Though the biggest news from A. Lange & Söhne this year was probably the newly updated version of its classic Datograph Flyback Chronograph, another timepiece from the Glashütte-based manufacturer almost managed the hard-to-imagine goal of eclipsing the revised Datograph (one of the most iconic and beloved designs in modern watchmaking.)
The watch that almost stole the limelight from the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph was one of the most complicated watches ever made by Lange: a perpetual calendar, incorporating a power reserve complication, tourbillon regulator, retrograde display of the day of the week and, of course, Lange’s patented big date display.
The real challenge wasn’t so much in the making of a perpetual calendar per se, although there’s no question that with its complexity and ability to automatically adjust for the correct length of the month, even in a leap year, the perpetual calendar is rightly considered one of the top three or four most sophisticated of the classic complications. This goes along with the minute repeater and rattrapante chronograph; the three, in fact, are so difficult to construct and integrate into a single watch that any timepiece which has done so is traditionally termed a “grande complication.”
The real problem for Lange was to create a perpetual calendar that used the basic dial architecture of its most classic watch, the Lange 1. The Lange 1, when it was first introduced in 1994, had a dial design that was considered revolutionary for the time; it featured a small subdial for the hour and minute hand, as well as a large power reserve indication and a large date design that was both beautifully crafted and extremely complex. The asymmetrical balance of the dial made it an instant hit, but it also made creating any variations on the watch a potential minefield as any alteration of the dial elements could destroy the entire design.
Miraculously, Lange & Söhne has managed to add indications showing all the information traditionally displayed on a perpetual calendar while at the same time keeping the perfectly controlled proportions of the original Lange 1 intact. The big date display is still present as is the subdial for the hours and minutes, but the power reserve is now a small indicator at the 6:00 position on the time subdial–informative without being obtrusive. The month is indicated by a patented revolving peripheral ring on the dial (a first for a perpetual calendar) and the leap year is shown in a small triangle at 6:00 on the main dial that does double duty as the pointer for the month. Where the Lange 1 had its power reserve indicator the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar has a day of the week pointer. The sub-dial for the running seconds shows the age and phase of the moon as well.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the design is that to maintain the same harmonious proportions as the original Lange 1, the face of the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is a mirror image of the original (the subdial for the time, for instance, is now on the right, rather than on the left). It’s one of the most original and inventive updates on a classic design we’ve ever seen–a masterpiece of restraint, economy in design and intelligence in the clear and uncluttered display of information.
The Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is offered in pink gold or platinum. Movement: Lange manufacture calibre L082.1 self-winding perpetual calendar with tourbillon regulator, and patented peripheral ring showing the indication of the month. Movement plates and bridges of untreated German silver with hand-engraved balance cock; 50 hours power reserve.