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A. Lange & Söhne - Crazy Smart Germans

A. Lange & Söhne Crazy Smart Germans

A modern love story about movement engineers and chronographs from a small town called Glashütte

Four years ago, people thought they knew what A. Lange & Söhne was all about. Beautifully crafted movements, made in classical German watchmaking tradition. Horological complications, taken to the extreme points of engineered precision and functionality. Watches in prestigious materials that wouldn’t have looked out of place in 1845, when Ferdinand A. Lange set up his watchmaking practice in Glashütte. (Okay, fine, we all know they wore pocket watches rather than wristwatches back then, but I’m referring to the aesthetic spirit here, rather than how they were worn.)

Then, A. Lange & Söhne released the Odysseus, a sports-oriented timepiece in steel with integrated bracelet, and people had some pretty strong opinions about it. The main thrust of their objections seemed to be that the Odysseus was not a watch that a brand like A. Lange & Söhne would produce. I’ve never understood this line of reasoning, which appeared to originate from a narrow and rigid place, expecting the brand not to change when its corporate motto is literally about evolution — Never Stand Still. And yet, critics hardened their stance (like an obdurate parent blocking a son’s declared choice of partner), refusing to acknowledge the years of love and effort that the brand had poured into this creation. 

Now, in 2023, we have a watch that represents A. Lange & Söhne’s motto in every single way. The Odysseus Chronograph, from a collection symbolising a new era of horological expression at the brand, bearing a fresh interpretation of a complication that has distinguished A. Lange & Söhne since the 1999 Datograph, a complication with a sports pedigree that aligns perfectly with the energy and momentum of Never Stand Still.

Crazy Smart Germans

Odysseus Chronograph © A. Lange & Söhne

A confession that is not so much a confession (a word with implications of guilt) as it is an avowal (loud and proud) — I have enormous affection for the chronograph. It is perhaps my favourite horological complication of all time, due to its breadth and versatility. There is a line in William Shakespeare’s play, Antony and Cleopatra, in which a supporting character attempts to explain why Rome’s greatest general is so besotted by the Egyptian queen: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” It’s basically a fancy way of saying, “She’s not like the other girls.” Such is the allure of the new Odysseus Chronograph from A. Lange & Söhne. 

You might experience some mental disorientation when you first set eyes on the Odysseus Chronograph. It doesn’t have the subdials that we associate with chronographs. There are two integrated pushers on either side of the crown, but those were already there before, serving to advance the day and date indications on previous Odysseus models. The official images of the watch from A. Lange & Söhne show two extremely fine centrally mounted hands, crossed like an open pair of scissors, which in any other watch would indicate the presence of a rattrapante chronograph function. It’s intriguing, isn’t it? You don’t know what you’re looking at exactly, but you know you want to find out more. (She’s not like the other girls.)

The Odysseus Chronograph is deliciously bewildering in how it simultaneously confounds and exceeds your expectations. It is a chronograph without chronograph counters. Those integrated pushers are dual-use elements, correcting the calendar indications when the crown is pulled out and controlling the chronograph when the crown is pushed in. Instead of a rattrapante function, what those scissored hands represent is greater precision in chronograph readings. 

What Anthony de Haas (Director of Product Development, A. Lange & Söhne) and his team of movement constructors determined about the vast majority of modern sports chronographs was this: they lacked legibility and dynamism to match our 21st-century lifestyles. Those tiny little chronograph subdials we’re used to seeing were the first to go. They worked just fine for classical chronographs, but the Odysseus Chronograph needed something more energetic, something bolder, something that would immediately catch everyone’s eye. The solution was to implement central chronograph indications, the red hand measuring chronograph seconds and the polished hand with a lozenge tip measuring chronograph minutes.

Crazy Smart Germans

Anthony de Haas © A. Lange & Söhne

The return-to-zero function of the Odysseus Chronograph will set hearts aflutter throughout the community of watch lovers everywhere. In conventional chronograph systems, the return-to-zero mechanism is effected by heart cams. Without going into too much technical detail (which is not the objective of this article anyway), this means that the chronograph minutes hand and chronograph seconds hand can rotate in different directions when being reset to zero. In the Odysseus Chronograph, this all depends on the chronograph minutes hand. If it has gone beyond the 30-minute mark, it returns to zero in a clockwise direction — and so does the chronograph seconds hand. If it has not crossed the 30-minute mark, it returns to zero in an anti-clockwise direction — and so does the chronograph seconds hand. What’s more, on its return journey, the chronograph seconds hand makes as many rotations as there are elapsed or remaining minutes. 

For instance, if the chronograph minutes hand is at 25 minutes when the chronograph is reset, two things happen. The chronograph minutes hand moves 150° anti-clockwise to return to zero. The chronograph seconds hand also moves 150° anti-clockwise, but it doesn’t come to a rest there, it continues turning, making an additional 25 anti-clockwise rotations (one for each elapsed minute) before stopping. 

On the other hand, if the chronograph minutes hand is at 35 minutes when the chronograph is reset, the chronograph hand then moves 150° clockwise to return to zero. The chronograph seconds hand also rotates clockwise, passing the zero mark 25 times (to symbolically complete the hour) before coming to a complete stop. This passionate pas de deux between the two chronograph hands is a mechanical testament to the Odysseus Chronograph’s ardour for new horological horizons.

Crazy Smart Germans

Odysseus Chronograph © A. Lange & Söhne

Some might chuckle to see me trying to inject romance into an article about a watch, and a German watch, at that. Engineering ingenuity, sure. Dedication to technical savoir-faire and a passion for even the tiniest details, absolutely. Profound expertise and knowledge in the most obscure corners of movement construction, without a doubt. But romance? 

What if I told you that there is love in every line of the Odysseus Chronograph? This watch has all those things I mentioned above; ingenuity, dedication, expertise, all that stuff. But none of this is sustainable over the long term unless you love what you do and you love the people you do it for. 

Every watch made by A. Lange & Söhne is a love story, a story whose first chapter was written in 1845 by Ferdinand A. Lange when he returned to Saxony to establish his family and his legacy in permanence. With the Odysseus Chronograph, the brand renews its troth to the horological values and creativity that have drawn adoration from watch aficionados all over the world since the 19th century. 


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