In 1999, German watch manufacturer A. Lange & Söhne introduced the genre-defining Datograph, an in-house mechanical chronograph that many still regard as THE best in its class. So, how does one improve on the ultimate purist chronograph? Well, if you’re A. Lange & Söhne, you make it even more complicated, which is exactly what it did in 2006 with the introduction of the Datograph Perpetual (this one). To this day, debate still rages among collectors as to which is the more desirable. There seems to be one point however that just about everyone can agree on: the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual is one seriously incredible timepiece. To show you exactly why, we’re going in-depth with the white gold/grey dial version introduced in 2015.
Before we break the Datograph Perpetual down into its various components (case, dial, movement, etc.), it’s worthwhile taking a step back and viewing it as the gorgeous whole that it is. Aesthetically, it’s hard to point to a more versatile timepiece that offers the same level of complexity, whilst somehow straddling the line between formal dress watch and casual weekend wearer. Most hyper-complex watches of this calibre are destined to be perennial safe queens, yet the Datograph Perpetual invites, nay encourages even, daily wear.
This is thanks largely to the solid white gold case – sized at a very wearable 41mm x 13.5mm – which, combined with the grey dial pairs equally well with a tuxedo as it does with jeans and a T-shirt. Framing the dial is a polished bezel, which contrasts nicely against the straight brushed finish of the mid-case. On the right-hand side is the signed crown, which is used for winding the watch and setting the time. At two and four o’clock are the two pushers for operating the chronograph, whilst on the opposite side of the case, there is a rapid-correction pusher for collectively advancing all calendar displays.
The case is virtually identical to that of the Datograph, and so from a distance it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the case of the Datograph Perpetual has individual recessed correctors for adjusting the day of the week, the month and the moon phases. This ensures the streamlined, minimalist profile on the wrist is maintained and keeps the individual adjustment of the various calendar displays relatively simple. Completing the look are short, downward sloping lugs screwed to the mid-case that ensure a snug fit on the wrist.
Remember earlier, when I said that collectors still can’t agree about whether the Datograph Perpetual is superior to the standard Datograph or not? Well, here is one of the main sources of contention: the dial. Whereas the Datograph is considered the ultimate purist chronograph, some find the dial of the Datograph Perpetual a little too busy. This criticism is perhaps a little unfair, however, as A. Lange & Söhne has managed to incorporate several additional displays without disturbing the oft-praised symmetry of the original Datograph dial. That said, some design decisions have raised a few eyebrows, particularly the inelegant incorporation of the day/night and leap-year indicators into the main sub-dials.
A glance at the solid silver grey dial reveals the time indicated centrally in hours and minutes, with subsidiary seconds shown on the outer ring of the sub-dial at 9 o’clock, complete with stop seconds functionality. Baton hour markers, as well as hour and minute hands in rhodium-plated gold, create a rich contrast that is both attractive to look at and also easy to read. In the flesh, the grey dial is even more stunning, with the galvanized dial giving it an attractive metallic allure that alters in hue depending on the light conditions. Some will prefer the reverse-panda style of the Datograph Up-Down, but that grey dial on the QP version is one splendid alternative.
Next, we have the flyback chronograph with a jumping minute counter on the outer ring of the sub-dial at 3 o’clock and a tachymeter scale running the circumference of the dial. The chronograph hand, made of blued steel, indicates the stopped time to one-fifth of a second. The minute counter and seconds hands are also made from blued steel, adding a subtle touch of colour, which causes them to really stand out against the bright rhodium-plated background of the subsidiary dials.
Finally, there are the perpetual calendar indicators, starting with the signature outsize date displayed through twin apertures just below 12 o’clock. The day of the week is shown on the inner ring of the sub-dial at 9 o’clock, while the month is shown in the same position on the sub-dial opposite at 3 o’clock. Just beneath this is the leap year indication, shown on the aforementioned ‘sub’ sub-dial. Completing the calendar indications is a deep blue lunar disc with golden stars just above 6 o’clock, and a small day/night indicator at the top of the sub-dial at 9 o’clock. The perpetual calendar is so precise that it requires no adjustment until the year 2100 when a one-day correction is needed.
Depending on how you choose to view it, some may see the dial of the Datograph Perpetual as being too busy – a common criticism of QP’s. After all, it does display a lot of information simultaneously. On the flip side, it manages to incorporate all this information into two relatively easy to read sub-dials, masking the watch’s incredible complexity and making it possible to really enjoy it as a daily wearer. The few owners I have been lucky enough to speak to all say that they wear their watches on a regular basis for exactly this reason (among others, of course!).
It’s hard to think of something new to say about a watch movement that has already been written about so extensively. The manually-wound Lange manufacture calibre L952.1 is identical to the old movement used in the Datograph (not the Up/Down version, which features the upgraded Calibre L951.6), with the exception of the QP module on top. This is another way of saying that it is absolutely breathtaking to look at. Visible through the sapphire display back, it has been crafted to the most exacting Lange quality standards before being decorated and assembled by hand (twice).
In total, calibre L952.1 is comprised of 556 parts, many of which are visible for your viewing pleasure. Each lever has been bevelled, straight grained or polished, while the balance cock has been hand-engraved in the traditional German style. Each screw head, the swan’s neck regulator, the plate over the escape wheel, and the caps of each chronograph wheel column are black polished. Of the 45 jewels used to reduce mechanical friction to a minimum, four are set in screwed gold chatons. The extensive use of untreated German silver, combined with blued screws, makes it all come together to create one of the most beautiful mechanical watch movements currently in production.
Oscillating at 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour, it boasts a shock-resistant balance wheel with eccentric poising weights and a balance spring manufactured in-house, complete with a precision beat-adjustment system with a lateral setscrew and whiplash spring. Power reserve is 36 hours when fully wound, which is not great, but it does give you another reason to spend some time with your beloved timepiece on a daily basis.
Completing the look is a stylish, hand-stitched black alligator leather strap with a Lange prong buckle in white gold. It works perfectly with the white gold/grey dial combo and allows for the effortless shift between casual and formal. I suspect a brown or tan leather strap would also look quite fetching, but it would almost certainly make the watch look more casual on the wrist. That’s not necessarily a bad thing mind you, but it does cut down on the versatility angle somewhat.
Overall there really is a lot to love about the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual. It combines one of the best chronograph movements on the market, with its super smooth pushers and stunning movement architecture, with the added complexity (and practicality) of a perpetual calendar in a way that is neither pretentious nor excessive. In fact, I think our Editor-in-Chief, Frank, summed it up best when he described it as “a sort of uber-Datograph.” Can’t argue with that. Price is EUR 119,000. More details on www.alange-soehne.com.