Teutonically Thin

A. lange & Söhne’s saxonia thin is the manufacture’s slimmest watch to date

In what must count as one of the biggest comebacks since the mechanical wristwatch reinvented itself in the post-quartz era as a luxury necessity, the thin dress watch — once driven underground and nearly into extinction by the dinosaurian dimensions toward which watchmaking trended in the first decade of the new millennium — has not just been revived; it’s become de rigueur. Pundits in the watch world may chalk it up to the influence of the burgeoning Chinese market, or a shying away from ostentation in the post-Lehman Brothers world, but whatever the cause (and whatever you want to call it — “extra-thin”, “ultra-thin” or “extra-flat”), they’re now considered an essential part of any self-respecting wristwatch manufacturer’s lineup, and it’s clear from what we’ve already seen this year that they’re here to stay.

For A. Lange & Söhne, making an extra-thin watch means straddling the horns of a dilemma. Saxon watchmaking has never particularly emphasized the creation of ultra-thin watches, which was stressed much more in the Franco-Swiss tradition and which, in the pocket-watch era, was exemplified by the almost incredibly flat “knife” watches created and sold by firms such as Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin, the most extreme of which featured movements less than a millimeter thick (though those particular movements were ultimately too fragile to be manufactured commercially). The Glashütte pocket-watch tradition had more in common with the English approach to movement design, both cosmetically and structurally. Both favored a gilt finish to the plates and bridges, and an emphasis on reassuring solidity. Lange’s fans have always loved the overbuilt robustness of its watches, and between the weight of Saxon watchmaking and its own traditions, the notion of an extra-thin Lange watch is one that, while attractive, presents something of a challenge to the firm and its fans alike.

The name of the thinnest watch Lange has ever made is itself indicative of the middle path the company followed in creating it. It was dubbed the “Saxonia Thin” (not “ultra-thin” or “extra-flat”, and so on). The Saxonia Thin is a very flat watch by any standards. At 5.9mm thick, the case is quite svelte (for comparison, the original Lange 1 is 10mm thick, the new Grande Lange 1 is 8.8mm thick, and the current record-holder for thinnest manual-winding wristwatch, the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Ultra-fine 1955, is 4.1mm thick) and the movement — the new, manual-winding caliber L093.1 — is 2.9mm thick.

The construction of the movement, therefore, is one that allows for the creation of a relatively flat watch, while at the same time keeping the fundamental flavor of Saxon watchmaking intact. Its basic design and execution are as firmly rooted in Saxon pocket-watch tradition as anything that Lange has ever made; the three-quarter plate construction (from untreated German silver), the hand-engraved balance cock with swan’s-neck regulator, the heat-blued screws fixing gold chatons for the train jewels, and the elegant, elongated click spring all powerfully recall the Glashütte pocket-watch tradition and make the movement the star of the show. The decision not to engage in record-challenging brinkmanship also allowed the Saxonia Thin to have a very attractive (and, for a thin dress watch, impressive) 72-hour power reserve.

A. Lange & Söhne has very much hewed  to the traditional notion of a dress watch in the overall design of the Saxonia Thin. The dial is uncluttered and immaculate, with nothing to distract from the flawlessly finished hands and markers, and the alternating polished and brushed finishes on the flanks give it that satisfying feeling of bank-vault solidity that Lange fans know and love.

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