When I first heard that A. Lange & Sohne was planning to introduce a new model with an integrated bracelet, to be produced exclusively in stainless steel, I must admit I was extremely surprised. Not because it doesn’t make sense – on the contrary, looking at today’s watch market it seems eminently logical, given the dominance of the Royal Oak and Nautilus and similar moves by Chopard, Urban Jurgensen and others to plug this gap in their offerings.
I was surprised because five years ago, A Lange & Sohne CEO Wilhelm Schmid told me in no uncertain terms of his unwillingness to embrace what was already an emerging trend. Asked if he would ever make a steel watch (other than occasional one-offs), he replied: “It’s not in our plans. Everybody wants one – that’s why we don’t do it. If we produce all the things people want, we will end up in chaos. It’s such a low-hanging fruit.”
Debate will no doubt froth over whether the introduction of the Odysseus is strategic or reactionary. A Lange & Sohne says that the project was conceived more than ten years ago, with work beginning in earnest in 2015. Of course, watch brands are hardly in the habit of disclosing their future plans, especially not to journalists, but such guesses are usually batted away with “no comment” rather than emphatic denial. Mr Schmid, I salute your poker face.
Whether it really is the result of a long-term goal or a low-hanging fruit that just became too tempting to ignore, in the Odysseus we now have Glashutte’s answer to the Nautilus. I’ll admit the name stopped me in my tracks, too: it is a long time since Lange abandoned the (relatively) evocative Cabaret and Arkade in favour of sensible titles that support a marketing narrative geared around its history and home. Now, all of a sudden, it’s reaching for epic poetry, for the stuff of myth, legend and heroism. Ambitious stuff.
What cunning does this hero boast, then? The 40.5m case is the brand’s first with serious water resistance (120m) and inside it beats a new automatic movement – calibre L155.1 “Datomatic” – with matching day and date counters at three and nine o’clock. The movement runs at a higher frequency than usual (4Hz) and is equipped with a newly designed escapement held for the first time by a balance bridge instead of a balance cock; features the brand asserts better equip it for an active lifestyle, although it’s hard to see this Odysseus getting into too many scrapes. The watch is also Lange's first with a screw-down crown, necessary for that water resistance, but the brand is keen for it not to be described as "a sports watch" but as something further down the path towards sportiness than ever before. Like, say, the Nautilus.
For a real piece of ingenuity hidden in plain view (you can do your own Trojan Horse jokes), how about that elegantly asymmetrical right flank? These tapered protuberances above and below the screw-down crown are in fact pushers for advancing the day and date, invisibly hinged and bestowed with just the right solidity and tactility as well as the obligatory contrasting finishes.
Instances of casual elegance like this show how close A. Lange & Sohne comes to hitting the target – and it is a painfully small target to hit, for sure. I think the caseback view is a perfect balance of decoration and simplicity, and I’m won over by the dial’s symmetry, the confidence of those date windows and the subtle details of the stepped dial. It’s almost an article of faith among some watcherati to take against date displays in any form, and as a lazy afterthought they can certainly spoil a dial but given centre stage I think they shine.
Where the Odysseus misses, for me, is in its wide-shouldered proportions. It could benefit from narrower lugs, and I wish the bracelet attached to them were less businesslike. It’s undoubtedly complex, and meticulously bevelled, but the railroad track design is somewhat workaday. I can’t help feeling it lacks panache. That might not surprise anyone given A. Lange’s pedigree, but being already blessed with a fine roster of watches that overawe with their formal abilities and stylings, this was an opportunity to be more playful and indulgent.
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