One thing you can say without fear of contradiction of A. Lange & Söhne enthusiasts is that they’re a detail oriented bunch; these are not people who buy watches because the company has charmed a new film star into wandering around with their watches (Lange doesn’t do celebrities) or because a sports team’s agreed to logo the dial (ditto.) No, these are people for whom details matter and as a result what might be considered minor, even unnoticeable, changes to existing models in another context are discussed by A. Lange & Söhne fans with all the seriousness of Burgundy buyers debating the merits of vineyards a paltry few dozen yards apart on otherwise identical hillsides. And like oenophiles, opera buffs, and antique car collectors, Lange fans tend to prefer changes to be incremental if not near-imperceptible (if you think Rolex has the market cornered on somberly considered evolution you haven’t been paying attention to A. Lange & Söhne; one gets the feeling that the alterations to the Datograph were the subject of practically Rilke-esque soul searching and of course real Lange purists wouldn’t have it any other way.)
You might think that of all the Lange models the Saxonias would be the most immune to further tinkering –clean, crisp, beautifully balanced designs, they have always struck us as unimprovable, but damned if the folks in Glashütte didn’t figure out how to do it. Three models are up for a refresh this year: the Saxonia Hand-Wound, the Saxonia Automatic, and the Saxonia Dual Time. The Saxonia Hand-Wound started life as a 34mm watch, then went up to 37mm 7 years ago and has been holding steady there ever since. It’s always been a watch that to some extent, inspires mixed feelings in the Lange line-up –sure, it’s a profoundly classic watch, with all the mass, heft, and sense of exhaustive devotion to quality throughout you’d expect from Lange but at the same time it’s possible, at least at first glance (and maybe second or third) to feel that it’s a bit in the shade of the Lange 1. Ultimately, though, I’ve always felt it stands on its own and even has a certain reserved, even forbidding, charm, that the Lange 1 does not –it’s not an ice queen sexiness (it’s too stolidly German to be confused with Grace Kelly, even if one is a watch and the other a woman) but rather, a construction that provides the pleasure of an especially elegantly constructed mathematical proof; when you get it (as you will if you spend enough time with it) you get the same deep sense of satisfaction that you might from finally understanding Goedel’s incompleteness theorem.
The original Saxonia Hand Wound also had diamond-shaped hour markers, which I’ve rather missed since Lange did away with them; as with the dial of the original Datograph, which had a certain slightly archaic fussiness –a slightly mannered, pedantic, academic air –they gave the 34mm Saxonia personality and if there was an issue with the 2007 Saxonia it was that it could sometimes seem to be erring a bit on the side of being too clean and modern –a bit too much Bauhaus for its own good. The 2015 refresh still presents the same cool face to the world, but it’s come down in size to a (by modern standards) almost aggressively classic size; it’s now exactly 35mm in diameter, which gives it back a lot of the stubbornly archaic charm of the original (after all a big part of the fun of Lange has always been that you could look at some of the details –the screwed down chatons, the engraved balance cock –and imagine a gentleman with a 19th century cavalryman’s moustaches and white watchmaker’s coat peering at you over his loupe and saying, in a slightly pained voice, “But, Mein Herr, zis is ze way ve have always done it.”) The applied dial hour markers are slightly longer on the new Saxonia, and the markers for the minutes track have been slightly extended as well.
The Saxonia Automatic remains a 38.5mm watch, and the Saxonia Dual Time has been reduced slightly in size to 38.5mm as well (from 40mm.) Both watches have had their dials slightly altered in the same way as the Saxonia Hand Wound, and in addition, both the Automatic and the Dual Time now have Arabic numerals at the ten second marks on the seconds subdials; the press release accompanying the announcement reassures us that this was done “in the interest of improved legibility.”
And, indeed, the overall impression is subtly cleaner; the basic geometry of the watches seems to be clearer as well. The changes themselves are minimal but taken together, one can’t help but feel that while the earliest incarnation of A. Lange & Söhne designs had a very 19th century quality –a deliberately archaic sensibility that emphasized, importantly, the origins and essential German nature of the company –the firm is now moving in a more contemporary direction. You’d never accuse A. Lange & Söhne of being modernist, or (god forbid) avant-garde, but these watches have, in their own quiet way, an almost high Art-Deco feel to them; there is all the same careful reductionism, whilst retaining and even underscoring luxury of material and painstaking craft, that one finds in the best Art Deco design. Of course, there is a fine line between creating something that has a cohesive sense of laudable classical restraint, and lapsing into making something generic (and one has to reserve judgement until one’s seen the watches in the metal, of course.) But if, in fact, this is the direction in which design at A. Lange & Söhne will tend, I hope the company continues to inflect purism in design with judicious titrations of good old fashioned Saxon conservativism. At the very least, let Lange’s insistence on serif fonts remain sacrosanct.