1815 Chronograph vs. Datograph Up/Down
1-on-1 is a series where we pit two watches head on and see how they fare against each other. For the first time, we have chosen two watches from the same manufacture to deliberate over. Call it sibling rivalry, or a family feud – in this 1-on1, we’ve got the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph going up against the Datograph. The 1815 Chronograph and the Datograph are the only ‘simple chronographs’ (meaning not a split-second chronograph, or a double or triple split) in Lange’s catalogue. They are similar in some ways, yet very different in others, and are the reason for countless sleepless nights among mulling potential buyers. There is hardly a second pairing in the A. Lange & Söhne collection more suited to this exercise. For consistency, only one current version of both timepieces will be used for comparison; they are the 1815 Chronograph in pink gold with black dial and pulsometer scale from SIHH 2018, and the Datograph Up/Down in pink gold from SIHH 2015.
Perhaps the least contentious component of the two Lange chronographs is the case. It is Lange standard issue – Teutonic and overbuilt – with a polished bezel and brushed case band for visual contrast. There are pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock for the chronograph functions, and as you may have heard, the push action on the pushers are buttery smooth; this is the case for both timepieces as they share identical chronograph mechanisms. The Datograph Up/Down has an additional pusher at 10 o’clock for quick-setting the outsize date. And apart from that extra pusher, the other notable difference between the cases of the two watches is dimensions. The Datograph Up/Down measures a contemporary 41.0 mm in diameter with a girthy 13.1 mm thickness. The heft of the Datograph Up/Down is incredible; while a minority find it cumbersome, most enjoy it. With its substantial height and weight, the watch does become a little top heavy. It threatens to ‘capsize’ on smaller wrists or when not strapped on firmly – a deployant clasp is therefore a strong recommendation. In contrast, the 1815 Chronograph is 39.5 mm in diameter and 11.0 mm in thickness. While it is by no means small or thin, its dimensions fall within what one could expect of a dress watch proper. It can be worn with better proportion and greater security than the Datograph, and of course, will slip under a dress cuff without hassle. While it lacks the heroic heft of its sibling, it still feels solid on the wrist and has no reason to feel lackluster.
In spite of both watches being chronographs, the dials of the 1815 Chronograph and the Datograph Up/Down are very different. Let’s start with the obvious: the outsize date, and the power reserve indicator. These displays are present on the Datograph on top of the chronograph and time functions. The 1815 Chronograph, on the other hand, displays only time in addition to chronograph minutes and seconds. From a practicality point of view, the Datograph Up/Down is thus superior. The date and the power reserve indicator (for a hand-wound watch) are literally the two most useful complications one can have in a watch. But what the 1815 Chronograph lacks in functionality, it gains in design purity. The 1815 Chronograph is a traditional dress chronograph that wouldn’t look out of place were it sent a hundred years back in time. Note the Arabic numerals, the railroad-style tracks, and the pulsometer scale – these are all beautiful remnants of a bygone time.
The Datograph Up/Down is classical in design as well, though to a lesser extent. It contains plenty of sporty or contemporary design cues, namely luminescent hands, the outsize date, the tachymeter scale, the power reserve scale and triangle pointer, and the reverse panda dial colour scheme. As such, the Datograph Up/Down (compounded by it’s thickness) is perhaps less appropriate for formal events than the 1815 Chronograph is. The 1815 Chronograph therefore becomes the more versatile timepiece, as it thrives as well in a casual setting as it does in a formal one. All that said, the Datograph does have the more memorable, iconic visage. It has a face that cannot be mistaken for another, while the same cannot be said of the 1815 Chronograph. The Datograph was, after all, the watch that shook the industry and turned Lange into a household name in haute horlorgerie. You don’t ever forget the face of a legend.
The business end of things is by and large the reason why there is a seemingly perennial fanfare for the Datograph (and the 1815 Chronograph by extension), and deservedly so. Two decades ago, the luxury watch industry was dependent on a few specialist manufacturers for their chronograph needs. Patek Philippe was using Valjoux movements in their early chronographs before switching to Lemania. While it was true that Patek Philippe made many improvements over the ebauches, nonetheless, they had no in-house chronographs of their own. Rolex’s Daytona was using a Zenith El Primero movement after moving on from their prior dependence on Valjoux. Audemars Piguet was utilizing the Dubois Dépraz module on an ETA-sourced base movement on their iconic Royal Oak Offshore, and the Piguet 1185 on the Royal Oak Chronograph.
Then along came a German upstart with a new chronograph, designed and manufactured in-house from ground up. The threat which came with the introduction of the Datograph, coupled with the Swatch Group’s insistence on cutting off supply of fully assembled movements to rivals, caused a shift in history of chronographs. The big players of the industry, including Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, began to invest in designing and manufacturing their own chronograph movements.
Now, the Datograph didn’t just make history by being the first in-house chronograph in the modern age in decades. No, “in-house” would mean nothing if the movement was sub-par. The Datograph’s rise to stardom was also due in no small part to how beautifully the chronograph works were laid out. As is apparent in the photo above, the contrast between the polished steel chronograph works and warm German silver three-quarter plate underneath is a visual spectacle. The layering of the chronograph works, with the uncapped, and thus exposed column wheel – a sight to behold. Then there’s, of course, the finissage and decoration: Glashütte Ribbing, polished chamfers, numerous outward AND inward angles, hand-engraved balance cock, black polished swan neck regulator, heat-blued screws, gold chatons. Otherworldly. And the action of starting/stopping or flyback/restarting the chronograph? A sensual pleasure like no other. All this, coupled with the instantaneously jumping minute counter, sealed the Datograph’s fate as perhaps THE chronograph of the twentieth century.
The view of the case back of both the Datograph Up/Down and the 1815 Chronograph is virtually identical which, again, is evident in the photos. This is not surprising, given that both these watches have the same chronograph works and that the additional date and power reserve mechanisms of the Datograph are hidden from view. The glowing reviews of the Datograph’s chronograph works therefore explicitly applies to the 1815 Chronograph as well. The only difference that can be spotted without dismantling the movement is in the area of the date pusher for the Datograph (between the balance wheel and the pusher). Upon examination, one can see that the bridge is shorter there for the Datograph, uncovering a movement-side access point to the date pusher for the watchmaker. Other than that, the movements look well and truly identical.
Price is often a taboo word in watch collecting, which is why we’re going to talk about it. First, lets lay down the numbers. The 1815 Chronograph in pink gold retails at SGD70,400, while the Datograph Up/Down in pink gold is priced at SGD103,200. These are obscene numbers to the uninitiated. But within the ultra-high end watch market, they are in actuality pretty reasonable. Take for example, the Patek Philippe Ref. 5170R, the gold standard, prototypical, dress chronograph with an haute horlogerie pedigree. Priced at around EUR73,560 or over SGD110,000, it is more expensive than the Datograph Up/Down. Yet, the Datograph comes with an outsize date display, a power reserve indicator, flyback functionality, and objectively better movement finissage. Sure, the Calibre 29-535 PS that powers the Ref. 5170 may be the most advanced traditionally constructed chronograph movement to date but a SGD40,000 premium over its Lange counterpart, the 1815 Chronograph (which also has flyback), is rather excessive.
But what about against each other? The Datograph Up/Down is SGD33,000 dearer than the 1815 Chronograph. There’s no easy way to say this, but the 1815 Chronograph definitely represents the better value product. Forgo the date and power reserve display for a SGD33,000 discount? Count us in! If you’re buying a chronograph from Lange purely for it’s almost pornographic movement, there is no better option than the 1815 Chronograph. Heck, if you’re in the market for an ultra-high end dress chronograph, there’s nothing that offers better value than the 1815 Chronograph – not even close. Does this mean you shouldn’t be buying a Datograph? Absolutely not! The Datograph is the don, the face of modern-day Lange, and the father of this age’s in-house chronograph movement (double meaning there). The Datograph as a product is much greater than the sum of its parts – you’d essentially be buying into its reputation and history. Perhaps this was taken into account when management set its ransom. It’s like buying a Patek Philippe – you’re paying for the brand name, on top of a great product. An alternative theory would be that the 1815 Chronograph is priced ‘aggressively’ to be competitive against Lange’s own Datograph – what’d be the point of buying one if they were just a few thousand dollars apart? Whatever the truth is, you can’t go wrong with either. Design preference not withstanding, the 1815 Chronograph is hands down the value buy – VIP seats for an unbeatable price; the Datograph Up/Down is the full Lange experience – VIP seats, backstage passes and an autographed t-shirt for a higher but still-reasonable price.
There is no clear winner in this 1-on-1, nor should there be (lest we incite a riot). Design wise, the Datograph Up/Down – while technically still a dress chronograph – is the more casual/sporty timepiece with two additional, useful functions. On the other hand, the 1815 Chronograph, with the chronograph as its only complication, features a design that traditionalists and purists would approve of. The price discrepancy between the two watches is significant but should not come as a huge surprise. More likely than not, the 1815 Chronograph has been priced to compete against the Datograph’s nearly unassailable reputation. We think it’s a smart move by Lange as the 1815 Chronograph plays an important role in the brand’s collection not only as its “entry-level” chronograph, but also as the only pure dress chronograph.