There was sombreness in the air when A. Lange & Söhne presented its 2017 novelties on the Tuesday of SIHH week. Earlier in the day, news of Walter Lange’s passing had reached Geneva and many tears were shed. Walter Lange played a significant role in the revival and re-establishment of A. Lange & Söhne on December 7, 1990. He was a man of action and hated being still. As such, the company felt that the right way to honour him would be to follow through with proceedings. The show went on with Walter Lange in the hearts of those present.
The Lange novelties presented were impressive, even amidst increasingly high expectations from media and collectors year after year. The 1815 Annual Calendar caught the attention of many, not because of mind-bending movement complexity or ornate dial decoration. Rather, it was its discreet yet aesthetically-pleasing classic design that has won it much acclaim. In this review, we explore the details that make the 1815 Annual Calendar and how it compares to its older sibling, the Saxonia Annual Calendar.
The case, dial, hands
The 1815 Annual Calendar comes in a typical Lange watch case, that is to say that it is austere but attractively finished. The case measures 40 mm in diameter and 10.1 mm in thickness. The domed bezel is polished to a mirror sheen while the bottom of the case is brushed. The case flanks feature an alternating brushed and polished finish which evokes a more casual vibe. The multi-faceted lugs are adorned with thin bevels on the edges and entirely polished.
Being from the 1815 family of watches, the dial of the 1815 Annual Calendar is designed with Lange’s rich tradition in mind. The inky black Arabic numerals and railroad-style minute scale are a nod to the dial design of historical Lange pocket watches. The hour and minute hands are heated the old-fashioned way to a ‘cornflower blue’. The blueing of the steel hands improve not only corrosion resistance, but also legibility against the solid silver dial. On the contrary, the hands on the sub-dials are made of gold. One might argue that the small seconds hand could have been blued as well for complete distinction between time-telling and calendar functions. However, this would have undermined its visual impact on the dial as it becomes lost in the blue of the moon phase disc.
The annual calendar is not new in Lange’s repertoire of complications – it was first unveiled in the Saxonia Annual Calendar in 2010. However, this is the first time this young complication (first patented by Patek Philippe in 1996) has been incorporated in a timepiece from the 1815 family. The annual calendar sits between the full calendar and the perpetual calendar in terms of complexity – it only requires a correction once a year at the end of February.
The indications are displayed using three sunken sub-dials, and together with the company marquee at 12 o’clock, a satisfying cruciform balance is achieved. There is a nice depth to the dial as the numerals, company marquee and sub-dials are on three different planes. The sub-dial at 9 o’clock indicates the day and the date while another at 3 o’clock indicates the month. The final sub-dial at 6 o’clock displays the small seconds and within, a moon phase indicator with 122-year fidelity. No corners are cut in the making of the moon phase disc as it is crafted entirely from solid gold.
For convenient calendar adjustment, there is a button at 2 o’clock that collectively advances all indications. Additionally, there are four pushers recessed into the case that allow separate corrections of the day, date, month and moon phase.
Lange traditionalists rejoice, as the calibre L051.3 housed within the 1815 Annual calendar features the 19th century three-quarter plate architecture and is manually-wound. The movement is compact at 5.7 mm thickness including a 1.4 mm thick (or rather, thin) calendar module. In spite of this, the movement has a commendable power reserve of 72 hours while operating at a stately 3 Hz beat rate. As one might expect from a manufacturer of Lange’s prestige, the finishing and decoration on the calibre L051.3 is exemplary. The surface of the three-quarter plate is textured with Glashütte ribbing while blued screws and red rubies set in gold chatons add a dash of colour and heritage onto the expanse of raw German silver. The edges of the entire plate are also hand-bevelled and then expertly polished. This leads to a striking contrast between the the grained top surface of the plate and its polished edges.
The ratchet and crown wheels are visibly integrated into the three-quarter plate and are beautifully snailed, a hallmark of fine German timepieces. The swan neck regulator on the hand-engraved balance cock is black polished while the base plate is finished with a tight and even perlage all throughout.
1815 vs. Saxonia
The subject of how the 1815 compares to the Saxonia is practically unavoidable, as they are the only two annual calendar watches ever made by Lange.
The most noticeable difference between the two timepieces is the outsize date, or lack thereof. While the outsize date on the Saxonia is one of the most discerning features of a Lange timepiece, its absence on the 1815 does preserve the elegant pocket watch look of the dial. What the 1815 has that the Saxonia doesn’t is a fast-adjustment button for the calendar indications; in the Saxonia, all the calendar indications can only be corrected separately by actuating one of four recessed pushers on the case. While the ability to quick-set on the 1815 is a perk, the lack of a button on the Saxonia does prevent accidental advancing of calendar indications. The 1815 also comes in a more modern case size at 40 mm while the Saxonia, a little smaller, at 38.5 mm.
Another key difference between the two timepieces is the movement. The Saxonia has a self-winding movement that features a micro-rotor set on the same plane as the bridges. The 1815, as previously discussed, is manually-wound. The lack of a rotor in the 1815 means that a three-quarter plate architecture is possible, albeit at the expense of movement automaticity and thus convenience. Then there’s the matter of pricing: the 1815 Annual Calendar is priced at €37,500 in either pink or white gold while the Saxonia Annual Calendar in pink gold costs approximately €44,500, a premium of ~€7,000.
Of the two Lange annual calendar watches, I prefer the new 1815. I adore the classic pocket watch-inspired dial design and movement architecture. I also do not consider manually-winding a finely crafted (Lange) timepiece to be a chore. If anything, it should be a pleasure that one looks forward to daily. The Saxonia is, however, an equally well-made timepiece. As such, while it may not be my first choice, it will be someone else’s; someone who prefers the iconicity of the outsize date, the dressier size and the convenience of a self-winding movement.
At any rate, there is no doubt that the 1815 Annual Calendar will quickly find homes on wrists. Its timeless design, practical complication and relative accessibility is a winning combo that simply cannot be ignored. Lange has shown us again how it is done.