The Odysseus Chronograph: How A. Lange & Söhne Sets a New Bar For Self-Winding Chronographs

THM Desk
11 Jan 2024 |
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Placing all wagers on a lone unveiling at Watches and Wonders 2023 is a risky pursuit they say. But when A. Lange & Söhne is playing, they embrace the gamble, going all-in with a single bet.

For sure, there’s instant gratification garnered for an unveiling that falls within the ever-expanding product class of integrated bracelet steel sports watches. But Lange being Lange, their campaigner flourishes in its avoids of Genta and lets us dearly commend the mindset of differentiation that is very deep within the Manufacture.

 A. Lange & Söhne

About Stainless Steel Self-Winding Chronographs

In an age not so distant, the primacy of high-end chronograph movements was confined to noble metal cases strapped with leather. In this critical dimension of materials and aesthetics, Patek announced a paradigm shift, integrating their stainless-steel case timepieces, the 5990/1A - Nautilus and the 5968A - Aquanaut with upscaled self-winding chronographs. Vacheron also launched as part of its renewal of the Overseas collection, a self-winding chronograph caliber 5200, enveloped in steel.

the 5990/1A - Nautilus and the 5968A - Aquanaut
Audemars Piguet followed suit and not so long ago, had their first in-house developed self-winding chronograph engine, the caliber 4401 featured within the stainless-steel confines of its 50th anniversary Royal Oak models. The result, was a tier of chronograph movements elevated beyond the ordinary, yet not reaching the zenith of haute horlogerie sophistication, now encased in robust steel cases.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Notable to mention, we do find a plethora of legendary examples such as the Rolex Daytona, TAG Heuer Carrera, and the Zenith El Primero, all falling within the umbrella of automatic stainless steel chronograph timekeepers. But, despite their legendary status, their mechanics, though robust and reliable, may not get them the praise they deserve. 

Hence, it has been an undisputed struggle to identify a brand manufacturing a steel sports watch equipped with an exceptionally sophisticated chronograph. Enter A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph.

So, after having made a point (hopefully), let's autopsy the Odysseus Chronograph.

A. Lange & Söhne’s First Self-Winding Chronograph

The A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph is no ordinary device. In 2019, Lange unveiled something that would address a much broader crowd, their first stainless-steel sporty elegant watch. Fast forward four years, at Watches and Wonders 2023, the Manufacture introduced their only new watch at the fair, the Odysseus Chronograph.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph
Lange invested six years in perfecting this chronograph's development. So, one can easily deduce that it was meticulously planned well in advance of the launch of the inaugural Odysseus timepiece. Hence, an Odysseus Chronograph was always meant to be.

Lange’s rich heritage of hand-winder chronographs is graced by the grail mechanics of caliber L951.5. This legendary column wheel chronograph with flyback function established the rich dynamics for the very hot precious metal chronographs. So, borrowing the heritage of caliber L951.5 wouldn’t be a crazy guess when talking about an ideal mechanical fit for a new-generation Lange chronograph. But that would be an undermining of A. Lange & Söhne’s expansive innovation prowess.

L156.1 caliber in the Odysseus Chronograph
Thus, the L156.1 caliber in the Odysseus Chronograph with its 516 components, borrows nothing more than a few nomenclatural characters from the L951.5 or even the L155.1 caliber of the original Odysseus.

Caliber L156.1 - A Benchmark for Self-Winding Chronographs

Lange & Söhne has a catalog brimming with almost a dozen in-house chronograph calibers. This is a remarkable feat for a Maison technically reformed in the 90s (compare it to the PP, AP, and VC’s heavy reliance on ebauches). Yet, for the Odysseus Chronograph, Lange preferred a differentiation. Unlike the Maison’s other chronograph mechanisms, the caliber L156.1 has a beautifully decorated central pivot rotor in contrasting hues of 950 platinum.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph

Contrary to the usual dial architecture for the interpretation of timekeeping parameters, the Odysseus Chronograph does away with sub-dial totalizers for tracking elapsed time. The minimalist essence of the original Odysseus is effortlessly translated onto its chronograph sibling with the central minute hand counter installation. It exhibits Lange’s intelligence and the spirit to avoid easy ways out.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph

Although the central minute hand and chronograph seconds counters aren’t a novel inception, the ones on the Odysseus Chronograph can pull out some neat tricks. Their fun little reset mechanism is operated through the dynamic pushers at 2 and 4 o'clock which also double as the day of the week and date adjusters.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph Date adjusters

With the central minute counter, Lange gains an extended range of 60 minutes for the minute measurement whilst its counterparts from PP, AP and VC max out at 30 minutes. The real mastery of mechanics lies in its orchestration of chronograph reset-to-zero action. With the actuation of the 4 o'clock pusher, the minute instantly jumps back to zero (refer to the animation below), the seconds hand however ensues an impressive spectacle. It races with high speed and traverses the entirety of its distance in a mere fraction of a second, completing a full revolution for every elapsed minute. Quite impressive!

There’s more to it.

If the half-hour mark on the minute counter is passed, both hands elegantly sweep clockwise to reset to zero. With lightning speed, the chronograph seconds hand completes a full revolution for each remaining minute, swiftly counting down to the impending full hour.

Understanding both the “how” and “why” of this genius mechanical gyrate is something perplexing to get the hang of.

It’s surprising that we are already in awe of the Odysseus Chronograph without addressing its cardinal focal point, the elaborate finishing along every surface and edge of the caliber L156.1. This movement unequivocally stands as one of the most beautiful self-winding movements.

When Excess of Everything Is Good

Lange has made a habit of over-delivering. The perception of “value” in watchmaking is subjective. For some, the hype is attractive, for many, it is the prospect of resale, but for the discerning, it’s the art of beautifully complicating the traditional. And in that, A. Lange & Söhne is the best.