A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin 37 mm
Spend an appreciable period of time within the watch community and you will find that no one really ever talks smack about A. Lange & Söhne. If anything, the leading German fine watchmaking brand is thoroughly well-regarded by everyone worth his/her salt. One reason for this is the brand’s devotion to quality and consistency. In every Lange timepiece, the same level of quality can be expected, be it in a grand complication or a much simpler piece. The price one pays is purely a function of mechanical complexity, nothing else. This rule also applies to the brand’s current entry-level watch: the time-only Saxonia Thin 37 mm. Debuted mid-2016, the watch presents to us as one of the industry’s hidden gems. Here, we go through what makes the Saxonia Thin 37 mm tick and what makes it so compelling from a consumer standpoint.
The case, dial, and hands
At 37 mm in diameter and a height of 5.9 mm, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm conforms to the dimensions of a ‘true’ dress watch. It is elegant and does not eclipse, but rather adorns the wrist. No doubt that 37 mm may be a tad too small for some tastes, but with a height of only 5.9 mm, it is key to helping the watch look proportionate and not like a dinner plate on the wrist.
Rendered in pink or white gold, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm comes in Lange’s standard but well-crafted case. From afar, the case looks plain but up close, one can appreciate the beauty of the various finishes applied to the surface. The stark contrast between the immaculately polished bezel and the satin-finished case band serves to accentuate each another. The screwed-in lugs feature a subtle bevel on the edges that taper towards the end. It is also worth mentioning that the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is currently the thinnest in Lange’s catalogue. There are definitely plenty more watches out there from other brands that are thinner than it, but we doubt that Lange were trying to break records. Realistically, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm fills the unique role of a thin, classical dress watch in the current collection. Those familiar with Lange will know that its watches tend to be, as they say, “overbuilt”. The Saxonia Thin 37 mm is there to give clients options and also to show that the brand is capable of mingling with the ultra-thin club.
The minimalist dial of the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is best described as austere and pure. Crafted in solid silver, the argenté-coloured dial emanates a warm glow under light. The only text visible on it are in the brand’s marquee at 12 o’clock and the ‘Made in Germany’ script at 6 o’clock, both in inky black. Solid gold baton hour markers (which have now been slightly elongated compared to the predecessor model) mark the passing of hours, with twin batons indicating the 12th hour. The Saxonia Thin 37 mm reduces the distinctively lucid dial design of the Saxonia to the absolute essence, presenting only the time in hours and minutes with sweeping gold lancet hands. Precise time-telling is not the strength of the Saxonia Thin 37 mm seeing that it also lacks a minute scale, but precise time-telling is not at all its goal. Its goal is to be the purest dress watch to ever come out of Glashütte. And in our eyes, that goal has been wholly and utterly achieved.
Powering the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is the 167-part, 21-jewel Calibre L093.1. The manually-wound movement is equipped with a shock-resistant screw balance and an in-house manufactured balance spring that operates at a stately 3 Hz beat rate. When fully wound, it has a power reserve of 72 hours. The slimness of the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is made possible by its even-slimmer movement which measures a mere 2.9 mm. But as challenging as it is designing and assembling such a thin movement, it doesn’t quite compare to the level of skill, time and effort required to produce the aesthetics of the Calibre L093.1. The movement has a Lange pocket watch style three-quarter plate architecture. Said plate is rendered in untreated German silver (an alloy of zinc, nickel and copper) which tarnishes ridiculously easily if handled without utmost care but at the same time lends itself to some spectacular striping. Indeed the striping (specifically called Glashütte ribbing) on the surface of the plate appears extraordinarily deep and creamy, more so than if it were applied onto rhodium-plated brass plates or bridges. Furthermore, the grey hue of the German silver gradually turns golden as it ages and develops a patina, making the movement somewhat organic and alive. Breaking up the plate are the steel ratchet and crown wheels; they exist on the same plane as the three-quarter plate and feature a mesmerising snailed finish.
Three gold chatons along with heat-blued screws and magenta jewels add a much needed dash of colour to the otherwise grey expanse of German silver in the movement. Often overlooked by observers but absolutely deserving of praise is the immaculately polished bevelling applied to its edges as well as the number of external and rounded angles on the aforementioned bevelling. These require a great deal of dexterity and skill to create and are often tell-tale signs of a handmade movement. It goes without saying though that the hand-engraved balance cock should remain the star attraction of the movement. Not one is exactly the same as another as they are all executed free-hand by one of six master engravers employed by the Saxon manufacture. Combined, all these various elements result in a movement that is more aesthetically pleasing than those found inside most high-end (let alone entry-level) pieces from other established maisons.
The competitive landscape
In many ways, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm stands out: its thinness, which is somewhat atypical from Lange; its stunning movement, which is atypical for an entry-level timepiece; its clean, minimalist design, which is a paradoxical way to stand out; but also its price tag. We’ve repeated the word ‘entry-level’ several times already in this article so far but what exactly is the price of entry into a brand sitting on the peak of the watchmaking pyramid? The Saxonia Thin 37 mm in both pink and white gold is priced at an unprecedented USD14,800 or SGD21,300. Make no mistake, this isn’t exactly grocery money, but we dare say that at just under USD15,000, you’d be hard pressed to find another timepiece that even comes close in terms of craftsmanship. The price of craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap – it is estimated that up to a third of the cost of a fine timepiece comes just from movement finishing. Factor in the transcendent level of finishing in the Saxonia Thin 37 mm and one will immediately realise that the Saxonia offers immense bang for buck (in the realm of luxury timepieces anyway). That said, people view value in different ways; a collector who isn’t fussed about world-beating movement finishing in a simple dress watch may not see value in the Saxonia Thin 37 mm, and that is fine. Fortunately, there is something for everybody in this world.
Those who wish for a dress piece with a bit more flair on the dial-side need look no further than this year’s Breguet novelty, the Classique 7147. The Classique 7147 is easily one of our favourite 2017 releases. Its grand feu enamel dial is crisp and radiant, accentuating the printed black Breguet numerals, asterisk minute track and stylised fleur de lys hour markers. But perhaps what’s most interesting about the dial is the ‘dimple’ at 5 o’clock that serves as the seconds sub-dial. The transition from dial to sub-dial is completely smooth with absolutely no breaks, something we found impressive from a design and technical standpoint. The automatic Calibre 502.3SD that powers the Classique 7147 is well-finished but is not nearly as attractive as the Calibre L093.1 that beats inside the Saxonia Thin 37 mm. As such, the main selling point of the Classique 7147 lies in its more decorated case and enamel dial. At USD21,000, it is USD6,000 pricier than the Lange but the good news is that it too packs a great deal of value. And at a diplomatic 40 mm case diameter, it will also appeal to a broader audience than the Lange’s 37 mm.
Of course, no discussion on dress watches is ever legitimate without the mention of the Patek Philippe Calatrava. The Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5119R which we reviewed recently should also be given due consideration when one shops for a time-only dress watch. At 36 mm in diameter and 7.2 mm in height, the Ref. 5119R is similar in size to the Saxonia Thin 37 mm. Its dial design is not quite as austere as the Saxonia’s nor is it as fancy as the Classique’s, which makes it perfect for someone looking for a safe middle ground. The ‘clous de Paris’ hobnail pattern on the bezel is very iconic (with a rich heritage to boot) as it was inspired by the venerable Ref. 3919. Its pocket watch-inspired movement, the Calibre 215 PS, is as stunning in architecture as it is handsome in finishing. We’d say that in terms of aesthetics, the Calibre 215 PS ranks 2nd, in front of the Calibre 502.3SD but behind the Calibre L093.1. What the Ref. 5119R’s got over the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is ultimately historical precedence and to some extent, branding. At USD21,400 or SGD29,000, the Ref. 5119R is the most expensive of the lot – it is therefore up to oneself to determine if the Calatrava heritage and the Patek Philippe brand prestige is worth the ransom.
Some watches offer value by having multiple features for a competitive price (though often by compromising craftsmanship and finishing). The Saxonia Thin 37 mm offers value by being unrivalled in finishing and craftsmanship at its price point. While USD14,800 is hardly a bargain for a time-only Lange when compared to the pricing of years past, it is nearly a steal at today’s obscene pricing standards. The Saxonia Thin 37 mm offers a glimmer of hope that one day sensible pricing will return to being the norm, for it itself is living proof that it can be done.