They say never meet your heroes. I learned the truth of that advice when I bumped into Little Feat keyboard player Bill Payne on an elevator at the Peabody Hotel. Mr. Payne was carrying golf clubs. Good for him. Bad for my idea of rock and roll. So when a fellow cigar aficionado said “I wore my Lange 1 so you could have a look at it,” I was trepidatious. As one would be, given the often large gap between Internet-fed expectation and reality. . .
A photograph of a watch captures a timepiece frozen in a moment of time and space – usually one chosen for its perfection. It doesn’t reveal how a watch’s surfaces play with the light. Video has its own faux reality issues – at least until VR arrives. And maybe even then. Not to mention the missing impression created by tactile experience. I digress . . .
When I went hands on with my new friend’s A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 it was like listening to a Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. (The Odysseus is more like Stravinsky.) All the watch’s elements – the hour and seconds sub-dials, the power reserve indicator, the date window and the text – are in perfect harmony. They all work together to create a design that’s greater than its parts, adhering to what’s called the “golden mean.” Wikipedia:
Ancient Greeks believed that there is a close association in mathematics between beauty and truth. The Greeks believed there to be three “ingredients” to beauty: symmetry, proportion, and harmony. Beauty was an object of love and something that was to be imitated and reproduced in their lives, architecture, education and politics.
The German watch achieves the golden mean via the “golden ratio.” There’s a lot of math involved, and I don’t do math in public. Suffice it to say, if you draw a line from the center of the L1’s date window to the center of the hour dial, to the center of the seconds dial, it forms a triangle that greater minds than mine consider inherently, profoundly, cosmically pleasing.
Once you get over the Lange 1’s incredible rightness of being – and I’m not sure you ever do – the craftsmanship astounds.
If you’ve ever wondered why anyone [of relatively limited means] would spend $30k on a watch, consider this: it’s perfect. All the edges on all of the pieces, all of the print on all of the text, everything is perfectly realized, right down to the finest of fine details. The closer you look, the better it looks.
Like great writing, the workmanship calls zero attention to itself. That goes double on the flip side. I expected, indeed, hoped that the Lange 1’s movement would be on full display through its transparent caseback. That’s not how the L1 rolls. Only a corner reveals the engine, and only a tiny piece has engraving.
It’s a crappy picture of a not-at-all crappy-looking movement. I find the exposed corner amusing, in a coy kinda way. And there is solace to be had from knowing the Lange 1 is built Ford tough.
As you can see from this watch’s less-than-box-fresh condition, my stogie sucking compañero rocks his Lange 1 on a regular basis. The white gold case’s scratches and dents tell the tale – and did nothing to make me less covetous. (Wabi sabi FTW.) Nor do the dings ding the owner’s love, which was at first sight. And forever more. “When I bought this watch,” the surgeon said. “I said that’s it. I’m done.”
Is such a thing possible? Could a watch – any watch – be so magnificent that it would make a collector retire from the field? Well, if any watch could, the Lange 1 would be a strong contender. To give you an idea what it’s like to be in the actual presence of this watch, I’ll end with TTAW writer Luke Ibis’ opinion of the brand’s products.
I have to stay away from Lange watches. The first time I held and wore a Lange (a platinum Datograph) I was struck dumb. I felt like Dave Bowman…”My God… it’s full of stars!” I started to think through ways that I could scrape together enough money to actually own it. Then I put it down and walked away. I haven’t allowed myself to pick one up since. I’ve been through the 12 Steps but higher power or none, I am not strong enough to resist the pull of those watches.
I have been entranced, and you have been warned.