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Inside A. Lange & Sohne’s Game-changing Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon 2016: A Full Review

The remarkable star of SIHH 2016 combines a trio of exceptional complications in one elegant package, and is designed for ease of use.

Every year, there’s no missing A. Lange & Sohne’s star novelty at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. A metres-high rendition of it towers over visitors to the booth of the German highend watchmaker at the annual watch fair in Geneva.

This year, it is the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. With its dark dial, enlivened with accents like Lange’s signature oversized date at the top and smaller registers at the bottom, it soars over the heads of fairgoers like a stately tower clock – but a lot cooler, and more complex.

Even so, it does not compare to looking at an actual piece of the latest addition to the Datograph family, which Lange CEO Wilhelm Schmid shows us in a private presentation held in one of the booth’s conference rooms.

Hands gloved, he unveils the watch – it rests on a tray, covered by a piece of black cloth – with a little flourish. It is an arresting mix of classical elegance and dynamic modernity, housed in a beautifully finished 41.5mm platinum package.

  • The Lange Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon

Featuring a mix of polished and satin-brushed finishes, its case contrasts beautifully with its face – a black dial featuring details such as the aforementioned big date, as well as a refined moonphase display flanked by two chronograph/calendar registers.

Amid these conspicuous features, we look for the tourbillon promised by the watch’s name. Difficult to craft and fun to look at, this rotating mechanism typically takes centre stage in the luxury watches that bear them.

With a smile, Schmid turns the watch over, as he shares: “The tourbillon is not visible on the dial side – you can see it only through the sapphire caseback.”

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Click to enlarge and view the tourbillon.

In a separate interview with us, the company’s director of product development, Anthony de Haas, offers a matter-of-fact explanation for this: “The main reason for this is a technical one. The only place where we could have integrated an aperture for the tourbillon is occupied by the moonphase indication.”

Considering the complexity of this timepiece and Lange’s characteristically Saxon emphasis on legibility, it does not surprise us that the brand has chosen to keep the tourbillon – one of the most distinctive marks of high watchmaking – out of sight. Elegance, both technical and aesthetic, is the calling card of the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon.

As its name suggests, it packs in three complications, a fact not made immediately apparent by its fuss-free dial: a chronograph, a perpetual calendar, and a tourbillon. De Haas explains: “The goal was to present an abundance of information in a superbly legible layout.” (And if this meant keeping the tourbillon out of view, so be it.)

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(Click to enlarge) The dial-side part of the movement bears the two date discs and the lunar disc.

After all, there is little use in having a bevy of features in a watch, if a mish-mash of displays and numerals makes it impossible to read.

Of the 729-component Calibre L952.2 that powers the watch, de Haas elaborates: “A major challenge was to integrate the tourbillon with the flyback chronograph and instantaneously jumping perpetual calendar. This required the development of a completely new movement, in which the chronograph mechanism has been virtually built around the tourbillon.”

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(Click to enlarge) Incredible depth characterises the 729- part Calibre L952.2 of the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon.

Even though its movement is new, the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon retains the qualities that make the Datograph such a desirable chronograph.

A TOP-TIER TIMER

Today, the chronograph is the most popular complication in mechanical watches. But there are chronographs, and then there are chronographs – and the Datograph belongs firmly in the second category of beautifully finished, integrated mechanical stopwatch movements. Unveiled in 1999, it made history by being the first in-house chronograph movement made by any haute horlogerie manufacture.

Since then, Lange has released a handful of carefully considered updates of the Datograph.

THE EVOLUTION OF A MODERN CLASSIC

SINCE ITS INTRODUCTION, THE DATOGRAPH HAS ESTABLISHED ITSELF AS A STANDARD FOR HIGH-END CHRONOGRAPHS. THE DATOGRAPH PERPETUAL TOURBILLON IS THE FAMILY’S FOURTH AND MOST RECENT ITERATION. HERE ARE ITS OTHER VERSIONS.

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    Four years after A. Lange & Sohne is relaunched, the manufacture unveils the Datograph. Boasting the first inhouse chronograph movement in the world of fine watchmaking, the column-wheel chronograph with a flyback function and a precisely jumping minute counter – coupled with the brand’s signature outsized date – bowls over the horological world.

Even as new features are added, the Datograph’s key attributes remain (to do otherwise would probably horrify its legions of admirers): a column-wheel chronograph with a precisely jumping minute counter and a flyback function.

Here’s why these features matter: Favoured by purists and relatively uncommon, column-wheel chronographs are harder to produce than cam-controlled ones, and make for smoother operation. The precisely jumping minute counter clearly and accurately counts down each elapsed minute, while the flyback function – where the timer instantly goes back to zero and starts again at the single push of a button – makes it easy to track consecutive events, such as race lap times.

EFFORTLESSLY TRACKING A CENTURY

A coveted high complication, the perpetual calendar accurately keeps track of the date and day – through a complex, purely mechanical system – automatically taking into account the varying lengths of the months and leap years without requiring adjustment for a hundred years.

The calendar on the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon features an outsized date display; day, month and leap-year indicators (which share space with the chronograph counters to keep things tidy); as well as a moonphase display accurate to 122.6 years. (see sidebar, Beacon In The Night, for the lowdown on an exceptional new moonphase watch by Lange).

Schmid proudly points out one of the ways in which this latest iteration improves upon its predecessor. “The previous Datograph Perpetual had a calendar where all the indications change gradually around midnight, but all the calendar indications on the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon jump instantaneously.”

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Aside from being satisfying to watch, this precisely jumping motion allows for clear readings at all times. This means that the day-of-the-week hand, for instance, will not linger between two consecutive days around midnight. It’s this kind of exacting detail that Lange excels at, and that both aficionados and the fastidious will appreciate.

And, even if it lays dormant for a few days, you won’t have to wind yourself up resetting the various calendar and time indicators. The rapid-correction pusher at 10 o’clock allows all displays to be advanced simultaneously.

IN CONTROL OF A WHIRLWIND

Connoisseurs of Lange timepieces will be aware that it’s not just its dials that are worth admiring – its movements are pure works of art. As Schmid shares: “Sometimes, people ask me how to spot a counterfeit Lange. Turn the watch over. If you’re not amazed by what you see, it’s a fake.”

The movement of the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon has the striking depth distinctive of the Datograph and – as mentioned at the start of this story – includes a tourbillon visible only through the sapphire caseback.

Viewing this regulating mechanism, which gets its name from the French term for whirlwind, will certainly be a treat for owners of this watch (only 100 pieces will be made in platinum). The tourbillon cage is openwork to allow a good look at the escapement as it completes a full rotation every minute. Together with the in-house free-sprung balance spring, the mechanism offers consistent rate accuracy across the watch’s 50-hour power reserve period.

For greater accuracy not just when the watch is running but also when it is being set, the motion of the tourbillon is stopped when the crown is pulled, courtesy of A. Lange & Sohne’s stop-seconds function (see sidebar, Pull Out The Stops).

This, of course, is another of the watch’s many technical features, which are designed for optimal accuracy and ease of use. This philosophy is also reflected in its face: Aside from the neat organisation of its wealth of information, the dial’s aesthetics also up its legibility. A black dial, crafted from solid silver, forms a striking contrast with hands and hour markers in rhodiumed gold. Some exceptional timepieces seem designed to be locked away and admired ever so often – the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon is clearly, and happily, designed to be used to the full extent of its capabilities.


PULL OUT THE STOPS

LANGE’S TAGLINE MIGHT BE “NEVER STAND STILL”, BUT IT BROUGHT THE TOURBILLON TO THE NEXT LEVEL BY BRINGING IT TO A HALT.

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The tourbillon was invented some two centuries ago, with the main purpose of achieving a greater rate of accuracy. The question that baffled Lange movement designers: Why had no one created a way to instantly and precisely stop a tourbillon for optimal accuracy when setting the watch? So, they did.

In 2008, the world’s first tourbillon with a stopseconds function was launched in the rectangular Cabaret Tourbillon, a model which has since been discontinued. The patented stop-seconds mechanism, however, lives on in Lange watches such as the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon: When the crown is pulled, it triggers a chain of mechanical actions that results in the stopping of the balance wheel and the tourbillon cage.


BEACON IN THE NIGHT

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WE CAST THE SPOTLIGHT ON LANGE’S FIRST LUMINOUS MOONPHASE DISPLAY.

THE WATCH GRAND LANGE 1 MOON PHASE “LUMEN”

STANDOUT FEATURE Its glow-in-the-dark moonphase display. Crafted from coated glass, the lunar disc features the outline of moon and stars, cut out with a laser beam. The luminous compound beneath shines through, creating a whimsical night-time tableau. Oh, and the moonphase will only require adjustment in 122.6 years.

ALSO NOTEWORTHY Part of the dial is made from semitransparent sapphire-crystal glass. If you look closely, you can see parts of the two date discs through it. This glass allows UV light to pass through, charging the luminous compounds beneath so that the date discs are already glowing when the date switches.

A DESCENDANT OF Grande Lange 1 “Lumen” (2013), Zeitwerk Luminous (2010)