. As such, it is readable at a glance, with well-proportioned hands and indices. The hands are the perfect length and coincide with the indexes or the minute track on the inner flange. The central area has a nice grained texture that avoids reflections and the polished hands and markers are all filled with Super-LumiNova providing exceptionally clear readings in the dark.

This covers the sports part of the Odysseus. Now, there’s the Lange part of the watch, which is basically all the rest. Fonts, logo, inscriptions, shape of the markers/hands, position of the indications… everything is in line with the brand’s design codes and immediately makes the link with the rest of the collection. Despite its casual attire, there’s no doubt about the provenance of this watch.

What’s even more Lange are the three sub-indications. Yes, those large windows for the date and the weekday might stir debate, as might the presence of a subsidiary seconds dial in a sports context, but it is also a way to blend this watch in the Saxon tradition and provide useful indications on a daily basis. And there’s this utterly cool connection with the Zeitwerk – guilty, I love these two windows. The one on the right side is Lange’s oversized date, displayed on two discs. The one of the left is the day of the week, again a practical indication when wearing this watch in a business context. And I can easily imagine that future versions could host a second time zone, for instance, by using these windows… And that would make a great addition to the collection.

Legible, clear, still entirely true to Lange’s styling, the dial is, to me, one of the most successful elements of this Odysseus. And I’m also very curious to see the white gold/grey dial version in the metal, as its dial looks even more captivating.

A new, coherent movement

Considering this sportier context, Lange opted for a new and more robust movement. At the expense of repeating myself, we’re not in an ultra-thin luxury sports watch context here and using one of Lange’s existing thin movements, to me, wouldn’t be coherent. The choice of a larger, more solid and slightly thicker movement does make sense here. And so does the central rotor and not an off-centred 3/4 oscillating weight or a micro-rotor.

So, the choices for this new calibre L155.1 Datomatic were focused on daily use and resistance. Self-winding functionality is a no brainer and makes complete sense in this context. Another proof of this new orientation is the transversal balance bridge, which replaces the usual balance cock used in Lange movements – a transversal bridge offers more stability and resistance to shocks than a cock, held in place to a single point. And there’s the 4Hz frequency, more modern and more adapted to a sports watch.

The movement is clearly a Lange movement. Visually, its provenance is clear with a 3/4 place, blued screws, thin Glahütte ribbings and a hand-engraved motif on the balance bridge. Some traditional features, such as the swan-neck regulation – which has been given some space atop the balance bridge – and the screwed gold chatons have been kept too.

Finally, even though the watch is more casual and cased in stainless steel, the calibre L155.1 Datomatic is finished and decorated in the exact same way as any other Lange movement – meaning at an Haute Horlogerie level, with hand-polished bevels, pèrlage, black polished steel parts, etc.. The modern touch is seen on the rotor, which is coated dark grey and equipped with a heavy platinum mass to provide greater inertia.

The complex bracelet

This was certainly the most debated element on this Odysseus… But there are two sides to a coin. One side is subjective and has to do with the look/design of this bracelet. The second, far more objective, has to do with quality and practicality and here, Lange performs well – to put it mildly. This bracelet is a great example of practicality, solidity, ingenuity and comfort.

Design is personal and, if you ask me, I’m good with this bracelet and how it blends with the case. Certainly, it is a bit bulky and large, which is due to the width of the first links that follow the sides of the lugs. I’m not going to argue this point – to each his own. Instead, I’m going to focus on rational elements.

As you can see, the bracelet has an elaborate architecture with complex facets, all finished to an impressive extent. The flat surfaces are finely brushed and all the edges feature a polished bevel. The bracelet is flexible yet feels rock-solid once secured to the wrist. No doubt about it, the bracelet of the Odysseus is impressive and echoes Lange’s usual quality standards. All surfaces are smooth and this bracelet is a joy to wear.

What adds to the comfort is the presence of an appreciable precision adjustment mechanism in the clasp. By pressing the round ALS logo on the clasp while you are still wearing the watch you can extend the length of the bracelet up to 7mm, very practical in summer, when your wrist becomes a tiny bit bigger due to warm weather or sports activities. The downside of this feature is the fairly thick clasp. Two pushers on the side open the clasp. The construction is neat and feels like well-oiled machinery.

Thanks to the sequence above, you can see the bracelet’s last feature: a self-adjusting system for the initial sizing of the length. Thanks to small recessed pushers on the outer links, and to the tool that is provided by Lange in the box, you can adjust the bracelet to your wrist without having to visit an authorized dealer or a boutique. Certainly, this might seem like quite a complex puzzle at first, but once you’ve digested the user manual, it is pretty easy to do.

Verdict

As the owner of several watches that can be categorized as ‘luxury sports watches’, I know exactly how they feel on the wrist, what to expect from them, how and where I can wear them… and thus I’m fairly confident in saying that the Odysseus isn’t one of these watches. It plays in its own league, it doesn’t try to imitate what already exists and what’s currently in demand. This is a steel sports A. Lange & Söhne, period.

What’s my take after extensively wearing the watch? I love the design and functions. I love the fact that it has its own personality and that, at the same time, it retains most of the iconic elements of a Lange watch. I love the comfort and the clever systems, both the integrated pushers for the day-date and the bracelet. But as I said in an interview with the brand’s CEO, my only regret is that I can’t wear it on a rubber or leather strap…

Price and availability

The A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus in stainless steel is part of the permanent collection and isn’t limited. It can now be ordered from authorized dealers and boutiques, however with very limited availability. Finding a new model at retail price from a boutique will be quite challenging.

The steel Odysseus (ref. 363.179) retails for EUR 28,000, which is in line with other steel sports watches from high-end watchmakers and the impressive level of execution. More details at www.alange-soehne.com.

4 responses

  1. This could be their idea of a seiko 5, but it still just does not work as a sport watch , at least not on a bracelet !

  2. Is anyone good with photoshop? I just want to see what it’d look like on a different bracelet – maybe from the Nautilus or Urban Jurgensen One.

  3. @G-One… unfortunately I have only handled the one Urban Jurgensen One as a prototype. With the prototype, I found the bracelet of the Jurgensen One kind of stiff, not flexible as the bracelet of the Odysseus.

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