The Battle of High-End Chronographs Part 2 – A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph
Distilling the unadulaterated essence of a chronograph, Lange's 1815 Chronograph is a prodigy of mechanical excellence and unrivalled finishes.
When it comes to pure, thoroughbred manual-winding chronographs, models that are devoted exclusively to capturing elapsed times and not equipped with any other paraphernalia, A. Lange & Söhne’s 1815 Chronograph is up there in the pantheon of perfection. The model we are reviewing for our three-part Battle of the High-End Chronograph series is the 2018 pink gold with black dial version, similar to the Boutique Edition of 2015 with its pulsometer scale. Like all the current variations on the 1815 chronograph theme (white gold black dial, Boutique Edition), this watch is equipped with what is possibly the most beautiful hand-wound movement on the market today.
In pursuit of purity
Hand-wound chronographs with in-house movements and no additional complications are not as prevalent as you might think. Far more complicated to develop than a tourbillon, many watch manufacturers have depended on outsourced movements, including Patek Philippe’s famous – and now discontinued – ref. 5070. When it comes to pure chronographs, Lange’s 1815 Chronograph is up there in the pantheon of perfection. Many attribute Lange’s spectacular Datograph flyback chronograph, introduced in 1999, as the chronograph that reignited the passion for in-house chronograph movements, but because of its additional complications – large date and power reserve indicator – it doesn’t qualify as a contender in our battle of pure, unadulterated chronographs.
Editor’s note: this review of the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph is part 2 of a series of 3 articles where we compare two of the most desirable high-end, hand-wound chronograph watches currently on the market. Two watches with the same concept, but two different flavours. The third article, which will be published after our two separate reviews, will pit them side-by-side.
The 1815 Chronograph has undergone various aesthetic evolutions during its 15-year lifespan and alongside the Datograph is considered a grail watch. Both watches share the same impressive chronograph calibre, but the fact that the Datograph has the hallmark Lange large date complication on board means that it is thicker around the waist. The slimmer profile and smaller case size of the 1815 Chronograph situate it in a slightly different category, closer to a dress watch for men who don’t mind attracting attention to their wrists.
With a diameter of 39.5mm and a case height of 11mm, the 1815 Chronograph boasts practically perfect vital statistics. It is not an ultra-slim model by any stretch of the imagination and actually sits higher on the wrist due to the rim on the caseback for the sapphire crystal. The luxurious 18k pink gold case, with its beautifully polished and brushed finishes, seems to rise up to meet your gaze and demand your attention. The smoothness of operating this flyback chronograph is, in Frank Geelen’s words, ‘majestic’! And I have to agree that activating the solid gold rectangular pushers is an experience you won’t forget. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another chronograph with such smooth, responsive pushers. The pusher at 2 o’clock activates the chronograph sweep seconds hand indicating time with a resolution of one-fifth of a second. The beauty of a flyback function is that it allows instant consecutive timings: when the pusher at 4 o’clock is pressed, the chronograph’s seconds and minute-counter hands jump back to zero and immediately restart a new measurement.
A marriage made in heaven
The marriage of the jet-black dial and opulent pink gold case is one made in heaven. Elegant, striking, sophisticated and unabashedly luxurious, the contrast between the case and dial is truly spectacular. Richer than the rose gold and silver dial version, this model is definitely not for wallflowers.
The first impressions when viewing the dial are ones of balance and legibility. Like other 1815 watches, the symmetrical layout, Arabic numerals and railway-track scales are all elements designed to evoke Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s elegant 19th-century pocket watches.
The dial is made from solid silver and the inky black colour is the result of a galvanisation process allowing the white numerals and tracks to stand out. The 2015 Boutique Edition in white gold reintroduced the pulsometer scale, a charming vintage twist that was originally used – and still can be – by doctors to measure a patient’s heart rate. Placed on a raised flange that adds depth to the composition, the pulsometer works by starting the chronograph, counting 30 heartbeats and then stopping the chrono and reading the elapsed time against the scale graduated from 40 to 200 to indicate the heart rate per minute.
The two snailed sub-dials, positioned slightly below the equator of the dial – subsidiary seconds on the left and the jumping minute counter on the right that advances in 1-minute increments when the chrono is running – underline the balanced composition of the watch and its classic origins. Historically, the precisely jumping minute counter was a feature often found in pocket watches recording each full revolution of the chronograph seconds hand making it easier to read elapsed time when the chronograph is stopped.
The pink gold hands match the case and there is not a trace of lume. While this certainly elevates the watch to a more formal dress aesthetic, some might have preferred a differentiated colour of hand for the chronograph function.
Miniature Mechanical Metropolis
If you thought the face of this watch was spectacular, just wait until you turn it over. Fitted with calibre L951.5 – almost the exact same movement used in the Datograph without the outsize date and power reserve indicator – the movement is a work of horological art. Lavishly finished with all the hallmark touches of Lange’s movements – hand-engraved balance cock, gold chatons, polished angles on the bridges, blued screws and Glashütte stripes on the bridges – the composition is as graceful as it is complex. The absence of the traditional three-quarter plate allows an unobstructed view of the miniature symphony of the 306-strong orchestra. The use of untreated German silver on the bridges will eventually produce a warm, golden patina.
Calibre L951.5 is a column-wheel chronograph with a horizontal clutch and because of its conservative architecture, you can admire the multiple levels and fascinating interplay of levers, gears, springs and wheels that animate the flyback chronograph functions and the precisely jumping minute counter. The movement beats at a stately 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour and has a sturdy 60-hour power reserve.
The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph, with reference number 414.031 in pink gold, is presented on a hand-stitched black alligator leather strap with a pink gold pin buckle. Retail price of the watch is EUR 51,000 (incl. VAT). For more information, please visit alange-soehne.com.
Why would ANYONE buy a Patek Philippe when they can buy a Lange?
The reason I love Lange is any battle you can think of will involve a Lange. And the Lange would win. It is like Lange vs anything you want in any category.
>> Why would ANYONE buy a Patek Philippe when they can buy a Lange? <<
I can objectively state that even though it’s still not quite my cup of tea, this 1815 Chronograph is a watch that puts the Patek 5172 to shame, for a much better price.
I don’t know about that. I’d really rather have a Breguet or Urban Jurgensen than a Saxonia, and rather an F.P Journe than a Lange 1; the Zeitwerk of course has no direct competitors so that’s fair enough. The Richard Lange range…well I think I’d rather a Gronefeld at those prices. I do wish I liked the 1815 more though, because it definitely is an incredibly impressive range.
But it’s all about aesthetic taste, innit.
Yes, Lange are about as good as it gets with “normal” watches: pieces from Ferdinand Berthoud are a bit….outre. Laurent Ferrier seem to be in the same league but I’d hesitate to express any further opinion. And we have DeBethune, Parmigiani and a few others. It’s all about personal aesthetics at this level. And an extremely healthy bank balance!
PP, VC and AP have been comprehensively surpassed, but the number of people who are aware of this is small enough for them to shift loads of overpriced products from their fancy boutiques in fancy places. A friend recently expressed total shock when I told her that Rolex aren’t the best watches on Earth. Once again, we are looking at “The Louis Vuitton Effect”.
About 8 years ago I was walking through a high-end Japanese department store and my eye caught a leather briefcase. I stopped in my tracks and had a feel and said, “Wow” out loud! The salesperson was looking at me with a massive smile on her face and she said, “I know”. It made every single “designer” bag I have ever seen look silly. And for the life of me I cannot remember which company made it! 🙁
Yeah, the ‘trinity’ are definitely cutting corners – Patek has been noticed to be machine-finishing certain calibres, Vacheron don’t put free-sprung balances in anything below a certain price-point (I adore my Overseas but seriously, when a Rolex Sub comes with a free-sprung balance…c’mon), and up until the new set of movements were released, APs had a reputation of being less than sturdily built.
But y’know, I think Lange might be just as susceptible to having a reputation that doesn’t quite live up to reality. Then again, it’s all just a big bubble of marketing hoo-ha and paid-for scrutiny we’re all caught up in. Oh the humanity.
Minerva’s chronograph movements are more visually attractive than this L951 for me.
The best details and finishings are almost always come from small independent/artisanal brands, just most people (even they think themselves are enthusiasts already) don’t know that.
Amen to that.
Unfortunately Minerva can’t be found anywhere finished to a good standard save for a few elusive and pricy Panerais from a decade ago or so, and a very large, expensive, sold out and rare Montblanc monopusher…
Recent Minerva in Montblanc are usually not too expensive if considering their great finishing. The only gripe for me is the design/execution of their dial/hands.
And one simply cannot find elegant caviar spoons nowadays!
I’ve always wanted a Patek but comparing it to a Lange now I’d definitely go for Lange. This one in particular I’m not fond of but the quality is faultless
Beautifully finished watch. However, whilst 18000 vph is fine for a Chronometer, it is not ideal for a Chronograph, as accuracy is compromised due to lower granularity. A chronograph should ideally be around 5 Hz, but no less than 4 Hz (28800 vph).