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Review: A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar

This watch is to the question, “Would you like your Lange 1 with a tourbillon or a perpetual calendar?” the answer, “Yes.” The Lange 1 has, since its 1994 launch, been a flagship platform for German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne to demonstrate its unique take on designing and building watches, and nearly two decades on, the Lange 1 still isn’t pulling any punches. So, what’s so surprising about the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar? Let’s find out.

The Days (And Nights)

Everything about everything in this watch is unexpected. The Lange 1 in and of itself fried the minds of the Swiss traditionalists by taking the most important part of a watch’s dial, the hours and minutes, and relegating it off to one side to make room for a big date and power reserve, and it’s that special kind of unhinged crazy that has the German watchmaker keeping us on our toes. You’d think after all this time that we’d be used to it, that there would be no more surprises—but oh, there are, and the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is here to prove it.

To kick things off gently, take a look at the day. I mean on the watch, not out the window. A normal perpetual calendar, which this most certainly is not, would have a tiny little sub-dial tucked away somewhere showing the days—but only if you had the eyesight of a bird of prey with binoculars. The Lange 1 is all about clarity, sacrificing the hours and minutes—which are still plenty readable—to give more space to usually indecipherable complications like the date.

So, A. Lange & Söhne said “Nah” and popped on the days of the week at a scale readable not just by normal humans, but perhaps ones whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be, too. Chuck on a retrograde hand that snaps back to the beginning when it reaches the end of its travel and there you go. There’s even a fun little dial to keep you posted on whether its day or night so you don’t even have to pull back the curtain.

The Months

So now you’re warmed up, perhaps the next surprise won’t be so likely to have you shed all your hair in shock. Remember I mentioned how traditional watchmakers don’t mind a sub-dial? They really don’t. It’s like in web design where everything becomes a pop-up; the watchmakers of old, when faced with yet another complication they had to fit in somewhere, just shrugged their shoulders and said, “stick it in a sub-dial.”

That’s not even a joke—many of these makers of high complication watches did so in low numbers and very high quality. Companies like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet avoided the mass production route for a very long time, focussing more on hand-built, high complication pieces made in short runs or even as a bespoke project for a single customer. Watchmakers; the very best. Designers, they were not. Layout, spacing, readability and even the very font used on the dial were all second to the mechanics of the thing. And so, the tradition of cramming as much stuff as possible into sub-dials lives on.

Not so with the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. Around the inside edge of the 41.9mm white gold case is what your mind might dismiss as a chapter ring, typically a readout for the minutes or the chronograph. But there are no minutes tracking the outer edge and there is no chronograph. Look again and you’ll see months, written in a script that, once more, can be comfortably read, in a display that rotates around the entire dial. What’s that sound? That’s your mind being blown.

The Leap Year

People don’t tend to think about this, but of all the watches to set, the perpetual calendar is one of the most annoying. Those fortunate enough to own a perpetual calendar don’t tend to have one as their only watch, and so the task of resetting it will become an inevitable chore. It’s a chore I wouldn’t mind having, but nevertheless, a chore.

And what information is needed to hand to set a perpetual calendar? The date, for sure, day, month and year—but more often seen than the year is the leap year. I think, generally speaking and excluding extreme cases like time travel, most people know what year it is. So, to make sure the juicy stuff like the day and date stay in sync, a perpetual calendar relies upon the leap year.

I won’t get into why the leap year is a thing here, and certainly not what happens in the year 2100 since I’ll be long dead and I don’t care, but all I will say is this: our calendar system is a bodge. They got it wrong and they’ve been trying to fix it with glue and sticky tape ever since.

For the watchmakers, that means incorporating a system into its perpetual calendars that knows exactly where we are in the four-year leap cycle. And can you guess how those watchmakers usually incorporate such a thing? Yep: sub-dials. Not A. Lange & Söhne—instead, they’ve tucked it neatly into the marker for the month wheel.

The Power

But alas! This Lange 1 is no Lange 1 without the fabled power reserve indicator! It’s true, the space left behind on the 1994 original so well-conceived to fit a power reserve indicator has been shanghaied by the days of the week. A tragedy, for sure. Or is it, because the reason the 1994 original even had a power reserve indicator is because it’s a manual watch. That doesn’t mean it can change gears and run faster, it means the power it needs to operate comes from a spring that must be wound by hand.

This Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, however, is different. It’s an automatic. The big, swinging weight on the back does all the work for you, winding the watch and keeping the fifty hours of power reserve topped up. It’s in gold of course, chosen for its rich colour, although being denser, platinum would have been better. Never ones to compromise, A. Lange & Söhne went with both; gold for the main structure and platinum on the outer edge where it’s mass will have the most effect.

Gold and platinum? The ultimate in excess for sure, beyond the steel and gold and steel and platinum Rolex calls Rolesor and Rolesium. What would Rolex call this? Rolesaurus Rex? In any case, the self-winding calibre L082.1 keeps that instantaneously changing perpetual calendar running smoothly, as well as feeding the power-hungry tourbillon. Speaking of which …

The Tourbillon

This isn’t the only A. Lange & Söhne watch to do this, and most certainly not the only watch in general to do this, but it’s still pretty smooth when a tourbillon watch has a tourbillon that can’t be seen from the front. Believe me, I equally like to have a window in through the dial to spy a tourbillon doing its thing, but having a perpetual calendar watch that makes no mention of the beast of an engine its packing under the hood is also pretty special.

Tourbillons have only recently been something that’s been put on show. They are the race-spec motors of the watchmaking scene, packed into competition watches to be the most accurate in show. Unlike other complications—if the tourbillon can even be called one—this twirling device had no business being on the display.

So, A. Lange & Söhne could be forgiven for leaving the tourbillon looking rather plain. After all, its job isn’t to look pretty, but to add performance. Yeah, pull the other one—A. Lange & Söhne wouldn’t have lasted five minutes trying to leave the tourbillon free of its legendary finishing. There’s faceted diamonds for its bearings, hand-engraved cocks supporting it and feeding in power from beautifully sculpted gears, a cage surrounding it that looks almost organic and even a stop-second mechanism for ultimate setting precision. All that and the thing that sees it most is a patch of wrist skin.

As always, a big thank you to A. Lange & Söhne for sharing this watch with us so we can show it to you. The Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a bit of a legend. Not only for its mastery of watchmaking skill, but also because it packs punch after surprising punch with every inch of its design. This is a clever watch, A. Lange & Söhne is a clever company, and I’m not clever enough to have the £300,000 needed to afford one.

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