Making-of Odysseus from A. Lange & Söhne
Realising a stainless-steel, luxury sports watch brought many ‘firsts’ which were tackled in their typical, thorough approach – here’s our insights on the long road to the new A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus
A stainless-steel, luxury sports watch – a first for traditional watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne. The Odysseus marks the start for a new family, in (an to Lange) unknown area, and not only a new watch – to make it even more challenging.
Let´s talk about some context before we have a closer look at the first member of a new watch family from Lange. Why? Simply because it helps to understand from where and under which circumstances the product was conceived.
(Note: crown is not closed)
History of steel watches at A. Lange & Söhne:
After Lange re-entered the world of ´Haute Horlogerie´ in 1994 there have been a few of their watches made in steel, only. Most of them served a special purpose, as designated “Lange property – service watches” and were given on loan to ease clients over the period of repairs to service, and some were made on special demand – none of them regular production. It was Günther Blümlein who decided to stop the production of stainless-steel watches from Lange, back in 2000, because it didn´t make sense at all. Not for the company and not for the customers. Given the general approach of making watches at Lange, a steel case doesn´t help to make it significantly cheaper (and thinking about this we guess this is a good thing).
History of (luxury) sports watches at A. Lange & Söhne:
There is none! Yes, it´s that simple. In the “old” days of Lange ´Haute Horlogerie´ brands have not really been in the sports watch business, if there was one at all. This has changed considerably until today, and this begs a few questions:
- Who took the decision to do one and why?
- When did the project start and how long did it take in total?
- The movement says 2015, but that´s only the movement isn´t it?
How luxury sports watches became ‘a thing’:
It all started in 1972 when Audemars Piguet introduced the first Royal Oak and entrusted the design to Gerald Genta. The same person who also designed, later in 1976, the Nautilus Ref. 3700 for Patek Philippe besides a great number of other pieces under his own brand name. Back in the 70s it was kind of crazy to do a luxury watch made of steel and sell it for a premium over ‘common’ precious metal watches – and quite a lot of people from the industry had serious doubts about it to say the least.
No wonder it was not a (big) success at the beginning and there have been ups and downs, but today the luxury sports watch genre is at its peak with many brands developing their interpretations, and the initial struggles for acceptance are forgotten. Somehow it feels almost insane what is going on in the market right now, given the sheer abundance of steel sports watches with integrated bracelets which surfaced in the last two years alone. Some brands more or less only copy the past with some (minor) adaptations, some try to offer an evolution … the demand from the market is quite big and so are the expectations on all sides. Anyway, it´s not our topic, for now. Still it helps to get some (more) context and to understand the importance of such a watch for (almost) any ´Haute Horlogerie´ brand in the market today.
Enter the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus in 2019 – why such a watch, now?
Lange is well known for its most iconic products like the Lange 1 (1994), the Datograph (1999) and the Zeitwerk (2009). Especially the Datograph has shaken the whole world of ´Haute Horlogerie´ quite a bit, to say the least. All three products above have started a strong family within the collection of Lange. It didn´t happen by accident because all share a carefully considered approach to creating a new watch (family): a ground-breaking idea, a unique design that stands the test of time and not to forget technical ingenuity. Still we should not forget that in the early days there have been (almost) no specific expectations by collectors on future Lange watches, because everything was new (in Saxony) or somehow got stuck (watch industry in general, in Switzerland) – if we think about pre 2000.
Today – even if you are aware of the general watchmaking approach of a brand, have the specification sheet of your new product at hand and an experienced team behind, it is quite a challenge to meet all the expectations of demanding customers. Further, diversification in the watch industry is a strength and a weakness at the same time since it frees capacities but also externalises expertise (you no longer have ‘first hand’ knowledge with a component or material). Highly complex cases with almost uncountable different materials, highly complex technical solutions – more than ever before … and customers who already experienced all those – more or less.
A new luxury sports watch (family) in a market situation like today – quite a challenge, don’t you agree? So, who had the guts to start it, when and why?
Let´s have a look at it, step-by-step, with a lot of insights from an intensive discussion with Anthony de Haas, director of product development at A. Lange & Söhne.
Back in the days when Günther Blümlein, Walter Lange, Reinhard Meis and their teams revived the venerable A. Lange & Söhne brand and with it essentially the entire German watch industry (like we know it today), they had to start somewhere to reach the peak of ´Haute Horlogerie´ – again. Today we all know that they took the right decision, to focus on a general approach of fine watchmaking at (modern) Lange and concentrate on a “small” collection in the beginning. A sports watch, even a luxury one, didn´t make sense from “day one”.
Yet, one can find written notes already by Günther Blümlein, from the early days, that he considered the idea of a luxury sports watch from early on. Blümlein however anticipated that simply offering existing models in steel could cause consternation by those collectors who bought Lange pieces in precious white cases; yet a steel case should come only ‘with a reason’ – hence a dedicated collection. This does not surprise us, he was a (even THE, for some) “professional” in the watch industry gifted with vision and foresight, and of course he saw the potential for Lange – if done right.
A. Lange & Söhne teams voiced their first conceptual thoughts around the year 2009, but work on the “final” version only started in 2015. As connoisseurs of Lange know, they always start with “the face” of a new watch – the dial layout, the typography, the indexes, the hands and not to forget the case. That is in stark contrast to the mainstream in watchmaking (especially in the Swiss part) where projects start from “inside” with – an already existing or being constructed new – movement. It´s not about good or bad, but being aware of such fundamental differences in the way companies work may help to understand the product, the differences and the competing watches in the business.
More people than ever before have some kind of active lifestyle and even people in their 70+ are doing sports (Gym, Pilates, Sailing, Golf …) frequently. A lot of them (want to) do it in “style” because there is some kind of wealth to make it possible and enjoyable. Well, there is a reason (or two) why the demand for sophisticated “sports” watches is higher than ever before. Until now the Lange connoisseur on holiday … when sailing … had to look somewhere else for his sporty, casual family/quality time. Also, we should not forget that from brands like Lange (luxury watches with limited production, for good reasons) it´s interesting to serve their (existing) customers in demand for special watches – from sporty to classical up to highly complicated. Lange doesn´t have the (marketing) spending power to reach each (potential) prospect in the world, but they can do solid business with trusted customers and products. We guess most Lange customers are “repeaters”, for a reason.
(calibre L155.1 is shown top right)
Already noting the reference number of the new movement, calibre L155.1, gives a first clue that Lange started with the movement in 2015, and therefore we can assume that it took them about (more or less) six years to work on “the face” of the new watch family (recall: ‘face first’ is a paradigm at Lange). For sure it was not a “full-time” job of the whole team, but we heard they tried out a lot of things and started very open minded. Still it needed to represent the DNA of Lange, and herein lies the crux of the matter: Even when we exclude “rocket science materials and technology”, there are millions of possibilities left to fail and only a few needles in the haystack which bore promise to succeed, especially in a demanding and competitive market like today. One of the most challenging parts is probably to deal with the established “paradigms” of (potential) customers, namely the fact that the vast majority of them will compare it to the “icons of luxury sports watches” – at least at a certain point. One could get lost alone in dealing with this, or you focus on your company approach and your (internal and/or related supplier) professional experience.
Yet, since a sporty watch is new territory for the brand, any realisation would define what collectors expect – a mental burden for the team, for sure!
Lange addressed above with four fundamental decisions:
- a steel Lange watch would need to come with its own form such as to differentiate itself from the other Lange collections (thereby complying to Günter Blümleins musings above); it will be a separate collection;
- the new watch will however still carry all defining elements that those familiar with the brand will be looking for at any watch from Lange. There is no big surprise, and this is not a bad thing – not at all;
- to be clear from the beginning, it will be an elegant sporty watch but not a sports The latter we will probably never see from Lange and that´s absolutely fine for us. The spirit is more like that a Lange connoisseur on holiday with the family or doing things like sailing, gets a reliable watch without looking at other brands for purpose – nothing more, nothing less;
- A sporty Lange watch must feel super-smooth in its entirety both in the hand and on the wrist.
And now let’s investigate how A. Lange & Söhne devised their first sporty timepiece based on above:
“The face” – case, dial, and hands
Considering the previously stated the way forward seemed clear: the future watch collection (Lange’s sixth, actually) should combine the essentials of a sporty watch with those of an A. Lange & Söhne timepiece (such as the comparatively large opening of the dial, the shape of the hands or the proportions of dial, hands and indices, or the lugs).
As it turned out, combining robustness, elegance and refinement was the key challenge for the team around Anthony de Haas. Initial proposals erred on the side of ‘robustness’ and were too clumsy for a Lange, causing the team to start anew, three times.
The case looks at the same time familiar and not: only (from some angles) the two pushers on the right stand out, but in all its essence it´s still a round case – just one that consciously appears from some angles as a form case.
- Watch measures:
- Diameter: 40.5 mm
- Height: 11.1 mm
What caused surprise, and at times consternation, were those pushers: they are not the kind of pusher we know from Lange. What is the rationale for their design? Because they needed to be water-resistant to 120m? No, it’s more likely a combination of function and appearance: the Odysseus team indeed first tried the known pushers from the Lange 1 and found them to look almost comical on the sports watch. In addition, they were at odds with the idea to please your hands when you touch the case of the Odysseus, and they provided no protection for the crown.
By the way, the in hand and especially on the wrist was a “must” in the product specification of Lange – not only for the pushers – and it is indeed there noticeably and combined with a precise feedback when you operate them.
To illustrate the production implications Lange (or better: their case producer) faced we were told of the considerable difficulties when realising the precisely defined contours of its flanks (which pose a machining challenge) and the watertightness in a comparatively slim steel case.
Between the pushers there is the crown, which in proportion is slightly smaller than in most cases at Lange. It was always like this at Lange, when there is an automatic movement inside.
The (dark blue) dial looks familiar, but not up close – the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk comes to mind, for a good reason as the general layout with the two large digital displays offers suitable groundwork for ‘everyday’ indications such as date or weekday. Combined with the encouraging feedback Lange received for the Zeitwerk it – unconsciously or not – it offers recognition value and thus developed into a role model, a defining design element for the Odysseus line. A further consideration was that it conveys a modern ‘digital spirit’ fitting to a sporty watch.
The plate of the dial is made of brass – instead of massive silver, in most cases – and a first for Lange as far as dial materials are concerned.
The reason for the mundane base material is not necessarily one of cost savings: the finely grained surface finishing is easier to realise with brass due to the metal’s lower propensity to oxidise, which made is possible to apply thinner protective lacquers, which in turn preserves the underlying structure better.
The special “glow” of (most) Lange dials is because of layers of lacquer – thicker than those from competitors like e.g. Patek Philippe. This time they tried something different, for the new sporty family and at the time of writing we already know two different versions of the dial.
The hands look also familiar, they are crafted in Super-LumiNova-filled white gold – just like the ‘Luminous’ special series we all know.
The bracelet for sure is of elaborate construction and a piece of art – that comes immediately clear once you wrap the watch around your wrist.
It appears like the design learned a lot from past experiences both within Lange but also with other implementations at other (Richemont) brands. And this is indeed the case, but there is much more!
One caveat: in some angles it may look odd to some, but don´t be misguided. It just doesn´t matter once on the (your!) wrist, and even “super models” are not perfect from every angle, are they? Still (let us tell you even before the conclusion) it feels like a “super model” on the wrist ?
The bracelet has “character” without asking for extra attention. Most parts are nicely matt finished and a variety of well-considered angles add spice. A polisher, who is in charge of refurbishing the bracelet at service, would have already recognised it – polishing is not a nightmare like so often with “jewellery/designer” bracelets. A bit more to this further down when we touch the ‘service’ topic.
The centre part of the buckle stands out, comes with a nice adjustment (of the bracelet length) feature, but this isn´t flashy at all.
The side view shows once more the all-over design approach of the case and the (integrated) bracelet.
Pusher on both sides (for opening the bracelet) are easy to handle and well-integrated.
(Sitting just perfect on the wrist; even on hot days when wrists are swollen)
To recall from above, the “smooth touch & feel” hinges particularly on the bracelet, for a sporty watch. The individual elements are all superbly finished with polished edges and well-defined distances between adjacent links, all contributing to wearing comfort without pinching hairs.
This system is present in each and every link throughout the entire length, which makes the complete bracelet serviceable – an aspect one should not underestimate. The construction itself draws inspiration from IWC’s famous GST bracelet, and also incorporates lessons learned from Lange’s own more ‘jewellery-like’ bracelets (made by Wellendorf in Pforzheim; which are very implicated to disassemble, to use a ‘nice’ term), and from early integrated bracelets made by other haute horlogerie brands which fatally lack serviceability, rendering them (and at times the entire watch) unwearable eventually should their fixed bolts become weak.
(examples of bracelets made by Wellendorf for A. Lange & Söhne, from the past)
Long-term serviceability is a plus in our book and not self-evident, even today in the “luxury” market.
All those features shown in the new bracelet from Lange have been seen before, but not from Lange and all features offered at the same time are far from being a standard and especially not when it comes to luxury watches. Have a look at the competitors with offers at €20k plus … it seems to be challenging for what ever reasons or was simply not part of their product specification quite often. Somehow you find more of those features at bracelets of watches being “less luxury”. Smart and convenient solutions together with the needs of a luxury watch with (integrated) bracelet, might be a new challenge of fine watchmaking today ?
Cal. L155.1 `Datomatic´, the engine
There is the English phrase of ‘going the extra mile’, i.e. making a special effort to achieve something, and this for sure applies to Lange’s standard approach to new references: a new watch always comes with a dedicated new movement, and the Odysseus is no exception. Still today this is not common in the watch industry, because it comes with an addition price tag.
The automatic Cal. L155.1 Datomatic comes with the following technical specifications:
- Number of parts: 312
- Number of rubies: 31
- Number of chatons: 1
- Power reserve: 50 hours when fully wound
- Bridges made of German silver
- Screwed gold chaton
- Heat-blued and colour-assorted screws
- Central rotor from ARCAP with platinum oscillating weight; mounted by ball bearing
- Oscillation system:
- Frequency: 28,800 semi-oscillations per hour (4 Hz)
- Beat-adjustment system: Shock-resistant balance with four poising screws
- Movement measures:
- Diameter: 32.9 mm
- Height: 6.2 mm
When appreciating the movement, we notice a lot of similarities (which we like) but also a number of differences to other Lange movements: the typical ¾ plate crafted from German silver, blued screws (colour-assorted from 5 different shades of blue colour) and (at least) one screwed-in golden chaton, the excellently applied Glashütte stripes and (of course the mandatory for Lange) the hand-engraved balance cock.
The engraving was especially developed for the new watch family, by their legend engraving team, and is inspired by waves in the water. A nice detail, isn´t it.
What’s new is the beat rate, at 28,800 bph faster than any of the existing Lange movements, a choice made with the expected use environment of the watch in mind – the faster rate is certainly less susceptible to be disturbed by smaller shocks.
Also new is ARCAP as the material for the rotor – a copper-based alloy which is antimagnetic and offers a combination of strength and elasticity which allows to realise a comparatively thin rotor skeleton. The rotor is mounted by a shock resistant ball bearing, adding to robustness.
The decoration of the movement parts is largely consistent with what can be expected from Lange. The Glashütte stripes, however, are slightly wider than found with the remainder of Lange’s movements, and the engraving of the balance cock – actually a balance bridge for added stability – appears to resemble water droplets. Anthony de Haas relates that both are results of creative experimentation of the respective teams, but wider stripes result in less passes to complete a given movement surface, and the engraving is simpler than usual as well. So, we are sure there are certainly production efficiency side effects as well.
The movement, btw, is assembled (twice as always at Lange) by the same team that also works on the Lange Saxonia Moonphase, attesting to the complexity which Lange assumes for it.
Large digital indications are a characteristic mainstay at Lange – after all, the famous Lange 1, which ‘defined’ Lange watches until now, already had a large date. A number of other brands, both from Germany as well as Switzerland, have eventually developed their own respective complications. Lange thus recently fostered its expertise in double digital indications with the Zeitwerk, a digital-first mechanical watch large, jumping hour and minute windows.
For the Odysseus Lange took the essential layout of the Zeitwerk but used the digital part instead to show weekday (left window) and date (right), respectively, a first for Lange. This seems like a Solomonic decision to us: stay true to an established, ‘iconic’ design, search for a mechanically less involved and this easier to produce mechanism, and offer indications which inherently make sense for anticipated use case – an everyday watch. And thus, we think the choice for a combination of weekday and date is simply brilliant for a sporty piece like the Odysseus!
Overall, we consider the Cal. L155.1 as a worthy addition to the Lange stable, with a number of choices made in respect to technology, design and execution that fit very well to the purpose without being at odds with the Lange philosophy. In a way, it sits at a similar relative position of the venerable Cal. 39 at the competitor just across the street, Glashütte Original (it looks even ) – a fine but sturdy automatic engine. A movement which carries with it all the elements which made A. Lange & Söhne movements famous, adjusted and tuned to a more ‘active’ lifestyle – an excellent proposition!
Testing and Servicing:
The watch undergoes the exact same quality control test as every other A. Lange & Söhne watch (including the famous hammer and vibration tests) as well, but in addition is also subjected to the pertinent DIN tests for diver’s watches (although it is not such for the lack of a rotating bezel). It may surprise you, that there is nothing special required for a “sporty” watch. Except that the level of testing is always high – higher than with quite a few competitors – with any watch from Lange.
An interesting anecdote is that Lange cannot use their standard equipment for water tightness testing in their QC labs as all those machines can test for 50m only… No worries, it´s solved now.
We also learned how the manufacture set up their servicing procedure for new reference to intensify corporate learning and quality improvement: during the first two years after introduction, the Odysseus will be repaired and serviced at the product development workshop. The goal is to identify any design and construction issues which appear after the watches are in the hands of customers and which might be worth considering for series.
the eclecticum conclusion:
The Odysseus – name ’Odysseus’ already hints the long gestation process, the several restarts and bumpy roads with a final resolution found through cleverness; in other words a ‘true odyssey’ just like in Greek mythology – yet it is not the most sophisticated or complicated watch you can get from Lange.
The watch appeared easy to judge on the first views, and tempting to pigeonhole it as a competitor to the well-known, idiosyncratic Swiss steel sports watches. And that is not entirely wrong, BUT…!
Truth to be told, when we got notice of the Odysseus for the first time, our reaction was a bit lukewarm: Surely a nice watch, but why so close to other Lange watches, why steel, and why this semi-integrated bracelet design?
It takes some quality (wrist) time with the watch, to understand it completely. A critical and open minded view on the competition and also some insights which we are privileged to share here, to get the full picture: The team around Anthony de Haas at Lange developed a watch that wants to be worn, frequently, in everyday situations, and went through considerable efforts to streamline and fine-tune the watch holistically for this purpose – with a lot of detail work on case, bracelet and movement. These might each for itself be all minor steps which normally would evade a quick appreciation. But taken together, the effect is profound, with the overall design serving the touch & feel so distinct with Lange watches, and finally and most importantly, once it´s on your wrist, it´s hard to take it off. It is easy to imagine as a 24/7 watch. Also perfect for “sporty” occasions with luxury lifestyle, which is entirely new for Lange.
Will it be for everyone in the market for a sporty luxury watch? We doubt it for several reasons, but one thing is sure: We would highly recommend it if it fits your taste and “needs”. Be warned if you fall in love, it seems to be hard to get one because of limited production (in general at Lange, and this because of their considered approach to fine watchmaking) and you probably need to be patient for quite some time. It is a most welcome addition to the world of Lange, and we are already looking forward to future members of the new family – Odysseus.
Bravo team Lange: mission accomplished, with success!
Not everything is what it appears like initially, and many details have more context to it than anticipated: We hope that we could shed some light onto questions a number of our readers ponder as well.
Note: the watch shown here was a loaner offered to us from A. Lange & Söhne to get a better understanding of the product, for a couple of days only.