Feature: The Affordable Alternative To The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph
It wouldn’t be hard to put forward a good case for the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph being the best chronograph ever made. Looks, heritage, workmanship, intricacy, it’s got it all—but it’s also got a hefty price tag, too, some £50,000. For almost everyone, that’s out of reach, but maybe there’s something that will fit the bill for less—much less.
There’s a reason the 1815 Chronograph costs what it does. There are obvious factors like the precious metal case and the in-house calibre L951.5 movement, but overall it’s the finish of the piece, painstakingly applied in the most labour intensive and skilled way possible: by hand. If you’re looking to spend just five per cent of the asking of this A. Lange & Söhne, you’re going to have to be realistic about it—but perhaps there’s something of the essence of the 1815 Chronograph that can be acquired instead.
But what exactly is that essence? What is it about an A. Lange & Söhne that makes it stand out in a crowd, makes it different to contemporaries like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin? Quite simply, it’s that bastion of German design: simplicity. You get what you need, but what you do need you get in a way that’s been considered to the extreme. Clutter need not apply.
Take the Porsche 911, or the Leica M—these are iconic symbols of design perfected through the evolution of utility rather than aesthetics, such that their functionality has become the very thing that makes them look good. This is the same for A. Lange & Söhne. If you’re looking for the flamboyant, the ornate, the closest you’ll find is the hand-engraved motif on the balance cock.
Instead, the brand has focussed its attention on the positivity of the pusher engagement, the addition of flyback functionality and the immediacy of the instant minute change. This is in contrast to, for example, direct competitor Patek Philippe’s new 5172G, with its triple stepped lugs, syringe hands and guilloche pushers. The 5172G is a Bentley to A. Lange & Söhne’s Porsche.
But back to the matter at hand. We now know what A. Lange & Söhne is; what we’re interested in is how much of that we can get for a more attainable budget—if anything at all.
If you’re going to attempt the unachievable and pair a £2,350 watch with an A. Lange & Söhne, it may as well be from a brand that actually has a lot of kudos to its name. Something older than Patek Philippe, perhaps, a brand with an awards cabinet fit to bursting, one whose contribution to watchmaking actually changed the way the industry operated. A tall order for the price, it seems, but Longines ticks every single one of those boxes and more.
Would you believe it, but of the two brands, it’s Longines that can claim the title of oldest. A. Lange & Söhne trails Longines’ 1832 establishment by just thirteen years, a blink of the eye in relative terms, but the German is a younger watchmaker nonetheless. In its time, Longines moved Swiss watchmaking away from the cottage industry it had emerged from, establishing a factory that brought all the skillsets required to make a watch under one roof to produce its first ground-up movement in 1867—the Universal Exhibition award-winning calibre 20A.
So, you’re certainly not getting short-changed in the heritage department with Longines. In fact, Longines has been so influential throughout the years that its watches fell victim to the fake market … all the way back in the 1800s, causing it to become the oldest registered watch brand in the world.
But how about the watch itself, this Heritage Chronograph 1940? Does it fulfil the essence of the A. Lange & Söhne, even slightly? The ETA 7750-derived calibre L705 won’t be turning any heads or dropping any jaws like the 1815 Chronograph’s L951.5, but then again this watch will sooner grow legs and run off than have a movement like that for just £2,350.
This leads us on to the primary selling point of a modern Longines. It may have been an industrious, inventive brand in the past, but times have changed, and now it’s found itself in the unexpected position as the go-to provider of quality and value. This is demonstrated best by so-subtle-they’re-almost-imperceptible details like the signed crown and lightly brushed dial.
What we’re really here for, though, is the look. The Heritage Chronograph 1940 is based on an early flyback chronograph that emerged at a similar time to the school of Bauhaus—the German minimalist movement that established a style that would influence the simplicity of many great German brands like Porsche, Leica and, of course, A. Lange & Söhne.
That same simplistic feel can be found in the Longines—a brand, after all, founded in the country neighbouring Germany—skinny hands navigating a dial punctuated with small, clean markers lightly contrasted in rose gold. There’s nothing excessive or superfluous, and what is there has been given due consideration, culminating in a balance of proportions that truly feels reminiscent of the 1815 Chronograph.
The Longines Heritage Chronograph 1940 won’t be bothering A. Lange & Söhne’s bottom line any time soon, but for the rest of us who can’t even afford to dream of the 1815 Chronograph, let alone own one, there’s still some hope to be salvaged yet. This Longines harbours much of what this epic A. Lange & Söhne stands for, and while it can’t hold a candle to the sheer excellence of the watchmaking, it’s a timepiece that deserves to be cherished nonetheless.
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