The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Up/Down, equipped with a prominent “ab/auf” power reserve display, has the restrained styling for which the brand is known. Do we give it a thumbs up or thumbs down? Find out in this test from the WatchTime archives.
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 & Söhne 1815 Up/Down in our test is a new model, but 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 measures a classic 39 mm in diameter and is 8.9 mm thick. This is up from the original model’s 35.9 by 7.9 mm, though the fashion-conscious may wish for something even larger. The new Up/Down is one millimeter smaller than the current 1815 without power reserve. 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 watch is very comfortable to wear. The reasonable size and 77-gram 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. The strap was only slightly stiff out of the box, and it quickly softened up. On my 7¾-inch wrist, the strap was in the next to last hole, so those with larger wrists may need an extra-long strap. 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 1815 Up/Down movement, 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 pocketwatches.
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, 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 sans power reserve, yet it maintains the simpler sibling’s 4.6 mm thickness.
When it comes to timekeeping, the 1815 Up/Down performed extremely well. We conducted a total of eight timing tests. Four were on the Witschi machine and three on a winder, comparing the displayed time with a radio-controlled clock. (The winder simply kept the manual-wind watch moving to simulate wear.) In the last test, we measured the timekeeping on the wrist.
On the Witschi, we checked the performance at full wind, and after 24, 48 and 70 hours. At full wind, the average deviation of rate in six positions was 0.7 seconds. After 70 hours, it was nearly the same: 0.6 seconds. The greatest deviation of rate was 7.4 seconds at full wind and 5.1 seconds after 70 hours. The complete Witschi timing results are shown in the Specs box.
Putting the watch in motion enhanced its performance. On a winder and measured against a radio-controlled clock, the Up/Down showed zero variation from actual time over the first 48 hours, and after 70 hours, it was four seconds slow.
We tested the watch for 24 hours on the wrist, and, as on the winder, the timekeeping was dead-on perfect.
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
Rate results: (Deviations in seconds per 24 hours, fully wound and after 24/48/70 hours)
Dial up +3.8/+5.3/+4.2/+3.5
Dial down -1.6/-0.2/-1.4/-1.2
Crown up -3.6/+1.8/-1.3/-1.6
Crown down +2.5/+5.1/+3.5/+2.5
Crown left +2.6/+5.3/+2.0/-0.1
Crown right +0.4/+3.0/+1.4/+0.4
Greatest deviation of rate 7.4/5.5/5.6/5.1
Average deviation +0.7/+3.4/+1.4/+0.6
Flat positions 290°/267°/282°/308°
Hanging positions 257°/231°/247°/270°
Dimensions: 39 mm, height = 8.9 mm, weight = 77 grams
Variations: Yellow gold ($27,400); white gold ($28,600)
Timing tests performed by Wempe Jewelers, New York City
Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): A very well-crafted strap and buckle that require your muscles to learn new tricks. 9
Operation (5): Simple operation with great feel; a standard against which others can be measured. 5
Case (10): An excellent execution with fine details and finish. 9
Design (15): Pure Lange. Subdial placement may put some off, but like the Datograph and 1815 Chronograph, it’s the Lange look. 14
Legibility (5): All hands are the appropriate length and all displays are easily read. Lack of luminous material is appropriate for a dress watch. 5
Wearing comfort (10): Classic size, light weight, well-placed lugs and a high- quality strap make wearing a pleasure. 9
Movement (20): An appropriately sized manufacture movement exhibiting fine craftsmanship. The three-quarter plate reveals more than in other Lange models. 19
Rate results (10): Nearly perfect real-world performance and very good results on the Witschi. 9
Overall value (15): Fairly priced within the Lange range, and very close to the F.P. Journe Chronomètre Souverain, another member of the rare species of haute horlogerie manual-wind watches with power-reserve displays. 13
TOTAL: 92 POINTS
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of WatchTime magazine. Photos are by Robert Atkinson.