Second Coming: The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Auf/Ab

When the original Datograph from Lange & Söhne debuted in 1999, it was hailed as a triumph –not only for its intrinsic qualities but also as a demonstration of the expertise in watchmaking in the German style represented by Lange. Lange & Söhne had been the first watchmaking firm established in the town of Glashütte in 1845 but after World War II, Glashütte found itself in East Germany and the watchmaking firms based there were nationalized.  It wasn’t until after the re-unification of Germany that Walter Lange reestablished the company under its own name, and the production of the Datograph was a high water mark for the firm –a statement that German watchmaking had once again come into its own, in one of its most important centers, and would henceforth be a force to be reckoned with.


The original Datograph was almost universally praised and it’s regarded even today as a modern classic –a watch to which nothing need be added and from which nothing could be taken without detracting from the austere beauty of the original design.  It must have been with some level of feeling, therefore, that Lange & Söhne undertook to update this iconic design after a dozen years.


Fortunately for Datograph and Lange & Söhne fans, the new Datograph Auf/Ab (the name means “up/down” and refers to the power reserve indication, a feature new to the Datograph) the revisions to the original design have been both careful and respectful, as befits changes to a classic.  The new Datograph is not an unnecessarily radical or gratuitously novel reinterpretation, but a very well thought through tweaking of certain key aspects of the watch that leave its fundamental character intact while augmenting specific elements.


The first and most noticeable is the size; the original Datograph is a very classic 39mm in diameter, whereas the new version is slightly larger, at 41mm –a subtle but noticeable change that gives the Datograph a slightly more contemporary impact on the wrist without detracting from its traditionalist good looks.  Keen Datograph observers will also notice that the three Roman numerals used on the original –located at 2, 6, and 10 o’clock –have been eliminated, with the overall result a cleaner dial.  The larger diameter also means a larger dial, which has another subtle but important effect –in the original, the outer edges of the chronograph subdials cut slightly into the chemin-de-fer style minutes track, which made it difficult to set the minutes hand correctly at around 20 minutes after or before the hour.  In the new Auf/Ab, the minutes track is completely visible for its entire circumference, and the absence of visual clutter obtained by eliminating the Roman numerals affords an even greater legibility and purity of design.


Finally, the discreet power reserve indicator at 6:00 hints at another enhancement –the Datograph Auf/Ab has a power reserve of 60 hours (vs. the original’s 36 hour reserve) –Lange states that this was achieved through the use of a larger mainspring barrel, afforded by the updated movement (the calibre L951.1 used in the original is in its redesigned version now the calibre L951.6; though the diameter has remained the same, at 30.6mm; the new movement is however very slightly thicker at 7.9mm vs. the original’s 7.5mm.)  Still present and correct is one of the Datograph’s most important features: the instantaneously jumping minute counter, which is an elaborately constructed, jeweled complication that emphasizes the characteristically Germanic precision of Lange & Söhne’s approach to watchmaking.


A close comparison of the original Datograph’s movement with the Datograph Auf/Ab’s calibre L951.6  reveals another subtle but significant change –the oscillating system (consisting of the balance and its hairspring, as well as the lever escapement) is now manufactured entirely in-house.  As a result the balance (held in place by Lange’s signature hand-engraved balance cock) now dispenses with the poising screws found on the original and has in their place six eccentric weights which can be used to adjust the rate of the watch to a high level of precision (in combination with the whiplash fine regulator.)


With the Datograph Auf/Ab, Lange & Söhne has taken one of the most highly regarded timepieces in modern horology and shown that with the application of deutsche Gründlichkeit (“typical German thoroughness”) even the apparently implausible task of improving on the original Datograph is possible.

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