Why I Bought It: A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus (A Photofest!)
At SIHH 2019, I had the enjoyable opportunity to meet privately for a few minutes with A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid and Anthony de Haas, director of product development for the brand.
In the center of the table was a tray covered with a cloth, which they soon drew back to reveal something that many Lange enthusiasts, including myself, had been waiting for: a prototype version of the steel watch that would become the Odysseus.
While I was quite excited about the existence of the watch, I was even more pleased to hear that Lange was gathering feedback from a significant number of enthusiast collectors about it. And while I wasn’t 100 percent convinced by the time I left the room that it would be a must-have for me in its prototype form, when I saw the completed, updated launch version in New York in October there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation before I was asking how to sign up!
Why I bought the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus and how it fits
In my pal Terry’s collection taxonomy of foundational, patronage, and fun watches, A. Lange & Söhne’s Odysseus for me sits pretty squarely in the “foundational” category – a watch that can be a core element of a collection over time, and that clearly represents the strengths and brand character of its maker.
At the same time, I’ll flatter myself by suggesting that it’s just a tiny bit of a patronage purchase as well in the sense that it represents a vote of confidence in, and support for, the Lange team as it takes a clear step beyond the precious-metal dress-watch confines of the brand’s first 25 years.
Within the array of watch types in my assortment, the Odysseus helps me nudge the balance a bit more away from its strong dress watch core to reflect my own shift to less formal attire and a more relaxed lifestyle; in that sense, I suppose that A. Lange & Söhne and I have something in common when it comes to this watch.
If you’re at all a Lange enthusiast, you’ll likely understand the most compelling reason I bought the Odysseus: it’s a Lange watch you can wear every day.
Why I love the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus
Several of my pre-delivery (but post-order placement) thoughts on the Odysseus are included in our team discussion and I’ll try not to repeat those here. But there are a number of reasons I’ve noted during my two months of ownership so far that make me very happy indeed that this watch is mine.
That new-watch smell: Okay, maybe that’s not exactly a thing, but there is a certain joy in receiving a new piece from a major manufacture, whether it involves a salon ceremony or a trip to the UPS Store. I took my sweet time opening and reviewing the various cards, ancillary items, and boxes before proceeding to the main event.
The eternal hope, of course, is that the unveiling of a new piece brings unalloyed pleasure. And I’m pleased to report that once I’d figured out how to peel off all of the protective film, I was grinning ear to ear with how striking this watch really is.
A true step forward: A. Lange & Söhne’s team could have just slapped a metal bracelet on a steel Datograph and been done with it, but they didn’t. I applaud them for that, and among other things I’m one of those who thinks that the “gauntlet” look of the bracelet as it broadens to approach the case is not only daring but successful.
Lange’s commitment to moving forward was further evident not only in the watch itself, but in smaller touches such as the rough-surfaced box and distressed treatment of the leather travel pouch and owner’s book folio.
I’d have been satisfied with a more traditional Lange leather box with that cream-colored interior (which has the unfortunate tendency to fuse the watch cushion and box into a single solid mass over time), but now that I’ve seen the Odysseus-specific accessory designs I can’t imagine them any other way.
A true Lange watch: take the name off, and it still shouts “Lange” in almost too many ways to list (for a more thorough accounting from my perspective, check out our team discussion). Now that I have the watch in hand, as one test I was able to compare the profile of the Odysseus to those of my other A. Lange & Söhne watches; while there are some updates, the family resemblance is obvious.
On the dial side, the familiar-yet-updated features include the day and date windows, which of course include the now-traditional Lange big date but also mirror the design of the Zeitwerk, with Semper Opera clock-style dual windows whose frames have curved edges to match the radius of the bezel.
Updated familiarity continues on the reverse of the watch with relief-engraved bezel, German silver plates with bold (and widened) striping, swan-neck regulator (in this case used to correct for beat error), engraved balance bridge, and even a chaton on the escape wheel pivot letting us know the Odysseus’ roots.
Functional and thoughtful: any Lange watch is going to be created with deep attention to functionality, and the Odysseus is no exception. A few of my favorite bits:
- The quick-set, and reversible, day and date indications. Easily-operated (and drool-inducing, pyramid-shaped) pushers above and below the crown advance the date and day with solid clicks; I don’t want to wear the mechanisms out, but it is great fun from time to time just to click away and see the days of the week snap into view in succession. Another great feature, especially for travelers, is that when you set the time backward past midnight with the crown, the day and date indications also click backward when you reach 11:15 pm on the prior day.
- The easily adjustable and sizable bracelet. Now that I have the ability to adjust the length of the bracelet by up to 7 mm at the push of a round button on the clasp, I find that I do it several times a day.
Even better, the button only needs to be pushed to lengthen the bracelet – to shorten, just push the two sides of the bracelet toward each other and the hidden ratchet mechanism does its magic.
Sizing the bracelet is almost as easy: while A. Lange & Söhne supplies small pusher tools with the watch, I just used a toothpick to depress the small round buttons on the links and then removed and replaced links to get to the proper length. This quick-release mechanism is incorporated into every link of the bracelet (except for the thoughtfully included half-link), which confers an added benefit: the absence of visible screws or pins on the outer edges of the bracelet links save the half-link.
- Visibility and legibility. The date window (which as I age, I find I need to check more often) is on the right edge of the watch, where it peeks out from under your cuff, and the lumed hands and indices are visible in bright light, low light, and even no light.
- The integrated bracelet. For the record, it is correct to refer to the A. Lange & Söhne bracelet design as “integrated” with the case (that is, connected through a designed interface). To test the point, I bought a two-sided spring bar tool and very, very carefully removed (the easy part) and replaced (the touchy part) one end of the bracelet from the case. Tip: don’t try this at home! My blood pressure has just recently returned to normal.
What the Odysseus bracelet design is not: integral (a unitary design that cannot be separated). That’s actually good news, as I suspect that at some point A. Lange & Söhne will offer additional bracelet types for the Odysseus, much as Vacheron Constantin supplies steel, rubber, and leather options for its Overseas line.
Fit-for-purpose adaptations: When Tony de Haas and his design team change something, it’s for a reason. And in the Odysseus, the changes that we see include increasing the frequency to 4 Hz and counter-sinking the poising screws to reduce the resulting turbulence; using a balance bridge anchored on both ends; adding a screw-down crown and screwed caseback to contribute to 120 m water resistance; and using a wafer-thin, dimensionally stable ARCAP alloy rotor. These all contribute in meaningful ways to the intended uses of this timepiece.
It pops! For me, the dial is right up there with the pushers as my favorite element of this watch. A. Lange & Söhne has hit a home run with its use of textures, layers, and accents to create just the right level of visual interest. One example: each of the 14 white gold applied indices is a 12-sided geometric shape that incorporates five non-vertical bevels and a stripe of lume down the center for good measure, providing glints of light to the viewer from any angle.
Another: the same style of silver outer chapter ring that made the Zeitwerk Date such a winner for me makes another appearance in this design, re-purposed as a 60-minute scale with red 60 for just a touch of added zest. And one more point of personal preference: I’m a big “yes” on the blue backgrounds with white letters and numbers in the day and date windows.
It looks better in the real world: a picture may be worth a thousand words, but there’s a reason why folks will tell you that it’s always best to see a watch in person as photos very rarely yield a full impression.
The good news for me is that the Odysseus looks better in natural light than in a light tent and more attractive on the wrist or on the nightstand than in any published image I’ve seen.
Trade-offs and consequences
As an engineer, I know that every design effort involves tradeoffs. If approached correctly these are done within the context of a set of identifiable design principles for consistency, but nonetheless require giving something up to gain something else, and the Odysseus is no exception.
For me, the big tradeoff in the Odysseus design is a direct result of A. Lange & Söhne’s design principle to make this watch, and in particular its profile, immediately identifiable as a Lange watch. Once that rule was set, a natural consequence was the incorporation of “Lange lugs” and the resulting look of how the bracelet attaches to the watch to surround those lugs.
I’m sure that the Lange team looked at a zillion alternatives; I for one could have done without those lugs and would have loved to see a bracelet profile at the joining point with the case that mirrored the pyramidal shape of the pushers, but that would have been in conflict with the design principle.
The quick-adjust clasp is a wonder but requires a single-sided clasp design whose long blade has to be placed “just so” in order to feel comfortable under the wrist. I had to fiddle with switching bracelet links around several times to get it feeling right for me, and it’s still not as fluid-feeling as the dual-sided Wellendorf-made clasp of my A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Mérite’s bracelet. I do love clicking the length in and out during the day, though!
A. Lange & Söhne’s emphasis on relative thinness leads to choices like the use of an ARCAP alloy rotor rather than a thicker, more flexible gold one, and I’m guessing drives the 50-hour power reserve limitation as well. I’m actually not sure that a gold rotor would give the right look for an active-wear watch, but I would love to be able to put this watch in the safe for a few days without mounting it to a winder and then be able to slap it right back on without adjusting the time, day, and date and winding it.
Finally, the lengthy linkage used to provide a quickset mechanism for the day leads to different pusher feels for the day and date. Lange has positioned this as a feature (easy to tell which feel is associated with which adjustment) rather than a bug but as a fan of A. Lange & Söhne’s usual practice of making pusher feels quite similar to each other I do wish the tactile experience were more uniform.
While I’m at it, just a few quibbles
I’ve now gotten used to the Odysseus nomenclature, even though it still reminds me of the Jaeger-LeCoultre model line of the same name from the 1990s. But I do wish that A. Lange & Söhne had chosen something a bit more reflective of users’ preferences and experiences rather than of Lange’s own journey to make the watch.
At some point I’m sure I’ll have a revelation as to why so many of the major brands seem fixated on nautical themes for their sport watches (Nautilus, Offshore, Overseas, Marine, and on and on); with the Odysseus, one outcome is the “wave-inspired” engraving on the balance bridge. It’s certainly okay-looking, but for me it loses the connection with an important bit of Lange lore: the personalized engraving of each balance cock in a design unique to its engraver, and the fun as an owner of identifying (and even meeting) the artisan responsible for the engraving on your watch.
All the above are small potatoes, though. My one material issue with the Odysseus is visible in the photo below, at the point where the widest bracelet links meet the lugs and the curved links that in turn join the case. The edge of the wide link is quite sharp, and the gap a bit wider than that between the other links, often creating a bright, sharp line that draws the eye away from the rest of the watch.
If the lugs and first link were a bit shorter or more curved, or the leading edge of the widest link more beveled, or the gap smaller, or if my wrist were rounder and larger, I wouldn’t have this issue; but at a minimum I hope that in future iterations of its steel bracelet watches Lange addresses this point.
Is the Odysseus right for you?
I wrote my check, but should you join the waiting list for this newest A. Lange & Söhne release? I’d say yes if:
- You are an A. Lange & Söhne devotee and, like me, you welcome the opportunity to have a go-anywhere watch that provides the satisfaction of wearing a Lange.
- The combination of quality design and construction, practical utility, and striking appearance make this a must-have for you.
- You’ve been looking for a more casual high-end watch but don’t want to follow the herd who are chasing the offerings from other major brands.
On the other hand, there are likely better places for you to focus your time and money if:
- The overall appearance of the watch isn’t to your taste.
- You have many other sporty/active pieces in your collection already and don’t see yourself giving this one substantial wrist time.
- The combination of benefits A. Lange & Söhne is offering with the Odysseus don’t make the price tag seem reasonable to you.
As collectors, we have the luxury of making our own choices and building collections that suit us; for me the Odysseus clearly fits into the mix, and I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below!
For more information, please visit www.alange-soehne.com/en/odysseus.
Quick Facts: A. Lange und Söhne Odysseus Reference 363.179
Case: 40.5 x 11.1 mm, stainless steel with integrated pushers, screwed caseback, and screw-down crown; water-resistant to 120 m
Bracelet: integrated design in stainless steel with micro-adjusting clasp and rapid-removal links
Dial and hands: dark blue dial with white gold applied luminous indices; white gold hands with luminous centers on the hour and minute hands; windows for date and day and seconds subdial
Movement: automatic Caliber L155.1, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency; shock-resistant balance with four poising screws, power reserve 50 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; quick-set day and large date
Price: $28,800 (2019 retail price)
Production years: 2019 onward
* This article was first published on January 25, 2020 at Why I Bought It: A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus (A Photofest!).