The Definitive Guide to 1815 Chronograph
Introduction of the Datograph – therefore the caliber L951 in 1999 was groundbreaking for two reasons: Technically, it was housing the first new chronograph movement in decades. Visually, with its three-dimensional architecture, combination of nine-different finish techniques and the color harmony between elements such as gold chatons and blued screws, caliber L951.1 was nothing like the world has ever seen before.
However, as stunning as it was; the platinum Datograph’s price at €40k for a newly launched brand without a strong track record was not easily attainable for many. Consequently, in 2003 Lange tried to address the demand by launching a less expensive and deservedly coveted Dufourgraph in pink gold.
One of the most distinguishing elements of Datograph is its big date window. Alas, every choice comes with a trade-off. As beautiful and harmonious the big date looks over the lowered sub-dials, it was the cause for a relatively hefty watch with 12.8 mms thickness. No matter how splendid it was to gaze upon the three-dimensional movement that is deeper than the diamond mines in Siberia, people were also asking for a pure, thinner and a less expensive chronograph from A. Lange & Söhne and they received in 2004.
Lange introduced the 1815 Chronograph in 2004 Salon International de Haute Horlogerie- the first pure chronograph of A. Lange & Söhne. People asked and the brand delivered – a slimmer, more traditional and less expensive chronograph with its own unmistakable character.
Funny enough; perhaps to emphasize the 1815 Chronograph’s relative compactness, it was launched next to a monumental piece with a thickness of 15.3 mms: the Double Split. The relationship between the two is like Porsche 911 and Bugatti Veyron. Former is more attainable, driveable and a true timeless classic; whereas the latter is the ultimate flex, not a thing you would drive everyday but you know there is nothing else like its performance.
Since its introduction, 1815 Chronograph changed almost as many faces as Bond. Yet, it has always been as an inseparable part of Lange’s collection. The great thing about the collection is that each version carries its own aesthetics. One does not simply be indecisive between first and the second generation for example… So, it is worthy to examine all three generations.
That being said, I do have a favorite of the bunch. For numerous reasons which are explained below; for me, the first generation 1815 Chronograph (both the 401.026 and 401.031) is one of the best collections A. Lange & Söhne had ever created. I might even say that it is a must have for every chronograph enthusiast which still (December 2020) is an absolute bargain in the second market.
Following article starts with an in-depth walkthrough of the first generation 1815 Chronograh. Later transitions to the second generation and finally finishes off with the currently available models. All 1815 chronograph generations are explained in terms of case, dial, mechanisms and market prices.
A Slimmer Case
In 1994, A. Lange & Söhne management had to differentiate both the watches and the brand itself completely from its Swiss counterparts in order to claim a place in the collectors’ mind. And for watches, this started from the cases.
Lange cases are rather straightforward and follows the same structure since 1994. Constructed on three levels with alternate finish. Though sounds simple, they are built with an exquisite eye for detail.
If you carefully examine the case, you are going to notice a distinction between the lugs and the brushed case band. This is a design rule conceived by Günter Blümlein as a reflection of Lange’s founding principles – being distinctive from romantic Swiss and delivering the engineered feeling in harmony with the mechanical perfection. As a result, the lugs are notched, separately mirror polished on the base, bevelled and then attached to the case. An instantly striking detail that brings so much to the whole.
First generation 1815 Chronograph measures 39 mm in diameter and 10.8 mm in thickness. On top of its balanced proportions, thanks to the beautifully curved lug profile, it is a joy to wear. As all Lange cases, where Blümlein described as I want to give the feeling like closing a Mercedes door it reminds you that it is there. It is heavy, but not in a disturbing way; on the contrary, adds more to the experience.
The chronograph buttons on the side follow the same angle with the case and carries generous polished bevels contrasting against the brushed surfaces. The ribbed crown is just at the right size and very easy to operate.
Finally, the fact that the protruding caseback has much lesser thickness than Datograph, and the diameter/thickness ratio is much better; the 1815 Chronograph delivers a substantially improved wrist presence. It does not wobble on the wrist and sits just right.
1815 Chronograph – A Pure Dial
The dial of the first generation 1815 Chronograph (401.026 and 401.031) is constructed on four layers. Such construction hallows the models with a splendid depth. Not to mention that the layered structure is a signature of the 1815 family, however the 1815 chronograph carries it to the next level.
The most outer ring carries the pulsometer and the logo with a beautiful slope. This inclination builds a continuum with the bezel’s curve, and connects with the main dial – constructing the first layer while seamlessly connecting itself with the case. In the main part, along with the signature 1815 collection details such as three-dots on each 15 minutes markers or chemin de fer minute track, each second is divided into 5 equal parts to match the tick of the chronograph seconds hand with “m” shaped hash marks. Going a bit deeper, the central portion of the dial is further recessed, and finally the sub-dials are at the deepest point; given a slight contrast on white gold model, a reverse-panda looks for the pink gold.
The 1815 Chronograph is powered by the caliber L951.0 – which is the stripped down version of the Datograph’s L951.1. Therewith, the sub-dials sit well below the center without contributing to the overall symmetry as with the Datograph; which is understandably irritating to some people.
However, as the operations logic would suggest, it makes the most sense to share the assembly line (watchmakers – parts) for both models; thus, the placement of the 1815 Chronograph’s subdials follows its patriarch. Still, it does not bother me. On the contrary, I appreciate this distinct detail for two reasons:
• It was, and still is, different than anything else on the market,
• This sub-dial placement is a common practice for the 1815 family and has a historic ground – as previously seen in Up/Down and Emil Lange models.
One note here: As exceptional the caliber L951.1 is and costly at the same time; taking a movement and putting it into a different watch family was against A. Lange & Söhne’s mother law. Since the very beginning, the brand had “One movement – One watch” principle. Even though this rule was broken even in 1994 with Saxonia. Nevertheless, in 1999, the following dialogue took place in Peter Chong’s interview with Günter Blümlein;
P: Will you continue to make new movements with every new Lange model?
G: Yes. All our product developments are running under this rule. You may expect some more surprises in the future.
P: When will you consolidate and reuse basic calibers for complications?
G: I am referring to my previous answer
Still, with some exceptions, Lange retains a big part of this principle with more than 60 calibers they have developed to date. A dedication that deserves a round of applause. Even more so when one takes a look at other big brands and sees small movements in shockingly huge cases.
The reference 401.026 white gold carries blued steel hands which perfectly suits argenté dial whereas the 401.031 rose gold carries pink gold hands for the hours/minutes/chronograph seconds and blued steel hands for running seconds and jumping minute counter.
Thing is; the first generation 1815 Chronograph has that vintage puff while appearing unmistakably modern and characteristic. The main dial is notably small, sub-dials are miniscule and the pulsometer scale is unusually thick. Maybe just because of these, just because it does not make sense in theory certain watches become design icons. Like Patek’s 5070 perhaps? Ingloriously small movement causes all the indications to cramp up towards the middle and surrounded by a tachymeter and seconds ring and even a thicker two-stepped bezel. But this illogical combination is exactly the reason why 5070 is a superbly intriguing watch.
Set on this, in my book, 1815 Chronograph is one such model. Not as outlier; but certainly stunning and compelling. Unfortunately, none of the successors have been this brave.
The Same Magical Caliber L951.0
In 1999, Lange unveiled the Datograph, which, at the time, was the one and only in-house chronograph from any big brand. Patek Philippe for example was utilizing the legendary and equally old school caliber Lemania 2310 for their signature 5070. However, just being the first mover was not enough. One has to bring more to the table. Appearantly Lange got the memo and brought a new class to chronograph construction. It was Lange saying “rest!” to all others.
What bestowed the legendary status upon the L951.1 was its movement architecture and the variety of finish. The composition was so distinct, the use of color and finish techniques were so harmonious, it stood alone in the ocean of decades old calibers. Indeed, some years later, in an interview with Jack Forster at Forbes.com, the legendary watchmaker Philippe Dufour who also owns a Datograph was going to say:
“Take 10 movements out of the current range of any contemporary brand, put them next to a Lange movement, and comment honestly on what you see. That is the best way to judge — by examining the truth.”
I am sure that sometimes, every 1815 Chronograph or Datograph owner just drops everything, unstraps the watch from his/her wrist and just admires the eternal dance between engineering and aesthetics. Impossible not to. But before admiring its beauty, let’s understand how does a chronograph work.
The processor of the caliber L951.0 is the column-wheel. It is the link between the pushers and the function we see. If you look closer, you are going to see that the clutch lever, zero-reset lever and the operating lever are all connected to it. The chronograph becomes active when the operating parts of the mechanism connects to the running movement. When the user presses the start button, column wheel spins forward and the cluctch lever falls in between the pillars. Then, the clutch lever moves horizontally and meshes with the chronograph wheel. To stop, pressing the button again, the column wheel spins again, pushes the clutch lever’s tail and disengages the lever from the chronograph mechanism.
How about flyback? This mechanism makes it possible to stop and reset a running chronograph mechanism with a single pusher activation.
The two essential parts of the feature are two armed heart lever (3) and the coupling wheel (8). The process begins with the push (1) to the zero-reset lever (2). Upon pressing the button (1), the zero-reset lever is pressed downwards and a pin transfers this motion to the heart lever. The heart lever holds a pin that is in permanent contact with the claw shaped flyback lever (4). Therefore, when the heart lever is pressed downwards, it presses the flyback lever to the left; thus, the flyback lever presses the coupling wheel and detaches it from the chronograph seconds wheel (6) and stops the chronograph.
On its downward motion, the heart lever makes contact with the heart shaped cam (7). Since the cam is connected to the chronograph seconds’ wheel, when the heart lever’s tail (5) pushes the cams, the seconds hand goes back to the zero position. When the pusher is released, the heart lever is pulled upwards and the whole process starts in order.
Technically; the caliber L951.0’s only difference from its fabled predecessor L951.1 is the lack of the big date mechanism. Apart from this, the caliber beats at the same 18,000 bph, features flyback and precisely jumping-minute recorder and boasts 36 hours of power reserve.
What differentiate the caliber L951 series movements even today are their architecture and exemplary finishing. Thanks to the construction of bridges, arrangement of the chronograph mechanism and curvature of levers, it has an eminently balanced depth and layout. Although traditional in working principles – horizontal clutch with column wheel – the visuality is timeless.
A flawless combination of 320 tiny components, 34 jewels and 4 gold chatons brings life to the caliber L951.0 of the first generation 1815 Chronograph. Withal, number of parts alone or whatever specifications it has cannot tell you how amazing this movement is. It is the embodiment of the quote perfection is many small parts done right in 30.6 mm in diameter. In this 3 cm across area, you will find 9 different finish techniques – each contributing on a mission to form perfection.
The masterful handwork is evident in every inch of the caliber L951. From engraving to linear finish, from mirror polish to superb chamfering, the movement is indeed worthy of an acclamation from the master Mr. Dufour and many other connoisseurs. Every bridge is ribbed, circumferential polish applied and chamfered. After more than 20 years, it is still at the top. It is the movement that got me into watchmaking over 10 years ago, and my heart still beats faster whenever I strap or see one.
One final anecdote I can deliver is; although not based on a reliable sample size, I can tell that the accuracy of these watches are superb and well over the mediocre COSC standards. If owners of these pieces can send me their watch’s accuracy and service intervals, I would be more than happy to create a spreadsheet to deliver more reliable guidance.
All in all, despite all the love I am pouring over this model here, it had a lifetime of only 4 years. In circles, as unbelievable as it sounds, the reason is spoken to be that the line was not successful – which I tend to believe because Lange is not a brand to cut production if the line is a good seller. On top of that, looking two years down the road, this theory makes even greater sense. Because A. Lange & Söhne would drastically change the appearance of the 1815 Chronograph to make it more appealing to crowd; yet, in my opinion only to fail.
1815 Chronograph Second Generation
Lange went through a transition following the leaving of its CEO Mr. Fabian Kröne in 2009 and with the arrival of Mr. Lambert – current CEO of Richemont. Lange’s designs became more streamlined, modern and minimalistic and the first signals of such evolution were Datograph Perpetual ref. 410.032, Double Split in 2010 and the second generation of the 1815 Chronograph.
The second-generation of the collection arrived just 2 years after the first generation was discontinued, in 2010. Apart from the signature 1815 features, the design was almost completely renewed and purified. The model was produced only in white gold (402.026) and pink gold (402.032)
When I look back, I recall comments such as too packed and busy for the first generation 1815 Chronograph – which was kind of true. The pulsometer and chronograph hashmarks were invading a big part of the dial with inscriptions, it was unusual and for some understandably unsettling. I believe that the brand wanted to address such critiques with the launch of the second generation 1815 Chronograph. Hence, the first obvious difference between the two generations is the removal of the pulsometer scale.
However, a design has to reveal individuality and controversy, especially at this level. It has to bring out a character and a design needs people standing behind their decision no matter what, as in Odysseus or Zeitwerk. A strategy of chasing the general taste is not a good one and in my opinion this is where the second generation fails. Not because it is not a beautiful watch – on the contrary, it is a stunning beaty; yet fails the deliver a distinction as the first generation does, especially with the 401.031…
With the removal of the pulsometer scale the numerals are pushed towards the outer edge. Consecutively, this arrangement opens more space for the sub-dials (which were a bit cramped in the first generation) and they cover up the space quite nicely. Furthermore, the logo was moved from the peripheral scale to the main dial and Flyback was positioned at 6 o’clock to balance out the logo as well as to fill up the reminding white space.
Another big difference is in the minute chapter. The deep slope given by the pulsometer scale is gone. So now the transition between the bezel and the dial is more stepped rather than continuation. In return, the dial appears flatter. Unfortunately the depth was one of the defining features of the 1815 Chronograph, so I am not a fan of losing it, either.
All in all, these updates indeed resulted in a much cleaner, legible and optimized look. But they take away from the established character of the 1815 Chronograph. Please note that beauty and soul are two different things.
The movement side however is a completely different story. Compared to the earlier L951.0, the caliber L951.5 is superior in every way; featuring a vast array of important technical advancements.
The power reserve has gone up from 36 hours to 60 hours without a noticeable change in the movement size – probably the removal of the maltese-cross as the same happened to Datograph Up/Down. The caliber L951.0‘s 320 components went down to 306 for the caliber L951.5.
Most importantly, this modern chronograph finally came together with a free-sprung in-house balance wheel and in-house balance spring. Moreover, it is more magnetic resistant than its predecessor. Cherry on top, the caliber L951.5 does all these things while still preserving its unrivaled aesthetics.
After another short run of 4 years, Lange terminated the second generation of the 1815 Chronograph line. Immediately after, Lange presented the 1815 Chronograph “Boutique Edition” in 2015. It was the third attempt of the brand to finally find the perfect chronograph – and also to test the waters for the new design.
1815 Chronograph Third Generation
Introduction of the 1815 Chronograph Boutique Edition (414.026) in white gold in 2015 was the first sign of the new generation. The pulsometer; thus, the beautiful slope on the minute chapter returned and the watch has regained most of its original character with a slight vintage charm. It was a success since day one and Lange wasted no time to expand the collection in the near future.
The 1815 Chronograph Boutique Edition is an example on how to modernize a timepiece. Compared to the first generation, the thinner bezel and fonts give much more freedom to argente dial, and the thinner pulsometer scale further contributes to the cleaner look. The dial proportions of the first generation is mildly back but further improved upon with the use of larger subdials from the second generation. This resulted in a minimalist and uncluttered appearance. The line retains its size at 39.5 mm in diameter and 11 mm in thickness.
In the 1815 Chronograph Boutique Edition, the use of blue on almost every inscription and white space on the dial stands out the most. The blue’s coupledom with rhodiumed-gold hands as well as argenté dial delivers a cold yet classic and captivating look. From certain angles, the deep blue appears to be black, still they are quite clear to be enjoyed. The watch delivers serenity.
2 years down the road, in 2017, A. Lange & Söhne unveiled, quite possibly the most badass chronograph ever made – 1815 Chronograph white gold/black dial (414.028) and officially launched the third generation of the 1815 Chronograph dynasty.
The 1815 Chronograph Boutique Edition draws a clear inspiration from the first generation reference 401.026 with blued indices, and rather subtle look. However, this one here, even though both belongs to the same collection has a whole different aura.
The reference 414.028 is the first 1815 Chronograph model to be blessed with the coupledom of white metal/black dial. It was only Datograph before this one, and finally part of that rather aggressive identity is bestowed upon the collection. Now, if only we could see a platinum 1815 Chronograph…
The black dial 1815 Chronograph was a huge success – still is – and at SIHH 2018, A. Lange & Söhne expanded the third generation of 1815 Chronograph collection with two brilliant additions in pink gold. I am especially fond of the argenté dial (414.032) version as it superbly reflects the layered structure of the dial, the depth; and the blued hands harmony with pink gold case is to die for.
A final word on the black dial versions: Even though the models are extremely captivating, stealth and versatile; at times, the legibility is awful. White and pink gold hands blend with the black background easily, forcing you to carefully look at the watch to read the time. Yet, I believe as we all would agree, reading the time is not the primary impulse to sport such splendid art pieces; and with their craft they easily dodge the critique.
Buying an 1815 Chronograph
A. Lange & Söhne’s 1815 Chronograph is absolutely one of the best pieces that one can add to his/her collection or build upon. Although every collector’s understanding of “value” is utterly subjective; the workmanship, the movement, and attention to detail at the highest level is undeniable and deserves appreciation.
Apart from the stellar craft, the most important thing for me is that the line has a character. You cannot confuse them with any other high-end chronograph. They are not derivatives. Details are so coherently brought together, they created an inimitable identity; which can be said for the most of Lange’s collection.
1815 Chronograph’s first-generation models’ price was around $33k in 2004 and ~$38k when taken out from the catalogue in 2007. As of December 2020, these pieces can be found for about $38k, whereas the white gold version is asking a bit premium compared to rose gold. Compared to some other Lange models, they do not come out pretty often, but with a bit research and patience, they are quite reachable pretty liquid.
This also brings another perspective to “value retention” as it is clear that the first owners of 1815 Chronograph’s first generation do or did not take a hit when they sell. The current price gap is a result of the watch industry’s and Lange’s price skyrocketing following the financial crisis recovery.
The second-generation 1815 Chronograph on the other hand can be found for around $35k with less liquidity and recognition as the transition model.
The third-generation 1815 Chronograph is asking a premium compared to previous generations. The boutique edition ref. 414.026 and the white gold / black dial 414.028 are the two most popular models of the line. Both models retail for $56.6k. The boutique edition can be found for around $45k. However the other versions, including the white gold/black dial are available for around $40k.
It is safe to say that 1815 chronograph models do not take that big hit in the second market as some highly complicated Lange models do. Especially the first- and second-generation pieces can be bought and enjoyed, knowing that there is not going to be a disaster if one wants to re-sell.
I hope this was a valuable guide for whomever is looking for an 1815 Chronograph model or just want to learn the details and history of these pieces. If you see any point lacking or wrong, please kindly reach out to me via [email protected] or through my Instagram account @langepedia.
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