A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual Pour Le Mérite: Building On Foundations
Growth is, by nature, unsustainable.
Most economists won’t admit it, but every biologist or ecologist knows first-hand that growth is inherently unsustainable: every closed system is limited by its resources, whether it is the amount of edible crops grown in a year or the number of consumers available to purchase the new iPhone.
In business, the worst companies look at growth to be exploited for maximum profits in the shortest amount of time, squeezing every last dollar out of a market before moving on and consuming another. Of course, these companies eventually run out of places to make money and the administrators and shareholders take their profits and run while the company flounders and finally fails.
But growth in business can be quasi-sustainable when ever increasing profits aren’t the biggest motivating factor and quality and natural evolution are. In this way, businesses can slowly grow and evolve to serve their customers better or even find new higher growth markets and leave older slowing growing sectors.
Extreme examples are companies that are currently thriving in industries very different to the ones that they first served – such as Nokia, which originally was a producer of paper products before evolving into a corporation that served forestry, cable, military, rubber, electronics, and finally telecommunication products.
Yet sometimes companies choose to grow one business in one industry slowly, focusing on staying true to their customers and understanding that making great products for a few can vastly outweigh producing products for everyone for maximum profit.
This can also allow a company to innovate and create instead of trying to placate a ravenous market.
In the watch industry it is easy to see that there are companies trying every strategy, and it should come as no surprise that many of my favorites view growth as a side effect of producing great watches.
One of the best examples is A. Lange & Söhne, which consistently produces new watches built upon the foundation it has previously laid. At SIHH 2017 it continued this tradition with evolutions of previous directions, one of the stars being the Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite.
A. Lange & Söhne is extremely well known as one of the classiest brands in Glashütte, making very high-end wristwatches with classically German details.
Utilizing intense dedication to design rules, watchmaking history, and craftsmanship, A. Lange & Söhne evolves slowly by creating timepieces that make sense as follow-ups to previous ideas. The Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite is one such watch and it features enough juicy details to make any ardent collector blush.
So what do we have here?
Well the name should give it away a little bit, but it all starts with the predicate “Pour le Mérite.”
The use of the Pour le Mérite designation signifies to anyone in the know that the timepiece contains a modern fusée and chain, introduced for the first time when the brand was re-launched in 1994 in the Tourbillon Pour le Merite (see Why The A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite Is One Of The Most Historically Important Modern Wristwatches).
The constant force fusée and chain mechanism, while being technically less vital in modern watches, is extremely difficult to construct on such a small scale. The chain alone consists of over 636 individual parts measuring, at most, 0.6 x 0.3 mm.
A. Lange & Söhne has created a niche by producing some amazing pieces powered by this mechanism, which it uses to showcase its extensive watchmaking prowess.
The creation of the chain is probably the most difficult part of the process, but the complicated mechanics inside the fusée cone are more impressive to me. The center of the cone features a bi-directional planetary differential allowing power delivery to continue during winding. This is accomplished thanks to a five-layer gear setup with two layers of twin planetary gears.
The mechanism also has limited range of motion as the beginning and end of the torque curve maximize the flatter part of the mainspring’s torque curve. The result is a limited maximum wind to prevent high balance amplitudes right after winding and low balance amplitudes at the end of the torque curve.
The variation in the middle section of the mainspring is countered by the changing ratio of the cone to the mainspring barrel.
Combinations create opportunities
The Pour le Mérite designation dictates the power delivery, but the various movements are new combinations of complications for each model.
And as A. Lange & Söhne always creates a new movement for a new watch, the Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite is not an exception.
Previous Pour le Mérite watches have also featured tourbillons as well as split-seconds chronographs, but this combines two previous complications into one master movement. The Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite features not only the fusée and chain, tourbillon, and split-seconds chronograph, but also adds the complex perpetual calendar and moon phase to the show.
This is not an easy feat since the displays need to remain extremely legible without being cluttered due to the extra indications and the open window for the tourbillon at 6 o’clock.
The Tourbograph Pour le Mérite’s movement needed to be reworked (from its 2005 predecessor) as the addition of the perpetual calendar needed to be integrated with the Tourbograph’s displays and constructed around the tourbillon.
The interaction of the different mechanisms was considered, and every effort to eliminate mechanical conflicts was taken in addition to keeping the thickness of the movement from growing too large. The entire base caliber was revamped to incorporate the new perpetual calendar and moon phase mechanisms, which created new issues to work through.
One is that the tourbillon, while previously flush with the front of the dial, is now recessed into the movement thanks to the vertical growth from the perpetual calendar. This requires the tourbillon bridge to no longer be flat but shaped like a bow and sunk into the dial.
And this created an opportunity for the watchmakers to do something very few watch brands do: black polish a complex curved surface.
Black polishing is extremely troublesome, tedious, and time consuming, so the application of it is usually limited to very specific flat, not curved, components.
Greubel Forsey has actually made a name for itself tackling this type of polishing, and now the extremely short list of those brave enough to take on the task includes A. Lange & Söhne.
Architecture and style
The Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite is a remarkable watch, not just because it combines five serious complications, but because it does so with such class, and while looking so dang impressive.
Even though the perpetual calendar mechanism is hidden underneath the dial, the rear of the movement with the split-seconds chronograph is entirely visible and finished in typical Lange style. The dial designs are always developed with as much logic and precision as possible, so much so that the dials are iconic in their classiness.
The only downside, as I usually say, is that a large majority of the incredible mechanics are hidden away, only to be seen in press photos and by watchmakers down the line.
I know that skeletonizing watches and creating highly mechanical dials may never be a thing for A. Lange & Söhne, but the Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite is an excellent candidate to expose from the inside out.
Regardless of my mechanical hopes and dreams, I will happily take the piece as it is since the display is balanced, clean, and extremely legible. Basically, for the amount of information being presented, the result is remarkably easy to read.
Most grande complications (I know this doesn’t qualify) suffer from clutter issues due to the necessity to show too much information at once. The Tourbograph Perpetual definitely sidesteps that issue to create a fabulous example of slow, steady, and considered growth.
Because that is really what the Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite represents for A. Lange & Söhne: growth.
As we see more and more brands pumping out half-hearted creations designed to sell more units or simply stay in the news (lest they be forgotten as they work on something worthwhile), A. Lange & Söhne stays the steady course of creating watches that make sense for the brand.
My desires won’t sway the brand to start a whole line of skeleton watches, avant-garde designs, or crazy mechanisms for the sake of mechanisms. I love that about some brands, but for A. Lange & Söhne it doesn’t make sense.
It could pander to fads and trends, but it would only bring about the decline of a great house. The fall of Rome was due to over-expansion as was the fall of thousands of companies in the last century, especially in tech sectors.
The steady growth and creativity exhibited as new combinations are engineered and delivered is proof that when you are doing something right, sometimes the best thing to do is just keep on doing that. I’m excited to see where the next Pour le Mérite goes; I’m sure it will be incredible to say the least.
That leaves the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 9.66 The split-seconds chronograph added to a perpetual calendar and tourbillon is amazing. But when you consider that inside is also a fusée and chain, the package gains a whole new level of wow!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 98.1 » 962.032 m/s2 The amount of lust that any A. Lange & Söhne creates is usually very strong, but the combination of all of these mechanisms takes this one to a pretty high level!
- M.G.R. * 70.1 Breaking 70 is hard to do for a movement in my book, but this one seriously makes a strong case for amazing!
- Added-Functionitis * Severe Perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph, moon phase, and since I like it, a fusée and chain make for one serious case of added-functionitis. I have to recommend prescription strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the Pour le Mérite swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 11.8 Falling down a ravine while exploring the forest! Anyone that likes to stray from the path while hiking will know this possibility. And the result can be very painful. But regardless of what scratches, scrapes, and bruises occur, I’d do it daily for a chance to get one of these on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * How long is a heartbeat?! Most A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Mérite watches are made to fall in love with instantly. And it works. With this one, the DJ and caterer are booked before you can say “Tourbograph Perpetual!”
- Awesome Total * 1,185.9 Add the number of parts in the movement (683) to the number of parts in the chain (636), subtract the caliber number (133.1), and the result stands proud as one serious awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.alange-soehne.com/en/timepieces/1815/tourbograph-perpetual-pour-le-merite.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual Pour le Mérite
Case: 43 x 16.6 mm, platinum
Movement: manually winding Caliber L133.1 with fusée-and-chain transmission and one-minute tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes; split-second chronograph with minute counter, perpetual calendar, moon phase
Limitation: 50 pieces
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Beautiful piece but a real missed opportunity to see the chain in action!? Here’s hoping the next one will have it visable. Stunning piece nonetheless and a brand I love.
This is an interesting watch, but there are some issues.
(1) The rattrapante module in the Double Split has always looked better than the rattranpante module in the Tourbograph (due to the enhanced depth and Datograph-influenced styling). Also, the Double Split has the amazing rattrapante minute counter – this feature is absent from the Tourbograph.
(2) The movement is constructed in such a way that the fusee and chain cannot be seen. Personally, I think that the fusee and chain are actually more interesting than the tourbillon, and I wonder whether there is a way to change the movement design so that the incredible 600+ piece chain is visible. It is notable that the fusee and chain are visible on much cheaper models, e.g. the Richard Lange Pour Le Merite.
(3) Although the polishing of the tourbillon bridge is impressive, the shape of the bridge looks like a technical work-around rather than a pre-planned “feature”. I’m not sure the tourbillon function is really needed in this watch – there is already enough going on. Sometimes, a grand complication can be too grand for its own good.
Personally, if I had this amount of money to spend on Lange watches, I would buy (i) a platinum Double Split; (ii) a rose gold Richard Lange Pour Le Merite; and (iii) a Datograph Perpetual in white gold. You’d still have change to spare, and all the relevant complications would be split between three watches!
Much as I love this watch I would never buy a perpetual calendar that did not display the actual year rather than a 4 year cycle.
Wonderful article Joshua, I really enjoy your quips and similes in these writeups. The effort is apparent, and very appreciated.
While I am not near (re: even in the ballpark) of attaining a Lange of this magnitude, I do find it a bit disconcerting that they didn’t create the PC mechanism to be instantaneously changing. In my (admittedly rudimentary) wis eyes, once a milestone has been achieved by a brand, that milestone should be continued in each successive piece.
What I mean by this, is something like what was accomplished with the Cabaret tourbillon. That was the first Lange with a stop-second tourbillon when the crown was pulled. Future Lange tourbillons all came equipped with this. Once the instant-change PC was introduced with the Lange 1 tourbillon Perpetual, it should be standard-fare for future Lange perpetual calendars to have this as well.
If I am out of line with this, please correct me. I wouldn’t call it laziness in development, but what I come to expect from Lange is perfection. If something COULD be done to make a watch better, it would be done.