The Guide to A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual
Chronograph is a monumental complication and there are only a couple of additions that would deservedly accompany its complexity while elevating its attraction even more. Throughout the history there happened to be many combinations, but none struck as its coupledom with another grand complication: Perpetual Calendar, and the Datograph Perpetual is A. Lange & Söhne’s iteration of the iconic togetherness.
Following article starts with a brief summary of the perpetual calendar chronograph watches and the reason why A. Lange & Söhne chose Datograph for such coupledom. Further focuses on the design aspect and the references of the first generation Datograph Perpetual (2006 – 2011) and transitions to the current collection. Finally, the article takes a deep dive to the caliber L952.1, its ups and downs and finishes with a market overview of Datograph Perpetual.
Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
The first serially produced wristwatch with the combination of chronograph and perpetual calendar goes back to 1941, Patek Philippe’s legendary 1518. The model had such a beautiful, functional and characteristic design, after four generations (2499-3970-5970-5270) the blueprint that was laid almost 80 years ago is still in use and with quite the success, too.
As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Patek Philippe’s wristwatch perpetual calendar format is also one of the most mimicked design layouts, almost a dominant design in the area: Two small windows showing day and months below 12 o’clock and date presented alongside Moon phase at 6 o’clock. Rightfully though, it is possibly the most legible and symmetric blueprint ever laid.
Being such a monumental, historic marriage of two splendid complications and one of the flagship offerings of the biggest competitor, A. Lange & Söhne had to come up with a similar model – but only with their own identity. Had they use the same or even a slightly similar blueprint, they did not stand a chance. Because differentiation towards the better was the only chance the modern A. Lange & Söhne got to stay in the crowded marketplace.
Even though it was not an easy feat, since 1994, A. Lange & Söhne has been extremely successful in creating its own image on every front from watches to communication. For watches, from the case to the movement design to the smallest details on the dials, everything served to the differentiation principle – both from the market but also its own past. Indeed, Blümlein was very clear in regards to the relationship with the tradition. In an interview he gave to Gilsbert Brunner in 1994 he states the following;
Brunner: Do you consider the first modern collection by A. Lange & Söhne as a tribute to a great, albeit long ago, past?
Blümlein: Definitely not. The 1994 A. Lange & Söhne wristwatches and all upcoming models are anything but epigones of watchmaking legends. Take our big date… One can only speak of helpful innovation or mechanical sensation. The same applies to the construction of our calibers. It is not our intention to celebrate traditional craftsmanship or to compete for the most complicated watch. One of our goals is watchmaking beauty and perfect craftsmanship. On the other hand, innovations and differentiating design are important parameters for us.
So, he wanted to create something new and characteristic with respect to tradition. In this sense, for the marriage of perpetual calendar and chronograph they have easily eliminated the 1815 line due to limited design choices on such a rooted canvas with Arabic numerals and railway minute track… Moreover, Lange 1 was out of option for technical reasons, too. It took the brand years to reach the level of competence to integrate a perpetual calendar to such off-set design with Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. Hence, there was only one choice: the Datograph.
The noble search came to an end in 2006 with the Datograph Perpetual in platinum (410.025) with silver dial. It was as unusual and as characteristic as its patriarch with lowered sub-dials, applied Roman Numerals and magnificent caliber L952.1. The marriage of the perpetual calendar chronograph was the first traditional combination for the brand.
Datograph Perpetual – 410.025, 410.030
The first generation Datograph Perpetual was produced only in platinum (410.025) and white gold (410.030) – with and without the bracelet. While the platinum version stayed in the catalogue for 5 years, the white gold version was introduced in 2009 and discontinued shortly after 2 years in 2011.
The Datograph Perpetual measures 41 mm in diameter and 13.5 mm in thickness. Increase in heft, hence the thicker bezel (0.7 mm more in comparison to Datograph) is due to perpetual calendar module. The diameter was further enhanced to preserve the diameter/height ratio as well as the legibility and wearability of the watch.
Case construction is a bit different compared to the basic Datograph – the case band is thinner while the bezel is rather thicker since it houses the perpetual calendar module. The calendar layer is also apparent from the sub-center placement of the crown.
As with every complicated A. Lange & Söhne watch, Datograph Perpetual’s case houses a protruding caseback, too. This is a functional and visual trick – it hides the heft from the side while accomodating the movement in expense of wrist comfort as it decreases the surface sitting on the wrist.
However, thanks to its balanced diameter / thickness ratio and lug design, Datograph Perpetual wears pretty comfortable on the wrist. Speaking of comfort, the corrector pusher at 10 o’clock is a brilliant and a user-friendly touch. It simply advances all calendar indications by one increment when pressed. A rather life saving button to the 36 hours of power reserve mechanism!
Two things about the pusher: The pusher is deactivated between 10PM and 2AM to protect the calendar mechanism and can only be operated if the crown is pulled so that it cannot be triggered while the watch is sitting pusher side down or on the wrist.
Since it utilizes the same base as the Datograph’s L951.1, the placement of indications is exactly the same with its inspiration. As mentioned above, there’s a 2 mm difference in diameter between the non-perpetual calendar version and this addition is successfully distributed between the tachymeter scale and bezel. Most importantly; Datograph Perpetual masterfully safeguards the line’s character while managing to be recognizable on its own. Of course, the brand’s signature perpetual calendar layout plays a big role here.
As mentioned in the beginning, Lange’s perpetual calendar chronograph had to be different from the rest while reflecting the brand’s identity. Since a big part of the Datograph’s character (and the brand’s in general) is formed by the big date it had to stay there and this dictated the design choices for the calendar.
The big date covers a rather wide area, so the only option for the day and month indications was to distribute them to their respective sub-dials. I must admit that such a design preserves the character just perfectly, alas has its own shortcomings. The design suffers from legibility perspective compared to apertures (like Patek Philippe or Urban Jürgensen) solution. Further; the big date also limits the width of the Moon phase indication at 6 o’clock; which leaves only so much place for this romantic complication.
Another pet peeve for many enthusiasts are the day/night and leap year indications. Indeed, when one takes a look at the Langematik Perpetual which was launched in 2001, you see a very similar layout. Thus, my belief is that Lange probably wanted to continue on the same line. On a rather proven design. A friend calls them tumors which I find pretty harsh and disagree. I find such eccentric touch as a positive contribution to Datograph Perpetual’s already out of the box appearance – at least for the first generation.
All in all, the first generation Datograph Perpetual is a brilliant update over the basic Datograph. Despite the increase in diameter and thickness, the signature elements such as Roman Numerals are proportionally preserved and it feels that Datograph Perpetual is a continuation; without being mimicry.
Datograph Perpetual – Second Generation
A. Lange & Söhne went through a management change in 2009. Fabian Krone, then the CEO for 6 years left the company and Jeromé Lambert, now the CEO of Richemont, took over for couple of years until the current CEO Wilhelm Schmid’s arrival. Within this period, Lange went through transition in design. The brand started to ditch somewhat baroque designs and focused on more modern, minimal and streamline appearances. One strong example of this observation is Datograph Perpetual’s second generation.
In 2010, the brand introduced the Datograph Perpetual in pink gold (410.032). Main updates were the baton indexes and a more slender font. It was more modern per-se, alas in expense of losing its aggressive and definitive soul.
The design was also the foundation of the new Datograph Up/Down, which arrived only 2 years after. The second generation Datograph Perpetual Family got bigger in 2015 with the introduction of the splendid white gold (410.038) variant. The pink gold version was discontinued in 2019.
Now, the beauty and character are two different aspects in my book. In this regard, the second generation Datograph Perpetual watches are two very beautiful pieces. However, they just do not have the masculine apperance and the character of the first generation – same story as the Datograph Up/Down…
The Roman Numerals was bringing a very strong and defining character to a Datograph collection. Although I certainly understand the need for modern lines, thinner fonts etc. I believe it also steals a bit from the soul of the watch. Here, with the removal of the Roman Numerals, the triangle formed by sub-dials and big-date stays as the only focus point. However, previously, this rather upwards center was balanced by the downward focus point formed by the numerals. This in return also causes the Moonphase indication to hang by itself.
Is it a deal breaker, though? Definitely not. The second generation Datograph Perpetual definitely addresses to a broader liking. It is simplified and meaningfully differentiates from one another – grey dial for the sporty and rather masculine, pink gold (410.032) is for class…
Calber L952.1 is basically the caliber L951.1 with a perpetual calendar module on top. Which means, it offers the same breathtaking view from the back. The three-dimensional construction of the movement brings an unrivaled depth; offering a myriad range of angles, finish techniques and new things to discover with every glance.
The contrast between the German Silver’s warm hue and brushed steel’s cold and the harmony between the gold chatons’ brightness and mirror-polished surfaces form an eternal dance on this mechanical computer. Master handcraft is apparent in every inch of this mind-blowing caliber – from engraving to inward angles…
On the technical front, the hand-wound caliber L952.1 comprises of 556 parts, offers a relatively short 36 hours of power reserve and beats at 18,000 bph. The calendar indications are not instantaneous but rather dragging and the switching process is visible from 11PM to 12:30AM. Moreover, the moonphase is accurate to 122.6 years. Chronograph mechanism offers a flyback function with instantenous minute counter.
However, I have to point out one thing: For Datograph Up/Down, Lange updated the movement and increased the power reserve from 36 hours to 60. Why the Datograph Perpetual’s caliber L952.1 is still suffering from the same shortcoming is baffling and unexpected. Moreover, the lack of the power reserve indication does not make things easier. It seems that the brand has solved both problems at Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, hence, an update to this line would be very nice!
Here, I’d also like to give a brief overview for the perpetual calendar module as well.
A perpetual calendar is simply a mechanism that gives the day, date, month and often the moonphase while automatically calculating the length of each month and leap years until the year 2100.
It was invented by Thomas Mudge – the inventor, the horologist. The father of quite possibly the most important invention in watchmaking, the lever escapement as well as couple of others like the first remontoir in the gear train, possibly the first watch with equation of time and as a topic of the page: The Perpetual Calendar. Though the perpetual calendars were present in various clocks prior to his arrival, he is the one who adapts the principle to a watch in 1762.
More than 150 years later, in 1925 it was Patek Philippe was the one who created the first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar mechanism with a derivative pocket watch movement: reference 97975. In time, this grand complication took many faces and solutions, albeit the basic principle stayed the same.
The principle part of the movement is the programme wheel or the cam of 48 with each step representing a month. It features four different recesses: The lowest recesses represent February 28, second lowest for February 29, third lowest for the months with 30 days and the shallowest ones for 31 days. This wheel makes one full turn in four years.
As the brain, the rest of the perpetual calendar mechanism relies on the programme wheel. A finger, attached to a lever, glides through the cam and controls the rest of the movement parts. The lever is connected to the star wheel with 31 (days) teeth. Imagine the finger is in the deepest recess, at February 28. Every night the lever retracts from the deepest recess and drives the star wheel via a click by one step.
The 31 teeth cam carries a snail shaped cam and a click. Until the 28th of February, the click still resides on the snail. At midnight, the click falls behind the snail because the lever resides at the deepest point of the programme wheel, hence its tail, too. Through this recess, the click is going to push the snail by 4 days – to the first day of the next month and so forth.
Difference with Datograph Perpetual is the big-date mechanism as it has tens and ones wheels but the basic principle remains the same.
The perpetual calendar module constitutes a whopping 233 parts of the caliber L952.1, and even then, measures at a thickness of only 1.9 mms overall. The module houses a patent where it requires only one switching pawl to operate. This in return makes the switching process of the perpetual calendar much easier and demands less power from the mainspring. The patent of Jens Schneider, who is also the owner of the Zeitwerk’s, can be seen here.
Buying a Datograph Perpetual
Platinum Datograph Perpetual’s (410.025) initial price in 2006 was €114,000 and €119,800 when it was discontinued in 2011. In return, the white gold (410.030) variant’s price was €82,500 in 2009 and €85,000 in 2011.
When Lange introduced second generation Datograph Perpetual in 2010/2011 with pink gold version, its retail price was €85,000. However; the next year, Lange increased the prices throughout the catalogue by a huge margin and Datograph Perpetual asking price went up to €94,600 in only one year. Today, the second generation Datograph Perpetual retails for €127,500 or $143,500. To put in persepctive, more than the original platinum’s 2011 price. Unfortunately for Lange, or fortunately for us enthusiasts, the second market prices did not follow such huge jumps.
For first generation, a quick search reveals that the platinum variant is currently (10/2020) available for around $75k to 80k whereas the white gold is asking a considerable premium or asking the same due to its extreme rarity.
Reference 410.025 with regular leather strap has appeared 18 times in auctions since 2009. Excluding three statistically irrelevant prices (above $95k) the average price is around $75k. On the contrary, 410.030 has never appeared at auctions.
The second generation Datograph Perpetual watches perform relatively better compared to first generation and can be found for sale around $90 – 95k in the second market. However, I do not see any reason other than taste to get a pre-owned second generation Datograph Perpetual and pay a premium over the much rarer first generation. Because as mentioned, the change between generations is nothing but visual.
All in all, as the numbers demonstrate the Datograph collection stands as an exceptional value purchase both in retail and the second market – even more so in competition. Although it all comes down to taste; the watchmaking and craft one gets is unrivaled for these pieces – especially in the second market.
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