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Feature: 3 Budget A. Lange & Söhne Alternatives

Oh, how I want an A. Lange & Söhne, and oh, how an A. Lange & Söhne continues to evade me. Flying this close to perfection has its price to pay, and that’s quite literally the price you have to pay for an A. Lange & Söhne. Excellent, they are, cheap, they are not, and no amount of feeling like you’d really appreciate it more than anything else in the world makes that RRP come down any lower. But can you scratch that itch for a fraction of the cost?

Nomos Orion 386

We start with the A. Lange & Söhne on the most likely to be realistically achieved list, because, well, it’s the cheapest. Weighing in at nearly £14,000, however, the Saxonia Thin isn’t actually cheap, but it is a demonstration of just how good simplicity can be. Even with an almost blank dial and a three-quarter plate hand-wound movement, the Saxonia Thin is a masterclass of skill in detail. Its simplicity, in fact, leaves nothing to hide behind, each and every component proudly wearing its hand finishing, unencumbered by clutter and chaos.

It’s a hard act to follow for the same budget, let alone for some fifteen percent of it, but nevertheless that’s what Nomos is striving to achieve with the Orion. We’ve seen what Nomos can do with A. Lange & Söhne budgets with the Lambda collection; now let’s see what the brand down the road can do with change from £2,000.

You would naturally assume that a watch at this price would be carrying someone else’s movement, and that assumption makes the Orion’s Alpha calibre the perfect place to start. While the Alpha calibre may be based on the long-discontinued Peseux 7001, that doesn’t mean what that would usually mean where the manufacturer receives the calibre in whole or in parts and scrawls its name on it; Nomos actually produces this movement from scratch. The company spent a lot of money developing this capability, and the Alpha is the result.

The rest of the Orion’s not half bad either. You can tell it was built a few doors down from A. Lange & Söhne by how German it is, trading flair for finesse and grandiosity for grace. It’s got everything it needs and not a mote more, just like the Saxonia Thin—and yet despite the similarities, it somehow manages to have a unique identity all of its own. Pencil-thin hands and markers skim a gently curving silvered dial, the pebble-like case-back profile and extended lugs keeping the watch snug to the wrist and—well, that’s pretty much it.

Does it give you a taste of the Saxonia experience? I think it does. We have to be realistic of course, but still the level of fit and finish sits above the expected for this price point, and the unique movement crafted in-house takes it up yet another notch. Mirrored anglage and engraved German silver balance cock it does not have, but a unique sense of personality with a firm hold on its home and heritage it very much does. To be honest, if you’re a fan of German watches and already have an A. Lange & Söhne, I’d wager that you should probably get yourself one of these as well.

Glashütte Original Senator Chronograph XL 39-34-21-42-04

The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph isn’t so much a watch as it is an experience. It’s the difference between having a pet dog and a pet honey badger, like watching Top Gun and buzzing the tower in an F-14 Tomcat for real. The A. Lange & Söhne has a chronograph, but are you really going to use it? Only to watch the calibre L951.5 doing its thing. I’d bet this watch could actually lose the functionality of telling the time and it would still be just as appealing. Accuracy is as relevant to this watch as the need for a Monet to hide a stain on the wall.

You’d be pretty out of it to think that an experience like this could be anywhere close to replicated for around a tenth of the price. Some might even call you mad and have the men in white coats sent to get you. But, like U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels found out in the Martin Scorsese thriller Shutter Island, the truth isn’t always what it seems, because fellow resident of Germany, Glashütte Original, and its Senator Chronograph has something to say about the whole thing thank you very much.

Okay, sensible hat on; you’re not getting an 1815 Chronograph for Oyster Perpetual money here, but you are going to get an in-house German chronograph watch that’s worth every bit the entrance fee. Back before the war, the German brands were all amalgamated into one government-controlled group, and when A. Lange & Söhne was finally able to split away again, Glashütte Original was formed from what was left, so there’s a great deal of know-how and expertise going here.

The balanced twin sub-dial layout is immediately recognisable from its A. Lange & Söhne counterpart, but like the Nomos, the Senator Chronograph executes its design in a wholly individual way. The stepped case is sportier and chunkier than its neighbour’s in this 44mm XL guise, lume-tipped hands and markers boosting its usability from Sunday best to weekday wear.

As for the calibre 39, well—you wouldn’t expect a hand-wound chronograph like the A. Lange & Söhne’s, but you do still get an in-house, well-finished movement with all the hallmarks of its German descent, swan-neck regulator, 21-carat gold rotor weight and mirrored bevelling a flavour of the life an 1815 Chronograph owner leads. The only difference is you don’t need a mortgage to lead it.

Glashütte Original PanoReserve 1-65-01-23-12-04

It’s a signature look from A. Lange & Söhne we leave for last, the asymmetric Lange 1, one of the brands most recognisable and daring watches to date. Whether it works for you or not, there’s no saying that the German brand doesn’t try and do things a bit differently when you’re presented with a watch that looks like it was designed with a Spirograph.

It’s amazing really, after all these centuries of watchmaking, that we can still be surprised, and the Lange 1 does just that. The appeal is strong, but unfortunately so is the price, and that leads us to our third and final alternative entry, again from former conjoined twin Glashütte Original. I think the brand would have a hard time refuting influence from the Lange 1, covering off everything from the power reserve to the big date on the mish-mash dial—there’s as much plausible deniability here as there would be swapping the White Album’s records around and calling it new.

But that’s exactly why we’re here, to experience the un-experienceable, to attain the unattainable, and the Glashütte Original PanoReserve does exactly that—and probably more so than any of the others we’ve investigated so far. I mean, check out that calibre 65-01; it’s a hand wound movement with screwed gold chatons, gold inlaid engraving—for crying out loud, where the Lange 1 gets one engraved balance cock, the PanoReserve gets two! It’s as German as a bratwurst wearing lederhosen that’s arrived bang on time.

Were Glashütte Original not based just down the road from A. Lange & Söhne, perhaps the mimicry would be a step too far, but considering that the alternative is no German Lange 1-a-like at all, I think we can let it slide. The attention to detail in the PanoReserve and overall respect for quality is also a saving grace, offering a true sense of what it’s like to wear and enjoy a Lange 1 for less than the price of a no-date Submariner.

It’s the closest of the three you’ll come to the A. Lange & Söhne experience, and although we all really know that there are leagues between it and the original, it’s still a superb and satisfying distraction from not being able to afford the Lange 1.

There’s no alternative for the masterpiece that is an A. Lange & Söhne watch, but there’s also no alternative payment than cold, hard cash, and so it’s with a grateful heart that we appreciate these substitutes from fellow Germans Nomos and Glashütte Original. Sure, they may not be the full enchilada, but truly they are excellent watches in their own right. It’s either that or it’s time to start harvesting some organs …

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