How hard must it be to renew an icon, to improve on what people think to be one of the best ever created watches, one of the most recognizable timepieces of the entire industry? The A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 is one of those icons that you don’t want to change because every single detail is just superb and so deliberate that changing would possibly ruin the entire equilibrium of its design. However, for 2015, there is a new Lange 1 and as it is available from now in stores, let’s have a deeper look at what the Saxonian manufacture changed, improved (or possibly deteriorated).
We want first to reassure the aficionados and collectors, the changes are very, very subtle – at least for the visual side. Since its launch in 1994 for the rebirth of the brand – on the 24 October 1994 to be precise – the Lange 1 is a sort of alien (relatively speaking) in the very classical field of German watchmaking. While the vast majority of watches came with central hands and a small date window, the Lange 1 featured an off-centre hour/minute dial, a small second sub dial, a large date (outsize date as Lange named it) and a large power reserve indicator. However, as strange this layout could seem at first, all indications were positioned according to the harmonious proportions of the golden section, creating in the end an extremely balanced dial. As we said, be reassured, this is not going to change on the new Lange 1. The updates are minimal, at least for the design (we’ll get back on the mechanical side in the second part).
Let’s get straight to the reality: the new A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 is at 99.99% similar to the older edition (thus to the 1994 design) and nothing had been deteriorated or, on the other hand, really improved, which is, in our own opinion, an excellent choice. As said, the Lange 1 is an icon – a young one for sure – but a real piece of horological sweetness recognized by the most hardcore collectors (even those fully faithful to Rolex or Patek) as one of the best modern creations ever.
Comparing the new one (on the left side) and the older one (on the right side) is quite like looking at two twins. At first sight, there is nothing different. Both the case, the lugs, their curvature, the crown, the finishing of the surfaces, the layout, the proportions, the hands, the indexes, the position of every single inscription are identical. However, after a very close and careful examination, we can spot two small differences:
- The bezel: the bezel of the new edition of the A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 is just a tiny bit thinner (we’re talking about 0.0x mm here). Even if this update can feel like being trivial (and if it will be extremely hard to see any difference without having the two editions side by side), let’s say that the older will certainly feel a bit more robust while the new one will open a bit more its dial.
- The logo: same comment as for the bezel… The name of the brand at 12 is just a tiny bit different, with a font slightly narrower, a bit less pronounced. Once again, the visual impact is extremely subtle and won’t be felt at first sight. It will just probably give a bit more of elegance to the overall dial.
The rest remains exactly the same, meaning a 38.5mm case (rather small compared to actual standards but in fact the perfect size for a dress watch) that alternates between polished flat surfaces and brushed casebands. The shape of the case is also conserved (no need to improve something that is clearly a success). The 2015 edition of the A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 is available (for the moment) in 3 editions – the 18k white gold edition will certainly follow in the coming months / years.
- 18k yellow gold with solid silver, champagne dial with yellow gold hands and light brown strap – ref. 191.021 – price: 29.800 Euros
- 18k rose gold with solid silver, argenté dial with rose gold hands and dark brown strap (the one photographed here) – ref. 191.032 – price: 29.800 Euros
- 950 platinum with solid silver, rhodié dial with rhodiumed gold hands and black strap – ref. 191.025 – price: 42.300 Euros
As seen, there’s nothing big, visually speaking, to focus on. The watch we loved is still the same and its success will not be vitiated by any useful concessions to marketing purpose (a bigger case, diamonds, strange pattern on the dial…). The Lange 1 is, in 2015, the same as in 1994 and that’s something we’re not going to complain about. However, this leads to the question of why having a new model? The answer is hidden behind the dial: a brand new, fully in-house movement.
How to recognize a great engineer? Is it the one able to create complicated things or the one that can make complicated things simple and easy to use? Well, the answer is of course to make things that are complicated easier to use and to build. It’s just what A. Lange & Sohne did with the 2015 edition of the Lange 1. Even if the indications displayed by the Lange 1 are quite simple (time, small second, date and power reserve – nothing extremely complicated here, especially when you know the kind of crazy timepieces that the Saxonian manufacture can create), its unique layout makes the positioning of the different gears quite difficult, mainly because nothing is classically arranged (in fact, not single indication is where it is supposed to be on a typical watch). However, without changing the iconic display, A. Lange & Sohne brings a brand new movement to the Lange 1 – and a clever one to be true.
When comparing the two movements, it’s easy to see that we’re in front of two completely different engines. Only by a very quick look, we can already spot two main differences. The first one comes from the position of the balance wheel (next to the crown in the 2015 edition and on the opposite side in the older edition). This detail has in fact a larger influence than expected and only by changing the position of the balance, the whole architecture is renewed. Then comes the shape of the 3/4 plate, now full and not opened by two sub-bridges like in the older Lange 1.
Before talking about details – and there are many of them to explain – let’s first see what doesn’t change. The overall look is rather similar, with a 3/4 architecture (meaning that the entire gear train and the barrels are enclosed behind a single large plate that covers almost entirely the movement – a typically German way to build movement that is known for its great solidity). The only visible parts (on both editions) are the balance wheel and the balance spring, the escape wheel, the lever, the cock bridge (engraved) and the lever bridge. The finishings on both movements are equally superb and made in the same style: untreated German silver plate with screwed gold chatons (with blued screws), Glashütte ribs and painstakingly polished angles. Both movements are superb (even if the new one seems a bit easier to finish without those two sub-bridges).
The specification sheet also brings some clues as the old L901.1 movement measures 30.4mm x 5.9mm while the new L121.1 measures 30.6mm x 5.7mm. There’s of course no incidence of these dimensions on the case that remains the same on both editions. However, these new dimensions and the new position of the balance wheel induce several major updates:
- A new in-house balance wheel. The older A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 featured an outsourced and classical balance wheel with screws on the rim and with a swan’s neck regulator. The new Lange 1 comes with A. Lange & Sohne own free sprung balance in chronometric quality. It features 6 eccentric poising weights – while screwing or unscrewing these weights, you can adjust the diameter of the balance wheel and thus the rate. The old swan’s neck regulator is replaced by a visually identical part in the new edition, which is in fact a mechanism to adjust the attachment point of the balance spring.
- A fully different layout of the movement. As said, the 3/4 plate and the balance wheel are now differently positioned, with a full bridge on the top (no more holes) and a balance wheel that is located next to the crown (opposite side on the older Lange 1). This simple rotation of the movement, which would be irrelevant in a classical time-only watch with central hands, has here a huge incidence on the whole construction of the movement. Because all the indications are off-centered, the gear train is also specific and not positioned like in every normal watch (the Lange 1 is not build around a display-module attached to a normal movement but around a fully integrated calibre). Thus, rotating the movement means changing the whole arrangement of the gear train. BUT, A. Lange & Sohne’s engineers are clever and this move allows having a simpler construction of the movement. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the small second indicator and the fourth wheel (the one that is just after the escape wheel and thus running the seconds) are now positioned one on top of the other. It means that the small-second is driven directly by the fourth wheel. Before that, the small-second and the fourth wheel where positioned on opposite sides of the watch, meaning that the old Lange 1 featured a complicated additional gear train to transfer energy to the small-second (and that you can guess placed under the bean-shaped sub-bridge). The position of the key elements seem to be more logical in the 2015 edition of the Lange 1 – with some positive effects, such as an easier service, a possibly greater reliability and an easier adjustment. For the rest, the specs remain unchanged, like for example a double mainspring barrel that provides 72 hours of power reserve.
- A new date mechanism. Even if the outsize date remains visually the same, it now features a quick-change mechanism that makes an instant jump at midnight (and not a slow move like in the older A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1).
- A small but clever feature… When the power drops to zero and when the watch stops to run, the second hand automatically stops at zero too, allowing for a precise adjustment when wounding the watch again.
All these details are very subtle and focused on a single goal: creating a watch even better than its predecessor, a watch technically (almost) perfect. We say almost perfect for a simple reason. Even if we couldn’t find any major defaults to the previous edition, A. Lange & Sohne achieved to correct some that we never spotted, creating an even more desirable watch. It makes us think that everything can be improved, even the mechanisms that we thought to be perfect – and as close to the perfection this 2015 edition is, the magnificent engineers at Lange will certainly find a way to improve it again and again – and without deteriorating a so-iconic design.
If you want to go even deeper in the history and technical facts of the A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1, you can have a look at our in-depth review of the older edition here.