Ab/Auf: two German words that are far from being trivial for watch collectors. These words evoke to aficionados certain watches that are proper icons, like for instance the superb A. Lange & Sohne Datograph (in its Ab/Auf Edition of course). Even if full of sense and good feelings for collectors, it simply hides the concept of a power reserve (that in English could be translated by Up/Down). The “Dato” is not the only watch to be featured with this designation, as one of the most understated timepiece of Lange’s collection also shares it. Here is the review of the A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Up/Down – thanks to a collaboration with our colleague of WatchTime.
The power reserve is the Rodney Dangerfield of complications: it doesn’t get a lot of respect. Although it’s not as cool as a chronograph or as beautiful as a moon-phase, it does provide vital information that is used every day. In days gone by, depleted timekeepers could cost lives – think train wrecks and lost ships. Today the consequences may not be as dire, but they can be inconvenient and embarrassing. It’s still nice to know when the tank’s getting low.
The A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Up/Down in our test is the latest model – it is not the first version of this watch. The original was produced from 1995 until 2007. The “1815” in the model name is the year company founder Ferdinand A. Lange was born. This reference is appropriate given that the 1815 Up/Down has been called the quintessential modern Lange because it incorporates traditional aspects of the brand’s pocketwatches. Lange timepieces have offered power-reserve displays since the company acquired a patent for an early version in 1879.
Whatever the inspiration, the 1815 Up/Down’s aesthetic is pure Lange. Just a peek at the dial will tell those in the know that you’re wearing something special. But the look is designed to inform, not impress. The prominent Arabic numerals and railroad track minutes scale, coupled with blued-steel hands that extend into their associated tracks, assure excellent legibility during daylight hours. This timepiece, appropriately for a dress watch, offers no luminous material to aid nighttime viewing.
The front crystal is slightly domed sapphire. Behind it, the argenté-plated solid silver dial features a subtly countersunk center. The dial’s finish has a pleasing, frosted texture.
The case of the A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Up/Down measures a classic 39 mm in diameter and is 8.7 mm thick. This is up from the original model’s 35.9mm x 7.9 mm, though the fashion-conscious may wish for something even larger. The new Up/Down is half of a millimeter larger than the current 1815 without power reserve (that is now 38.5mm instead of 40mm). Another difference – the Up/Down has a small lip where the bezel meets the case; also a nod to pocketwatch design. The case, which is finished to the highest standard, is fully polished, unlike the original model, which featured a satin finish on the case band and back. The crown is appropriately sized and easily grasped, though it fits tightly against the case and is best pulled out from the bottom using a fingernail. The winding feel is like butter (talk amongst yourselves), and setting the time provides light, smooth feedback with no play whatsoever. This is what quality feels like.
This A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Up/Down is very comfortable to wear. The reasonable size and 77g weight render it barely notice able. The curved, low-mounted lugs assure a good fit. During our test, the watch stayed put and did not slide around on the wrist. The strap is hand-sewn crocodile of the highest quality. The edges of the strap in particular are very well finished. In the attention-to-detail department, the spring bars are plated to match the case.
The prong buckle also exhibits fine craftsmanship. The prong is milled, not stamped. The buckle frame is not simple in shape, but contains angles and curves that give it a distinctive look. Lange reinforces the buckle frame with an extra cross member running parallel to the spring bar. This strengthens the buckle, but in our experience, it transformed what is typically an automatic action – threading the end of the strap through the buckle – into one requiring a bit of attention. Muscle memory hates surprises.
The movement of the A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Up/Down, known as Caliber L051.2, is consistent with, and yet departs from, Lange tradition. It departs by following the Saxonia Thin’s lead. Turning the watch over and looking through the display back, one is not greeted with a solid, expansive three-quarter plate, but with a construction that offers aesthetic and practical benefits. Aesthetically, the movement answers Lange critics who liken the three-quarter plate to a trench coat on Kate Upton. Lange lifts the veil a bit by exposing the click, the ratchet wheel and the crown wheel, adding some visual sizzle. This construction also reduces the movement’s thickness, or, as Colin Chapman might have said, it adds thinness.
Otherwise, the movement holds with Lange tradition. The plates are German silver – an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc. This metal has a special color, and the Glashütte ribbing offers a near-3D experience without the funny glasses. The plates are untreated, and over time the metal oxidizes slowly, taking on a golden-yellow patina. Watchmakers servicing the movement must exercise caution, because the soft metal scratches easily. The edges of the plates are chamfered and polished, and the exposed winding wheels have what Lange calls a solarized finish, which is like a sunray finish but with curved rather than straight lines emanating from the center point. Jewels are set in highly polished gold chatons that are secured with heat-treated blue screws.
The power-reserve mechanism also follows family tradition. The planetary gear system that drives the display is based on a patent granted to F.A. Lange’s grandson, Otto Lange, in 1940. The construction saves space, and in Otto Lange’s day, it was used in slim pocket-watches.
Below the beat adjustment system and whiplash spring lies the balance cock, which is hand engraved with a floral motif that surrounds the central screw and follows the shape of the cock. Like a fingerprint, the engraving on each watch is unique, even though the theme is the same. Within Lange, the engravers can tell at a glance which of them created a particular piece. Lange currently has six engravers, and their work can take from one hour for a small balance cock to a full week for a solid caseback. If you’d like to join them, the apprenticeship lasts three years, and patience and steady hands are a must.
This new 1815 Up/Down movement is not simply a re-heated L942.1 – the caliber found in the original model. The L051.2 has different dimensions – the diameter increased by 5 mm, so it nicely fits the new model’s larger case, which is always good to see. (At the highest price levels, a small movement in a large case is a fairly significant corner cut.) The power reserve also increased, to 72 hours from the original 45 hours, and the jewel count went from 27 to 29. When the power reserve reaches the end of hour 72, the new model’s seconds hand stops precisely at zero. The Up/Down movement has 57 more parts than the 1815 without power reserve, yet it maintains the simpler sibling’s 4.6 mm thickness.
Though some may view it as a simple watch, the 1815 Up/Down offers, and achieves, a great deal. The aesthetics are pure Lange and are difficult to fault. The legibility is outstanding, and the timekeeping on the wrist and the winder approached perfection. It may be true that the simpler a thing is, the easier it is to perfect. We’re not saying the 1815 Up/Down is simply perfect, but it’s close.
- Manufacturer: Lange Uhren GmbH, Altenberger Strasse 12, D-01768, Glashütte, Germany
- Reference number: 234.032
- Functions: Hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds, power-reserve display
- Movement: Caliber L051.2, manual wind, 21,600 vph, 29 jewels, Incabloc shock protection, Glucydur balance, swan’s neck fine adjustment, hand-engraved balance cock, diameter = 30.6 mm, height = 4.6 mm, 72-hour power reserve
- Case: Rose gold, sapphire crystal, six screws hold the back in place, exhibition caseback with sapphire window, water resistant to 30 meters
- Strap and clasp: Hand-sewn crocodile strap, rose-gold prong buckle
- Price: 23.900 Euros