The Odysseus from A. Lange & Söhne was released late last year as the first serially produced piece from the Saxon brand to come in stainless steel on a steel bracelet. We have seen stainless steel watches from A. Lange & Söhne before, a small number of Lange 1 watches were made of it, along with one Double Split and one Homage to Walter Lange piece, too. Speaking to WristReview back in 2016, Director of Product Development for A. Lange & Söhne, Anthony de Haas, explained to us that making Lange 1 watches out of steel was considered to be a catastrophic mistake by the co-founder of the modern brand, Günter Blümlein. We have also seen watches with bracelets from A. Lange & Söhne. In that same interview, we were informed that they didn’t sell well, and the metals used to make them were subsequently melted down to make more watches. So, you might be wondering, what on Earth is A. Lange & Söhne doing making both?
It was reading through the comments of another watch blog where I got the perfect summary of the Odysseus and what it means for the brand. One user described it as A. Lange & Söhne’s “Porsche Cayenne Moment”. To be clear, A. Lange & Söhne and Porsche are not connected, in fact, the latter is currently working with Chopard. But the principle of this “Cayenne Moment” is, essentially, correct.
The Cayenne is a car that was built to follow the trend of the time. A trend which favoured larger and larger cars, something that Porsche hadn’t really done before. From its beginnings in 1931 right up until the start of the design of the Cayenne, the Stuttgart based manufacturer had focused solely on creating the best cars possible without going overboard on the proportions. It was only the high demand for big, heavy and thirsty SUVs in the late 90s that triggered Porsche’s design teams to get cracking on one of their own. They almost had no choice at all.
A. Lange & Söhne, it seems, felt they were in the same position with sports watches. An increasing number of their competitors are introducing, updating or re-invigorating their bracelet models to hopefully catch on to the bracelet trend. But, whereas with other brands who can look through the archives they’ve got in the attic and find a design which they like the look of, A. Lange & Söhne has nothing. Their history was destroyed in 1948 when the Soviet Union banded all the German watchmakers in Glashütte together and put them out of business. This means that A. Lange & Söhne was attempting to throw a dart at a moving board after downing 6 shots of tequila and spinning around on the sport for 30 seconds. The likelihood of pleasing everyone was impossible.
One of the things that stood out for me at the reveal of this watch was spoken by the long-time CEO of the Saxon Brand, Wilhelm Schmid. At the press dinner, he talked to us and explained that the team behind the watch realised that not everyone was going to like it. Their aim wasn’t to build a watch that satisfied every watch enthusiast, potential buyer or not, but to build a watch which was unmistakably an A. Lange & Söhne watch.
That, I believe, is precisely what they’ve done. There’s enough here to bring up images of other watches from the brand while still reaching out into the unknown. The lancet-style hands (with applied lume) and A. Lange & Söhne’s characteristic Outsize Date are both on the watch. There’s plenty of intricacies on the dial which we’ll get to in a moment. Still, from a perspective of proportionality, it is hard to identify the Odysseus as anything other than a product of A. Lange & Söhne.
At first glance, the Odysseus’ design is simple and understated, but when you take a loupe, or indeed a 105mm macro lens, to it, you can see where things get interesting. Let’s start with the obvious, the dial. Made up of two layers the dial of the Odysseus is blue, to follow the trending colour, it’s also been engraved in two different ways. The outer, where the white gold markers have been applied, has been decorated with a technique that A. Lange & Söhne calls azurage, consisting of elegant concentric rings (the track for the sub-seconds dial markers also has this technique applied). Meanwhile, the central part of the dial features a pleasing grained texture to it which, to me, seems to recreate the natural patterns of leather, at least when viewed up close. You can also see how the colour of the blue changes depending on the angle of view, in some of my photos it’s quite a bright blue, while in others it appears to be almost a different colour.
The Outsize Date is present here, as is a new complication for the brand, the “Outsize-Day-of-the-Week” indicator sits opposite the date and provides symmetry that is deliberately missing from some of the other watches from the brand. A. Lange & Söhne’s Lange 1, for example, works so well because it’s asymmetrical but is still proportionally correct, using a form of trigonometry to align everything into a subconsciously pleasing pattern. The Odysseus is subconsciously pleasing because the left half of the dial looks as close to the right side as possible, with the only difference being that the Outsize Date requires two discs to display the numbers correctly.
Unlike a regular watch which uses one date wheel with 31 numbers on it, the Outsize Date is made of two superimposed discs that create the numbers for the date, the Day of the Week indicator only requires one disc. Typically, A. Lange & Söhne includes a pusher at 10 o’clock on the case to advance the date, rather than use the crown or a quickset function to move forwards and backwards. It’s a little more old-fashioned, but it provides a lot of tangible feedback which is a valuable part of the ownership experience. Because the Day of the Week indicator also requires a pusher to advance, it posed a conundrum for the brand, which now had to make a few decisions on where it should place these pushers to both fit with the simple aesthetic while offering protection to the delicate workings of said pushers.
In the end, they decided to kill two birds with one stone, as it were, and use the pushers to form the crown guards, which added an extra 99 components onto the automatic movement. This conflicts with the symmetry of the dial, in theory, but using a fine polish means the pushers become less apparent on the wrist. Sure, they stand out in most of my photos, because they’re set against a white backdrop in a studio tent, but when you put it on your wrist and wear it under different lighting, lighting that’s usually rubbish for photos, the pushers blend in. Mirror polishing is often used for this reason, because it reflects a part of the surroundings it seems to distort what we perceive to be in front of us unless we look at it carefully and study the image. That’s why, when wearing it, you’ll hardly notice the pushers when you glance at the time, and interacting with them is a unique experience too. I like how the pushers don’t taper to a point, but rather a flat surface, which means the watch won’t dig into the wrist.
The Wearing Experience
In fact, wearing the watch for two weeks was sublime. As you’d expect from a brand in the upper echelon of watchmaking, a brand which has been knocking on the door of the “Big 3” since its revival in 1994, the Odysseus is a marvel to wear. Every surface that is going to be touched regularly has been smoothed down. The edges of the bracelet and the points on the lugs, usually a source of contention for Royal Oak owners, are soft and comfortable. The lines of the bracelet are clean thanks to small applications of polishing, but they are still forgiving to the wrist. I also experienced only one occurrence of the bracelet pulling on my wrist hair, but it was mainly pull-free throughout the period I had it.
The tapering bracelet is a winner, at least in my opinion. The Jubilee bracelet has proven over time that multi-link designs look a little more classy, and the bracelet on the Odysseus gains from having five screwed-in links in it. It also feels reassuringly German. If you’ve ever worn an A. Lange & Söhne watch or read one of my hands-on experiences with them, you’ll know that the mass and solidity of the watch is always worth a mention. There’s no daintiness to the watch or the bracelet, at least in terms of wearing it. The pushers require a solid click, as does the clasp and the clasp’s ratcheting system. Some accuse the Nautilus of having a bracelet that looks great but feels cheap to hold, while others excuse it as ‘elegant and luxurious’. I’m more in the former camp, I want to experience where my money is going from more than just the parts of the watch that are trapped behind a sapphire crystal. The only surface with an edge that I didn’t like is the inner part of the cut out on the folding arm of the clasp, running your thumb over it allows you to feel this edge, it’s not serious or dangerous, and is in a place you won’t really touch on a daily basis, but I thought it was worth noting.
The Odysseus provides physical pleasure and weighs in on our VSS (Very Scientific (Kitchen) Scales) at 154 grams, 11 grams heavier than the 126710 BLNR and 17 grams lighter than the gargantuan Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon I had a go with last year.
The fine folks at A. Lange & Söhne, being German, have been meticulous when crafting the bracelet, to the point that it seems like they’ve thought of literally every scenario. The one encountered most often, though, is the swelling of the wrist. As basic science can tell you when something warms up it expands a little. It happens with pretty much everything around you, including your wrist. Resizing a leather strap with a buckle or clasp is easy, child’s play really, but with a solid stainless steel bracelet, things get tricky. To avoid having to unscrew the bracelet (nearly every link can be removed with a screwdriver, only the very highest level of watches have that) and add more links in A. Lange & Söhne developed a clasp with a hidden extension. To allow for more room, simply press the round logo on the clasp which appears to be a mere decoration at first, then slide out the bracelet as needed. If you go too far or it gets a bit nippy, you simply push the bracelet towards the clasp, and it closes back with a ratchet. You don’t need to undo the clasp or unfold anything on it to resize the bracelet
Inside the 40.5mm case sits the calibre L155.1 DATOMATIC and it’s on view through the sapphire crystal caseback. It looks like a movement you’d expect from A. Lange & Söhne, the polishing is tight and beautiful, the screws are blued and the engraving usually found on the balance cock is present here too. To allow us to take in more of this glorious experience, the centre of the rotor has been cut away. However, it still uses a band of platinum around the edge to give the rotor extra mass for more efficient winding. The movement is made of German Silver, too, which gains a fantastic patina over time and reacts with light well. All of this finishing isn’t just a façade. Underneath the three-quarter plate, another hallmark of the region, all the components have been finished to the same exacting standards as those which are visible.
There are no shortcuts with the movement’s production, either. Each one is assembled, tested and adjusted, then disassembled for finishing and tweaking, and then assembled again for a fine-tune before it can be signed off. This double construction procedure takes time, but it means the staff at the factory in Glashütte are producing only the highest quality of movement, removing any errors from the previous assembly. It’s not like they’re going to get bored, either, as the views out from the factory windows are fantastic.
The L155.1 DATOMATIC isn’t just pretty to look at, but it also includes some innovations from the Saxon brand. This is the first time they have incorporated a balance bridge into one of their watches. They’ve never really needed it before as they made dress watches up until now. The bridge provides a more sturdy construction compared to a balance cock, in the event of shock the balance wheel is much less likely to be disturbed or shaken out of place. To further protect the balance from the “sporting activities” the brand thinks it could be subjected to, the balance itself is free-sprung, this assembly is what helps give Rolex and Panerai movements their legendary hardiness.
Unlike those two brands, though, the balance bridge is still decorated by hand with an intricate engraving that’s unique to the watchmaker that did it. The balance wheel also features 4 screws embedded in the edge of the wheel, to reduce air resistance and provide fine-tuning of the beat rate, which is 4Hz in this watch. The power reserve is a hearty 50 hours, too.
The only noticeable thing about the movement was the rotor. It wasn’t massively noisy, but I could definitely hear the sound of the ‘click’, the ratchet part that stops the movement unwinding. I’m not sure if it has ceramic rotor bearings, most watches with those make a grating sound, but this was definitely more of a mechanical click. It wasn’t unsatisfying or horrible, just noteworthy, in my opinion.
The Odysseus was never intended to please everyone, and there are many out there who will pass it by purely because it’s the watch that caters to the demands of customers. Lots of people entertain the idea that they don’t follow the crowd when it comes to watches, but few actually do it. The Odysseus doesn’t, despite being new to the brand, it’s not breaking any moulds in the general watch market. You’d need something much more radical like the small independents are doing to do that.
But, just as this watch wasn’t intended to please everyone, neither was it intended to #breaktheinternet, or indeed the watch world. 26 years ago they knocked on the door of the Swiss watch world with the Lange 1, I suppose you could consider the Odysseus as them jamming the door open with their foot.
Of course, production of the Odysseus is going to be extremely limited, the brand’s overall production doesn’t break out of four figures, and the Odysseus with its intricate bracelet will take time to build. So, the chances of there being a waiting list are high with this one, but at least it’s not an artificial waitlist.
Also, I like the irony of this watch, that it’s A. Lange & Söhne’s new adventure, their first foray into what I term ‘Smart/Casual’ sports watches, and yet they named it after a Greek king who’s most famous act is getting hopelessly lost and nearly killed. I love this one, giving it back was harder than when I gave back the Lange 1. The price is $28,800.
Visit A. Lange & Söhne here.