A new watch series from A. Lange & Söhne arrives like a comet: rare, earth-shattering, graceful, and impossible to ignore. The adventurously named Odysseus—five years in the making—represents brand-new territory for the venerable brand: Its first sports watch is a seemingly inconsequential array of brand firsts that add up to more than the sum of its parts. Is it a compelling entry? Or is it too little, too late?
To understand that sort of significance, it’s worth reflecting what makes A. Lange & Söhne so special. In its modern state, it has only been around since 1994—a time when the industry didn’t know its place for mechanical timepieces, much less the highest-end of watchmaking. In just two decades, A. Lange & Söhne transformed the idea of haute horology with high-end precision, unwavering consistency, and the adoption of a German watchmaking identity all its own. A German company, exemplifying precision? You don’t say—but how many connoisseurs at the time could remember Glashutte, eastern Germany, closer to the Czech Republic than Switzerland, as one of the historic temples of watchmaking?
“The idea of the watch which you can wear in a more casual environment is almost as old as the company,” said Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange and Söhne, “even [legendary watch entrepreneur] Günter Blümlein had the idea. The watch had no real vision or idea how to execute it. We then took it more seriously again, and by 2014 we had a good idea on how the idea should look like, and how the family should look like, because it’s only the first kind within that watch family. The rest is history. We launched six weeks ago.”
A. Lange & Söhne watches usually feature precious metals, colored golds or platinums, oversized date windows with mechanical complications, and some form of crocodile leather band. The lettering is uniform, the case shapes are nearly identical, and the baton hands are thin and delicate. Occasionally the dial erupts into concentric circles, such as on the Richard Lange, and sometimes there is a tourbillon involved—and expect to pay dearly for that privilege. These are almost always dress watches: minimal and austere, yet immediately recognizable.
The Odysseus does away with nearly all of this. For starters, its 40.5mm-wide case is asymmetrical, with an interplay of raised, brushed, and polished metalwork for the date pushers, surrounding the screw-down crown—another first for the brand, which has never before rated a watch to 120 meters of water resistance. The case and its integrated bracelet are rendered in stainless steel. The hands and indices receive Super-LumiNova. That fully integrated bracelet, by the way, is intricately rendered: Across its five links the surfaces are brushed, while the chamfered edges are polished. The L155.1 DATOMATIC in-house caliber is based on the brand’s other automatics but reinforced for robustness. With the same dreamy level of finishing it features 31 jewels, 50 hours of power reserve, and a skeletal rotor with platinum elements, blued screw heads, and a weighty brushed look as if it was hauled off a steam train.
“The Odysseus is a watch for literally your best time of the year,” said Schmid. “Your free time, your casual time. When you are without a schedule. when you don’t know what’s happening next because you can swim in the ocean or play with your children.”
Sports watches aren’t necessarily dive watches, nor are they known for sports timing, though certainly the well-known kings of the genre can be had as chronographs. Rather, they are ready for anything: A morning on the slopes might end with an evening on a yacht, a day of sailing into a gala with the CEO and a bevy of supermodels, or any other sybaritic fantasies. They are reassuringly hefty, water-resistant, and crafted from steel. The most famous dive watches were always intended as tools, but these are too luxurious for such military-issue considerations.
Perhaps it’s this blend of cachet and ruggedness, this promise of both adventure and adventurous design that has netted such high-end popularity among these timepieces. At the core of this foray into ruggedness is still haute horology: the fine movement finishing and steel casework that comes with its lofty price tag. The Odysseus—whose name conjures long voyages of Homeric importance, where anything can and will happen—joins some splendid company.
“In the category, you have your Rolexes, you have your Daytonas, GMTs, Subs, Sea-Dwellers,” said James Lamdin, founder of the watch retailer Analog/Shift. “In the Patek Philippe world, it’s dominated by the Nautilus and the Aquanaut. Another contender would be the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. They’ve become more popular…it’s no longer six people on the Internet geeking out about these things, nor is it the provenance of the luxury elite consumer. A lot of different tastes are beginning to weigh in…
Analog/Shift tends to specialize in Rolexes and Omega Speedmasters, and when a Patek Philippe Nautilus comes in, it doesn’t last long on the site. Lamdin passes through a lot of watches in his hands. “Having handled the watch, it’s an attractive watch in the metal, and it wears very well,” he said. But, he suggested, maybe the engineers and designers at Lange overthought the whole thing: “All they needed to do was to make a steel entry, was to make one of their legacy watches in steel,” said Lamdin. “For example: the Lange 1. If they produced that in steel there’d be a line down the street.”
It may be unsurprising that Schmid thinks differently. “Quite frankly, we could have made our lives a lot easier by choosing one watch out of every product family,” said Schmid, “put that into a waterproof steel case, and called it a day. Or we could’ve taken a movement like the Saxonia and put that into a steel case and called it a day. That would have been a shortcut. But that’s not what we’re known for. That’s why we developed a movement specifically for this watch.”
But maybe that’s what the brand would have needed. After all, its cachet is there. Even with its polarizing styling, Odysseus is groundbreaking not just for its manufacturer, but also in such elevated company: Having been around since the Seventies, the Nautilus and Royal Oak have seen few watches—the IWC Ingenieur and the Piaget Polo, namely—compete with its integrated-bracelet, sport-luxury aesthetic. Leave it to A. Lange & Söhne to put its own spin on it.