The Rebirth of A. Lange & Söhne
The name Lange has been tied to watchmaking and the Saxony area of Germany for centuries. In the 1800s, Ferdinand Aldoph Lange – which is where the “A” in A. Lange & Söhne comes from – began his watchmaking journey under the tutelage of a master watchmaker, Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes. Passed from father to son, the Lange name flourished, before encountering considerable obstacles during the 20th century. The brand got caught up in the turmoil caused by World War One, the financial crash of 1929, World War Two and was finally placed under the rule of the Soviet Union. The company was nationalised for the next 45 years, essentially spelling the end of the A. Lange & Söhne name.
Years later, in 1990, the brand was resuscitated by the great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, Walter, and watch industry veteran, Günter Blümlein. Blümlein, a Nuremberg native who grew up in post-War Germany, had previously overseen the resurgence of IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre. This started the four-year journey that Lange and Blümlein would go on with their small team to bring the company back from the ashes, with the release of their first four models on the 24th October 1994. These innovative models, all of them possessing their own distinctive visual language, are comprised of the Arkade, Saxonia, Tourbillon Pour le Mérite and the Lange 1.
In 1999, A. Lange & Söhne introduced the Datograph, powered by the caliber L951.1. The movement challenged the status quo that had been in place for decades, where high-end manufactures such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet used movements provided by external suppliers. The newly developed caliber combined impressive mechanics with a remarkable aesthetic construction.
The Datograph name is an amalgamation of the words Date and Chronograph, indicating the two key complications of the model. In particular, this Ref. 403.031 was released in 2003, with production seemingly ending in 2005. These are only found with a “METER” dial – although the earlier examples can be identified from the thicker printing on the sub-dial markers. This short run also means that the ref. 403.031 only represents about 10% of all first series Datograph production.
The Dufour Connection
First released in 2003, this rose-gold Ref. 403.031 is also nicknamed the “Dufourgraph”, a playful salute to the watchmaker who wears it. Dufour first saw the piece at the Basel Fair, where he was so impressed by the Datograph that it became the first ever new watch that Dufour bought himself. Commenting on the quality of the movement, he said,
“Take ten movements out of the current range of any contemporary brand, put them next to a Lange movement, and comment honestly on what you see. That is the best way to judge — by examining the truth.”
The movement finishing on this watch, which involves heavily traditional techniques, has also received high praise from Dufour, who is widely considered to be one of the best finishers in the industry.
This Datograph 403.031 features a carefully designed dial, which perfectly balances the different elements throughout. The date and chronograph subdials form an equilateral triangle, with the central point being the pinions in the middle, which hold the hands in place. The applied Roman numerals - at 2, 6 and 10 o'clock - also form a triangle, which subtly reinforced the balance of the overall design.
Dufour's personal Datograph, photographed in his workshop.
The subdials are slightly recessed, with a warm, creamy tone, which contrasts with the stark, black dial. This layering creates a satisfying level of depth, which becomes especially prominent when light hits the dial at different angles. All the indications are printed in white ink, including a tachymeter scale, which follows the circumference of the dial, while the rose-gold accents found throughout the dial add to the piece's warm tone. The A. Lange & Söhne signature is discretely placed at 12 o'clock. The broad hands are lumed, helping with legibility, and leaning into the more contemporary aesthetics of the Datograph.
Measuring 39 mm by 12.8mm, the case is made out of rose-gold, which complements the darker tones of the dial. The case features the brand’s distinctive notched lugs, which are mirror polished and bevelled separately, then attached to the case. The pushers follow the lines of the case, with subtle bevelling used on the edges.
This Datograph 403.031 is powered by the calibre L951.1, which combines a range of impressive technical and aesthetic features. The movement design was produced by Annegret Fleischer, an engineer and movement designer who is still at A. Lange & Söhne.
The calibre features a column wheel, lateral clutch and flyback chronograph movement, combined with a date function. The “flyback” chronograph function allows the stopwatch to be instantaneously restarted for continuous timing, without having to stop, reset, and restart the chronograph.
The architecture of A. Lange and Söhne movements are perhaps their most distinctive feature, with a three-dimensional aspect that is truly unique. Every bridge is ribbed, polished and chamfered, with a hand-engraved balance cock bringing an additional flourish. It is comprised of 405 parts and has an approximate power reserve of 36 hours.
This A. Lange & Söhne Datograph 403.031 comes with its outer sleeve and box, inner wooden box, leather folio, chronograph manual and a Proof of Origin, from the manufacture. It is also accompanied by a bespoke grained strap in taupe, along with its corresponding rose-gold tang buckle and brown alligator strap from A. Lange & Söhne.
If sold within the United Kingdom, this Datograph 403.031 will be subject to 20% VAT.