Steel. Sports. Lange. Meet the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Steel. Sports. Lange. Meet the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus

Steel. Sports. Lange. Meet the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus

Sandra Lane

What are the most talked-about watches of 2019? Depends who you ask, obviously, but in a sizeable part of Planet Watch-Nut the answer is “luxury steel sports watch on integrated bracelet” – although not necessarily for good reasons (unless you count over-hype and over-pricing as good). During the past couple of weeks, in another part of watch-planet (which probably, inevitably, has some small degree of crossover with the first one), the most talked about is “the new Lange”. And now we can reveal that it is – drum roll – a luxury steel sports watch on an integrated bracelet.

But, having spent some hands-on time with it, I will state with absolute certainty that the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus is much more than “just” that. It’s a surprising watch in some ways – not really Lange and yet totally, indisputably Lange in every molecule. (Mind you, the “not really Lange” bit is only because we tend to think those Saxons make nothing but dressy, leather-strapped watches. Those of you who own Datographs on metal bracelets know better, of course.) That said, the Odysseus is quite particular, so will not be to everyone’s taste – and that’s just fine.

The name, Odysseus, is certainly not very Lange – model-family names are usually bluntly descriptive in a very Teutonic way, not evocative or metaphorical. Odysseus – celebrated for his strength and intelligence. Odyssey – a quest or journey that takes a very long time.

There’s plenty to muse over and chat about, but I will leave that to social media for now (and heaven forfend that I get side-tracked into the “sports watch bandwagon” nonsense that’s already doing the rounds).

Let’s get to the watch.

First impressions

When the box was opened my immediate reaction was less a breath-taken-away “Oh wow” and more a “Mmmm … that does look nice” – solid, elegant, very balanced dial design. And a really interesting day and date display (actually, some wow there). But it’s when I had it in my hand, feeling the shape and weight of the thing, turning it this way and that under the light, noticing the details (always with Lange, the details), the way the dial captures the light … That’s when “nice” quickly started moving up the scale.

Don’t take the lack of an instant wow as a criticism, by the way. For me, a slow-burn falling in love is normal with most Lange pieces; it’s about subtlety and detail, rather than fireworks (although, present any of their chronographs to me movement-side first and I’m instantly a goner).

The dial

It’s blue. Now before you say cliché, I say blue has become a classic colour for dials (it’s way beyond trend by now). And blue is simply the most natural complement to white metal. While blue may not be the “most Lange” dial colour, the company is no stranger to it – although no two Lange blues are quite the same. The Odysseus blue has a strong grey cast that, at certain angles, veers towards that almost-charcoal colour of dark flannel. I make the allusion to grey flannel deliberately: like the cloth, this blue is sober, warm and sophisticated – a feeling amplified by the subtle, grained texture in the central area of both the main dial and running seconds dial.

The dial is composed of three parts, on three different levels: the grained central section, the chapter ring, which is decorated with fine concentric lines that create a really nice contrast, and the small seconds dial, which mirrors the decoration of the main dial sections – creating a clever optical illusion that it, too, is made of two parts. The applied indexes are notched, forming a channel for the luminous paint (which, as on the hands, is very bright in low light).

But of course, the real talking point of the dial (indeed, THE key element of the Odysseus) is the day and date displays. There is a major wow to this watch – and this is it. Following Lange’s signature oversized format, with the numerals its signature font, the two windows are perfectly balanced and in perfect proportion to the rest of the dial. But beyond that, this is the most instinctive way to read a day and date (from left to right, it’s exactly how we say it: Friday the 25th) It’s rather startling to realise how rare such an arrangement is in watchmaking.

The more you look at the dial, the more details you notice: the little red 60 on the flange, for example; the fact that the outside edge of the day and date window frame is almost imperceptibly curved, to follow the line of the case. Such details are pure Lange.

The case

The whole point of a watch like this is that it has to be comfortable, all day and every day, whatever you’re doing and whatever you’re wearing while doing it. That, of course, starts with the case: at 40.5mm, with a good curve to the lugs, it sits really well on all but the most extreme wrist sizes (two Lange staff members tried it on, as well as me). At 11.1 mm thick it hits that sweet spot between substantial enough to feel good in sporty mode and thin enough to slide straight under a shirt cuff. Here, I’d say we have a Goldilocks case – not too anything; just right.

Then there’s that slightly lop-sided shape. That may jar with some people but I like a bit of asymmetry (keeps things interesting and dynamic, rather than predictable and static), although it must never be just “for the sake of it”. As with all design, it cannot be mere styling; it should have a purpose. So those little protuberances are not just bumps, they are the push-buttons for adjusting the day and date displays. I wonder, though, if they couldn’t have been designed to do double duty as crown guards, with the crown tucked in closer in to the case? Lange has mixed different finishes even on the tiny surfaces of those pushers – because, why not add a bit of elegance – as well as on all the larger surfaces of the case. The result is a beautiful play of light as you move your wrist.

The bracelet

Every bit as important as the case when it comes to comfort, the five-row bracelet is a winner. It’s also quite beautiful, with the combination of brushed surfaces and chamfered edges on each link. It’s quite a weighty bracelet (Lange has never been known to stint on the metal) but the fluidity of the joints makes it feel solid and silky-smooth on the wrist, rather than heavy. Adjusting the length is a cinch: there’s no fiddling about under the clasp, you simply press the button on the outside and voilà – up to seven millimetres of play.

The movement

Turn to the flip side and everything about this watch exudes Lange-ness: the finishing, the decoration – the usual heart-fluttering stuff. (Of course. What did you expect?) But it’s not just Lange-as-usual decoration. In subtle ways, it looks more relaxed and sporty: the Glashütte stripes are fractionally wider than on other models; the winding rotor is a little more open-worked; the balance bridge (not balance cock – I’ll get to that shortly) is engraved with a wave pattern, rather than the traditional, curly acanthus. The inscriptions around the back bezel are relief-engraved against a grained, black-rhodiumed background – in an exact match with the winding rotor.

The word Datograph on the rotor tells us that this is a completely new movement – not just an adaptation of an existing one. That’s not only because the day-date display is new but also because of the intended daily life of the watch. In a departure from Lange’s traditional slow-beat movements, the L155.1 Datomatic calibre beats at 4Hz (28,800 vph) – a decision made by Lange to ensure that the rate accuracy is less likely to be disturbed by any shocks and knocks that may happen around the pool, playing with the children, hiking, kite-flying or whatever you may do while wearing the watch. For added robustness, Lange’s engineers designed a balance wheel bridge, secured at both ends, rather than its signature balance cock. Ah, speaking of pools – this watch is designed to get wet. With a 120-metre water-resistance rating, you would need a very deep pool to properly test it.

Any downside?

That would have to be scarcity. Lange has no plans to produce the Odysseus in big numbers, so unless you are already a Lange collector (and they know who you are), it’s unlikely that you will be able to buy one for quite some time. Which brings with it a different risk. I know I’m not alone in thinking that the worst fate for Odysseus would be another “you know the references” hype-and-overprice situation.

Final thought

In answer to the question already doing the rounds among the cynical and bored: “Does the world really need another luxury sports watch with a blue dial?” I say nobody ever did need one. But when it’s as good as this, oh boy, there’s so much reason to want one.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus price

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus, steel on bracelet, 28,000 euros