Patek Philippe 5170 vs A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chrono
If you were to simply read the specs of this Patek Philippe 5170R and A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph, they'd seem almost identical. They're both around 39mm, both hand wound in-house chronographs and both fashioned from rose gold, yet these two titans of watchmaking are startlingly different. Let's find out just why these chronographs are the chalk and cheese of the chronograph kingdom.
Watch our video review of the Patek Philippe 5170R vs A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph 402.032
Much of the difference can be found in the roots of the two brands. Patek Philippe was originally Patek, Czapek & Cie, a start-up by two Polish men who moved to Geneva to make watches in 1839. Czapek left the company in 1844 and was replaced by Adrien Philippe a year later, a man of French descent. French watchmaking has as much heritage as Swiss, if not more, with legends like Abraham-Louis Breguet learning his craft in Paris.
There was in fact a point where Swiss watchmaking was like Chinese manufacturing today: cheap. In the early 1800s, when watchmaking was dominated by the British and French, and mass production was starting to take hold, the French recruited their Swiss cousins to produce components in their homes during the long Swiss winters—the start of the Swiss cottage industry.
The Patek Philippe 5170R in rose gold
Over time, the Swiss overwhelmed France and England with their production, becoming a force of their own, but their styling still borrowed heavily from the French—much as Chinese design borrows from the west today. In other words, the watches they produced were effectively fakes.
Over the course of half a century, the Swiss increased production by a factor of ten, where France and England's industries flat-lined. The Swiss were gaining a reputation for quality and precision, with brands emerging like Longines, Audemars Piguet—and Patek Philippe.
The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph 402.032, also in rose gold
Further north, meanwhile, and the German watch industry was thriving too, for similar reasons, but the heritage of Germany had far more of an impact on the styling of its watches. This is the land that gave us Bauhaus, and the origins of that can be seen in early German watchmaking.
A. Lange & Söhne emerged in this period, the same year as Patek met Philippe, coincidentally. Founder Ferdinand A. Lange had been pestering the Royal Saxon Ministry of the Interior for funding for his business for two years, and in 1845 he finally got it.
Breguet numerals in rose gold complement the black dial and white print
With that historical understanding in mind, the styling of these two watches begins to make more sense. The Patek Philippe has 'Breguet' style numerals, which find their origin in France, and a case that is sleek and elegant, with a movement to match.
The German, however, is very ... German. The case is slab-sided, the clinical dial forgoes style for outright functionality, and the movement—lavished with German silver, of course—has all the over-engineering you'd expect. Even the hands, compared to the sculpted feuille hands of the Patek, are all gothic angles and hard edges.
Heat-blued hands tick around the bead-blasted silver dial
Does it make the Lange an ugly watch? Somehow, no. It's distinctive, sure, but it's far from ugly. It's focus on engineering is a beauty in itself, and makes it stand out alongside the more traditional Patek.
Looks aside, it's under magnification where these two really trade blows. The Patek Philippe takes a swing with the matte finish on its chronograph hands, where the Lange parries with a subtle three-dimensionality to its dial that glints in the right light. The Patek dodges and jabs with a flurry of concentric circles on its sub-dials—the Lange throws a roundhouse with its glistening, bulbous print. The Patek ducks and dances with its applied numerals, shaped and polished to perfection—the Lange one-twos with the deep, heat-blued finish on its hands.
The Patek Philippe calibre CH 29-535 PS is finished to the highest standard
If this were a real fight, these two would both be teetering back and forth, taking it in turns to lump each other through round after round after round. This is where the movements tag-team in, to stretch the fighting analogy to breaking point.
First, the operation. Both have a crisp action, with the calibre L951.5 in the Lange offering a uniform pressure throughout the start, stop and reset process. Patek's calibre CH 29-535 PS, however, is very inconsistent, with start and stop requiring more pressure than the Lange, and reset requiring almost none.
Both movements have instant-change minute counters and around 60 hours of power reserve—65 for the Patek—but the Lange has an ace up its sleeve—a flyback mechanism. This allows the user to reset the chronograph while it's still running, useful for timing laps—an unlikely occurrence for this watch, but a nice feature to have nonetheless. Chalk it up to that German engineering.
As is the A. Lange & Söhne calibre L951.5, fashioned in German silver
Flip the watches over and the Lange immediately gains a point for its hand-engraved balance cock with swan-neck regulator, a welcome flourish on this otherwise muted watch. Meanwhile, the column wheel—open and visible on the Lange—is covered with a little cap on the Patek, which is a shame, because it's nice to see what is essentially the mechanical brain of the chronograph in action. The Lange also wins favour with its screwed gold chatons, more evidence of the over-engineered mentality of the 1815 Chronograph.
Where the Patek claws some ground back is with its higher beat—28,800 beats per hour versus 18,000—and while that means a smaller balance wheel, which may be less aesthetically pleasing, it does give the chronograph greater accuracy. Watch the chrono seconds hand tick and you'll see eight ticks per second for the Patek and only five per second for the Lange. This also gives a smoother sweep.
It's a close one, that's for sure. These two watches mark the pinnacle of the industry, each with a unique flavour drawn from its founding heritage. It's neck and neck, a photo finish. But there's one last nugget of information I'd like to leave you with before I go, and it's this: The Patek Philippe has an RRP of £58,850. The A. Lange & Söhne, £40,300. With that in mind, I'll let you decide which one you think is best.
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