A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split
A. Lange & Söhne, one of today’s leaders in fine watchmaking, has once again impressed by presenting a world-beating timepiece at the annual Salon de la International Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). This timepiece is none other than the epic Triple Split. The watch looks like a typical Lange chronograph, yet there is nothing typical about its functionality – the Triple Split is after all the world’s most complicated chronograph wristwatch. As the name might suggest, it is capable of splitting not just the seconds as a traditional split-seconds chronograph could, but also the minutes and the hours. This is an amazing technical achievement made even more amazing on the fact that prior to the Triple Split, the A. Lange & Söhne Double Split (the watch it is based upon) was the only chronograph wristwatch in existence capable of splitting seconds and minutes. Here, we bring you our thoughts and the details on A. Lange & Söhne’s latest technical showpiece and record-breaker.
The case, dial and hands
The white gold case of the Triple Split measures a sizeable 43.2 mm in diameter and 15.6 mm in thickness. It is designed and finished in standard Lange fashion: polished bezel, brushed case middle, screw-in lugs with bevels that taper towards the end, and overbuilt in general. Three pushers are located on the case flanks: 1) at 2 o’clock to start/stop the chronograph, 2) at 4 o’clock to reset the chronograph or activate the flyback function, and 3) at 10 o’clock for the rattrapante function.
The dial design is reminiscent of other Lange chronographs from the Saxonia family such as the Datograph and the Double Split. Its colour scheme is akin to that of the 2015 Datograph Perpetual in white gold and exudes a relaxed vibe. Located just off the horizontal axis of the dial are the seconds sub-dial on the left and the chronograph minute counter on the right. They are both silver in colour for contrast against the grey dial and decorated with a fine concentric guilloche pattern. Meanwhile, along the vertical axis are the chronograph hour counter and the Ab/Auf power reserve indicator. The cruciform-style layout ensures that the dial doesn’t just look orderly but also balanced. Applied stick indices are used to mark the hours on the main dial. Faceted and made of rhodiumed gold, they interact with direct light rather spectacularly.
For the chronograph function alone, there are six hands in play. In the passive mode, the respective hand pairs – sweep seconds, minute- and hour-counter hands – are superposed. As soon as the chronograph is started, they all begin to run simultaneously until the rattrapante pusher is actuated to freeze intermediate times. The three blued-steel hands stop to display lap times while the other rhodium-plated hands continue to run and measure the total time. A second actuation of the rattrapante pusher causes the three stopped hands to catch up and synchronise with the running hands. The remaining hands on the dial are the power reserve hand in rhodiumed steel and the central hour and minute hands which are in rhodiumed gold coated with luminous material.
While the dial and case are immaculate in their own right, the real party is behind the case back. The in-house manufactured Calibre L132.1 housed within the watch is the piping hot triple mozzarella cheese topping to the rest of the Triple Split’s pizza crust. The 567-part, 46-jewel movement is manually-wound with a maximum of 55 hours of autonomy while operating at a traditional 21,600 semi-oscillations per hour. With a height of 9.4 mm, it is anything but thin, so ultra-thin-watch maximalists: look away! This thickness is borne out of the movement’s inherent complexity and layered architecture, with the latter first conceptualised for the Datorgraph, then carried over to the Double Split, and now the Triple Split. The painstakingly choreographed interaction of wheels, levers, springs, clutches and jumpers paints a stunning picture of depth and sophistication. This is one of, if not the most three-dimensional and picturesque movements you’ll encounter in a wristwatch today.
The development of a triple rattrapante mechanism that controls the three hand pairs collectively or separately is no simple task. Even a simple rattrapante mechanism has two hands attached to arbors that run one inside the other, representing a a level of complexity up from a classical chronograph. The Double Split is several levels more complicated, and the Triple Split even higher up the complexity scale. In the case of the triple rattrapante mechanism, the split coordination has to be perfect across three separate sets of hands: two seconds hands as well as two hands each for the hour and minute counters. Configuring the multiple arbors would require supreme dexterity in adjusting the endshakes. The movement is also designed to ensure that neither the measurement of lap times nor the progression of the jumping minute counter has a negative effect on rate stability. The normally unavoidable loss of amplitude is prevented by a disengagement mechanism, developed and patented by the manufacturer. Without this device, friction losses would occur when the rattrapante function is activated. Because the hour counter rotates slowly and continuously, it does not have or require such a mechanism.
The Calibre L132.1 is a newly developed movement and not merely a copy-and-paste job off of the Double Split. The power reserve indicator has been shifted down to provide more display space for the rattrapante hour counter at 12 o’clock. In spite of the extended functionality, the case is virtually identical in size compared to the Double Split, with only a negligible 0.3 mm increase in thickness.
From a finishing standpoint, the Calibre L132.1 is the chronograph movement to end all other chronograph movements. Not a single component of the 567-part movement isn’t meticulously finished. Here you will feast your eyes on a banquet of finishing techniques and decorations that have been executed to the highest level. The top surface of the two bridges feature gorgeous Glashutte ribbing as well as screw-set gold chatons. The bevels boast rounded, external and the notorious internal angles that are all expertly polished. The column wheels and screw heads are perfectly black-polished. The balance cock, while partially obscured, remains a sight to behold with its signature floral hand-engraving. To achieve such transcendent levels of finishing and decoration, the movement would have had to be disassembled after adjustments and reassembled after final touches. Such is the dedication needed to conjure such a picture-perfect movement.
The competitive landscape
The Triple Split is an apex predator within the chronograph ecosystem and it has a price to match: €139,000 inclusive of tax. This understandably sounds like a lot of money for an antiquated time-measuring device – and it is. But it is also important to appreciate that it is priced as such for its impeccable craftsmanship and artistic value – and the demand for such superfluously-crafted items of luxury is rife. To really gauge if the Triple Split is under- or overvalued, it has to be compared to its peers (at least a split-second chronograph).
Outside of the brand’s catalogue, the Patek Philippe Split-Seconds Chronograph Ref. 5370P is the closest rival to the Triple Split. Like the Triple Split, the Ref. 5370 is a dress watch and constructed traditionally. The main difference between it and the Lange is that it can only split the seconds while the Lange splits time up to the hours; the Patek also lacks a power reserve indicator. With a case size of only 41 mm in diameter and 13.56 mm in thickness, it wears appreciably smaller and more elegantly than the clunky Triple Split. The dial of the Ref. 5370 is a total class act with applied Breguet numerals and feuille hands on luscious black enamel. Turn the watch over and you’ll be greeted by a movement of remarkable beauty: the Calibre CHR 29-535 PS. While it lacks the intense depth and layered architecture of the Lange Calibre L132.1, the Calibre CHR 29-535 PS makes up for it with fineness and finesse. To be able to pack so much complexity into 29.6 mm x 7.1 mm of space is a technical feat in itself. At close to €200,000, it is priced significantly higher than the Triple Split. In terms of movement complexity, function and – to a limited extent – finish, the Triple Split is the clear winner. The Ref. 5370P, however, is made of platinum, has a gorgeous enamel dial, has a more delicate movement, is more prestigious in branding, and quite likely, has better value retention. Whether all that is worth the €60,000 premium is up for debate.
For an entirely different flavour, look no further than the Richard Mille RM50-03 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1. The polar opposite of the Triple Split and the Ref. 5370P, the RM50-03 is made of graphene, unbearably lightweight, highly shock-resistant, heavily skeletonised, and comes with a graphene-infused rubber strap. On top of its split-seconds chronograph complication, it also comes with a tourbillon. The movement that powers this beast was conceived by Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi and is created using titanium and TPT carbon. Its finishing is partly traditional, partly contemporary, wholly excellent; that said, the Lange and Patek remain superior in that department. At CHF980,000 (or roughly €850,000), the RM50-03 is the ultimate status symbol, seemingly relegating its classical equivalents to the bargain bin. Sure, the RM50-03 boasts a tourbillon and is made from high-tech, tough-to-manipulate materials, but is all that worth an extra €700,000, or five Triple Splits? From a watchmaking perspective, absolutely not. But a Richard Mille is more than just avant-garde fine watchmaking, it is – as mentioned previously – the ultimate status symbol. We’d hazard a guess that ‘money’ and ‘value for money’ is the least of the concerns of a potential buyer of the RM50-03.
Limited to only 100 pieces, Lange’s 2018 technical showpiece will have no trouble finding homes on wrists. Based on past events, it is not unreasonable to speculate that other variants of the watch will appear sooner rather than later, perhaps a pink gold or platinum variant. Compared to its peers, the Triple Split offers a great deal of watchmaking value for its price. Even after almost 20 years since the release of the original Datograph, A. Lange & Söhne continues to show the world how fine mechanical chronograph watches should be built and built upon.