The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Collection
Let’s start this with a quick confession; I have been dying to write about the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph collection for years, simply because it contains just about my favorite watches in the world.
For someone in my line of work, that is quite the claim. I spend my life studying and analyzing some truly spectacular timepieces and I do my best to remain objective, picking out both the strongest elements on each, while also being careful to any highlight weaker areas.
The Datograph, affectionately known as the Dato, has no weaker areas as far as I’m concerned, with the obvious exception of my ability to afford one.
Simply put, I regard these watches as being the closest thing to flawless as exists at the moment.
This is, of course, a personal opinion, and I’m going to try my best to get through this review with as little hyperbole as possible. However, I’m making no promises.
So, with that out of the way, let’s dive in.
The Datograph: History
If you read our previous article on A. Lange & Söhne itself you will know there is practically no other non-Swiss manufacture held in as high regard in the industry.
It is a brand with very much a two-part history. The first stretches from its formation in the middle of the 19th century and charts their rise to horology’s loftiest perch through a series of brilliant innovations and stunning pocket watches, and culminates just after the Second World War.
That was the point at which their location, in the now-recognized home of German watchmaking, Glashütte in the state of Saxony, left them on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain when the Axis powers were finally defeated. With their manufacturing plant destroyed by Allied bombing on the very last day of the war in Europe, 8th May 1945, the company limped on as it was taken over by the conquering Soviet powers following the building of the Berlin Wall in 1948. But by 1951 the Lange name had disappeared from their watch’s dials and wouldn’t be seen again for more than 40-years.
The brand started their triumphant return in 1989 as the Wall fell, headed up by Walter Lange, the great-grandson of original founder, Adolphe Lange. Within just three years, the reborn A Lange & Söhne filed its initial patent (the oversize date complication) and by 1994 they had unveiled their first new watches in four decades to an enthusiastic and enchanted audience.
The Datograph made its debut in 1999 and, incredibly, the company moved back into its prewar building in Glashütte, following 10-years of renovations, in 2001.
The First Datograph
The original, and to many, quintessential Datograph was the ref. 403.035, a platinum 39mm piece with black dial and silver sub dials.
Described by one respected watch journalist, quite rightly, as ‘pure sex’ when it debuted at the 1999 Baselworld show, onlookers were taken aback firstly by the astonishing looks and then by what was going on underneath.
With the patented outsize date display at the top and the pair of chrono counters shifted from their traditional positions at the 3 and 9 o’clock to sit lower on the dial, the elements formed an equilateral triangle which lent the Dato an absolutely perfect balance seen nowhere else. The fact that Lange had also managed to find room for both a minute track and a tachymeter scale around the perimeter without leaving it a cluttered mess only made the whole thing more impressive.
Inside, the magnificent L951.1 was the first truly high-end chronograph movement to be made in-house in decades. The caliber, complete with its flyback, was actually developed after the dial had been composed, meaning the mechanism had to be designed around the unorthodox placement of the totalizers and the size of the date complication.
The result comprised some 405 separate parts, including a snail cam fastened to the chronograph’s minute hand which pushed it forward at the exact instant the sweeping chrono hand passed the zero, rather than as on a standard setup where the counter would start to move before the minute completely elapsed. It was a mechanism which had been used on highly accurate pocket watches in the past, but this was the first time it had been fitted on something as small as a wristwatch and it gave the Dato faultless precision.
But as remarkable as the L951.1 was technically, it was just as striking visually. Again taking vintage pocket watches as inspiration, some onlookers described viewing the inner workings of the Dato as like observing a miniature metropolis. With its German silver bridges and plates, coupled with gleaming steelwork and heat-blued screws, the caliber had an amazing depth and was like looking down from above at a tiny city.
The first Dato, the ref. 403.035, stayed in production all the way up until 2012 and is now the most prevalent example on the preowned market.
But there were plenty of variations on its theme released in that time as well.
The ref. 403.031 came along in 2003 and was the first pink gold model, again with black dial and silver sub counters. Only made for two years, this is known as the ‘Dufour Datograph’ as it is rumored to be the only watch the legendary Philippe Dufour, recognized as possibly the greatest watchmaker of all time, owns which he didn’t create himself. In an interview in 2016 he called the Dato, ‘the best chronograph ever made’.
In 2004, Lange also brought out the only limited edition version, the ref. 403.025X. Restricted to just 10 pieces, they were made exclusively for Pisa Orologeria, the famous luxury watch retailer in Milan. Each was crafted in platinum and given a monochrome rhodium-plated dial with color matched counters and either a dark blue or brown leather strap.
A second pink gold reference, the ref. 403.032, was made between 2005 and 2012, this time with a silver dial and matching counters, and that was followed in 2008 by the ref. 403.041, the so far only Dato in yellow gold. Possibly the rarest of the regular production models, it was in production for just one year.
All those examples were supplied on a leather strap and buyers had the option of also purchasing a metal bracelet. However, there were several pieces fitted with bracelets as standard.
The ref. 453.135 and ref. 453.035 were both platinum watches with platinum bands—the latter had its soldered in place making it, essentially, integrated.
The last Datographs with bracelets were the ref. 403.435 and the ref. 403.432, the former in platinum and the latter in pink gold. Each had curved end links to their bracelets, as opposed to the straight end links of previous models. These ceased production in 2012 to make way for…
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up/Down
The second generation Dato is the current one and differs from the original in a number of subtle ways.
Firstly, it has grown in size from 39mm to 41mm and is slightly thicker as well. In addition, the former Roman numerals have been replaced with small baton markers, cleaning up the face significantly. Lange also included a power reserve at the six o’clock, leading to the Up/Down tag in the watch’s name. Look carefully at all the various dial elements and you will see that they all have just a bit more room to breathe.
There are four models in the collection. The standard Up/Down (the ref. 405.035) is available in either platinum with a black dial and silver sub dials or in pink gold with similar coloring (the ref. 405.031). The movement inside is the same as with the first generation pieces, just upgraded slightly to the L951.6. Improvements include the power reserve indicator and the power reserve itself, increased from 36-hours to 60.
Then there are two further examples. The ref. 410.038 is a stunning grey dialed piece in white gold which houses a perpetual calendar. Engineered to take into account not just the months with different numbers of days but also to compensate for leap years, the Datograph Perpetual won’t need to be adjusted until the year 2100.
And the ref. 740.056 is an extraordinary white gold model with a glorious pink dial which gives not only the perpetual calendar but a moonphase display and tourbillon too. Powered by the L952.2, the movement is constructed with a total of 729 parts and gives a 50-hour reserve.
However, possibly the holy grail when it comes to Datographs was a special edition, limited to 200 units, released (and completely sold out) in 2018. The ref. 405.034 Datograph Lumen featured a smoky sapphire dial which not only let wearers see the movement working away underneath, but also let natural light in to charge the various luminescent areas within the watch. The outsize date discs, chrono sub counters and even the tachy scale all glow fiercely in low light and make the Lumen an absolute standout in a collection not short on overwhelming timepieces.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph series has become a bona fide legend in the watch collecting world. Made in tiny numbers and improved and upgraded only rarely, it has still set the standard for how a high end, truly elite chronograph should look and perform.
Simply an icon of the industry, there is nothing quite like it.
Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.