There was once a world, and a world not long ago, where high-end chronograph movements were relegated to precious metal, dressy cases on alligator straps. I’m talking about the Patek and Vacheron hand-winders and of course the big boys from Lange. Then came along the likes of the Patek 5980 (and 5990) and 5968, putting a higher-end, but not that high-end chronograph into steel sports watches. AP long used F. Piguet movements in its Royal Oaks until finally putting its own in-house self-winder into the Royal Oaks after the caliber’s introduction first into the Code 11:59 line. These are great, high-end self-winding chronograph movements, but they don’t have the same mechanical flourishes and high-end finishes of the very high-end movements you’d see in their hand winders. In fact, I am struggling to think of a brand that makes a steel sports watch (you know, basically the only style of watches people under the age of 40 care about), with a very high-end chronograph in it.
Actually, wait, last year we saw some really impressive endeavors in the chronograph category: Czapek’s foray is lovely, though due to the modular construction, I wouldn’t put it in the very high-end realm of things. Parmigiani’s Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante, while lovely and beautifully finished, is not actually a rattrapante. Then you have MB&F’s LM Sequential Evo and the Gronefeld’s Gronograf from last year – now those are really something special. But, they’re not technically in steel bracelet watches (still, both are spectacular and worth your time if you haven’t done your homework on them). Finally, two of the most interesting chronographs of the last 18 months come from Patek in the form of the 5470P and the Omega Chrono Chime. Both effectively did something no one had done before – but the Patek is in a dressy platinum case on a strap (admittedly a cool, “chill” strap,) and the Chrono Chime is in gold – and both are remarkably limited in production, even by the standards of high-end Swiss watches. Separately – did you guys see that new Peterman Bedat 2941 split from a few days ago? INSANE. Anyway.
All of this to say, there are lots of great chronographs out there (Rolex Daytona, Omega Speedmaster, Zenith El Primero, TAG Heuer Carrera, etc), there are lots of great high-end chronographs out there (PP, AP, VC), but there are no very high-end chronographs out there in steel sport watches on bracelets, though, as mentioned they exist in other forms.
And indeed, when I say there is a difference between high-end and very high-end chronographs, I’m splitting hairs. But if I don’t, who will?
Today, on the first day of Watches and Wonders 2022, A. Lange & Söhne changed all that. And man is it good. What you’re looking at here is the Odysseus Chronograph from A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph Simple enough, right? And while the Odysseus has been in the catalog now since 2019 (2019: steel, 2020: white gold, 2022: titanium), we’ve yet to see them play with the great L155.1 Datomatic caliber, until today. And frankly, if there’s one thing to get excited about for even the most jaded of watch nerds, it’s a new movement from Lange, and in particular a new chronograph movement from Lange. And that’s precisely what we have here.
But this is A. Lange & Söhne, and as some former shipmates of mine used to say, there isn’t a single watch brand out there that continually produces the type of watchmaking that true connoisseurs of the field can remain excited by, year after year, in the way that our friends from Dresden do. And the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph confirms that. So what is it, Clymer, after spewing out already 600 words?
It’s not the chronograph you’d expect. In fact, there exists a small corner of the watch universe where people make predictions not only on what the new Rolex and Omegas will look like – but also what the new Langes will look like. And indeed, there actually was some chatter that we might see a chronograph sometime in the Odysseus family. But the assumption was we’d see some concoction of the L951.5, otherwise known as the caliber inside the 1815 Chronograph, put into a steel Odysseus case. Because why wouldn’t we? It’s arguably the finest, most attractive hand-wound chronograph on the market, and its progenitor, the Datograph, basically created the market for all the high-end chronographs mentioned above on straps. But again, this is Lange, and they don’t take the easy way out – and they will do things simply because they can. So no, what you have inside the Odysseus Chronograph has almost nothing to do with the L951 calibers and a whole hell of a lot to do with the L155.1 seen in the original Odysseus, but now with some pretty neat party tricks. The first thing you’ll notice about the caliber L156.1 is that there’s a rotor on it – because this is Lange, it’s in 950 platinum – so that means this watch is self-winding. As in, fully different than the other twelve chronograph calibers that Lange has produced. And when you look at the front side of the dial, you see the two register that are almost always seen on the facade of a chronograph do not exist. Instead, you simply see the large day and date windows that are part of the Lange DNA, and what appears to be a running seconds display at 6 o’clock, just like you’d see on the other four references of Odysseus. So then how does one track elapsed time? Indeed, the register at 6 o’clock shows running seconds. The red seconds hand is your chronograph seconds hand, but instead of there being a minutes register like you’d find on basically every other chronograph, the minutes are counted from a central, lozenge-tipped hand as they call it. Central minute hand counters are not new, but nor are they even remotely common. The archetype from my vantage point would be the Longines reference 5699 which used a variant of the caliber 13ZN – and is among the most desired pre-war chronographs out there. But there are other central minute hand chronographs, and we published a great love note to them about a decade ago penned by Mr. Jason Heaton. Now let’s be clear, neither the 13ZN nor the Lemania 5100 in Jason’s story are remotely as complex as what we see here – but it’s always good to remember one’s roots!
The central minute counter is an interesting, welcomed concept that allows this A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph to retain central Odysseus design cues, which shows you the level of thinking Lange puts into their watches. Any lesser brand would simply add a few sub-registers to the dial and call it a day. It’s important to note that the range of minute measurement on this watch is 60 minutes while most of its other chronographs stop at 30 minutes, as is somewhat the norm on higher-end chronographs. Owing to that expansion in range, Lange movement developers added a serious party trick. When the pusher at 4 o’clock is pressed to reset, the minute hand will jump back to zero quickly, but the seconds hand “covers the entire distance traveled beforehand within a fraction of a second – one full revolution for each measured minute. If the minute counter has not reached 30 minutes yet, the two hands will move counterclockwise. If the minute counter has passed 30, the hands will go clockwise. At high speed, the chrono seconds hand performs a full revolution for every minute required to reach the full hour.”
I will be fully frank and say that I think I understand this, but I’m not entirely sure my mind can visualize it, or wrap my head around the “why” of it. I’d also like to better understand what high speed means here, and just how long it might take for the seconds hand to reset to zero, say, if 31 minutes have elapsed. Let’s put a pin in that aspect of the watch until later because we are seeing this watch early in the day today and we’ll be sure to follow up, hopefully with a quick video of it in action that should answer all questions. But we’re not done yet! What’s interesting here is that the Odyssesus case has clearly been designed all along to have pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock. They are used to set the large day and date windows. But this is a chronograph, and those buttons are needed! So what Lange did is really neat – they’ve made the buttons dual-purpose, dynamic buttons. When the crown is unscrewed and pulled out, the buttons adjust the day and the date. When it’s screwed in, they are start/stop and reset buttons. Dynamic pushers are not necessarily new, but they are seldom seen outside the likes of Richard Mille and occasionally AP. The case here is three parts, and at a diameter of 42.5mm (up from 40.5 in the non-chrono), and is made of stainless steel. The surfaces are matted and edges are accentuated with a prime-time chamfer. The watch is rated to 12 bar (or 120 meters!) which is absolutely no joke for any Lange, or any high end chronograph. The dial is black and finely textured, the button appliqués are white gold, the fractions of a second display sits just outside the minute counter on the inside ring. The case is now 14.2mm thick, up from 11.1 for the traditional reference. The seconds hand, 60-minute marker, and “Odysseus Chronograph” text are all in red. You have the very same adjustable and insanely finely finished bracelet that you have on all members of this family, and I can not stress enough how impactful they are in the metal versus in press photos such as these. In fact, the consensus among collectors is that there isn’t a watch to be released in the last decade that shows this much better in reality than it does in press materials. Now on to the entirely new caliber L156.1 Datomatic movement. The bridges and plates are untreated German silver. The balance bridge is hand engraved, the gold chains secured by the bluest of screws. The levels of finishing, even those that are not visible, are entirely and elaborately finished by hand. It operates at 4 hertz, has an in-house balance spring, a shock-resistant balance with four poising screws, and 50 hours of power reserve (if that even matters anymore). The movement features 516 individual components. This is no barometer for quality, necessarily, but by comparison, Patek’s self-winder, the CH 28-520C, has 308. AP’s caliber 4401 has 381, and VC’s caliber 5200 has 263. On the flip side of things, all three of these here mentioned are thinner than Lange’s new caliber by some margin.
Having said that, this Lange caliber is for sure one of the best-looking self-winding movements in the world – chronograph or not. And it should be, it’s a Lange. But it is SO hard to make a self-winding movement of any kind be aesthetically pleasing (thus, part of Laurent Ferrier’s immense appeal at the outset with their micro-rotor), and Lange has accomplished this, with a A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph. Look at the finishing here and then look at the finishing on the self-winders mentioned above. I can honestly say, it’s not close.But that’s not to say I think this Odysseus Chronograph is perfect. Few things in life are – I’ve come to find out. The watch is larger (but not horribly so) at 42.5m wide, and pretty thick at 14.2mm. This is a line I could’ve (and probably did) write about whatever amazing watch Lange came out with 5 years ago, and 10, and 15. It’s what they do, and unabashedly so, all with the idea that they are making high-end complications that will actually work and you can actually live with. This is a 516-component self-winding chronograph that’s water testing to over 120 meters, with a central minute counter, dynamic pushers, and wild dial theatrics. How could it possibly be thin? The question of if its thin enough can’t be answered here, that will come when I get to try it on later today. Oh, and did I mention only 100 of these will be made? That is not a lot at all, and a bit counter to the very idea of a steel sports watch as a part of your EDC. I understand how special this caliber is, and I also understand that Lange has yet to deliver any of the 250 titanium Odysseus watches that were announced 12 months ago, but the number feels very small.
The other thing I would say, and this is purely personal, is that the black/red combination on chronographs is not a new one, and it’s not my favorite. I think it stems from all those guys who think that the 6263 Big Red Daytona is the end-all. Who bought them at 120 and sold them at 85. But again, that’s just me. And I think the final thing to consider, and this is super relevant to the point I made about this watch versus its peers from Patek, AP, and VC – is that this watch has to be really expensive. I do not have pricing yet, that information will come later, but there’s no version of this watch that could see selling for less than anything well into the six figures in my opinion.
And so when you compare to the watches above, in particular the VC, which retails in the low 30s, you simply have to decide what you value most in your watchmaking. I know what I value, and that’s companies willing to try new things. To push the limits on traditional watchmaking, and execute on the most beautifully finished calibers possible all while making a watch that is very easy to live with – oh, and will actually work. And in that regard, with the Odysseus Chronograph, Lange has over-delivered again, just as they (almost) always do.