The word “legendary” gets thrown around pretty loosely in horological circles these days. (We’ve been guilty at REVOLUTION of a little occasional hyperbole, as far as that goes.) But if there’s a watch that really merits the moniker, it’s the Datograph, from A. Lange & Söhne. When the Datograph came out in 1999, it was a high-water mark of sorts for A. Lange & Söhne — an absolutely, classically flawless chronograph that was a crowning achievement for the firm that was the first watchmaking house to establish itself in Glashütte in 1845, but had been absorbed into the watchmaking collective known as GUB (Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe) after the end of the Second World War. The creation of an in-house chronograph movement was an especially triumphant moment for the firm, as the creation of a first-tier chronograph movement represents a significant technical challenge. (Cartier chief movement designer Carole Forestier-Kasapi has told us that in her opinion, it’s much harder to design a good chronograph movement than a tourbillon.)
That the watch was finished to exacting standards so high as to draw almost universal praise was just the first step in a journey which, thus far, has spanned 13 years and seen the watch draw acclaim from some of watchmaking’s most highly regarded tastemakers and artisans — including, most famously, Philippe Dufour, who opined to REVOLUTION founder Wei Koh in a 2006 interview that in his opinion, the Datograph could not be matched, in terms of finish, by any other series-produced watch, saying, “Take 10 movements out of the current range of any contemporary brand, put them next to a Lange movement, and comment honestly on what you see. That is the best way to judge — by examining the truth.” Dufour famously put his money behind his words, choosing to purchase for his own use the rose-gold model, which has since, among cognoscenti, come to be known as the “Dufour Datograph”.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up/Down
The Datograph has accumulated an enormous weight of history behind it in an astonishingly short period of time, which makes the idea of changing or updating the watch an intimidating one. Nonetheless, that’s the task that A. Lange & Söhne undertook, and which has led to the introduction of the first revision ever made to the original design: the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph “Up/Down”.
The first indication of what’s changed in the new version of this modern horological classic is, of course, the name. The new Datograph now features a power reserve indication, executed with typical Saxon discretion in the form of a small circle at six o’clock. The essential information — no more, no less — is conveyed; there’s no false theater of precision, as one finds in so many other power reserve indications, and as a result, the basic compositional poise of the original Datograph has been preserved. Another change may excite more controversy among diehard Datograph purists, though; the size of the watch has been increased. It’s not an enormous change (only a 2mm bump up to 41mm) but it has a noticeable effect on the dial: the chemin-de-fer minute track is now no longer cut into at four o’clock and eight o’clock, as was the case with the original Datograph. I see this as a positive change; one of the few problematic aspects of the original was that setting the minute hand accurately when it needed to be positioned properly on a minute mark at those areas of the dial was a bit difficult. (I might not have thought so in 1999, but presbyopia catches up with everyone eventually.)
Also gone are the three Roman numerals of the original, which makes for a cleaner and more legible dial as well. I don’t know whether one would miss the Romans or not over time. They gave the watch a certain stately air of antiquity, and just a touch of Baroque flavor — an effect that always reminded me of a longcase clock, especially in conjunction with the overbuilt, bank-vault-like solidity of the case (especially noticeable in the lovely platinum version of the watch), but there’s no denying that in terms of conveying information, the omission is an improvement.
Inside, very little’s changed; the new Datograph Up/Down has a nominally new movement, updated to the Lange caliber L951.6 from the original Lange caliber L951.1. One of the most beloved features of the original, the beautifully constructed jeweled system for instantaneously advancing the minute counter is, of course, still there. Probably the most significant functional improvement’s the one hinted at by the power reserve indication. The watch now has a significantly increased running time of 60 hours, versus the 36 hours of the original. (It’s been
my experience wearing the original Datograph that it does have a tendency to stop on you unless you’re reasonably scrupulous about winding it every day.)
The longer power reserve is most welcome, and there’s another less obvious upgrade: the oscillating system, including the balance and hairspring, is now made entirely in-house. For that reason, the poising screws on the rim of the balance in the L951.1 have been replaced with six Gyromax-style eccentric weights. It’s true that high-precision watches often omit a regulator if timing weights are present on the balance, but there are an awful lot of vintage pocket chronometers that combine a regulator with meantime screws. And while a free-sprung balance might have appeal to some among the chronometrically obsessed, I’d miss the attractive curve of the swan-neck regulator spring, and I suspect many others would too.
The caliber L951.6 is slightly thicker than the L951.1, but only just (7.9mm vs. 7.5mm). It’s still one of the flat-out most beautiful movements in the entire industry as well — beautiful for the best of reasons. No effort’s been spared in making it of the best materials, to the highest standard — a simple formula, but one that made the original Datograph a modern classic. How the Lange faithful will react over time to the changes made to the Datograph remains to be seen. (The original model will be phased out, and the Up/Down will become simply “the” Datograph.) But our first impression at REVOLUTION is that a great deal of thought’s gone into making significant improvements in functionality and legibility at no cost to the lovely, austere yet lavish design of the original. And we think the Datograph Up/Down is a watch that will attract as many lovers of its special brand of horological purism as the original.