Review: The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon
Ever done the pick-n-mix at your local cinema? You’re presented with row after row of chewy, crunchy, chocolatey, gummy treats, strawberry, raspberry, aniseed, bubble gum—whatever your heart desires. You cram as much as possible into the little bag, hoping the whole gummy stodge doesn’t explode, eager to get your hands sticky and your belly full of gummy deliciousness (Will you stop saying gummy so much?). If A. Lange & Söhne is eight-year-old you and complications are the sweets, well, then I’ll be darned if that doesn’t end up in the limited edition Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. With thanks to A. Lange & Söhne for the loan of this exceptional piece, here are five reasons why it’s going to give you the sugar rush of a lifetime.
This isn’t the first time A. Lange & Söhne have made a Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. The first was in 2016, to mark the pinnacle of the Datograph collection, and although, in a monochrome suit it looked very dashing, it could have perhaps done with a tad more extravagance to do the watch justice.
Well look no further, because three years later that was remedied with the release of just a hundred limited edition pieces with what’s known as a salmon dial. That’s not to say it’s a watch for attracting bears or summer socialites—more that it borrows the hue known best for its appearance on the Omega-3–rich meal.
2019, when the watch was first announced, was awash with salmon-coloured watches, leading me to draw the only possible conclusion that the shade must have been on a heavy discount in chains of Hobbycraft across Geneva. It seems that salmon-y hysteria swam upstream to Glashütte, Germany as well, because the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon didn’t seem to have the cure for this salmon-mania either.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon’s dial is solid rose gold
The only difference is that because A. Lange & Söhne don’t do things by halves, this isn’t so much a salmon-coloured dial as it is a rose gold-coloured dial. In fact, it is just solid rose gold adorned with white gold markers.
A man walks into a fishmonger carrying a salmon. He says to the monger, ”Do you make fish cakes?” “Yes, of course,” comes the answer. “Good,” says the man, holding up the salmon, “because it’s his birthday.”
If there’s a habit A. Lange & Söhne has made for itself, it’s in underselling performance. Like meeting Navy SEAL astronaut doctor Jonny Kim, to be presented with an A. Lange & Söhne is an experience of humble sincerity; the sheer capability going on inside is not immediately apparent. The Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, especially in its black and grey evening suit, follows this tradition, offering a clean, respectable veneer that hides some incredible capability.
Let’s break it down: there’s a big date, that much is obvious, and an A. Lange & Söhne staple; a chronograph, one that gets a flyback as well for instant restarts; and a moonphase so you know how vulnerable you are to werewolves of a night. That’s all the obvious stuff at least.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon features a perpetual calander, flyback chronograph, moonphase, and a tourbillon
What is trickier to notice is the perpetual calendar, which hides in both the second—and, would you believe it—third layers of the two sub-dials. You wouldn’t think it at a glance, but each sub-dial actually maintains three levels of reporting, with the chronograph minute counter, month and leap year on the right and the running seconds, day and day/night indicator on the left. At the risk of stereotyping, it is incredibly efficient packaging.
But that’s still not all, because hiding in the tachymeter scale between nine and ten o’clock is yet another complication, once again incredibly efficiently packaged: a power reserve. The fuel gauge-style display slips in so neatly that you might not even notice it.
So, we know the calibre L952.2 has a perpetual calendar, and that’s pretty neat as it is. With the power to track leap years and accurately render every single day of the month with its imposing big date, it can be set and, if kept wound, forgotten all the way up until the year 2100 when the leap year due is skipped.
But here’s the thing: what if you don’t keep the watch wound? With a perpetual calendar, it’s a bit of a pain, because each function—date, day, month etcetera—has its own hidden pusher to adjust. The Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon is no different, and in fact being a manually wound watch, can’t even be tucked away on a watch winder to keep it topped up for next time.
Once a perpetual calendar is set, it is accurate until the year 2100 (The next time we will skip a leap year)
No, when this watch gets chosen—and let’s face it, the collection this kind of watch resides in is going to be substantial—it needs to be rewound and reset. What a pain. Except—it doesn’t have to be a pain. In developing a perpetual calendar that changes instantly at midnight, rather than each display having a weird crossover period a few hours either side, it afforded the possibility of something pretty unique.
Top left of the case is a button, one that might be mistaken for a split-second pusher, which is in fact a universal calendar setting device that means you can quite simply skip everything forward together in one go. But before you cry genius, what about the inevitable accidental mash when you clock the watch down on the side? Ah, but A. Lange & Söhne has thought of that too. Through a series of levers, the pusher is only activated with the crown pulled, meaning no accidental leaps forward through time. Now you can cry genius.
So already we know that this watch is something special. It’s quite obviously a no-expense-spared approach to delivering extreme functionality and quality in a way that quite simply defies its competition. A. Lange & Söhne could have stopped there—but they didn’t. They went a step further.
If you’re confused, that’s because one of the most incredible parts of this watch isn’t even visible—at least, not from the front. There are some pretty hefty clues—well, it is just plain written on the dial—but when you’re talking about watches, especially one this well-endowed, it’s surprising how easy it is for this mega-feature to get overlooked.
I am of course talking about watchmaking’s biggest flex—the tourbillon. Yes, it’s in the name, but thanks to a desire to keep the dial as clean and rosy—pardon the pun—as possible, it’s not actually visible from the front.
Tourbillon is French for whirlwind
For those of you who don’t know, the tourbillon is like the gold-lined engine bay of the McLaren F1, the half-inch thick aluminium faceplate of the Classé Delta series, the teak deck of a Riva Aquarama—basically, overkill. They add performance in the most marginal sense, and certainly not enough to warrant the extra cost. The tourbillon is the same, an extravagance that would ordinarily be front and centre on a modern watch—but not on the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon.
If you want to see it, you’ve got to turn the watch over—and that, boys and girls, is what’s known in the trade as a baller move. Especially when you see how incredible the tourbillon looks with its sweeping cage and skeletonised bridge—and not forgetting the diamond at its centre.
Remember when you’d stuffed as much as you could into that paper bag and had them weigh it at the counter, those dreaded parental words every child at the pick-n-mix loathed to hear? “It’s too much, you’ll have to put some back.”
In hindsight, a bag of sweets more expensive than the cinema ticket itself is probably a borderline reckless thing for any parent to allow their child to do, and in the case of the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, perhaps the same is true when consideration is given to the €277,800 price. A watch, for over a quarter of a million. That might be the most nuts thing about it.
But maybe we’re looking at this all wrong, because there are 729 parts in the calibre L952.2 alone, never mind the rest of the watch, and each and every one is hand finished to perfection. It would be fair to say that many high-end watchmakers take their approach to watchmaking very seriously, but being German, A. Lange & Söhne really does take the crown.
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon costs €277,800
From the bits you can see, like the black polished screws, bevelled and striped bridges and hand engraved motifs; and the bits you can’t, like the entire perpetual calendar mechanism, every single one of those 729 parts is given the same care and attention as each other. You’re talking hours and hours of work per part, with some of the larger and more intricate pushing into the days. So when you consider that, ignoring the value of the white gold case and rose gold dial, each piece of the movement is costing you less than €400, perhaps the price isn’t so crazy after all.
Like the wall of sweets presented so temptingly in the foyer, the A. Lange & Söhne catalogue is a wealth of delights that all vie with each other to earn your attention. But if you’re looking for the ultimate fix, the biggest bang for your buck—and this is the crazy thing about A. Lange & Söhne—it turns out one of the most expensive pieces might actually be the right one for you—and it won’t even give you a bellyache.
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