Released in 1999, the Lange & Söhne Datograph is rightfully heralded as one of the most influential chronograph wristwatches to have ever been brought to market. Launched five years after Lange was re-established by Walter Lange, the Datograph culminated in years of laborious research and development. Bearing in mind, this was a period when brands like Rolex, Patek, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and so many other famous watchmakers were still using third-party chronograph movements from brands like Zenith and Lemania. The A. Lange & Sohne Datograph is the watch that sparked the in-house revolution that is still ongoing to this day.
A notoriously tricky movement to design and manufacture, the Datograph's chronograph cal. L951.1 movement symbolized the German watchmaker's triumphant return to the apex of horology. Featuring an innovative fly-back feature and a patented jumping minutes counter, the manual-wind cal. L951.1 was as impressive as a chronograph movement could be. Comprised of 405 hand-finished and polished parts, the cal. L951.1 proudly announced both Lange's intent to challenge the predominantly Swiss horological status quo and their belief in the Datograph as a watch that would perform commercially. A movement as finely finished and complicated as the cal. L951.1 was not cheap to produce.
Hailed by many as the greatest chronograph movement of all time, including the likes of Philippe Dufour who owns one personally, what makes this movement so crazy is just how beautiful it looks. Architecturally, it has an amazing three-dimensionality to it that other chronograph movements lack. With its bridges and plates made out of German silver, the overall tone achieved is much warmer and nicer to look at compared to the often sterile-looking silver-colored Swiss movements. Making a movement is not just about technicality but also about design and proportionality. Topping it off with incredible hand-finished anglage and the classic engraved balance cock, it doesn’t get any better than this.
While the Datograph's movement is certainly iconic, its design has become legendary, and for a good reason. Featuring Lange's signature oversized quick-set date apertures, two panda chronograph subdials found at 4 and 8 o'clock, and a stacked tachymeter scale along its periphery, the Datograph's black dial has become deeply ingrained within its overall look. Furthermore, the round 39mm x 11.8mm platinum case found on first-generation Datographs, like the example I have here, has become the quintessential design for this iconic watch. While other metals have since entered the foray, platinum reigns as the most iconic metal used.
Compounded upon by the beautiful case and dial design, the Datograph's movement, finishing, overall build, and position as the watch that forced so many other high-end watchmakers to begin going in-house has enabled it to become a legendary timepiece. Offered as a complete full set, the first generation example I have here is a true collector’s piece thanks to the profound impact it has had on both horology and Germany’s best watchmaker.