Last year we at Monochrome Watches had the distinct pleasure of reviewing the A. Lange & Söhne Double Split, which boasts arguably the most beautiful chronograph movement on the market today. As a follow-up, we’re reviewing its little brother, the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up Down, which also has a stunning movement and features an added large date.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph is one of the icons of modern watchmaking, despite the fact that it has only been on the market since 1999. Let’s find out what has contributed to this watch’s almost instant success. This year marks 15 years since the first-generation Datograph was introduced, and two years ago, in 2012, the Dato (as it’s lovingly referred to by collectors) was slightly redesigned. The Roman numerals have been replaced by baton hour markers, the case has been enlarged from 39 mm to 41 mm, and it now offers 60 hours of power reserve when fully wound (that’s 24 hours more than on the previous generation.) Although the visual changes might seem almost insignificant, the new-generation Datograph definitely has a more modern look.
What remains the same is the magnificent three-dimensional “landscape” of bridges, levers, cams, jewels and a column wheel. Also, the characteristic dial layout, with its rather unusual positioning of the subdials and the chronograph’s instantaneous jumping minutes and flyback function, remains the same. The Dato can still be referred to as a super-chrono which, in terms of movement architecture, comes extremely close to its big brother, the Double Split. With the added “outsize” date and the smaller diameter it’s actually more comfortable on the wrist and better suited for daily wearing than its big brother. When A. Lange & Söhne introduced the Datograph in 1999, it had been only five years since the company introduced its very first collection in 1994. That’s a very impressive achievement for a young brand — actually, I’d say, nothing short of brilliant. What many people may not know is that a chronograph movement is one of the most complex mechanical movements to make, surpassing the complexity of a tourbillon or a perpetual calendar. Especially when that movement features a flyback and an instantaneous jumping minute counter.
The Datograph’s name offers a clue about what one can expect from it: a chronograph with a date, to be precise, although the Datograph includes so much more than just that. The chronograph features a flyback function, a precisely-jumping minute counter, a quick-set oversized date and two subdials that are very recognizable because of their positioning on the dial. Between these two subdials is a power-reserve display that indicates how much of the 60 hours remains in the single mainspring. Many of these features — more on which below — set the Datograph apart from the crowd of mechanical chronographs. Another point that needs to be mentioned is that the Lange Datograph Up/Down has the smoothest-action chronograph pushers I have ever experienced.
Dial / hands
On the wrist, the watch’s remarkable dial layout immediately catches the attention. Connoisseurs, of course, will instantly recognize the Datograph. And even those who’ve never seen the Datograph, or might be unfamiliar with this ultra high-end German watch brand, will immediately recognize the sheer beauty, elegance and beautifully proportions of this watch, which sits very nicely on the wrist.
The baton hour markers stand out beautifully against the matte black dial, as does the tachymeter scale, printed in white, which surrounds the dial. The two sub dials, displaying the continuous running seconds and the 30-minute chronograph register, are in a matte silver color. The hands in both subdials are in heat-blued steel, just one of the many beautiful details. I find the dial, with everything on it, very nicely balanced. This is mainly due to the unusual positioning of the subdials: because of this layout, the oversize date window gets enough space and does not clutter the dial. The change from three Roman numerals (II, VI and X on the first generation) to baton markers also contributes to this very nice balance, and the hour markers subtly shine when they reflect light. Everything about the Datograph’s dial shows quality and luxury.
The central chronograph seconds hand features a distinct counterweight, similar to that on the aforementioned Double Split, and also on Lange’s 1815 Chronograph. The dagger-style hour and minute hands are filled with luminescent material. Do not expect the same level of Super LumiNova you’d find on a dive watch, but you’ll be able to read the time during the dark of night.
Case / strap
The platinum case of the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up/Down is exactly 41.mm in diameter and 13.1 mm in height. On the right side are the signed crown and two pushers for operating the chronograph. The pusher on the left-hand side is for adjusting the outsize date (one push advances the date by one day.) The bezel is polished and the case middle features a straight brushed finish that extends to the surface of the pushers. The lugs are screwed to the case middle, are quite short and slope downwards, which adds to the pleasant balance on the wrist. With a weight of 155 grams the Datograph is not the lightest watch, but that does not reduce the pleasure of wearing by any means.
The caseback, with sapphire crystal, protrudes so there’s enough space for the movement’s tremendously beautiful “landscape” of bridges, levers and cams. It looks like this sapphire crystal has also been treated with nonreflective coating, and when looking at the movement you often get the feeling there’s no crystal at all.
The Datograph Up/Down comes on a black alligator strap, with leather lining, and a grey thread that is stitched by hand.
The Lange Datograph’s movement is Caliber L951.6, which comprises 451 parts in total. All bridges as well as the mainplate are crafted from untreated German silver which, over time, gets a bit of warm, yellowish patina. The entire movement is lavishly finished by hand. Bridges are angled and the angles are polished, the flat surfaces are adorned with Glashütte striping (the German equivalent of côtes de Genève striping) and jewels are set in gold chatons that are fixed by three heat-blued screws. The steel parts – rockers, levers, cams and the column wheel – are also finished by hand, and feature a straight graining on the flat surfaces and angled and polished edges.
Calibre L951.6 offers a power reserve of 60 hours, from a single mainspring barrel. Lange’s proprietary balance has six adjustable poising weights that, together with a swan-neck’s fine adjustment, ensures superior rate accuracy. The balance spring is crafted in-house, which is something not many watch brands can say. It vibrates with a frequency of 18,000 vph. The balance cock has been engraved by hand and is a signature feature of every A. Lange & Söhne watch. The Datograph offers an outsized date and a flyback chronograph. The latter means that the chronograph can be stopped, reset to zero, and started again – during an ongoing time measurement – simply by pressing one pusher. On a standard chronograph this would require three actions: pushing once to stop, once to reset to zero, and once more to start a new time measurement. Besides the flyback function, the Dato also features a precisely-jumping minute counter — a patented A. Lange & Söhne mechanism. This means that the elapsed time, as measured by the chronograph, is displayed in one-minute increments.
Complexity, finish, and price
Besides the abundant decoration and finishing of the movement, there’s another factor that determines how much time it takes before such a movement is ready to be delivered to a client. Every movement coming from the manufacture has been assembled, extensively tested, disassembled, and assembled again. In this complex movement there are quite a few rockers, levers and cams, and, of course, an eight-pillar column wheel. Each one of these moving parts has to perfectly contact the other parts perfectly. The power with which the moving parts touch each other, the height at which they make contact, and the length of each part is also extremely important. When all parts are on one level, it would not be as complex. However, many parts have one pivoting point, and there’s always a tiny, tiny bit of play that has to be out-ruled by the watchmaker. The watchmaker working on such a movement has to be very experienced and skilled, and getting everything perfectly simply takes time. This is truly “artisan” watchmaking having nothing to do with the mass-produced mechanical movements that are widely used in the watch industry.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up Down has a retail price of $90,700 (€ 74.400). This might sound steep, but all the above attributes must be considered; it simply cannot be compared to an off-the-shelf chronograph. Taking all this into account, I think that the Datograph’s price is more than justified.
Even in this über-class of mechanical movements there are pros and cons. First of all, the wrist presence, the lavishly finished movement, and the sheer quality of the Datograph Up/Down is simply magnificent and as such it has very few equals. Comparable models could can only be found among its siblings from A. Lange & Söhne, as well as watches from Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, the Montblanc Villeret collection, and perhaps from De Bethune’s recently introduced chronograph, the DB28 MaxiChrono. Compared to Lange’s Double Split, this watch is smaller, lighter and more wearable. And it adds a very convenient outsize date!
The 41-mm-diameter size feels really good on the wrist, and although the 13.1 mm thickness feels fine, I wouldn’t mind if it had been slightly thinner. That also applies to the weight, although the Datograph is perfectly balanced and feels great on the wrist. On the other hand, with such a magnificent timepiece, it’s actually good that it has some weight, so you’ll be aware of it.
The Dato’s looks are extremely handsome, very appealing and its dial is perfectly balanced. The only criticism we’ve heard from other collectors is that they do not like the “blank field” when the date is between 1 and 9, that they prefer to see a zero. Personally I find this blank field a preferable solution.
The Datograph Up/Down does look good with casual chic, formal attire and even with jeans and jacket. It’s an almost all-arounder that would look out of place only while wearing black tie, or by the side of the swimming pool. Its perfectly balanced dial is enthralling and very stylish at the same time. And that’s a very rare quality.