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Feature: $500 vs $330,000 Watches

I have a here a Furlan Marri chronograph. It costs $500. It looks very smart, feels great, works like a charm. If you’re new to watches, then, you might be wondering how the very similar A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon could possibly cost an incredible 660 times more. We’re going to take a look at what they’re made of, how they’re made and what they do.

What They’re Made Of

To the casual passer-by, these two watches could be twins. Salmon-coloured dials, simple, silvery cases and a chocolatey leather strap are details shared between both. Nevertheless, to say they are separated in price by just 0.15% of the German A. Lange & Söhne’s RRP is, frankly, staggering. That’s like the old saying: what’s the difference between a millionaire and a billionaire? About a billion dollars.

So, what could possibly separate these two by such an enormous margin? Let’s start with the physical stuff these two are made of first, because we’ll quickly see a difference in approach that will only begin to scratch the surface of the chalkiness and cheesiness the two watches contend with.

For the Furlan Marri, the silvery sheen is imparted by steel, specifically 316L stainless steel. A fine material for sure, one that will resist the ages and provide strong wearability. If they can build cars and planes out of it, it’s probably fine for a wristwatch.

That’s not what A. Lange & Söhne has plumped for with the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, however. Instead, we get 18-carat white gold, which shines brighter and whiter than steel ever can. That’s a physical fact: it reflects more light back than steel does.

But the use of precious metals doesn’t stop there for A. Lange & Söhne. The dial, painted brass on the Furlan Marri, is pure rose gold for the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, studded with white gold markers. The hands too are rhodium-plated gold—except the blue ones; they’re heat-treated steel to get that deep, royal hue.

How They’re Made

As important as the watch’s dial, where we read the time, is the mechanism that powers it. Turn the Furlan Marri over and you see—well, nothing. The case back is closed because what’s inside isn’t really worth seeing. The Seiko mechaquartz calibre VK64 is a solid machine, drawing power from a battery and controlled mechanically, and it will run smoothly and without issue for many, many years. It’s a true marvel of Japanese engineering, combining performance with value in a way that makes it possible for the Furlan Marri to cost $500.

For $330,000, however, you’d expect a little more. So, the A. Lange & Söhne gets something a bit different, the calibre L952.2. The naming may be typically German and ultimately uninspiring, but the execution beggars belief. Here it is in numbers: 729 parts, 59 rubies, four gold chatons and two diamonds. You get 50 hours of power reserve from the 18,000 vph beat. There are three layers of componentry to fit it all in.

But the figures only tell one story, because the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon is no Lego kit of parts assembled by machine at the rate of ten to the dozen like the Seiko VK64. Each and every single part is hewn by hand into its final form, traditional techniques used to apply the exquisite finish to every single piece. You’ll see graining on the flat surfaces, straight, striped or circular. You’ll see polishing on the edges, mirror finished. It takes expert watchmakers hundreds of hours to make, with no two ever being perfectly alike. Even the hand engraving that adorns the balance cock is unique.

Just think what kind of skill and patience it takes to apply such fine decoration to each part, and then think that has to be accomplished over 700 times for the movement of one watch alone. If you’ve ever tried to buff out a scratch from your watch you’ll know just how hard it can be. There’s likely more labour in each one of those parts than there is in an entire Furlan Marri, and that’s one big reason why the A. Lange & Söhne costs so much. In fact, when you add it up like that, you’re actually getting a bit of a bargain!

What They Do

But we haven’t even reached the party trick of the A. Lange & Söhne just yet. Whilst the Furlan Marri does a sterling job measuring the time, both in continuous form with the hours and minutes, and on demand with the chronograph, it’s functionality pales into insignificance when compared to the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon.

A. Lange & Söhne’s watch does also tell the time and run a chronograph as well, but that’s just the beginning. The chronograph adds the ability to be reset instantly using a flyback mechanism. It doesn’t need to be stopped, reset and started again. A simple reset in motion will do all that in one push.

There’s the date as well, at twelve o’clock on the dial—but it’s no ordinary date display. It’s a big date. That means that both numbers on display need to be carefully formed by two massive wheels that barely fit within the case to provide a mechanical solution to having such a readable display. Clever engineering, cleverly executed—and that’s just the date.

The date’s no one-trick pony, however, because when it comes to the end of a short month, you’ll also spy something else it can do. Unlike an ordinary mechanical watch, where the date goes to 31 every time and has to be manually adjusted, the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon has a perpetual calendar. Thanks to the readouts sat in the lower layers of the chronograph sub dials, it can track the day and night, month and even leap year, so that way it knows when to shift the date forwards to accommodate a shorter month, including February.

The moon doesn’t get left out either, because at six o’clock is a moon phase display in polished metal set against a deep blue backdrop. Funnily enough, that’s not even the prettiest feature of the watch, for which we have to return to the back, because at the beating heart of the calibre L952.2 is the most impressive party piece of all, the tourbillon.

The tourbillon is an anti-gravity device that allows the watch run in different positions without losing or gaining time. It encompasses the regulating organ of the watch, the balance wheel, with the locking mechanism, the escapement, and compounds the entire thing into a cage. That cage then rotates once per minute, freeing it from the clutches of gravity. By watchmaking standards it’s big—huge—yet for utmost setting accuracy, it can be paused and restarted in the blink of an eye with a patented stop seconds mechanism. All this without even a single volt of electricity!

So, there you have it, the difference between the price of the $500 Furlan Marri and $330,000 A. Lange & Söhne explained. Do you think it’s worth the difference?

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