The Greatest Watch (Bracelet) Story Ever Told. Spoiler Alert: Lange Datograph Lumen Upgrade, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Okay, I hear you out there: how can any story about a watch bracelet be great, and what makes me so sure that among the pantheon of metal-link wrist-wrapping stories out there this one is the best of all?
Well, you’re about to find out.
I last wrote about . . .
When I last wrote about watch bracelets, it was in the form of an overview of what I consider to be some of the top examples of all time, along with some clunkers, and what makes for an excellent bracelet (see Heavy Metal: Great (And Not So Great) Watch Bracelets).
Prominent on that list were three bracelets made years ago by Wellendorff for A. Lange & Söhne: a friend’s fitted white gold one along with two straight-ended yellow gold examples owned by my pal Robert (aka @thebrokendato) and me, all three featuring classic beads-of-rice links. The fitted bracelets are trickiest as they must fit not only the lug width of the watch but also the curvature of the case – and another dimension or so as well as we shall soon see.
On to our tale
A month or so ago, I heard from new friend “CB,” aka @onlybuyingtime,about his story. As you might expect, this one started with a watch: specifically, the Datograph Lumen that Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, was wearing when CB met him in December of 2018 in New York at a large watch collectors’ gathering and celebration.
As you can see, at that time CB was already a Lange owner – but at that moment he realized that the Datograph Lumen would become, in his words, his “personal Lange Grail! It encompassed the two things that Lange did best: the iconic Datograph movement and its finishing and the incredible Lumen feature.” He decided that it was one watch that he had to have one day for his own.
Time passes . . .
For several months, the Datograph Lumen remained on his mind and well atop his watch wish list. As fate would have it, in the spring of 2019 CB was visiting one of his favorite local jewelers when his salesperson whispered, “Do I have something to show to you!”
Serendipitously, a recent patron had just traded in an unworn platinum Wellendorff bracelet circa 2000, complete with the original tags.
Upon seeing, touching, and immediately falling in love with the bracelet’s precision and beauty, CB quickly concluded that this was a unique opportunity he could not pass up. He immediately decided to purchase the bracelet, put on a full-court press to acquire the Datograph Lumen (ostensibly already fully sold out by this time), and match them up to create his “Piece Unique Lange Grail of all Grails.”
So far, so good! Only evident problem: no watch.
It was another six months of “pleading and begging” with Lange authorized dealers and boutiques before CB’s global search finally unearthed an available, unworn, full set Datograph Lumen, which he immediately snapped up. After several more sleepless nights and anxious weeks, wiring substantial funds overseas and dealing with U.S. import and customs brokers, he finally took delivery in a small, discreet office in lower Manhattan with several very large, well-armed men guarding the door.
Happily, it was just in time to strap on to his wrist and briskly walk the 30 blocks to the A. Lange & Söhne New York boutique’s holiday celebration – where he met pencil-wielding watch drawing whiz Julie Kraulis and saw her work for the first time.
He was blown away by her “sensational, hyper-realistic” technique (as am I), and to commemorate the delivery of his prized watch purchased one of her limited-edition Datograph Up/Down prints.
Watch – check! Bracelet – check! Commemorative graphic – check!
What could possibly go wrong?
If you are a fan of A. Lange & Söhne, or a particularly careful reader, by this time you might have begun to suspect a potential speed bump: the original Datograph (and by extension the Wellendorff bracelet) was based on a 39 mm diameter, whereas the Datograph Up/Down (and Lumen) were in upsized 41 mm cases.
The good news, and CB’s original logic: both watches feature a 20 mm gap between the lugs. The further good news: the curvature of the link adjoining the case was a good enough fit for the Lumen case.
The bad news: upon arriving home later that evening and trying to install the bracelet, our hero found that the location of the spring bar fitment on that final link was not in the same place as the spring bar holes drilled in the Lumen’s lugs. In fact, they were about 1.5 mm off, a distance that no amount of sweating, bending, or searching for thinner or curved spring bars was going to solve.
Let’s be honest: at this point, I’d either have given up or started asking around about the idea of having a casemaker drill a couple of extra spring bar holes in those lugs. Happily for our story, CB is made of sterner stuff and would not risk the integrity of either the watch or bracelet. After two skilled watchmakers and Lange experts, and Wellendorff itself, all told him that they were unable to help, he decided that making new connecting links was his only option. In his own words, “The journey must be completed!”
With a little help from his friends
CB’s best friend, a mechanical engineer, provided much-needed consulting and handholding over the next steps, including the idea of 3D printing the new pair of platinum end links. This led to an introduction to another engineer with contacts on the Lockheed Martin corporate campus and an appointment to meet in February of 2020 for laser scanning of the case and links. On the way, the group took a trip to the local Whole Foods for some early-morning nourishment plus some adhesive plastic wrap to cover the watch for protection – with some masking tape added on for good measure.
Into the laser scanner! Only one hitch: the highly polished platinum surfaces turned out to be too reflective for the scanner to sense, and our intrepid gang had to powder-coat the exposed areas with a water-soluble solution before returning to capture 3D renderings of the end links and case measured to within a one-micron tolerance.
Once the scanning was complete, the team tuned the resulting 3D profiles to ensure that the profiles of the to-be links would properly fit the curvature of the Lumen’s case and the top lines of its lugs. And of course, most importantly, that the spring bar holes would match.
Measuring is one thing; making is quite another. The team considered direct 3D printing the new links in platinum but, based on the difficulty of achieving accurate dimensional control, decided to use a two-step approach with initial 3D printing of prototype links in plastic and more traditional lost wax casting in platinum of the links themselves.
Three different sets of printed links were tested for fit, and one was selected for final casting. On the third try in July 2020, the metallurgy shop delivered a set of platinum links that, in true Goldilocks style, were neither too large nor too small, but just right.
A local New York jeweler provided the final polishing, and in mid-August CB installed the links himself for the first time – with not a hint of trouble.
For those of us who are fans of the Wellendorff/A. Lange & Söhne collaboration, the results are nothing less than fantastic!
It’s one thing to have the good fortune to acquire a beautiful limited timepiece like the Datograph Lumen. But for precious metal bracelet fans like me the ability to make a unique pairing with such a distinctive bracelet puts this one completely over the top. And I have to tip my hat to CB both for his initial dogged pursuit of the watch – and bracelet – of his dreams and the persistence and ingenuity (with the support of his engineer friends) to make the combination work when things didn’t go exactly as he expected.
To cap off his journey, CB recently purchased one more set of mementos for himself and his best friend: graphic letterpress prints of the Datograph Lumen’s movement created by Springs + Gears of Brooklyn, a fully suitable commemoration of a 20-month journey.
I’m sure that both CB and I will welcome your thoughts on his experience, and on your own experiences with watch-related quests, in the Comments section below. In the meantime, happy hunting and wearing!
For more information, please visit www.alange-soehne.com/en/timepieces/datograph-updown-lumen/platinum.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Lumen Reference 405.034
Case: 41 x 13.4 mm, platinum; sapphire crystal front and rear crystals; chronograph pushers at 2 and 4; date adjustment pusher at 10
Dial and hands: German silver dial with semi-transparent sapphire crystal elements; rhodium-plated gold and blued and rhodium-plated steel hands; luminous chronograph seconds, hours, minutes, and power reserve hands; luminous tachymeter chapter ring, subdials, and big date display
Movement: manually wound Caliber L951.7; 60-hour power reserve; 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, and subsidiary seconds; 30-minute flyback chronograph with instantaneously jumping minutes; power reserve; large date
Limitation: 200 watches in platinum
Price: €92,600 in Germany including VAT
Production years: 2018-now
* This article was first published on October 23, 2020 at The Greatest Watch (Bracelet) Story Ever Told. Spoiler Alert: Lange Datograph Lumen Upgrade, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?