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Feature: A. Lange & Söhne vs Credor

Today is something I consider to be a bit of a milestone in watchmaking history. Two watches, both found at the peak of human ability, beauty and creativity, both demonstrating unimpeachable quality and artistry—and neither one is from Switzerland. Can the dominance of Swiss watchmaking as we know it really be over?

If you’d asked me ten years ago to pick out two watchmakers to demonstrate the peak of watchmaking to an uninitiated bystander, I would have looked to neither Germany nor Japan. Fair or not, the Swiss have dominated this field for centuries, cornering the market and creating a monopoly for fine, handcrafted timepieces.

But things have changed. The world has grown smaller, communities around the world have come together and now we can celebrate the diversity of human achievement in a broader sense than ever before. For me, that makes the comparison of the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin and the Credor Mokume Gane GBBY986 all the more special.

Here are two watches that quite simply tell the time. No fuss, no complication—not even a seconds hand—and yet they can both, despite their apparent simplicity, comfortably represent the peak of what’s achievable in the artistry of watchmaking.

For many of you, A. Lange & Söhne may be familiar, but still to the world at large, this German watchmaker, founded in 1845, is pretty much unheard of. It makes, per year, around a tenth of likes of Patek Philippe, quietly funding an ability to wow the few lucky souls able to afford one than blowing it all on marketing.

Across on the other side of the world, it’s a similar story. Seiko you’ve heard of for certain, a conglomerate that not only produces watches in their billions, but is one of the largest suppliers of precision technology in the world—and it’s here, by some enormous surprise, that we find Credor. Credor is to Seiko what its Formula 1 team is to Mercedes Benz. It’s an opportunity to showcase the finest workmanship at the pinnacle of an industry, a quiet boast to silence critics.

Both A. Lange & Söhne and Credor have faced their fair share of adversity. Whilst the German watchmaker suffered through the ravages of the Cold War, Credor battled to show that its parent company, responsible for wiping out half of Switzerland’s watchmaking industry, was capable of more than the manufacture of cheap, quartz watches.

Credor tried expensive quartz watches. Then it tried expensive jewellery watches. In 1993, it tried ultra-thin mechanical watches, followed by a hybrid quartz-mechanical watch known as Spring Drive. In 2006, the Credor Spring Drive Sonnerie, the brand’s first high complication, demonstrated a further attempt to convince the world that Seiko could make luxury too.

But never mind what we think these watches will be like—what are they actually like? For the asking prices, the Saxonia Thin at just under £14,000 and the Credor at another £10,000 and then some, these watches mean serious business, whether they’re Swiss or not. With A. Lange & Söhne’s production numbers in the few thousands and this Credor limited to just 35 pieces, we know these watches won’t even put a dent in the armour of the Swiss—but this in an industry built on pride and ability first. Can these outsiders put a dent in that instead?

Like the Battle of Thermopylae, if a battle can’t be won by numbers, it must be fought a different way. For the Saxonia Thin and the Mokume Gane, its weaponry is perfection. Pared back to just the basics, there’s nothing to distract from the skills of the people bringing these watches to life.

For A. Lange & Söhne, that starts with a solid silver dial contrasted with rose gold hands and markers, housed in a 40mm, 5.9mm thick rose gold case. An unimpressive specification on paper perhaps, but a marvel to appreciate with the time and consideration to do so.

The impression the Saxonia Thin gives, despite its understated appearance, is one of a production considered at a different scale. I don’t mean that in reference to quantity—although the production numbers will be minimal—more as an observation of the way it’s built. The Saxonia Thin feels like a piece of monolithic architecture crafted by tiny people rather than the other way around.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the calibre L093.1, which, despite being just 2.9mm thick, packs in three days of power reserve. Yet, although it is indeed very thin, its smallest components easily mistaken for an eye floater, there seems to be no factor of magnification high enough to diminish its quality. No matter how many times this watch is given the zoom-enhance treatment, it delivers with detail and precision. Never mind best enjoyed chilled—the Saxonia Thin is best enjoyed under a microscope.

Peer at the screwed gold chatons, a traditional carryover from pocket watch production seldom seen any more, that allows fine tuning of the jewel bearing’s seating; or the hand-engraved balance cock, the signature of the hands that made it; or the razor sharp, liquid gloss polishing applied to the bevel bordering the striped German silver three-quarter plate. The Mona Lisa is a masterpiece that surprises in its diminutiveness—this, by comparison, makes Da Vinci’s work look like a bus station billboard.

It’s a tough act to follow, and so Credor is pulling no punches for this 45th anniversary piece. Silver dial? Try gold instead. Which kind of gold? Yes. All of them. The Credor Mokume Gane is so-called because of this wood-like pattern to the dial, each one created by hand and unique to the watch. By layering the different metals one of top of each other, forging them with heat and pressure to create a singular, homogenous piece, this organic pattern emerges. If you’ve heard of Damascus steel, the art of Mokume Gane is like that, but with gold.

The 37mm, 7.4mm-thick case can’t quite boast the same paper-thin slenderness as the A. Lange & Söhne, but what it lacks in two-dimensionality, at earns back in the calibre 6890. A relative of the calibre 6870 first seen in 1993’s ultra-thin Credor, it’s actually a little less than 2mm in thickness, besting the L093.1—although losing out on power reserve at 37 hours. Here, it’s been given the full attention of the watchmakers at Seiko’s brand-new Shizukuishi Watch Studio.

It’s not the war, but it’s certainly a victory of sorts for both A. Lange & Söhne and Credor that these two watches can even be here together today. It’s an exciting time because, if even just a little bit, Germany and Japan have shown the Swiss that—once again—they need to keep their wits about them—and that might mean, in retaliation, that we’re about to see some of the best Swiss watchmaking ever seen. Whatever happens, one thing is clear: the dominance of Swiss watchmaking as it once was—is over.

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