Saxonia Thin 37 mm v.s. Calatrava Ref. 5119
Think of what is essential for a well-rounded watch collection and one inevitably stumbles upon the dress watch. The most versatile dress watch is one that only tells the time. A time-only piece is perfect not only for the most formal of occasions but also for a casual business drink down at the bar. Today, we compare two amazing time-only dress watches from two of the most revered manufacturers in watchmaking, the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin 37 mm and the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5119.
Old world charm against sleek austerity
The Saxonia Thin 37 mm and the Ref. 5119 are both dress watches with classic proportions (Saxonia: 37 x 5.9 mm; Ref. 5119: 36 x 7.2 mm). In this regard, they are similar, fighting against the trend of ever-growing dress watch sizes by staying true to their identity. That is however, as far as similarities go between the two timepieces (with respect to design). On one hand, the Ref. 5119 is a paragon of old world charm. The Roman numerals, seconds sub-dial and manufacturer’s marquee are black printed onto a white lacquered dial in a way that imbues an air of tradition and class. Even considering that, the most defining element of the Ref. 5119 remains the ‘clous de Paris’ hobnail pattern on its bezel. The hobnail bezel first appeared on the venerable Calatrava Ref. 3919 and has since become an iconic design, instantly recognisable not just by the brand’s enthusiasts but also the watch community in general.
On the other hand, the design of the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is better described as ‘contemporary’ and ‘austere’. The case lacks any defining features as it is after all a Lange stock standard case. The dial is even more minimalist, featuring only applied hour makers and two hands. Make no mistake, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Less is often more, and it certainly is the case with the Saxonia Thin 37 mm. What the Saxonia lacks in outright flair and heritage, it makes up for with design purity and sleekness. Besides, a dress watch is traditionally meant to be clean with minimal frills and the Saxonia with only two hands, no seconds or even a minute scale actually fits the bill perfectly.
The architecture and aesthetics of the engine inside
Beating inside both watches are movements that were inspired from pocket watches of old. The Calibre 215 PS powering the Ref. 5119 is, in our opinion, the more visually interesting of the two. It boasts an architecture that is satisfying in that the bridge layout allows for superb visibility of the wheels. The Calibre L093.1 which powers the Saxonia Thin 37 mm meanwhile has a three-quarter plate architecture. While this keeps the movement true to its pocket watch roots, it has the unfortunate side effect of covering up a huge portion of the movement.
Where the Calibre L093.1 truly shines though is in overall movement aesthetics and finishing. The three-quarter plate visible from the case back is rendered in raw German silver (an alloy of zinc, nickel and copper). It tarnishes ridiculously easily if handled without utmost care. The only way around this is for watchmakers to take the movement apart after first assembly/testing, clean the movement, touch up the finishing, and then re-assemble – the famed Lange double assembly. Why use German silver then? Well, one reason is that the alloy lends itself to some spectacular striping. Indeed the striping (specifically called Glashütte ribbing) on the Calibre L093.1 appears extraordinarily deep and creamy, more so than if it were applied onto rhodium-plated brass bridges (like in the Calibre 215 PS).
Furthermore, the grey hue of the German silver gradually turns golden as it ages and develops a patina, making the movement somewhat ‘alive’. This contrasts significantly with the cold, inorganic look of rhodium-plated brass found in most Swiss movements. Other finishing and decorative elements that distinguish the Calibre L093.1 from the Calibre 215 PS include heat-blued screws, gold screw-down chatons, the uniquely hand-engraved balance cock, and the black-polished escape wheel cap and swan neck regulator.
Overall, the Lange simply has more varied (and challenging) finishes applied onto the movement. The choice use of German silver also results in a more aesthetically-pleasing final product. The double assembly process, where delicate final finishes are applied, doesn’t just allow a Lange movement to be extra decorative, it is also a must when working with German silver. This is not to say the Calibre 215 PS isn’t impressive in its finishing. Quite the contrary, the finissage of the Calibre 215 PS is in actuality very aesthetically-pleasing – take for instance the sheer number of black-polished screw heads and external angles on the polished bevels of bridges. The movement as a whole may not have been showered with the care and attention equivalent to that afforded to the Lange (nor is it possible, given that Patek Philippe makes more than 10x more watches per annum), but in terms of aesthetics, it still is superlative to most base calibres used in the fine watchmaking scene today.
The value proposition
Talking about value in fine mechanical timepieces is a strange thing. The idea of parting with thousands of dollars for what the general public considers to be obsolete time-telling devices is counter-intuitive. Being luxury goods, these watches are not only unneeded for daily living but also come with inflated price tags. But that is the inevitable ransom that we pay to satisfy our curiosity and wants, to partake in something that has been painstakingly and superfluously crafted. So long as we, as watch enthusiasts and collectors, see value in craftsmanship and heritage, a fine mechanical timepiece – the Ref. 5119 and Saxonia Thin 37 mm included – will be worth its price.
Within haute horlogerie, how much bang-for-buck one derives from a purchase can be gauged by what one gets for every dollar spent, and these things can be tangible (materials, complications, finishing, craftsmanship) or intangible (brand perception, heritage, provenance). With the Saxonia Thin 37 mm, its main source of value comes from its superlative movement finishing, made possible by the heroic number of man-hours and extent of expertise devoted to it. It is estimated that up to a third of the cost of an haute horlogerie timepiece resides purely in movement finishing – you can bet that this is especially true for the Saxonia. Patek Philippe has no doubt done a great job with the finishing of the Calibre 215 PS, but it just isn’t in the league of Lange’s Calibre L093.1.
What the Ref. 5119 does have over the Saxonia though is twofold: a rich heritage, and brand prestige. The Ref. 5119 comes from an exalted family of watches that is the Calatrava. With a history spanning 85 years and counting, the Calatrava is the gold standard by which all other dress watches are compared to. It is timelessness incarnate and impervious to short-lived trends that are so systemic in today’s watchmaking industry. The Ref. 5119 remains faithful to the philosophies and design of the Calatrava line and is thus a worthy successor of its legend. In contrast, the Saxonia hasn’t got a heritage that is anywhere near comparable to that of the Ref. 5119. The A. Lange & Söhne we know and love today is, after all, only 27 years old. Furthermore, the Ref. 5119 is a Patek Philippe, and Patek Philippe is recognised as one of the most prestigious watchmaking maisons in the world whether or not one cares to admit it. Sure, the watch cognoscenti views A. Lange & Söhne with reverence, but in the grand scheme of things, it is still considered a niche brand that remains obscure to most. Until A. Lange & Söhne attains a longer history and a more substantial reach in the market, it’d be a stretch to say that it sits alongside Patek Philippe in prestige.
So the question remains, how much do our contenders actually cost? Let’s start with the Saxonia – the Saxonia Thin 37 mm comes at an unprecedented USD14,800 (SGD21,300), officially the price of entry into A. Lange & Söhne. It’s not exactly grocery money but for what you get (flawless craftsmanship and movement finishing that puts all to shame), it is immense value for money relative to other luxury timepieces. It isn’t far-fetched at all to think that it is the best timepiece money can buy south of USD15,000. Meanwhile, the Ref. 5119 is priced at about USD21,400 or (SGD29,000) – that’s over USD6,000 more than the Saxonia. We’ve articulated where the value of each timepiece resides in. Design preference notwithstanding, one therefore has to ask: is the heritage and brand prestige worth USD6,000+? Over better finissage? There is no right or wrong answer in the end; it is just a matter of what we value in a watch as individuals.
Both the Calatrava Ref. 5119 and Saxonia Thin 37 mm are a blessing to haute horlogerie. If we had to pick between the two, it’d be the Saxonia – we can’t ignore how aggressively priced it is. In this particular case, we don’t quite mind that the Saxonia hasn’t got the same level of heritage or prestige as the Ref. 5119… yet. We just like the fact that Lange doesn’t compromise on quality and its values even on what is an entry-level timepiece for the brand. All that said, we wouldn’t kick the Ref. 5119 out of bed either. The two watches offer tantalising options to potential clients, and as time passes, so will the market decide which is the better product.
Thank you for the thoughtful review and the lovely photography.
I had the good fortune of being able to try on the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia earlier this week. It is a watch I have been interested in for some time now and it certainly did not disappoint on the wrist. It has a beautiful austerity in design and a superlative finish. I found the fit second to none and far better than the Patek 5196. I have not yet tried on the 5119, but I feel that it is too big and that the 3919 was the perfect expression of the design. However, I shall reserve final judgement until I try on the piece.
That said, as it stands, my goal is to acquire the Saxonia.
I must admit that the ALS is a better piece in many ways, as you very accurately wrote, BUT i trully believe the calatrava will prevail over time, because of its marvelous classic dial and its also unique clous de Paris bezel. The roman numbers, the small second hand. It just stands appart, (also the magic of thos two words , PP)while de ALS over the years will look as part of the Very Best of the rest.
It’s OK Eric – we wouldn’t expect someone like you to understand. If you ever do achieve any success in your life and join us in the so-called “1%”, then maybe you will finally be able to appreciate the difference between a Patek and a Grand Malvern…
Lange has a heritage that goes back 150 or 200 years from memory. After going to the Glashutte museum I was stunned by the contribution Lange & the town has made to watchmaking and other devices including mechanical calculators and navigation tools. Plus back in that time the produced some of the very finest watches for the European aristocracy. I find it difficult to disregard that history because the town was totally destroyed in WWII and then negatively transformed under communism.
Patek is a more prestigious brand with a richer heritage (probably) but the gap in heritage is not so large as portrayed here and I think they at least deserve that pieces like this state that they have a rich heritage that is not valued or understood outside the watch world.
I am very happy to see someone compare these two watches – side by side – and I think it’s fair. I do think the Patek probably comes out ahead because I feel that luxury brand recognition means alot more than a 30% price difference. Then again I think the Lange Is much nicer and is much rarer and so is more of an insider’s watch.
Why do people keep on making sweeping statements that hold no water. Patek have laid down strict rules and requirements as to how their movements are finished and the reasons why and basically everything part is hand finished before being assembled. Lange are free to finish their movements as they please, there is no inherent advantage to either, Rolex have arguably the best quality control and reliability of any mechanical watch and they don’t hand finish anything.
Niether thank you very much. I’ll take a CW C1 Grand Malvern or Oris Artelier any day of the week, and use the balance for three luxury vacations, or maybe a new roof on my house, or possibly a remodeled kitchen. I’ve seen both of these pieces, tried them on, and tried REALLY hard to understand why they’re so damn expensive. Clearly I will never understand, other than the fact that you can show someone that you wear a Patel or an ALS. Unfortunately 99% of the world would wonder why you’re not wearing a Rolex!
Until such a time when enough of the uninitiated realised that they are being mindf**ked by Patek’s lackadaisical offerings coated in their own fairy dust, I supposed the Stern family will continue to leverage on their brand status while cutting corners in order to maximise profits. As of now, it seems like the brand name is still a solid and comfortable laurel to rest on.
May I add that as the world’s top Manufacture charging big money, Patek is technically obliged to put in their best effort with movement finishing whatever model it is in question. It is inexcusable, given their strong heritage, history and brand prestige. Something really is amiss when a comparison with ALS is made, product or price. Any attempt by Patek to justify the notion of “you get what you pay for” is plain nonsense. I’m not buying it, literally.
Appreciate the great writeup. Well chosen language and articulation describing both watches. I am in the ALS camp as well. Given that grey prices are a huge chunk off retail, the Saxonia is the best deal out there for those interested in dipping their toes into such Manufactures.
Thank you, Paul. There are pros and cons to buying second-hand, but yes, the watches will indeed come at a discounted price.
Excellent comparison, Frank! One point I would like to add (in favour of the Lange) is the proportion of the movement vs case size. The Patek Cal. 215 looks just too small for its case in comparison to the Saxonia.
I agree James, that’s another tick for the Saxonia.
Excellent comparison Frank. These watches would be front runners for much of your audience for Weddings, anniversaries or important occasions. How about doing one with the VC traditionelle and 1815 thrown one into the mix? Given that there is really very little to chose from these, I can see a lot of people, myself included cross shop between these.
Great comparison. I come down on the same side as it is hard to argue with the finishing of Lange, and a $6,000 savings is nothing to sneeze at either. For that difference, pick up the Lange and a Tudor chronograph to bang around on the weekend. 🙂
A Tudor chronograph as a beater, a Lange for weddings and date night – that sounds like a solid two-watch collection to me!
Finally an objective appreciation of Patek vs Lange… Was afraid to yet again read a biased opinion on Patek being the ultimate bla bla bla. Fact is indeed that they are no longer top of the bill, and do not deliver the quality that they are still able to obtain like they did in the 50’s and 60’s. For informative purposes I recommend to visit Steve G’s macro watch site, and see that Patek’s finishing actually is not that great….