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Review: A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, you are about to witness the peak of this channel. On loan direct from the brand itself, a one-off opportunity, I present to you the one and only, the incredible, the unmatched A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split. Let’s begin.

If you didn’t catch the previous review of the A. Lange & Söhne Double Split—first of all, rude, you should watch all our videos—I’ll save you the effort of going back and watching it by giving you a little run down of how we came to be here. The chronograph, on which this watch is based, finds its origins way back in 1816, to a Louis Moinet instrument designed for tracking the stars.

Before we continue, understand this—the Triple Split is the first of its kind and came out in 2018. That first chronograph appeared over two centuries before it. When something takes that long to evolve, you know it’s either a load of nonsense, or something special. I can promise you now that it’s the latter.

But one of the earliest manufacturers of chronograph pocket watches, one Joseph Thaddaeus Winnerl, thought the device could do more than simply measure elapsed time. Just seven years after developing his first chronograph, he realised there was a problem with his device: how can you accurately record split times?

Well, first off, what is a split time? Say you’re timing a race of ten laps, and you want to know the total time of the race, that’s fine; start your chronograph at the start, stop it at the end and you have your time. But what if you also wanted to know the times of each lap, the split times? Well, you can eyeball it as the chronograph runs, or … this is what got Winnerl thinking.

A. Lange & Söhne was founded in 1845 by Adolf Lange

A. Lange & Söhne was founded in 1845 by Adolf Lange

He surmised that the chronograph second hand needed a twin, one that ran alongside unseen when not needed, that stopped on demand to record a split time when it was. It would leave the standard chronograph second hand to keep running uninterrupted and would catch up again once its duty was fulfilled.

And that’s the way the split-second, or rattrapante, or double chronograph remained, right the way until 2004. Can you guess who might have had a hand in changing that? Here’s a clue: Winnerl had a student, many students, actually, but one in particular who showed an eagerness to learn: one Ferdinand A. Lange, founder of A. Lange & Söhne.

And it was A. Lange & Söhne in 2004 that grabbed the stagnant chronograph by the scruff of the neck and did something new and unique by making the first ever double split chronograph—and it was called the, er, Double Split. Now a split time wasn’t just limited to the second hand, but the minute hand too.

Here’s the thing though: that’s all very well and good—and it is both well and good—but you know, and I know and everyone at A. Lange & Söhne knows that a chronograph typically has three counters, seconds, minutes—and hours. They’d got the seconds; they’d got the minutes; the challenge of splitting the hours as well was tantalisingly close.

The A. Lange & Söhne Double Split was first made in 2004

The A. Lange & Söhne Double Split was first introduced in 2004

What do the International Space Station, Bloodhound SSC and Tide Pods all have in common? Curiosity. Okay, so sometimes human curiosity is best left unexplored, but there’s much of it that, without which, we would make no progress. Going into space, going incredibly fast—but not eating washing tablets, let’s be clear—not only satiate the human desire to see what happens when you do something crazy, but also tend to result in an abundance of new information.

You could quite easily argue that those things are not strictly necessary for the survival of mankind, but we’re not talking about just getting by here: we’re talking evolution, progress. Once you’ve broken the threshold into the unknown, it becomes the known and endless new possibilities emerge.

That was the thinking at the A. Lange & Söhne Glashütte headquarters in 2018, when the never-before-achieved Triple Split was nearing completion. A watch that can split its seconds, minutes and hours is likely of no practical use to anyone, just like Bloodhound SSC is hardly going to get you down the shops and back again on a Saturday afternoon.

But the engineering challenge, the potential to learn, the opportunity to breach the unknown was just too much to resist. There’s a reason the Triple Split took over two centuries to emerge—and that’s because it is an almost unsurmountable challenge. Think about it: Patek Philippe, for example, makes all kinds of needless grand complication watches, and is very competent at it—but it has never, ever made a Triple Split. A. Lange & Söhne has, however, and it’s right here in front of me.

Let me break it down for you in layers. Fundamentally, this is still a watch like any other, and so there’s a mechanical movement to drive and regulate the hours, minutes and seconds of the standard display, plus a power reserve to measure just how much juice is left. That sits at the bottom of the calibre L132.1, deep in the cavernous space that is the Triple Split’s case back.

And the A. Lange & Söhne Triple split was first introduced in 2018

And the A. Lange & Söhne Triple split was first introduced in 2018

Then we have the chronograph. In simple terms, the chronograph is a passive mechanism that duplicates the time-telling functionality of the main watch, but on demand at the push of a button. This requires a clutch mechanism to attach and detach it without causing a jam, a braking mechanism to stop and hold it in place, as well as a reset mechanism to return it to the start when it’s done. There’s also a brain, the column wheel, and its limbs, the levers, that coordinate the whole effort. That’s the second layer.

To split a chronograph time, however, is more difficult. A duplicate second hand is fitted under the first, and it effectively requires an additional chronograph mechanism to function—but with one key difference: when it is reset, it must be able to return to a static position and a moving one, both of which can be anywhere on the dial.

Cams, levers, rollers, springs, brakes are all used to make this happen. There’s even a second column wheel and a whole other set of levers to control it. You could say it’s like a second chronograph, but actually it’s more complex, and just squeezing it in for the seconds is a challenge enough for most.

But not for A. Lange & Söhne, because for the Double Split it added all that again for the minutes, and for this Triple Split it went all out and squeezed in the hours as well. All in all, there are some six layers of parts for each of the chronograph displays, all feeding off each other to accurately do their job. It’s enough to give even Christopher Nolan a headache.

And there you have it, the moment we’ve been waiting on for such a long time—is over. The Triple Split, the legend that is the thrice diced chronograph, has been laid bare. It’s a remarkable achievement that I will think about many, many times for many years to come, and one that will never grow old as I do. The only question left is—where is there to go from here?

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