Review: The Affordable A. Lange & Söhne
The German brand A. Lange & Söhne is—while not Swiss—one of the very best watchmakers in the world. The styling is immediately recognisable, stark and crisp, and the movements have a certain quality to them that makes them distinctly German. Of course, the price that comes attached to a watch like this Richard Lange edition is well into the £30,000 territory—but what if you could have one for a quarter of the price? Welcome to the next best thing: the Glashütte Original Senator Panorama Date.
Watch our video review of the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange 232.025 vs Glashütte Original Senator Panorama Date 100-03-32-42-04
The two brands, A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original, share a close history. It all started when Ferdinand Lange asked the German government for a grant to open a watchmaking factory in the tiny valley town of Glashütte in 1845, following a proposal to mimic the Swiss method of producing watches: that is, one person, one skill. The Germans were so good at this practice that other brands emerged in the valley as well—in fact, the term 'System Glashütte' became so associated with quality that it was sneakily used by brands from outside of Germany as well.
The A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange is the epitome of German watchmaking
But the good times weren't to last, and with World War Two came the devastation of the watchmaking factories. The German government took all the German brands into state ownership, founding the Glashütte Watch Company (Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe in German, or GUB). In 1994, the company was privatised, and A. Lange & Söhne was re-established as an individual brand. What was left became Glashütte Original.
While there are some immediate differences between the A. Lange & Söhne and the Glashütte Original, such as the big date and the automatic movement, the watches share much in their design—for obvious reasons. The elongated Roman numerals—with the 'watchmaker's four'—thin blued hands, silver dials and slab-sided cases all draw from pre-war German design
Glashütte Original formed from the post-war breakup of the state-owned Glashütte company
So, the real question is, why don't I have to pay as much for the Glashütte Original as I do for the A. Lange & Söhne? The devil, as always, is in the details. The weight of the 40mm Richard Lange case comes from the dense platinum used to shape it—the Senator is manufactured from steel. The hands and dials, while on par at a reasonable distance, reveal a crispness and perfection in the A. Lange & Söhne that the Glashütte Original just can't match.
Then there's the movements, and this is where A. Lange & Söhne really excel. With just shy of two hundred parts, the calibre L041.2 in the Richard Lange is quite simply a work of functional German art. The hand engraving on the balance cock, for example, is unique to each watch, executed with traditional tools by a master craftsman. The jewels, seated in screwed gold chatons, are fine tuned for ultimate performance. An additional train that moves the second hand to the centre adds depth and dimension. And the finishing in the bevels, striping and polishing is world class. Even the regulator, used to adjust the timing of the balance wheel, is something to be admired. The closer you look, the better it gets.
The calibre L041.2 is an example of the very best of German watchmaking
Sounds pretty damning for the Glashütte Original, but that's the desensitisation of the finest watchmaking in the world for you. In isolation, the calibre 100-03 in the Senator Panorama Date is a beauty. The striping is clean, the bevelling tidy. That's solid 21-carat gold on the rotor weight. Even the balance gets a swan-neck regulator like the A. Lange & Söhne, with the balance wheel itself set with 18 weighted screws.
Functionally, the Glashütte Original has a big date complication over the A. Lange & Söhne, plus an additional 17 hours of power reserve to a total of 55. It beats faster at 28,800 bph for a smoother sweep, and it's also lighter, thanks to the 40mm steel case. So, practically speaking, the Glashütte Original is actually the better watch. But we don't buy these watches with just our heads ...
For a quarter of the price, the Glashütte Original is an exceptional alternative
Let's not kid ourselves: if the cost was no issue, it would be the A. Lange & Söhne changing hands every time. But given that the Richard Lange's RRP is potentially prohibitive, the Senator Panorama Date is an unbelievably excellent alternative, at a quarter of the price, no less. With this on your wrist, you'd get a good slice of the history, the heritage, the style and the satisfaction—and that's got to be worth considering.
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