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Review: Glashütte Original PanoInverse

You know what they say about form following function, that designing a tool should be considered first with operation and usability, and secondly with aesthetics—well, seems like the folks at the Saxony watchmaker Glashütte Original didn’t get that particular memo, because here we have the Glashütte Original PanoInverse—and it appears to have been built backwards.

What more can you expect from a brand built upon the mighty A. Lange & Söhne’s leftovers? Once German watchmaking had been reprivatized post World War 2—49 years after, in case you’re wondering—A. Lange & Söhne, Germany’s answer to Patek Philippe, quickly re-established itself, leaving the mishmash of other newly privatised German watch brands to fend for themselves.

That mishmash of leftovers was what became Glashütte Original. And while A. Lange & Söhne has been creating arguably some of the cleanest, most functionally balanced watches on the planet, Glashütte Original has given us this, the PanoInverse, a design as sporadic as its maker’s own inception.

The first PanoInverse was seen in 2008, available in both white and rose gold, with this steel edition following two years later—alongside a new A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph, no less, which is perhaps the epitome of functional German design. By comparison, the PanoInverse is fussy, cluttered and difficult to read, an array of design choices that all seem to point to the same question: why?

Vaguely reminiscent of A. Lange & Söhne’s definitive Lange 1, the timekeeping element of the PanoInverse’s dial does not take centre stage. But where the Lange 1 cleanly separates hours and minutes from seconds, big date and power reserve, allowing each element an area proportionate to its importance, the PanoInverse merely moves the timekeeping aside to play second fiddle to the largest element on the dial—one which shouldn’t even be there at all.

Just as a car shouldn’t have its engine in the cabin, a watch shouldn’t have its escapement—the regulating component that converts mainspring power into an even beat—on the dial. It’s fairly obvious why, being unnecessarily impractical and irrelevant to the reading of the time, just as the car’s engine does little to provide comfort and control to the operational experience of piloting a motor vehicle.

It would be enough of a head-scratcher if Glashütte Original had stopped there, but it’s only just getting started, because, hey, if we’re showing the innards of the watch where they shouldn’t be seen, why bother hiding any of it? After all, the dial is only the singularly most important component in bringing sense to the otherwise meaningless rotation of the hands. No, don’t bother with that: let’s see the internal structure, including bearings and screws, instead.

Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. After all, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, some of the most well-known and desirable car manufacturers, took a utilitarian device for transporting a driver and their passengers from point A to point B, put an engine in the back seats and a glass cover over the top through which to admire it and called it a day. Never mind utility, never mind practicality—a mid-engined Ferrari is something you want, not something you need. It’s loud, it’s uncomfortable, the fuel tank is tiny, there’s no storage space, rear passengers have to walk—the list goes on, but who cares.

And who cares that it’s hard to read the time on the PanoInverse when the calibre 66-04’s twin swan neck regulators sat astride the engraved balance bridge look this good? If, when you go to read the time, your eye is distracted by the great, screwed balance wheel beating back and forth, interlocking with the exposed escapement, is that really so bad? That you can admire the handiwork of the striped finish and the screwed jewel chatons is a feature in itself. You wear it because you want to experience the best watchmaking has to offer—reading the time is almost, really, a happy by-product.

Generally it’s considered a good thing for form to follow function. If Rolex, for example, had put the Submariner’s aesthetic appeal ahead of its ability to keep divers alive, then there would probably be a fair few of them resting on the ocean floor, but for Glashütte Original, having emerged from a period where aesthetics didn’t factor at all, the PanoInverse is a welcome dose of guilty pleasure, no matter how backwards it is.

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