As we established last week, the column wheel chronograph is the chronograph style preferred among luxury manufacturers looking to offer a truly high-end product. This is particularly true of those manufactured by A. Lange & Söhne, whose classic Datograph model is held by many connoisseurs and collectors of high-end horology to be the most beautiful chronograph movement currently on the market.
Originally introduced in 1999, this outstanding column wheel chronograph was released in an updated version just last year, with the movement slightly redesigned to accommodate the somewhat larger platinum case (increased from 39 to 41 mm) and the brand’s own in-house balance wheel and hairspring. Eight outstanding chronograph calibers have been developed by this legendary Glashütte brand since 1999, including milestones such as the Double Split (based on the Datograph) and the Tourbograph Pour le Mérite. The latest, Calibre L101.1, powers the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar introduced at the 2013 SIHH.
“One of the challenges presented to our movement designers is when they start to develop a new chronograph, they have to design it in a way that the connoisseur/owner can really see and experience what is happening in the movement,” explains Anthonie de Haas, director of technology at A. Lange & Söhne. “They want to feel what happens when you push the start button. One advantage of the column wheel and how we do our movement designing is that you can actually experience what happens when you push the button.”
A new chronographic era
A new era in chronographs began at IWC in 2007 after four years of development. Prior to that year, the Schaffhausen-based company utilized sourced base chronograph movements to modify such as the ubiquitous, reliable Valjoux 7750. Like the original chronograph Caliber 89360 from 2007, newly introduced Caliber 89361 (which includes an additional flyback function) is a traditional column wheel movement to power the new Portuguese Chronograph Classic, which also boasts a new automatic winding system that differs from the Pellaton system IWC is famous for. Upgraded in size, this 42 mm red gold or stainless steel wristwatch boasts 68 hours of power reserve and very clear read-off of elapsed times.
Likewise, Cartier also enters a proud new era of chronographs ushered in by its Calibre de Cartier Chronographe. Hand-wound Caliber 1904-CH MC includes a classic column wheel and a modern clutch – which confirms that it is not a modular construction added to Cartier’s base movement 1904, but truly a new development. The combination of these two elements make the start of the chronograph second hand’s journey around the dial on its quest to time an event rock solid; like A. Lange & Söhne’s chronographs, the little quiver that is often associated with chronographs utilizing traditional geared coupling is no longer evident here. Like IWC, Cartier’s chronographs come in masculine (yet still rather classic) 42 mm cases.
Entry-level column wheel
First presented at Baselworld 2010, Longines can be proud of the “entry-level” column wheel movement it commissioned ETA to develop and produce for exclusive use in the brand’s chronographs. According to Longines at the time, Caliber L688 “corresponded to a new taste in watches, meeting the requirements of changing demand.” Clearly, this was stated in respect to those in the know preferring an exclusive movement over a widespread workhorse, no matter how reliable. Automatic Caliber L688 is a very good compromise, and as it derives from the ETA Valgranges A08.L01, quality is guaranteed.
At Baselworld 2013, Longines launched a 41 mm version called the Conquest Classic Chronograph available in stainless steel, 18-karat rose gold or two-tone steel/gold. At a price of approximately $4,950 (for the two-tone mode), this chronograph can well be said to be an entry-level luxury column wheel chronograph. The Conquest line originally debuted in 1954.