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Feature: £300 vs £30,000 Watch

Two watches, the Hamilton Valiant and the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange, both mechanical, both three-handers, both 40mm—but one costs £300 and the other £30,000. Can one really be a hundred times better than the other?

One hundred times the difference. That’s an incredible amount. If you take the average car, say a £25,000 Honda Civic, and that’s a comparison to the £2.5million, 1,500bhp, 300mph Bugatti Chiron. In numbers alone, there’s a chasm of difference, the Civic wholly unable to perform in anything like the fashion the Chiron is capable.

But with a watch? All it needs to do is tell the time and do so as accurately as possible. Does the £30,000 A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange really offer a significant performance increase in those respects? Well, no, not really. In fact, neither manufacturer even quotes accuracy in their respective spec sheets.

But it gets worse: the Hamilton has a date function; the A. Lange & Söhne does not. The Hamilton has automatic winding; again, the A. Lange & Söhne does not. The Hamilton, on top of its ability to keep itself wound, packs in eighty hours of power reserve; the A. Lange & Söhne gets a measly thirty-eight. Both beat at an underwhelming 21,600 beats per hour—that’s six times per second if you’re interested—so neither can offer much by way of precision anyway.

All in all, it’s looking pretty grim for the more expensive of the two, and even taking into consideration the raw value of the platinum it’s made from—about £3,000 at today’s value—it’s still a long way shy of its £30,000 asking price. You don’t get water resistance, you don’t get complications—you don’t even get a deployant clasp, just a straightforward tang buckle is on offer to restrain this car-priced watch to your wrist.

For £30,000 you’d be expecting a watch that not only tells you the time but gives you a massage whilst it’s doing it or sings you a song. It should at the very least be able to boil a good egg. But alas, it does none of those things. Like the £300 Hamilton, it simply tells the time by way of an outdated gear-and-spring–driven mechanism that had its heyday some century ago.

So, what is it about this tiny timekeeper that warrants such a ridiculous RRP? Is it simply a case of price it and they will pay? That’s a big ask if it is, a really big ask. There must be something more going on here—but if it’s not what the watch can do, what else could it possibly be?

Let me give you a little background about the Hamilton Valiant. It’s a fine watch—a fine mechanical watch—and its simple, classic demeanour and downplayed good looks make it an excellent choice for the budget. The movement inside is rugged and accurate, based on a unit supplied by perhaps the largest movement supplier in the world, ETA. Like the Honda Civic, it will serve you, and serve you well, there’s no doubt about it.

And that’s the end of the story, really. It’s manufactured and assembled in a way that makes it possible to purchase for £300, and that’s great, because it means that good quality mechanical watchmaking is more accessible to a broader audience, keeping the interest and passion alive for this quirky niche. What you don’t get is the intervention of skilled human hands, the kind of interaction that marks the difference between an object and art.

A. Lange & Söhne, on the other hand, has fulfilled a twofold commitment since its founding in 1845: science and art. Founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange was a keen astronomer, and travelled the world seeking knowledge and inspiration. He and the söhne in A. Lange & Söhne, Richard Lange—the man this watch honours—dedicated their lives to the sciences, engineering solutions to watchmaking problems in order to make A. Lange & Söhne watches the very best.

Use of beryllium in balance spring alloys, a mainstay in modern watchmaking—that was Richard Lange. The use of a single three-quarter plate to affix bearings and wheels in place—that was Ferdinand Lange’s solution to the alignment issues caused by using separate cocks and bridges to hold everything together. Separate components decreased production efficiency as adjustment of one had a knock-on effect on the others. They also drifted over time, damaging performance and requiring correction.

A single plate is actually far harder to produce, requiring ultimate precision in manufacture and offering no adjustment during assembly, but as long as it improved the performance of the watch, no matter the expense, it made the cut. And not only that, but A. Lange & Söhne has put its scientific expertise to good use once more to fashion the three-quarter plate from an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc called German silver, chosen for its corrosion resistance and distinctive hue.

That’s the science; what about the art? This is where the A. Lange & Söhne really excels. By using finishing techniques applied by hand that have been developed over the near-two centuries of existence, A. Lange & Söhne watchmakers lift the experience of the Richard Lange from a functional tool to an emotive artefact. A solid silver dial grained to shift light from deep grey to bright; a heat-blued central seconds hand sweeping gracefully around the dial; a mix of polished and brushed finishes across the slender platinum case.

But it’s within the 199 parts of the calibre L041.2 that the two worlds, science and art, really collide. The historical three-quarter plate remains, dressed with heat-blued screws and set with solid gold chatons, collars that allow the watchmaker to set the most important jewels with incredible accuracy. It’s grained in stripes and bevelled to a mirror finish, processes that require not just a steady hand, but decades of expertise. And then there’s the balance cock, individually engraved by hand of course, suspending the balance wheel, whose spring’s overcoil is shaped by hand as well.

And it’s all, every last bit of it, immaculate, and that’s only possible with the kind of skill, care and attention you’d expect from an artisan invested as much emotionally as they are physically. To commit the kind of dedication it needs to execute this level of refinement requires a personal connection between the craftsperson and the medium—and if that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

So, to answer the question: is this A. Lange & Söhne worth ten times as much as the Hamilton? To be frank, if you perceive a watch to be nothing more than an object to tell the time—no. It’s down on functionality, practicality and way up on cost, so how could it be? But if you value the scientific and artistic merits of not just the watch, but the company and the people who’ve spent their entire lives honing their abilities to produce this masterpiece, then it’s absolute bargain.

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