Understanding A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Up Down
A question that many ponders: What is the best entry to A. Lange & Söhne? Sure, the choice foremost depends on the allocated budget; however, even if the money was not a constraint, what would it be? There are some immediate contenders of course such as Lange 1… Oh, who can argue against a true icon of modern watchmaking… Datograph perhaps – a watch that many deem to be the finest modern chronograph or Zeitwerk etc… However, something is missing with these – the history, heritage, the essence… This is where 1815 Up/Down comes up. For the numerous reasons discussed below, this watch makes a strong case as the best summary of A. Lange & Söhne.
As the name implies the 1815 Up/Down is a part of A. Lange & Söhne’s 1815 collection, which was named after Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s (the founder of the brand) birth year. Herr Lange was a gifted watchmaker indeed, who worked alongside none other than Gutkaes following his graduation from the technical school and was trained by true masters of the craft such as Winnerl and John Arnold during the journey he took towards Switzerland, France and England to further develop his skills.
Following his journey, he returned back to Dresden in 1841 and became partners with his teacher, Gutkaes. However, it was not enough for this young man and at the age of 30, he laid the foundation of what was to become Glashütte Watch Industry. Concordantly, the 1815 collection takes its inspiration from such a man and pays homage to the era’s pocket watches with every detail – 1815 Up/Down is perhaps the best example.
The following article starts with a brief look on 1815 Up/Down and its design inspiration. Further focuses on its dial design and its movement, caliber L942.1. Then continues with an in-depth look at the current generation of the collection, caliber L051.2. Finally finishes with the an overlook to the special editions, the conclusion and the market.
1815 Up/Down takes its inspiration from the patent nr. 9349 acquired by A. Lange & Söhne in 1879. The title description of the patent translates as follows: Device on pocket watches to detect whether the watch is wound up or wound down, or how long it has to run until it is completely out of time. Through its lifetime, A. Lange & Söhne applied this patent to perhaps hundreds of pocket watches, last ones being made in the 1940s with steel cases, far from the 1A quality of the 1890s and 1900s.
Being one of the earliest patents acquired by the brand, it only made sense for modern A. Lange & Söhne to make use of such an important part of the heritage, and what is better than the 1815 collection to do so? Hence, 1815 Up/Down, introduced in 1997 is the first expansion model to grace the revered, traditional line.
In line with the 1990s trend, the first generation had a smaller size at 35.9 mms in diameter and a slender 7.9 mms in thickness. The diameter is the same as the time-only 1815 pieces, with a 0.4 mms increase in heft caused by the power reserve indication mechanism.
The case construction is a classic A. Lange & Söhne – full of witty details that are not apparent at a glance but forms the undeniable Lange character and the noticeable distinction from the Swiss as intended by Blümlein. 1815 Up/Down case is built on three steps being the case back, case band and bezel with alternating polishing and brushing. This brings much needed contrast to the case. Moreover, the brushed section gives that raw metal feeling in between the polished rings, delivers the first step of that famous engineered feeling of the brand’s cases.
Another delightful detail of the 1815 Up/Down, or any other Lange case for that matter is the lugs. A genius touch implemented by Günter Blümlein, Lange watches’ cases feature notched lugs which completes the “constructed” outlook of the pieces – as one of the brand pillars of A. Lange & Söhne. Sides of the lugs are polished and stand against the brushed center very well. Unfortunately, pre-2018 pink gold cases of the brand feature polished case band, hence; lack such distinct image formed by the alternating finish.
The crown is rather small, but fairly proportionate and I have no trouble operating it at all.
The first generation of 1815 Up / Down collection consists of the following references:
- 221.021 – Yellow gold case / argenté dial (1997 – 2008)
- 251.021 – Yellow gold case / yellow gold bracelet (1997- 1998)
- 221.025 – Platinum case / argenté dial (1997 – 2008)
- 251.025 – Platinum case / platinum bracelet (1997 – 1998)
- 221.027 – White gold case / blue dial (1997 – 2001)
- 221.032 – Pink gold case / argenté dial (2001 – 2008)
1815 Up/Down Dial – Tradition At Its Best
1815 Up/Down is a no nonsense watch in every aspect. It is subtle, highly legible, useful and perhaps most importantly, incredibly charming. From the thickness of the fonts used to the abundant white space, the watch delivers a feeling of serenity. 1815 Up/Down is the encapsulation of 175-year history of A. Lange & Söhne in 36 mms.
The 1815 collection is such a strong template, no matter what is added on top, its character is ever present. From the €1.92 million Grand Complication to €15k time only model, a glance is enough to understand that they both belong to the same collection. The collection overall is a masterclass on modernizing a century old design.
The rail-way minute track surrounds the dial and forms border for the closed, subtle design. The rather wide gap between the bezel and the track also contributes to the purity of the dial. Each 5 minute is marked with a thick dot and each 15 minutes is marked with three-dots, a reminiscent of Saxon Floral pattern on the famous porcelains of the region.
Then we have the modernized Arabic numerals, a signature of every 1815 collection watch, thickly printed with the custom font developed by A. Lange & Söhne. As we move towards the center, the dial moves within steps, too. The center part of the dial is a bit recessed, gives a much-needed depth to otherwise plain dial and sub-dials steps-down even further and separate themselves from the rest.
The most distinct detail of the 1815 Up/Down is the lowered sub-dials with power reserve (Auf wound / Ab empty) indication on the left and running seconds on the right. Now, many watch blogs write that this is inspired from the 19th century A. Lange & Söhne pocket watches. However, this is a false statement.
All of the Auf / Ab pocket watches of the brand feature centered sub-dials – and most examples are from the 1940s when Otto Lange gave the final form to the indication. So, the lowered sub-dials of the 1815 Up/Down is just a basic design choice perhaps to give the watch a distinct feel as the most brands tend to center them. This arrangement also led the way to 1815 Moonphase – Emil Lange in 1999, 1815 Sidestep and 1815 Chronograph, too.
I just love the symmetry breaking Gangreserve inscription above the power reserve indication. It reminds me of the Sax-0-Mat on Langematik pieces – a touch that saves the watches from the otherwise monotonous appearance. On the other hand, I love the fact that everything on the dial, from the Gangreserve (power reserve) to Auf / Ab, except the made in Germany at the bottom is written in German. It gives so much of a coherent character to 1815 Auf/Ab. The sub-dials are rather small and cornered, but they do not cut any of the numerals.
While the yellow gold and platinum references carry blued steel hours/minutes hands, the pink gold and white gold references carry pink gold and white gold hours/minutes hands respectively. All editions feature blued power reserve and seconds’ hands.
The harmony between elements is astonishing. It is traditional, but far from boring and carries an essential story from the past. In my opinion, the first generation of 1815 Up/Down is one of the best gateways to A. Lange & Söhne.
Apart from the standard edition covered above, the first generation 1815 Up/Down also had one special edition and it was for none other than Walter Lange. A. Lange & Söhne introduced the model in pink, yellow and white gold in 2006 only through US point of sales. As difference; 1815 Up/Down Homage to Walter Lange watches measure at 37.5 mms in diameter, have a gold ring surrounding the power reserve indication and a hinged, mirror polished case back with Walter Lange’s signature inside. A very special edition indeed.
I’d like to start with the words of Walt Odets on 1815 Up/Down from 1998, hence the caliber L942.1, who is probably the best ever to bless the internet with watch articles. He summarizes this movement as follows:
If traditional German charm, beautiful execution, and robustness in a simple hand-wound watch are to your tastes, you cannot equal the 1815 with a watch from anyone else. If honest, function-driven, contemporary engineering or technical innovation are also important, consider a Lange automatic, the recent Chopard caliber 1.96, or some of the free-sprung caliber 215, 315, or 240-based Pateks. The Lange Up/Down is its own kind of quirky, old-new masterpiece. It is not, however, a contribution to furthering the technical development of the mechanical watch.
As with the 1815 Up/Down’s dial side, its movement is a miniaturized pocket watch from the 19th century. It is as beautiful, charming with superbly executed details in every inch. The caliber L942.1 is based on and visually identical to the 1815’s caliber L941.1 with an additional power reserve mechanism. It beats at 3Hz, houses a power reserve of 45 hours and features a hacking seconds mechanism.
Like all other Lange hand wound movements of the era, L942.1 comes with a three-quarter plate. The function of the plate is to provide a single shelter for the upper pivots of all mechanisms – hence making the caliber more stable. Originally a British invention, Ferdinand Adolph Lange created the final form of the plate in 1864 and since then, it is the defining hallmark of A. Lange & Söhne as well as every manufacture from Germany.
Walt Odets’ comment is truly spot-on. Visually, the caliber L942.1 is an old-new masterpiece. From the gold chatons to hand-engraved balance cock and the overall architecture of the movement, it is almost an exact replica of a pocket watch movement crafted with highest care – and this is exactly why I call the 1815 Up/Down a summary of A. Lange & Söhne’s 175 years of watchmaking in 36 mms. Inside out, it is an extremely coherent watch.
To explain the drawing, once again I am going to quote Mr. Odets:
The upper differential wheel is driven directly by the ratchet wheel. The intermediate wheel transfers power from the barrel to the lower differential wheel. When the watch is wound, the upper differential wheel turns the differential axle counterclockwise. When the watch is running, the mainspring barrel turns the differential axle clockwise. Driven by the differential axle, the power reserve display rises and falls respectively.
The advantage of such construction is that the power reserve mechanism does not require extra space, hence A. Lange & Söhne managed to implement the mechanism to the basic l941.1 without adding much of a thickness.
1815 Up/Down – Second Generation
A. Lange & Söhne discontinued the 35.9 mms 1815 Up/Down collection in 2008 and did not replace it until 2013. When the collection arrived once again, it was completely transformed almost in every aspect – from the dial to the case and mechanism, it was modernized.
There have been many updates in the first half of the 2010s; Datograph Up/Down, Datograph Perpetual, Double Split etc. and all of these watches follow almost the same template – remove what reminds old and complex and bring what is accustomed e.g. Roman Numeral replaced with baton indices…
The same effect is also apparent in the 1815 Up/Down’s second generation. It is an absolutely beautiful and alluring collection, but does it lack the soul the first generation has? It is certainly more proportionate and legible, but not as quirky.
A. Lange & Söhne introduced the updated 1815 Up/Down collection in pink and white gold metals. The differences between the first generation start to show itself from the case. The new 1815 Up/Down measures 39 mms in diameter and 8.7 mms in thickness – 3 mms wider and 0.8 mms thicker than the previous generation. Though the structure is the same as the first generation, the updated 1815 Up/Down carries a stepped bezel. This in return breaks the solid appearance and hides the additional thickness very well.
In order to accompany the bigger dial size and due to the removal of the Gangreserve inscription, the second generation 1815 Up/Down carries much bigger sub-dials. This in return gets them closer both to the center and each other. In return, this takes away from the spacious appearance of the first generation, creates a rather cluttered look. For example, in reference 221.021, the sub-dials’ top edge were still below the center whereas in the new 1815 Up/Down, they go above the center. Also, the “7” and “5” are slightly eaten, too – so things overlap.
All said and done, I do not think none can argue against the temptation of this dial. It is traditional watchmaking done to perfection. The thickness of the print, character of the font, the layers on the dial, concentric circles within sub-dials and those majestic blued hands’ harmony with the dash of red on the power reserve indication are just sublime.
On the other hand, the new 1815 Up/Down shows its biggest update on the movement side. It is still based on the basic 1815 caliber L051.1 but manages to differentiate itself both technically and visually – and in the right way.
The base caliber L051 offers 55 hours of reserve; however, the updated L051.2 thanks to its new barrel and mainspring has an updated reserve of 72 hours. Even though this means that you’re going to use the power reserve indication lesser than the previous generation, it is a profitable trade-off. Also, the new 1815 Up/Down comes with an in-house balance spring and wheel too.
Moreover, since the new caliber offers much more space for the power reserve indication mechanism, the assumption is that the new 1815 Up/Down has a much better display accuracy. Speaking of display, when the power reserve reaches to the end, the seconds’ hand always stops at zero. Another genius detail which reminds me of why I love Lange. When asked why you did this, the answer always comes as because we can.
The caliber L051.2 also brings a great visual departure from its base. 1815 Up/Down is the first watch from the 1815 collection to have an exposed ratchet wheel and click spring – which are usually hidden beneath the plate. I touched upon this subject on the 1815 Time-Only article and discussed: whether A. Lange & Söhne chases the tradition where it is cheap? Because these elements were exposed in all the pocket watches of the past and for me it was (still is) illogical to hide them.
The wheels are beautifully finished and brings so much more attraction to the otherwise plain three-quarter plate. Of course, the plate is striped to perfection as usual and the color harmony between the numerous gold chatons, blued screws and German Silver’s hue is just astonishing.
A final note about the caliber L051.2 is about its winding feeling – which is quite similar to Saxonia Thin, too. It is just not so smooth for some reason. It is possible that A. Lange & Söhne squezzed a longer mainspring inside the same barrel size from the L051.1 and this negatively affects the winding. Though I must say that my impression is only it is not satisfactory within Lange context, not in general comparison.
1815 Up/Down – Wempe, Cellini, Suarez
Apart from its regular production versions, A. Lange & Söhne offered three special editions of the new 1815 Up/Down collection for selected retailers in various regions. In my opinion among this three, Wempe easily takes the crown while the other two suffers from not being special enough as the most special editions since 2015 do.
The first special edition was made for Cellini’s 40th birthyear in 2017, a long-time business partner of A. Lange & Söhne, Cellini is a family-owned and deservedly one of the most famous retailers in North America.
To celebrate this special event, A. Lange & Söhne introduced the 1815 Up/Down Cellini edition (limited to 40 pieces) with a lacquer dial – first time ever for the brand. Moreover, the “40” inscription in the seconds’ sub-dial is printed in red. Apart from the two, the 1815 Up/Down Cellini is the exact copy of white gold reference. Pieces are not individually numbered but inscribed as 40 PCS. on the case back. The 1815 Up/Down Cellini asks for $2k premium over the regular white gold version.
The 1815 Up/Down Suarez Edition arrived was launched in 2018 for the 75th Anniversary of the Jeweler Suarez in Spain. The special edition is an exact copy of the pink gold version with a machine engraved hinged case back, picturing the historical building of the jeweler in Bilbao. The special edition is limited to 20 pieces and asks a €6k premium over the regular pink gold version. Each piece is individually numbered.
The 1815 Up/Down Wempe was launched in 2019 and to me, except Homage to Walter Lange edition, is the best special edition of the collection. It is daring, brings something new and indeed appears as a special edition without requiring you to go into smallest of details to understand that it is different. The references 234.032 and 234.026 were produced in pink and white gold respectively, each metal is limited to 25 pieces and distributed through Wempe stores around the world. Each piece is individually numbered.
1815 Up/Down is traditional German watchmaking done very well. Every detail is meticulously thought off (perhaps except the eaten 7 and 5 in the second generation) and crafted with highest care. All the variations of the line reflect a true character and has a charm of its own.
No matter the generation, 1815 Up/Down can very well be the starting journey to A. Lange & Söhne simply because it houses all the important elements from the past but manages to fuse these with modern touches in every detail. The model is a distillation of the brand, and I can only advise you to go – you’re never going to get bored from it.
Buying an 1815 Up/Down
When launched in 1997, the MSRP for the first generation 1815 Up/Down was around $12k for the gold cases and $17k for the platinum case. In 11 years, this number grew by $5k, a whopping percentage, though kind of an understandable increase in digits.
As of December 2020, the first generation with gold cases can be found around $15k as full set – though they tend to go cheaper at auctions. The platinum (221.025) 1815 Up/Down is a bit harder to come by and usually sells around $20k.
The second generation 1815 Up/Down was launched with a MSRP of $27.4k in 2013 and as of 2020 its retail price is $30.9k. In the secondary market, no matter the metal, the model can be found around $25k easily, and again, a bit lesser at auctions.
An alternative to 1815 Up/Down can be found both at independent and relatively mass production scene. Dornblüth with the new in-house and rose gold movement pieces offers superb value that can rival 1815 Up/Down. Also, Czapek’s Quai Des Bergues with a stunning enamel dial and similar aesthetics worths a look.
On the other hand, moving on the same “tradition” thread, I believe Vacheron Constantin with Triple Calendar is a great bang for a similar buck, too.