HANDS-ON: The greatest chronograph of our times – the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Datograph Up/Down

Put a group of serious watch collectors in a room and ask them to name the most important modern chronograph in the world right now, and we’re confident the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph will end up top of the heap.

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A large part of the Datograph’s appeal is the movement, which surpasses mere functional engineering and moves into the realm of sculptural beauty. But it’s not just the watch’s technical and aesthetic virtuosity that’s earned it such universal acclaim – it’s the context it emerged from. As you may know, A. Lange & Söhne is a brand with old roots in eastern Germany but it wasn’t until 1994, shortly after reunification, that the brand was reborn in spectacular fashion. The first collection, launching the Lange 1 among others, set the tone of contemporary classicism that has come to define the brand. Then, in 1999, came the Datograph.

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First, consider how difficult it is to make an integrated chronograph movement, let alone one with flyback and instantaneous minute jump (as well as a big date). But set that against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil, and Lange’s achievement is nothing short of astonishing. The watch very quickly became a cult object without peer. (Seriously, even Philippe Dufour wears one.)

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So you can imagine the trepidation when Lange announced an update to the Datograph in 2012, especially when it was revealed that the case was to increase from 39mm to 41mm, while fattening up a little to 13.1mm. Thankfully fears of Lange meddling with perfection were quickly disproved. Instead, the Datograph Up/Down has improved and refined key points of the original design, with a more harmoniously balanced case, a slightly upgraded movement, now with 60 hours of power reserve, and of course that discreet power reserve indicator on the dial. It’s this indicator that gives the Up/Down its name, though the dial text is in the German Ab/Auf. It’s also a supremely useful complication on a manually wound watch.

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The dial has also been cleaned up a little, with baton indices replacing the roman numerals. The rear of the Datograph is still a wonder to behold, as each of the 452 components that makes up the Calibre L951.6 move in concert.

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The bridges and plates are made from German silver, an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc with a warm silver tone that will develop a subtle patina over time. The use of this metal, along with the hand-engraved balance cock is a signature of A. Lange & Söhne. I won’t go so far as to say that the Up/Down is better than the original, as the first generation still more than holds up. But what this watch does do is bring the Datograph in line with contemporary tastes, as well as deliver some notable technical improvements. It’s the best possible sort of upgrade – minor tweaks that enhance the experience of the wearer, without detracting from what makes the original so great.

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You really feel this watch on the wrist, and not just because of the solid platinum case (it also comes in pink gold). It’s the sort of timepiece that’s more than the sum of its design and materials. Looking down at the date and off-centre subdials you can’t help but be aware of the special place the Datograph holds in the history of watchmaking. Oh, and taking it off and looking at that movement never gets old.

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A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Datograph Up/Down Australian pricing

The A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Datograph Up/Down in platinum with pin buckle, $109,800.

Images by Jason Reekie. 

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