We are spoilt for choice when it comes to stainless steel sports watches with blue dials. Obvious choices such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus reference 5711 and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak reference 15202 stand out because of their totally unobtainable nature at retail, which has inevitably led to a slew of companies dipping into their archives to reinvigorate models of the past. Examples such as the Bulgari Octa Roma, Chopard Alpine Eagle, Girard Perregaux Laureato, Piaget Polo S, and Vacheron Constantin Overseas spring to mind, showing the appetite for a commercial team at a manufacturer to bask in some of the reflected heat radiating from those never-ending waitlists.
But what would happen if one of the most highly regarded, if somewhat under the radar, manufacturers committed years to the development and execution of a dedicated sports watch to complement their wonderful existing range of exceptional and iconic models? Today we have an answer in the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus, something which had been rumoured for what feels like an eternity among those who are disciples of the great Glashütte maker, and dismisses the idea that it is a reactionary effort to current market dynamics.
On a fundamental level, this is a watch that is extremely well considered. Starting with the most dominant feature for the average wearer, the dial has a variety of finishes to it that provide texture and depth without it coming across as unsuitable for a sports watches. There is a decent quantity of luminous material to the hands and dial giving excellent legibility in low-light conditions, and while the day and date windows might appear excessively oversized in the initial images of the watch, when it is on the wrist, they give the dial a sense of well-proportioned balance. Of course, as we have come to expect from Lange, the typography is “on point” as the kids would say, being consistent and well considered, without the painful mix of fonts that have the habit of creeping onto even the most well-regarded watch.
The case and bracelet are what makes me most excited about this Odysseus. I have long dreamed of a stainless steel watch from ALS that is more available than the mythical Lange 1 made in the less-than-precious metal (perhaps low double-digit production), or the unique Double Split that caused such a controversy when it appeared at a Christie’s Geneva auction in 2013, and went on to sell for 461,000 CHF. We finally get to see this executed as a complete concept with the Odysseus, featuring the classic Lange lug profiles together with some neatly integrated pushers for the day and date correction, as well as the screw-down crown to ensure a more water-resistance than previous offerings, all combined with the beautiful finishing that we all expect from the storied haus.
It is the bracelet that is perhaps the most novel feature of the new reference as, although there have been Lange models featuring one before, they were always in precious metals and, as a result, rather expensive, feeling like something of an afterthought made to satisfy a customer’s demand. While the new version might share some DNA with the group sibling from Schaffhausen, the system for removing links as well as the 7mm of micro-adjustment in the clasp are some of the best in the industry, so feel perfectly suitable to a product of this quality. In addition, design details such as the finishing to the links and the execution of the clasp make it feel very Lange.
At 40.5 mm in diameter and 11.1 mm thick, the case will wear comfortably across a wide range of wrist sizes, and there is understandable great pride In the comfort of the bracelet which drapes well, can be finely adjusted, and does not have the uncomfortable side effect of pulling out hairs on the wrist. On first impression, the ergonomics are extremely positive and one would expect to be rewarded over long term wear.
If there is one thing that left a minor hint of disappointment after handling the watch, it was the movement. While the mixture of oversized day and date complication make perfect sense for A. Lange & Söhne and are aesthetically welcome, there are too many elements that leave one feeling like something is lacking. The most obvious point is the tactility of the pushers that is far removed from a Lange 1 or a Datograph, and will probably leave an old-school fan of the brand wanting, although this may be a moot point given that this is clearly an addition to the lineup intended to attract a new audience. Admittedly, one could also make the argument that this was a deliberate choice, to avoid inadvertent activation of the day and date adjustments; regardless, it’s a noticeable difference, one we will likely generate much discussion amongst the brand’s aficionados
Such elements as the engraved balance bridge, (supposedly added to project the sporting nature of the watch, although a balance cock has survived rather well on many-a-workhorse watch), blued screws, gold chatons to the jewels, double assembly, and German silver throughout all tick the boxes for that Lange feeling, there still remains the underlying sensation that this is the product of the group, rather than the individual manufacture.
This leaves the last point to confront: pricing. Positioned at 28,000 EUR (inc. TVA) it feels like a number that was created by a strategic committee who have used its competing models at the Big Three as a benchmark, and fitted it into the line up. While there is no fundamental issue with this approach, it does feel like there might have been a big opportunity to come in at something a bit closer to the time only models around 20,000 to 25,000 CHF (18,300 to 22,900 EUR), and represent a clear value proposition to lure in a new demographic. Fortunately for those in Hong Kong, the local price is set at a very reasonable 219,000 HKD, minimising the temptation to play an international arbitrage and availability game.
Reassuringly, rather than the long lead times for new models that we are more used to in the watch industry, especially those launched at the fairs, it seems that the first availability for the Odysseus will be in boutiques next month. This makes it more much akin to the instant gratification that we now expect from seeing something on the runway today, and having it arrive from Mr Porter a few days later, and will be especially welcome for new clients to the brand.
As a complement to the existing pillars of Lange 1, Zeitwerk, Saxonia, 1815, and Richard Lange, the Odysseus provides a wonderful addition and is clearly an extremely strong and well-considered foundation for future development. Leaving the first viewing it is not a surprise to be dreaming up all sorts of new configurations and complications that would suit this wonderful new case and bracelet: let’s see what the future may hold.