A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus: Quill & Pad Team Talk, Strong Opinions After Handling The Already Controversial — And Polarizing — New Steel Lange (With Video)
A. Lange & Söhne has just released what is perhaps the most controversial timepiece of its entire existence: a luxury stainless steel watch with integrated bracelet created specifically for a more active lifestyle. Some term this a luxury sports watch.
This genre is a potential hornet’s nest for this most traditional Saxon brand due in great part to the timing. While clients, collectors, and fans of the brand have been clamoring for just such a watch for decades, A. Lange & Söhne has been hesitant to lean so far outside its own wheelhouse to acquiesce to client wishes.
To get here, the brand needed 12 years from the day it decided to go ahead with the watch and four years from the day a design was finally approved that made the whole team happy. Hence the name Odysseus.
The timing of its arrival, though, is perhaps controversial, as prices for stainless steel sports watches like the Rolex Daytona and Patek Philippe Nautilus skyrocket (see Stainless Steel Patek Philippe Nautilus Market Madness: Thoughts On The Current Market Situation) and various brands continue to introduce new variations on the theme, many outfitted with blue dials.
Certainly, from the outside it may be difficult to understand why the Saxon brand has chosen this particular moment in time to release this new model family, though followers and fans of it understand it immediately: October 24, 2019 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the first modern watches by A. Lange & Söhne (see more about this in The Life And Times Of A. Lange & Söhne Re-Founder Walter Lange). And this brand is always one for traditions.
Our team is particularly well versed in the then and now of this brand – two of us are also owners of A. Lange & Söhne wristwatches – and we decided that a few of our opinions on this new watch needed to be heard.
So please enjoy a candid discussion between four of our team members who have had the pleasure of already seeing this watch in the metal and fully understand its background.
Our panelists are:
Elizabeth Doerr (ED), co-founder of Quill & Pad
GaryG (GG), resident collector at Quill & Pad
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Is the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus a sports watch?
GG: When I saw the watch, the Lange folks called it an “active” piece, and that may be a better description than “sports” – although the screw-down crown with 120-meter water resistance, sporty look of the grey-finished ARCAP and platinum rotor, and full balance bridge for increased shock resistance make this watch at least as sport-capable as it needs to be in my view.
MG: I think the term sports watch has become quite opaque in recent years, and a lot has become lost in translation. Even if you are filthy rich, nobody in their right minds would (or should) wear a watch that costs the equivalent of a good car to activities that could quite easily damage it.
Luxury sports watches at the level of the Odysseus are much more a membership card than a watch you wear to go snowboarding or mountain climbing.
ED: Although, Martin, I was quite surprised when I interviewed professional climber and photographer Cory Richards earlier this year to find out that he took his Vacheron Constantin Overseas mountain climbing on Mount Everest. If the Overseas can take that sort of punishment, I believe the Odysseus could too.
MG: I too think that the Odysseus would stand its ground doing that. It is made of stainless steel, and the Lange team paid special attention to making this movement more shock resistant during development. It is even water resistant to 120 meters, which does make me want to take this watch on a dive.
I do believe that in all honesty we can call the Odysseus a sports watch.
ED: Yes, perhaps it is. But maybe a better description is still “daily wearer.” Even for the other classics in this genre like the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
IS: The Odysseus is definitely not a sports watch in my book. I was expecting that and was disappointed at first glance that it wasn’t a more distinctive-looking sports watch with a new iconoclastic case shape. It’s the horological equivalent of a smart sports jacket, a dress watch you can wear to the office and leave on your wrist over the weekend.
It’s a watch to go on holidays with somewhere exotic with world-class service. It looks like a very smart dress watch at work, with the blue dial taking the formal edge off. But you can get all sweaty on the weekend and simply run it under the tap. The Odysseus is a true seven-days-a-week wristwatch.
What does the Odysseus have over its nearest competitors, the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak?
GG: Why buy this over the others? First of all, it’s something different – a watch in the same brand league that allows you to be distinct from the hordes wearing the other watches. In my opinion it’s also a better built watch overall, particularly in the area of movement finishing.
ED: The fact that it has a brand-new movement with the outstanding finish one expects from A. Lange & Söhne shouldn’t be surprising – but it still is. And for me that would be the biggest reason to buy this timepiece instead of the competition.
IS: The Odysseus’s most important attribute, and the one that will ensure its success, is that it’s a Lange through and through. I don’t know what percentage of Royal Oak/Nautilus/Overseas buyers might consider the Odysseus, but I do know that this is a watch that every existing A. Lange & Söhne collector that can afford it will want. Until now A. Lange & Söhne’s collection was all wristwatches for more formal occasions. I suspect that every Lange lover would want an unpretentious watch they can wear to the most casual occasions. Even the beach.
GG: And for me the most comparable watch line is actually the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, a series that has developed and maintained its own design language based on the Maltese Cross shape.
What sets the Odysseus apart from its competitors?
IS: What sets the Odysseus apart? Just look at that dial: it’s a Lange. It’s so much of a Lange that after handling it for a couple of hours, I felt that it had been in the collection for years and I hadn’t paid attention. The design, execution, and finish are all superb, but you’d be disappointed with anything less. And the steel bracelet is simply sublime.
GG: It’s obviously a Lange watch – if you don’t believe me, take a look at the profile from the 9 o’clock side and it will become obvious. Lange lugs, Lange brushed case band (with just a touch of bright edging), Lange relief engraving on the rear, Lange hands, Lange fonts, Lange large windows (subtly re-shaped but still very much recalling the twin apertures of the Semper Opera clock), Lange screwed chatons, Lange stripes (in a wider, bolder form), Lange engraved balance bridge, and on and on.
At the same time, some new features such as the killer integrated pushers and the adjustable bracelet clasp both look wonderful and function beautifully, making adjustments simple and pleasurable.
MG: I think the Odysseus is the perfect watch to stand out yet at the same time fit in. But I also believe that the movement and the day/date complication are what set it truly apart from the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, giving the Odysseus a unique character. It looks different enough from these watches to carve out a niche of its own, but not enough to make it an outsider.
While all three of these watches are superb, I do think that the Odysseus has the edge when it comes to the movement. Lange’s finish is still the benchmark in the world of haute horlogerie for watches that are made in some kind of volume. Although I am not a particular fan of the bracelet, I do like that it has that integrated look to it, while at the same time it isn’t.
Unlike the Royal Oak and Nautilus, it will be quite easy to fit the Odysseus with an alligator strap or even rubber.
ED: For me it is definitely the movement: Caliber L155.1 is a brand-new development, I dare say something that is probably a bit challenging to offer at this price in the quality that A. Lange & Söhne produces its mechanics with two assemblies, finishing as close to perfect as it gets in serial production, and even a freshly designed shock-resistant balance wheel.
Stainless steel at A. Lange & Söhne: yay or nay?
ED: I will admit when the rumors first started circulating about 12 years ago, the thought of a serial steel watch at Lange slightly horrified me. And I poo-poohed the idea of that rumor being based in truth. Well, 12 years on I find out that that was the starting point for the development of this idea. I guess you could say I’ve had some time to get used to it. But not necessarily being a sports watch wearer myself, I can’t say that the idea overjoyed me.
That being said, I was so pleased to see that A. Lange & Söhne had indeed made its own niche within the luxury sports watch segment with the advent of the Odysseus.
GG: Absolutely yes! This watch has been vaguely rumored in the collector community for a while and I haven’t heard a single grumble from anyone about the precious metal vs. steel issue; in fact, quite the opposite. To me it seems about time!
IS: I think it was clever of A. Lange & Söhne not to have introduced steel cases in the other collections, but to save the metal for this new, smart casual collection. A steel Lange? Finally.
MG: If Lange was a small family firm, I would say nay. But it isn’t. As part of Richemont this brand has an obligation to perform, and nothing boosts sales more than a good, stainless steel sports watch.
We see the same thing among car manufacturers. None of the high-end brands are genuinely interested in making an SUV, but since Porsche showed that they sell in mind-blowing numbers they are all into it simply because it is too good to ignore.
The only thing I would like to stress is that it is all the steel that A. Lange & Söhne needs, and I would be very disappointed if the brand started using this material as part of its regular collection outside of the Odysseus.
Is the the Odysseus’ bracelet as good as it looks?
GG: Other than the Patek Philippe Reference 5085, I’m having trouble thinking of another watch that has an integrated-look bracelet that in reality flares out to the outer edges of the case’s lugs and then notches in to go between the lugs, and I think it’s both clever and attractive. Lange is saying that the bracelet isn’t removable, but those spring bars on the reverse where bracelet meets lugs tell me that it won’t be long before some folks are fitting a leather strap to this one, and I think it will look good.
Another “groovy” bit: the grooves that are part of the quick-adjust mechanism in the buckle that makes fitting a snap. And I found the bracelet very comfortable and smooth on my wrist.
IS: The Odysseus steel bracelet highlights how much thought went into the watch because it has three features I’ve seen individually before, but never all together.
1. The design: the flare in the width of the strap from clasp to lugs is beautifully done, and the shape and finish of each link attenuates the flare.
2. It’s easy to add and remove links at home using two tools that come with the watch if the seven millimeters of fine adjustment isn’t enough. If you lose (or put on) a bit of weight, simply push in on the little circle and slide down as marked by the arrow icon. Do the same on the other side and you can add new links or take them away as desired. It’s a brilliant, extremely easy-to-use system. And for men, you don’t even have to look at the user manual: the “how to” is marked on the links.
3. That adjustable clasp: push the button, slide to perfect length, that’s it. Like the link removal, it’s neat and intuitive.
The bracelet looks good, feels good, is superbly engineered, and has easily adjustable links and clasp.
MG: While I technically find the bracelet superb, visually I am not a fan – for the most part because of the way that it encloses the lugs. To me this looks slightly off, but it also sets this watch apart and allows normal straps to also be attached to the Odysseus.
I also realize that a strap-only sports watch would probably have a hard time being accepted. In that matter I do believe that A. Lange & Söhne made the right choice.
How is the Odysseus in the looks department?
GG: The dial is a homerun. Where to begin? The frosted-look central areas of both the main dial and seconds dial? The light-catching grooved surrounds to both? The silver flange with red numeral 60 that recalls my favorite design detail of the Zeitwerk Date? The bold and visible lumed hands? The curved-edge day and date windows?
I could spend hours just considering the multifaceted applied markers. Even the use of the word “Automatic,” which some might consider objectionable, is to me both in keeping with Lange’s use of descriptive terms like “Doppelfederhaus” on other dials and useful visually in filling the space at the top of the dial.
When it comes to design tasks, I think it’s easy to fall into the Goldilocks problem of either having “too little” or “too much” going on – in my view Lange has landed on “just right” with this watch.
IS: The design is pure, undistilled Lange. The subtle contrasts in the blue dial thanks to the microlined outside part of the dial and the inner frosted section; those lumed hands; the light (and eye-) catching applied hour markers; the flared steel bracelet.
It’s worth noting that the day and date ring are the same blue as the dial, but they can look darker as being set in they get less light.
I like the way that the pushers for the day and date blend smoothly with the case. And the fact that the two pushers each have a very distinctive feel and sound.
Turn it over and it just keeps getting better.
GG: The case with its Lange design cues and added integrated stealth pushers is also a winner for me; the bracelet is consistent with some other Lange bracelet designs from the past and has a “just-right” mix of brushing and bright edges to hold the eye, and even details like the curved release buttons for the clasp reflect real thought.
ED: It is that pusher assembly on the side of the case that is the biggest point of beauty for me. Don’t get me wrong: I love the dial and of course the view through the sapphire crystal case back! But that unique right side of the case with the unbelievable pushers is for me the most unique point of beauty.
Or is it the movement? I can’t decide. (laughs)
IS: And then turn it over and look at that automatic movement: Lange. Lange. Lange. And in typical Teutonic form follows function, this is a watch to be worn on weekends so it’s likelier to get rougher treatment that other models in the brand’s collection. So for the first time there’s an engraved balance bridge instead of A. Lange & Söhne’s hitherto signature balance cock.
MG: Personally, I was taken by the way the Odysseus looked on my wrist. Its design is spot on in every detail, and I find it more attractive than the Nautilus. But, again, that is a very personal opinion. I like it that Lange didn’t go for central seconds, and the day and date windows really add something without taking away the balance of the design.
Again, not the biggest fan of how the bracelet looks, but if I would ever buy this watch I would probably take it off anyway in favor of a nice, blue alligator strap. Yes, I know, it’s like cussing in church, but I am not much of a stainless steel sports watch kind of guy anyway.
Is the Odysseus pricing on par with the market?
GG: At a price of one U.S. dollar per vibration per hour (28,800) it certainly signals an intent to play against Patek Philippe in the big leagues, and a belief that this watch has the content to outshine Audemars Piguet’s and Vacheron Constantin’s entries. As a buyer I was hoping for a number around $23,000 – but I don’t think that €28,000 is unreasonable given what Lange has come up with here: consider for instance that the steel version of Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques Cornes de Vache (admittedly a chronograph) has a listed price of $39,800. And, after all, don’t customers always hope for lower prices?
ED: The fact that it is priced on par with the Nautilus makes me happy because this is more watch than that (sorry!). I am also happy that this watch is not priced as the entry to the A. Lange & Söhne brand just because it is housed in stainless steel. The entry level is formed by the time-only Saxonia in precious metal. All in all, I find the pricing fair.
IS: Is the Odysseus a very expensive watch? At $28,800, the answer is yes. Is the Odysseus an extremely expensive stainless steel cased watch? At $28,800, the answer is yes. And, yet, if we ask if the Odysseus is good value for money or even just competitive with its competition, the answer has to be yes again.
The Odysseus is far too expensive for all but a few, as all Langes are. There are sure to be many who had hoped that Lange would have brought out a more entry-level steel watch. But that’s not Lange (tip: see Jaeger-LeCoultre for that). The Odysseus collection will develop into one that was never intended to sit below or at the knee of Lange’s precious metal collection; it’s a full equal. And the cost simply reflects that (as disappointing as that may be).
MG: This question implies that the pricing of high-end stainless steel sports watches can still be reasonable (see Stainless Steel Patek Philippe Nautilus Market Madness: Thoughts On The Current Market Situation for more on that).
Of course, it isn’t. But that is also not an issue as this is fully accepted by the market. In my opinion the question should be whether the pricing is on par with what the Odysseus offers in relation to its direct competitors. That would be a firm yes from me. When you look at it from that point of view, you see that you get value through the very well-finished movement, well-designed and made dial, intuitive adjustment of the day/date function, a superb bracelet, and 120-meter water resistance.
Is the Odysseus destined to become as much of a classic as the Nautilus or the Royal Oak?
GG: I don’t know! Time will tell, and all that I can say is that it is very much to my personal taste and that it clearly has the underlying quality to launch an enduring sub-line for Lange. I’m really looking forward to bumping into watch design guru Eric Giroud in November in Geneva and getting his take.
I also think that it is really smart of Lange to launch this sixth product family with a single variant of a single reference. The market will speak over time, and I’m sure that Lange will continue to listen carefully and make any needed adjustments to future introductions in this family, increasing the odds of long-term success.
ED: And that is one of the telling factors in my opinion, Gary. The fact that the brand only launched one single reference to start out with. They mean business. They want the spotlight right here, concentrated, shining only on the fact that this watch is finally here, and the consumer can take it or leave it.
MG: Time will tell, but I think that the odds are in favor of A. Lange & Söhne. There will probably be a healthy demand for it right from the start, to the point that the brand cannot keep up with it. This might create a rise in pricing on the secondary market, which always has an interesting effect on desirability as it seems that more people want it just because it’s unavailable.
Whether it will become a classic also depends to some extent on how Lange expands the collection over the years. I think that the day/date complication is a ballsy move and helps in this matter. And I hope Lange continues to not do the obvious.
IS: No. I don’t think there’s a chance that the Odysseus will become a design icon like the Royal Oak and Nautilus for three reasons:
1. It was never intended to be a design icon like the Royal Oak and Nautilus were; it was developed as a Lange to compete in their market sector, not to be a design icon.
2. It’s a Lange. The brand has a passionate following and collector base, but I suspect those are a fraction of the size of Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet’s base. The brand recognition isn’t wide enough to carry even if the watch did reach “iconic” status with Lange aficionados.
3. It’s round. Icons are distinctive. Love them or hate them, you can recognize them from across the room. It’s because iconic watches are so risk-taking distinctive that they become iconic. Most radical, i.e., non-round, watch cases have a very small potential clientele; we are used to round watches, and nearly every other shape has to fight against that. The vast majority lose the fight. But when they get it right, or just get lucky, that eye-catching, unforgettable shape becomes an icon.
Love it or hate it, the Prius is an iconic car because its looks are so polarizing. The Odysseus isn’t the slightest bit polarizing to look at — detractors are upset that it wasn’t what they were expecting or what they were hoping for — and anyone who didn’t know a thing about watches would think it a very nice-looking watch. You can criticize Lange for not taking more of a risk with the case design, but not that they haven’t created a beautiful watch.
And it has an advantage over the Nautilus and Royal Oak: when you are wearing one of those iconic watches, a lot of people recognize them as expensive watches. Okay for the yacht, but less so for the beach. Wearing an Odysseus is like wearing a Philippe Dufour, nobody (but the few of us) knows what it is. It’s an ultimate stealth watch.
Any quibbles about the Odysseus?
GG: That name! I’ve been collecting long enough to own an Odysseus-cased Géographique from Jaeger-LeCoultre, although I may be the only one who has that particular memory of the prior use of this name. More to the point is that the name seems very un-Lange, and if anything it seems to refer to something about Lange and their journey to make this watch rather than to something that buyers will identify with. I’m not a branding creative, but even something simple like “Lange Aktiv” might have done the trick. Then there are the “wave-inspired” engravings on the balance cock – what’s up with watch companies and their need for nautical references on sporty watches?
MG: I too think its name is cheeky, Gary. Odysseus was the one who captured the city of Troy by placing a large, hollow horse filled with his soldiers in front of its gates. You might see this as symbolic of Lange entering the world of high-end sports watches in a similar way, as the brand is of course a bit late to the party . . .
ED: I had not thought of that, Martin, as I had interpreted the name as referring to Odysseus’ decade-long journey home after the Trojan War. I’d also be pretty certain that’s what the makers at Lange were going for: the idea for this watch came one CEO and two Richemont “regimes” ago. I can imagine that there was much back and forth.
GG: As for the watch overall, I’m a big fan. There was one small item I noted about the bracelet fitting that I’m hoping was specific to the prototype and will be resolved in the final production pieces, but otherwise I don’t have much to complain about for once! I am of two minds about whether the rotor should have been left in gold color to add a bit of pop, but not displeased with Lange’s choice of a dark grey finish.
Finally, I’m sure that there will be those who have negative things to say about “yet another” blue-dialed sport watch. I’ll confess that I perhaps would have been interested to see another colorway for the launch of this watch, but the slate blue that Lange is using is a color that I really like and with the visual interest from other dial elements it really pops.
What is it you particularly like about the Odysseus?
ED: I am enamored of the deep thought that has gone into it, which is why the development phase lasted so long. The deep deliberations over every single detail really show, differentiating this watch from the rest of the genre (and the rest of A. Lange & Söhne’s gorgeous collection).
GG: Two things we expect from Lange: quality and coherence. For example, “traditional” Lange practice would have been to have rectangular windows for the day and date; but the subtly curved windows the brand used instead both mirror the case radius and the circular grooves in the outer dial, and tell us that in this detail, as in many others, Lange gave careful thought to coherence and balance. And it oozes quality, from the solid construction to the relief engraving on the rear bezel to the finishing of the movement.
MG: The movement is a home run for me as is the day/date complication. Both look great yet are also crafted with functionality in mind. The dimensions are also spot on, especially the height, which makes it feel very comfortable on the wrist, an aspect that is overlooked by some high-end sports watches.
IS: The Odysseus is a watch I’d love to own and wear. It’s a Lange you can wear to the pub with a t-shirt and jeans. And at the same time its more of a dress watch that complements more formal attire without shouting (even if inadvertently) “LOOK AT ME” like a Nautilus or a Royal Oak. It’s more versatile.
Would you buy it with your own money?
ED: Unfortunately, I am not a sports watch kind of gal, but if I had the wrist for it I would probably indulge!
IS: If I could afford it, I would buy it. In fact, if I had even more money this would be my first Lange. I was disappointed when I first saw the Odysseus because I was expecting a more “iconic,” distinctive case. But the longer I played with it, the more that I felt that it had always been in the Lange collection and I somehow missed it. It mightn’t be what you hoped for but the Odysseus is a superlative easy-to-wear Lange. I wouldn’t take it off.
MG: Definitely not, but that has nothing to do with the watch itself. It does have more to do with the fact that I have never taken a particular liking to high-end, stainless steel sports watches. When I participate in a sport, I rely on watches made by brands such as Seiko, Tissot, and Apple. Otherwise I am far more taken by Lange’s gold-encased creations.
But if I were in the market for such a watch, the Odysseus would probably make it to the top of the list, mainly because its dimensions are just perfect. I love the movement but the cherry on top is the day/date mechanism and the way that Lange incorporated the buttons in the case.
GG: I’ve already made my deposit and am looking forward to delivery!
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus
Case: 40.5 x 11.1 mm, stainless steel with integrated bracelet
Movement: automatic Caliber L155.1 Datomatic, assembled twice, very finely finished, German silver plates and bridges, hand-engraved balance bridge, 50-hour power reserve, in-house balance spring, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; date, weekday