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Hands-On Review: SIHH 2017 Lange 1 Moon Phase Day Night

by Jonathan Ho on January 31, 2017
Reviews

Launched at SIHH 2017 A. Lange & Söhne announced what they called a “practical improvement” (which i disagree because it happens to be darned beautiful as well) to the Lange 1 Moon Phase Day Night which equips the most recognisable and venerable watch in the Lange collection with a new base movement as well as a new interpretation on the classic moonphase complication, now made a little sexier with a highly functional (ahem, practical) day/night indicator.

While the design is almost identical, the tweaks add incremental value in terms of aesthetics and mechanical ingenuity – all in all, it’s an arguably better movement with distinct differences from the original base calibre (which we will get into later), transforming the iconic Lange 1 Moon Phase from another pretty moon phase watch into a useful day to day watch thanks to the extra added complication in the form of a subtle day and night indicator. That said, you would be best forewarned because it would be a crying shame to miss this subtle improvement just because you weren’t paying close attention with the update.

While The design of the Lange 1 Moon Phase is almost identical to the older model, the tweaks add incremental value in terms of aesthetics and mechanical ingenuity – all in all, it’s an arguably better movement with distinct differences from the original base calibre.

Hands-On Review of the new Lange 1 Moon Phase with integrated Day Night indicator

The integrated Day Night indicator beneath the moonphase complication on the new Lange 1 Moon Phase is possible through a separate solid gold moon disc (I use the term “disc” loosely because it is less like a conventional disc and more accurately shaped like a figure of “8”) operating in the fore against a backdrop of gradiated light blue to midnight blue disc. While you do see the correct moonphase of the month during both days and nights, the sky behind the moon changes in accordance to time of day, making a complete revolution once every 24 hours. The result is come dusk, the sky changes to a delectable night view with laser etched stars supporting the stellar moonphase.

As mentioned, the practical aspect of having said upgrade means that in addition to moon phase, a day and night indicator saves you from erroneously trying to engage the date setting mechanism during hours too close to midnight (thus damaging the date system) or accidentally setting a new date when it’s already morning and thus, erroneously advancing the phase of the moon by a day. Given that all Lange Moon Phase watches are accurate to a day in 122.6 years, it would highly upsetting to have someone pass an unwitting remark that your new Lange 1 Moon Phase is off by a day simply because the wearer was in error (rhyme not intended) during setting.

Movement & Mechanics of the new Lange 1 Moon Phase

Totally 438 parts, the new Lange 1 Moon Phase with 70 components just for the integrated moon phase display does make the calibre a smidge thicker at 6.3mm thick to the basic 5.7mm Lange. Understandable given that it’s not just tracking the lunar cycle across the 29 day 12 hour and 44 minute period but also operating the day night wheel beneath as the moon makes its synodic orbit, thus the execution is not just pretty but also pretty smart. It’s probably the most interesting moon phase since Arnold & Son’s Perpetual Moon.

The manually-wound, 20th Lange moon phase calibre possesses not just an utilitarian 72 hour power reserve but also exhibits different balance wheel position, one closer to the crown as opposed to the pioneering model.

Though the calibre driving the new Lange 1 Moon Phase is based off a movement first introduced in 1994, the Lange 1 Moon Phase’s Calibre 121.3 is an entirely different animal with all new architecture. The manually-wound, 20th Lange moon phase calibre possesses not just an utilitarian 72 hour power reserve but also exhibits different balance wheel position, one closer to the crown as opposed to the pioneering model. That said, some may prefer the architecture of the older model Lange 1 Moon Phase with two sub-bridges allowing one to inspect the myriad of gears and wheels beneath instead of the new model’s full 3/4 plate. That doesn’t mean that Lange has anything to hide though, in fact, while the pioneering Lange 1 had an additional gear train providing impulse to the small seconds, the new Lange 1 Moon Phase has its sub-seconds display situated above the fourth wheel, the implication is that it uses its fourth wheel to directly drive the small seconds, thus it can be considered optimal mechanical architecture. Even though the aesthetics courtesy of the golden ratio remain the same with regards to the position of the big date or in Lange parlance outsized date, the new Lange 1 Moon Phase comes with a new date mechanism which features instant change rather than the slow transition as opposed to the pioneer model. These incremental improvements, combined with the exponential artistic and functional value courtesy of the integrated moon phase and day/night display is well worth the upgrade over the need for the visual dramatics of well chamfered and decorated sub bridges.

Be still thy heart: A new in-house balance wheel

Another technical improvement to the older model is that the new Lange 1 Moon Phase uses her manufacture’s own in-house free sprung balance with 6 eccentric poising weights as opposed to the older version which wasn’t made in-house. Another change comes in a familiar guise, that the new swan neck regulator adjusts the attachment point of the balance spring rather than regulation per se.

That said, the technical and mechanical intricacies is visually minimal and it’s the low-beat oscillations of the manufacture balance wheel which really grabs you – a frequency of 21,600 semi-oscillations per hour makes the new Lange 1 Moon Phase a nice change of pace versus the increasingly common place 28,800 oscillations. This lower beat is reflected in the barely perceptible stuttering of the seconds hand on the Lange 1 Moon Phase as opposed to the smoother sweep on most other modern timepieces.

That said, there is literally no objective standard or definition on whether a low beat 18,000 bph or high beat 36,000 bph balance is functionally better than the other. In laymen’s terms, the more of these “beats” means the second’s hand makes a bigger number of incremental sub-ticks to complete its sweep of a single second; visually, this is translated into the “smoothness” of the sweep. In terms of accuracy and precision, while the maxim of that a fast spinning top is more stable to a slow spinning top, the mechanics of a balance wheel are not so straight forward. The characteristics of the balance wheel from material used to how well poised and how large the diameter determines a large amount of how accurate it keeps time.

The new Lange 1 Moon Phase has its sub-seconds display situated above the fourth wheel, the implication is that it uses its fourth wheel to directly drive the small seconds, thus it can be considered optimal mechanical architecture.

On higher beat movements like the 36,000 bph Zenith El Primero, lubrication became a fundamental issue because the centripetal forces would literally spin standard watch lubricants off the surface of the balance. In the end, Zenith opted to use low-viscosity lubricants and well, Rolex decided to simply lower the beat rate of its El Primero equipped Daytonas but I digress.

As a general rule of thumb, a higher beat movement uses more energy (analogous to flooring your accelerator pedal), causes more friction and is subject to greater wear and tear (translation: shorter service intervals) and a higher beat while optimal for timing sub-seconds in a chronograph, makes little sense in a non-chronograph watch.

Lower beat balances 21,600 bph though generally not providing “right out the box” performance requires more skill to achieve isochronism and precision through careful position adjustment on the part of watchmakers. Thus, it can be implied that makers of high end movements (philosophically speaking) will endeavour to spend more time on a single movement to achieve the best precision. However, it must be noted that 21,600 is arguably the best compromise of both extreme ends of the beat rate spectrum.

The sub-dials with fine concentric patterns are probably the first aesthetic update you notice before you realise that the font and number styles have changed as well.

Case, dial and Hands of the Lange 1 Moon Phase

While the case of the new Lange 1 Moon Phase remains 38.5mm, the narrower bezel and single step case holding the sapphire crystal makes it appear to wear smaller; the net effect is a more classical gent’s watch. The sub-dials with fine concentric patterns are probably the first aesthetic update you notice before you realise that the font and number styles have changed as well. Beneath the dial, when Lange calls the calibre 121.3 an “update”, I think the manufacture is being a tad too humble, it can be considered a new movement even though its raison d’etre remains the similar. The addition of the Day/Night indicator is simply icing on the cake. Oh and in case you noticed, I haven’t spoken about finishing simply because Lange finishes to the standard we know and expect from Lange. New Lange 1 Moon Phase price €39,500 (pink gold); €39,500 (white gold); €52,000 (platinum)

 

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