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Review: Red ’12’ – The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon with Enamel Dial

by Frank Chuo on August 20, 2018

A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon with Enamel Dial

The 1815 Tourbillon is A. Lange & Söhne’s purest interpretation of the tourbillon watch. By purest, we mean that it pretty much is just a tourbillon (with perks) on a classic dial. The 1815 Tourbillon is not only one of the most well-known in high horology, but also one of the most respected. The watch is hardly new, having made its debut back in 2014. But this year, it has been refreshed with a look that hasn’t been seen on another Lange watch outside of the 2001 Langematik Anniversary Jubilee. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the new 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial.

 

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The ‘standard issue’ 1815 Tourbillon is available in either pink gold or platinum. The new 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial, however, is only available in platinum. Its case design is exactly the same as its non-enamel siblings save for one small discrepancy: it is thicker. The new 1815 Tourbillon measures 11.3 mm in thickness while the regular version of the watch comes in at 11.1 mm, a negligible 0.2 mm difference. This change in case dimension is to accommodate the enamel dial and the copper disc (visible through the 6 o’clock cut-out) where the enamel is painted onto, which when combined, is slightly thicker than the silver dial used in the standard model. Does the watch feel thicker on the wrist? No, absolutely not, you really can’t tell.

 

Not much has changed with regards to the case of the new 1815 Tourbillon, except for the fact that it is negligibly thicker (by 0.2 mm) to accommodate the enamel dial.

 

But enough about the case, for the main attraction of the 1815 Tourbillon is in the dial, or rather, in this latest variation, it is the dial. Enamel dial-making is an old and dying craft that relatively few have mastered. Enamel dials have always been highly sought after by connoisseurs of fine watches not just for its historical significance or the fact that it is a rare – and not to mention challenging – craft, but also for its exceptional beauty. Some 30 manual processes are required to craft each dial of the 1815 Tourbillon, including repeated application and firing of enamel layers. The rejection rate of enamel dials are typically high as there is always the ever looming risk of a contaminant particle fusing onto the enamel surface or a corner of the brittle material breaking off. The reward for such an arduous endeavour is well worth the risk however. The enamel dial serves as a backdrop of unbridled whiteness and radiance upon which the flame-blued hands, the black railway-track minute scale and Arabic numerals, and the red ’12’ (which is separately printed and fired), stand out with great prominence. These dial elements echo the design of 19th and 20th century pocket watches, including those created by the brand’s founder, Ferdinand Adolph Lange, himself. Then of course there’s the gaping round cut-out through which the lyra-shaped tourbillon is revealed. The tourbillon is large, spanning most of the dial’s radius, and enough to be the centre of attention. And yet, in spite of its size, it oozes finesse thanks in no small part to Lange’s impeccable finishing standards.

 

Clearly visible through the cut-out is the copper disc beneath the enamel dial.

The Movement

The movement that gives life to the 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial is the same one found in the standard versions: the Calibre L102.1. This 262-part, 20-jewel, Lange manufacture movement is manually wound and has a power reserve of 72 hours. It features a shock-resistant screw balance that operates at a stately 21,600 semi-oscillations per hour. In the strictest sense, the 1815 Tourbillon has no complications, but it has two features that distinguish it from most other tourbillon watches: 1) the stops-seconds and, 2) the zero-reset mechanisms.

 

The Calibre L102.1 viewed through the sapphire case back.

 

The tourbillon has epitomised horological precision for over 200 years, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Lange presented its patented stop-seconds solution that it became possible to accurately set a watch with a tourbillon, which is extremely ironic. This is done with a V-shaped arresting spring that can stop the balance inside the rotating tourbillon cage at anytime. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Lange had another trick up its sleeve. The stop-seconds is complemented with a zero-reset mechanism, which simplifies the task of synchronising the watch with a known accurate time. By pulling the crown out, the zero-reset lever presses against a heart-shaped cam disc. The seconds hand is located on the same arbor and therefore, when the cam disc is swung to its initial position by the zero-reset lever, the seconds hand simultaneously jumps to the 12 o’clock position.

 

Up close with the tourbillon. The zero-reset lever can be seen extending from the 50 sec position.

 

Like every Lange watch that has come out of the Glashütte manufacture, the 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial boasts a movement that is exceptionally well-finished and decorated. A look through the sapphire crystal case back reveals a plate made of untreated German silver that has been adorned with vivid stripes called Glashütte ribbing. Its edges have been chamfered and polished. Also of note is the hand-engraved tourbillon bridge with a diamond endstone within a gold chaton.

 

Glashütte’s answer to Geneva waves: Glashütte ribbing.

 

The tourbillon itself is worthy of a special mention as well. Its lyra-shaped cage pays homage to German watchmaking heritage. The edges of the cage is also chamfered and polished. While its top surface is black polished, the bottom is finished with a circular grain. One wonders if the underside should have also been black polished (if practical) for a more upscale look, but that’s just nitpicking at this point. Overall, the Calibre L102.1 is exemplary from both technical and aesthetic standpoints.

 

The signature hand-engraved cock/bridge – a work of art.

 

The Competitive Landscape

It’s not difficult to see why tourbillons pique our interest. It is very animated compared to most functions such as time and calendars, and its dance is mesmerising. There’s also the narrative trumpeted by the industry that the tourbillon is extremely complex and that only the best of the best can assemble it. The people bought it and thus the valuation of a tourbillon timepiece became very liberal. Naturally, this led to the obscene prices we see today. The 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial retails at EUR198,000, which is to be expected of an ultra-high end tourbillon watch with an enamel dial at current market conditions. The watch is limited to 100 pieces only. While tourbillon watches are common in this day and age, one by a respected manufacturer with an enamel dial would still enjoy exclusivity.

 

The 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial is perfectly proportioned on the wrist. Its stark whiteness stands out like a beacon.

 

At a slightly less punishing EUR157,600 (in platinum) is the new Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367, from the brand whose founder brought us the tourbillon, Breguet. The watch ranks among the thinnest tourbillon watches in the market today at a height of just 7.45 mm. This was achieved in spite of its enamel dial, which is usually thicker than a conventional metal dial for structural integrity. The automatic Calibre 581 within utilises a peripheral rotor in order to prevent adding height to the movement and case. It is well-finished and flamboyantly decorated, with plenty of hand-engraved motifs across the top of the plates and bridges. The tourbillon, an inherently anachronistic precision device, is fashioned from modern materials, with a silicon hairspring and a titanium cage. Its design and aesthetics is no less industrial. While the edges of the cage are chamfered and polished like in the Lange, its top surface is not black polished but rather, straight grained. The tourbillon bridge, as well as the three prongs of the cage, are also unnuanced and resemble steel beams. Nevertheless, it has its charm and is still stunning. While the 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial is still overall the more impressive watch, it may well be wiser to buy the Classique Tourbillon 5367 instead and spend the EUR40,000 saved on a Lange 1.

 

Breguet Classique Tourbillon Automatique 5367

The Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367 is an example of Breguet’s watchmaking capabilities at its best. Perfected over a long time, the tourbillon has become a “classic” complication of the Place Vendome brand.

 

If at this point you’re thinking that all enamel-dialled tourbillon watches are unobtainable, well you’d be remiss. Enter the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbilon Grand Feu, an automatic winding timepiece with an enamel dial and a flying tourbillon. The Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu has a more relaxed design compared to the strictly dressier 1815 Tourbillon and Breguet Classique. It is marine chronometer-inspired, which isn’t surprising given the brand’s rich naval heritage. What is legitimately surprising though is its retail price: a reasonable, down-to-earth CHF28,000, or the price of a Lange 1 (with a bit of low-effort haggling). Now, of course, it does not have the same level of finissage or craftsmanship as the Lange or Breguet, but it still is hand-finished and hand-crafted, with an enamel dial from none other than Donzé Cadrans. It is hard to argue against this sort of value, and this is why, last year, we chose the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu as one of our top picks from SIHH.

 

The Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu harkens back to the days when tourbillon watches weren’t so obscenely priced.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Of the several tourbillon watches offered by Lange, the 1815 Tourbillon is by far the cleanest in design. The 1815 Tourbillon with enamel dial takes things to the next level by incorporating the beloved aesthetics of the Langematik Anniversary Jubilee. With production numbers capped to a hundred, the watch will not struggle to find suitors. It will surely appeal to those who are partial to the unique aesthetics of the Langematik Anniversary Jubilee, and those who see this as a second chance to acquire a watch with the cult red ’12’ design, albeit at a dearer price.

 

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