Review: A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus
Alright, so let’s get one thing out there before we begin: this review is produced for and by Watchfinder, a company owned by the same group that owns A. Lange & Söhne. You would say that makes it difficult for the words said here to be truly impartial, and you would be right. But let me assure you; these are my words, what I think, and I truly believe that the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus is a watch worth having over the Patek Philippe Nautilus. Here’s why.
We all know why the Odysseus is here: sports watches are big business, and it makes absolute sense to have them in a brand’s collection. We don’t begrudge sportscar manufacturers making SUVs to fill the coffers. And do you know what? Some of those SUVs are actually pretty fantastic. In the case of watchmakers that we expect to craft traditional, complicated and refined watches, the sports watch can seem a bit like putting the Pope on a skateboard.
It certainly seemed that way back in the 1970s, when heavy hitters Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet upset the order of things by going all punk with the Nautilus and Royal Oak, and still it seems that way now with purveyors of gothic minimalism A. Lange & Söhne following suit some half-century later. You’re probably sick and tired of this particular copycat bandwagon, and you’ll be less excited and more likely exasperated to find out which settings A. Lange & Söhne used on their photocopier to design the Odysseus … but wait.
Aside from the will-it-won’t-it integrated bracelet and the obvious choice of the colour blue for the dial, this watch is to high-end sports watches what Tainted Love is to Gloria Jones: original. It’s clearly A. Lange & Söhne—that is to say it has that certain clarity to it that makes the German brand feel like reading the time on an 8K OLED from a foot away—but most importantly it’s clearly not a clone of the Gerald Genta-designed Nautilus and Royal Oak.
From the big day and date straddling the scalpel-like hands, to the sledgehammer lugs and slab-sided case, this is an A. Lange & Söhne. It feels open, broad, yet slender, just as expected, the steel, 40.5mm case hugging tight at a surprising 11.1mm thick. That’s a few millimetres thinner than a Rolex Submariner but a few millimetres more than a Nautilus; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it offers a chance to add some elements we’ve not seen before, namely the flared, hollowed-out crown guards.
A sports watch has got to protect its crown, and this one offers a bit of deflection with a pair of pointed wings flanking the case that look unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The crown is not as hunkered down as it is on the Nautilus, and I suppose only time will tell if that’s a problem, but come on—this is A. Lange & Söhne we’re talking about, the watchmaker that builds every movement twice just to make sure. Just like the originality of the design itself, they ain’t leaving it to chance, because the guards do more than, well, guard. They also, rather ingeniously, double down as quick-set pushers for the day and date!
It doesn’t take much explaining to convince anybody that this is a wholly unique design, but for the Odysseus, that only tells half the story. A. Lange & Söhne does not produce in anything like the numbers Patek Philippe does, and that’s because it just can’t. Why? Because of a level of attention to detail so fastidious that it makes the dictionary look sloppy.
Every watch the German watchmaker makes, no matter where it sits in the pecking order, gets the same level of care given to every aspect of its creation, from the first sketches all the way to the final finishing. That means that, although this is “just”—in inverted commas—a sports watch, it has been lavished with detail to a degree that’s unexpected even at this status.
It’s something we’re used to from A. Lange & Söhne, but with this fresh context, it somehow feels like a surprise. Perhaps that’s because the Nautilus is, on the contrary, really rather plain. It’s faithful to the original, but next to the Odysseus, that dogged authenticity comes across a little bit—dare I say it—lazy.
Compare the dials, by way of an example. The date on the Nautilus is, for want of a better word, a hole in place of a marker. It does the job, it is executed to a high level—but it is still just a hole, squeezed right up against the edge. Compared to the Odysseus, and here you have not only a date, but a big date, and not only a big date, but a day as well. So whether it’s Friday then, Saturday, Sunday—what?—you’re treated to a grand display of information that loses nothing of A. Lange & Söhne’s personality. The same can’t be said of the Nautilus—even Patek Philippe CEO Thierry Stern thinks it one of the least beautiful watches in his charge.
The Odysseus, like it’s brethren, is a watch that rewards exploration. Where the Nautilus appears to run out of talent pretty quick, the Odysseus keeps on giving, offering new layers of detail and finesse with every pass. The hands are sculpted with more dimension; the dial offers more depth and more texture, the print has a proud relief rather than sitting flat.
And as for the movements: the calibre 26-330 S C in the Nautilus is surely a beautiful thing, but in the presence of the calibre L155.1 Datomatic found in the Odysseus, it feels really rather ordinary. It’s the same story as it is with the front; one feels like a watch that’s been produced to a very high standard, whilst the other feels like a creation that kept someone up night after night, sweating every last detail. The Nautilus wants to be admired; the Odysseus needs to be loved.
If there’s one thing A. Lange & Söhne just can’t help but do, it’s fiddle. I don’t mean in the sense that a project is never done, more that, with the tradition of watchmaking, most things are executed in the same way they have always been done, and that’s that, thank you very much.
Not A. Lange & Söhne. These guys wonder what a mechanical digital watch might look like, or if a split second, minute and hour chronograph is possible. These guys get out of bed wondering how much of a headache they can give their CEO, Mr. Schmid. These guys throw caution to the wind and challenge themselves on every last detail.
Take the bracelet, for instance. On the Nautilus, if you want it adjusted, you ask someone who knows what they’re doing to knock a link out for you. Not A. Lange & Söhne. Not the Odysseus. You want some fine adjustment? Press the beautifully embossed logo on the clasp and you’ve got 7mm of wiggle room. Not enough? With the push-button link release system, no one need wave a hammer, however small, anywhere near your watch. I still can’t help but wonder what a standard leather strap would look like on this watch.
And the calibre L155.1, exclusive to this watch, gets some trick features that combine sporting intention with a level not just of luxury, but commitment, that earns an appreciative nod when they’re discovered. Need more efficiency from the winding rotor, for example? Crank up its density by switching out gold for platinum. Upping the beat to 28,800 vph for more stability in action? Better bring those poising screws inboard to reduce turbulence. Both the Odysseus and the Nautilus get 120 metres of water resistance—although with the Odysseus, the seals aren’t on show.
But the real party trick of this watch is in accommodating the day and big date complications. To maintain a thickness less than a Submariner, yet stack not one, not two, but three discs sounds like the result of a lot of head-scratching and staring at blank sheets of paper. Yet, through careful thinking—and by starting from the ground up—the watchmakers at A. Lange & Söhne have not only done it, but made it look so effortlessly simple that the pains of their labour need never be thought of by anyone again.
It’s not just the way the Odysseus looks, or operates or is crafted that, for me, lifts it to a level above the Nautilus—it’s the brand that stands firmly behind it. This watch was graciously loaned to us by A. Lange & Söhne, and unlike any other watchmaker, there’s a distinct impression that, when the handover is complete, that you’re not just taking a watch from them, but a son. It’s unusual to see every person from the CEO to the Brand Comms Intern be so dedicated to their product, that it can’t be helped but become a factor in the decision. I’m afraid to say I will never be able to afford either of these sports watches—but if I could, I know the direction I’d choose. And with the news that 5711 Nautilus is being discontinued, that decision just got even easier.
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