Launched earlier this year as its new flagship perpetual calendar wristwatch (replacing the venerable Langematik Perpetual), the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar (L1 QP) appears to be a simplified version of the same watch with a tourbillon from 2012.
But it is actually entirely different. Though the L021.3 inside the L1 QP borrows from the architecture of an existing calibre, it has been extensively reengineered and substantially upgraded, as is the norm for Lange. And despite the new mechanics, the L1 QP retains the assuringly familiar face of the Lange 1.
The L1 QP was long awaited for the simple reason that is makes a good idea – a calendar cleverly displayed in the distinctive layout of the Lange 1 dial – far more affordable than it was.
When it was first launched, it was combined with a tourbillon, which lifted the price to well over US$300,000. Now the same calendar layout is available in a watch priced at about US$100,000. That’s still a lot of money, but within the ballpark for a perpetual calendar from a high-end brand. Comparable watches like the recent Patek Philippe ref. 5236P cost about the same.
So price wise, the L1 QP is acceptable, even reasonable value, because it is an excellent perpetual calendar. The display is unique, but strongly functional. The crucial bits of information, namely date and month, are easily readable. Add to that the trademark, asymmetric layout of the Lange 1, and the result is a display that excels in both clarity and style.
Under the dial is the L021.3. In typical Lange style, the movement is elaborately executed from the ground up. Although this is nearly identical to the version with tourbillon, the movements in each are entirely different. Lange instead opted to use the movement of the Lange 1 Daymatic, an unloved model that’s actually more accomplished than its commercial success would imply.
The L021.1 of the Daymatic was reworked extensively to accommodate the calendar mechanism, while also being refined in terms of aesthetics. The resulting L021.3 is an attractive movement, both visually and technically.
The only downside is one common to most complicated Lange watches. The L1 QP is impressively large at almost 42 mm and 12 mm high, which gives it the dimensions of a sports chronograph.
It is thick and heavy, which is often the norm for a complex, expensive timepiece today, but the size means it’s not as easy to wear as something smaller. But the large size is a necessity of the movement.
Lastly, the L1 QP made its debut in two guises – and was available in two guises – a limited edition with a pink-gold dial, along with a regular-production model with a grey dial.
The pink-gold dial is the more attractive of the pair, and also more uncommon, being only the second Lange watch ever to have such a dial. That said, the limited edition swiftly sold out, making choosing between the two a moot point.
At a distance the L1 QP looks like an oversized Lange 1 with a ring framing the dial. Up close, the extra elements for the calendar become visible, but they don’t get in the way. Everything has been smartly integrated into the Lange 1 dial design.
Of course, the layout L1 QP dial is identical to that of the Daymatic, which is a mirror image of the original Lange 1. The mirrored layout actually makes more sense, because the time can be read with the watch partially hidden under a cuff.
The only oddity about the dial design is the leap year indicator at six o’clock. A red “4” indicates a leap year, but it is the only red element on the dial. Though the indicator is small, the colour makes it stand out.
Since the leap year is an unimportant piece of information except when setting the calendar, its prominence doesn’t make sense. Granted, this is only a problem once every four years, but it is easily solved by replacing the red numeral with a symbol in a neutral colour, which will be just as easy to read.
Despite the unconventional and clever display – and sophisticated movement construction – the calendar is in the traditional manner with small pushers recessed into the case sides. That’s the same setup as all other Lange perpetual calendars. Perhaps the next frontier for the brand’s calendars will be a novel setting mechanism.
The case is typically Lange in style. It’s wide at 41.9 mm, but thin by the brand’s standards at 12.1 mm high. In a manner reminiscent of the Datograph, the case does feel slightly bulbous, however, due to the tall, domed bezel.
From Daymatic to perpetual
The origins of the L1 QP can be traced to 2002, when development of the Lange 1 Daymatic began. It took eight years for the Daymatic to reach the market, when it became the first Lange 1 with an automatic movement, the L021.1.
Looking like a mirror image of a traditional, manual-wind Lange 1, the Daymatic established the template for self-winding Lange 1 models with the big date at the top left of the dial. The dial layout set the Daymatic apart, but it was also born of technical necessity – the L021.1 has its crown and barrels positioned close to each other, which allows for a compact winding train and subsequently more space for the automatic winding mechanism.
In 2014, the flagship Lange 1 was made its debut – the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar was powered by the L082.1, a movement loosely based on the L021.1 of the Daymatic but incorporating a discreet tourbillon visible only on the back.
More important was its instantaneous perpetual calendar – arranged to fit the Lange 1 dial layout – making it the “grand complication” in the Lange 1 lineup.
Fast forward to the present day and L1 QP, which is powered by the L021.3 – an amalgamation of the Daymatic’s L021.1 and the perpetual calendar mechanism of the later L082.1.
While appearing similar when in comparison to its predecessors, the new L021.3 is fundamentally different in many ways, different enough it can be considered a new calibre.
Amongst the crucial differences starts with its very foundation: the Daymatic movement was entirely overhauled to create the new calibre. To understand this, we have to break down the construction of the Daymatic movement.
The Daymatic movement was designed to have its centre wheel at nine o’clock on the movement side, which translates to the three o’clock position of the off-centre time display on the dial. From there, the centre wheel travels anti-clockwise to the fourth wheel and escapement that are located at six o’clock.
However, due to the seconds hand being located at six o’clock on the dial, an indirect gear train was required for the seconds, one driven off the fourth wheel of the movement. Generally speaking, putting additional loads on the fourth or escape wheels are avoided when constructing movements, as these are the fastest rotating wheels in a movement with low torque.
Furthermore, an indirectly-driven seconds requires a tension spring, to avoid “stutter” or jerky motion of the seconds hand. This is a necessary evil that adds unwanted friction load to a fast-rotating component of the gear train. All that was inevitable in the L021.1 of the Daymatic, but has been done away with in the new calibre in the L1 QP.
The L021.3 has a revamped gear train with an entirely new layout. Instead of an indirectly-driven seconds, its gear train is now positioned such that the fourth wheel is relocated to five o’clock, which means the fourth wheel directly drives the seconds hand on the dial. This avoids the use of a tension spring, and thus results in a more efficient gear train.
That said, the new layout means a gear train with more wheels. With the centre wheel for the minutes at nine o’clock, a longer gear train snakes it way across the movement to reach the fourth wheel located at five o’clock.
For the gear train to traverse that distance, two extra wheels are incorporated into the going train, shifting the fourth wheel from six o’clock to its final position at five o’clock, which in turn drives the escapement (and seconds hand on the dial). Nevertheless, this remains a more efficient solution than the indirect seconds train found in the Daymatic movement.
Optimising gear train efficiency is a recurring theme in recent Lange calibres. The most notable example of this approach was is the latest-generation, manual-wind Lange 1, equipped with the L121.1 that has an entirely new gear train with a directly-driven seconds hand, unlike the original movement of 1994 that had a conventional movement modified with an indirect train to accommodate the unusual dial layout.
Additionally, the automatic winding mechanism has been revised in the L021.3.
Both the movements in the Lange 1 Daymatic and Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar have an oscillating idler gear that engages the automatic rotor to wind unidirectionally.
The new L021.3 relies on a more attractive solution, both visually and mechanically, of a winding click that is co-axial with the winding wheel, which allows the rotor to wind in one direction but slip in the other – with audible clicks.
Like the Daymatic, the L021.3 has a free-sprung balance oscillating at 3 Hz, or 21,600 beats per hour.
The hairspring is flat – it would have been nice to have an overcoil hairspring given the price of the L1 QP. That could be forgiven due to the additional height an overcoil would require, which might obstruct the rotor, or require an increase in thickness.
And it is worth mentioning the rotor too, which is an elaborate construction made up of three parts. It consists of an outer platinum rim, a central segment in 21K gold that’s been cast with a relief finish, and an inner support arm that is made of ARCAP, a nonferrous copper nickel alloy that’s strong and rigid.
While the rotor design has been kept identical to that of Daymatic movement, it is noticeable that the rotor in the L1 QP (and also some L1 QP with tourbillon) has a coarser grained surface as compared to older Lange automatic movements.
On the plus side, the movement’s finishing has been refined further from that of the Daymatic and even Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. Lange movements are, by and large, magnificently finished, especially for watches produced on a relatively large scale. But the L021.3 demonstrates that Lange continues to do better.
Compared to the movements of the Daymatic and L1 QP Tourbillon, the bridges are more elegantly shaped, with sweeping curves that create more complex outlines.
And importantly, three inward angles are seen visible along the bevelled edges of the bridges – illustrating the additional care and skill dedicated to movement finish that will no doubt please the enthusiast.
The calendar mechanism
While the base movement in the L1 QP started out as the Daymatic calibre, it underwent a significant makeover. On the other hand, much of the perpetual calendar mechanism in the L1 QP remains unchanged from that found in its bigger brother with a tourbillon.
The perpetual calendar mechanism is fundamentally similar to the traditional type known as “grand lever” – which gets its name from the long lever that advances the date one day forward every day at midnight, but is built to automatically advance past the additional days at the end of months shorter than 31 days.
In the case of the L1 QP mechanism, the calendar is enhanced with an instantaneous changeover at midnight. Instead of the calendar indications gradually advancing over a period of time as most calendars do, the indications all change simultaneously within a split second.
That’s driven via a spring-loaded cam that trips and rotates around midnight, which actuates the main calendar lever. This calendar lever serves a few functions: its main purpose is to actuate the grand lever, but it also advances the moon phase and weekday display a notch.
The cleverest innovation of the movement, however, lies in the programming of the months display. Traditional perpetual calendars have a 48-tooth wheel, which has 48 teeth with slots of different heights that are a physical encoding of the varying duration of the 48 months in a leap year cycle of four years.
This 48-tooth wheel interacts with the grand lever to control the arc traversed by the grand lever – a shorter month means the grand lever travels a greater distance every midnight, which results the date advancing a few days for an early date change before the 31st in months with less than 31 days.
The Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar does not use the 48-tooth wheel. Instead, it mechanically encodes the information in the large, peripheral months ring. Hidden under the ring is a long, wave-form track that is “read” by the grand lever – a crest in the wave indicates a full month of 31 days, while a trough represent shorter months of between 28 and 30 days. Elegantly replacing the 48-tooth wheel, the wave-form track takes up less space and reduces the complexity of the complex movement.
Meanwhile, the leap year is encoded within the leap year-indicator wheel itself. A wheel with a single, raised notch is hidden underneath the disc, which reduces the angle of travel of the grand lever, which means February is reduced to 28 days from the usual 29 in a leap year.
Setting it apart from the Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, the new L1 QP has a welcome upgrade despite being a simpler movement overall – the beautiful day and night indicator first found in the Lange 1 Moon Phase.
A relatively minor modification is all that was needed. Because the perpetual calendar mechanism originally had a 24-hour display, the day-night indicator required only two extra wheels to transfer the rotation of the 24-hour pivot at five o’clock to the day-night disc under the moon phase at seven.
Importantly, the addition costs nothing in terms of height – the extra wheels add nothing to the height of the movement as the highest component on the dial is the tens digit of the big date.
The L1 QP is clearly an impressive watch that illustrates Lange’s no-expense spared approach to movement construction. Even though the basis of the movement was an existing calibre, the reworking and refinements made to both the base movement and calendar mechanism are substantial and significant.
Crucially, the aesthetics of the L1 QP work well simply because it is a Lange 1, a great design to begin with.
The L1 QP is clearly one of the top performers in the category of ultra high-end perpetual calendars. And at a bit over US$100,000 for the pink-gold version, the L1 QP is more than fair.
Key facts and price
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar
Ref. 345.033 (pink gold with grey dial)
Ref. 345.056 (white gold with pink gold dial)
Diameter: 41.9 mm
Height: 12.1 mm
Material: 18k white or pink gold
Water resistance: Not available
Functions: Hours, minutes, day of week, day and night, moonphase, and perpetual calendar
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 50 hours
Strap: Crocodile with pin buckle
Limited edition: Pink-gold dial limited to 150 pieces; grey dial regular production
Availability: Starting December at boutiques only
Price: US$104,500 in pink gold; US$116,000 in white gold
For more, visit Alange-soehne.com.
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