If you weren’t already keenly aware, steel sport watches that cost as much as gold watches are very much a thing. It’s just that nobody saw one coming from the typically traditional and formal German brand A. Lange & Söhne when it recently released its new Odysseus. Expectedly, it’s proven controversial.
The most iconic examples of such steel luxury sport watches, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, were both designed in the 1970s by one Gerald Genta. Since then, brands have tried to replicate that undeniable mojo with their own entrances into this niche but important category — with varying degrees of success. Examples that come easily to mind are Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas, Piaget’s Polo S, Girard Perregaux’s Laureato, and Chopard’s recent Alpine Eagle.
The new Odysseus from A. Lange & Söhne might not perfectly fit the broad term “sport watch.” After all, it wasn’t designed for a specific activity, and the brand itself carefully says that it’s a “casual watch” rather than a “sport watch.” Fair enough.
Fans, however, saw the relatively sporty Odysseus as potential competition for watches like the Royal Oak and Nautilus. And they also saw it as something of a departure for the brand known for its formally styled, traditionally finished, and mostly leather-strapped watches.
A. Lange & Söhne is among high-end brands that make watches almost exclusively in precious metals. As is the case with, say, Patek Phillipe watches, this means that collectors often disproportionately value the relativdely rare steel models for their novelty.
Like Patek’s Nautilus, the Odysseus stands out among A. Lange & Söhne’s collections for being serially produced in steel. It’s also Lange’s most water-resistant watch to date, with a screw-down crown and a rating of 100m, which means it’s suitable for swimming. It’s understandable that some have mistaken it for a “sport watch.”
Another element that characterizes watches like the Royal Oak and Nautilus is an integrated steel bracelet. The bracelet here is yet another unusual feature for Lange, but it’s not an “integrated” design in the sense that the case’s lugs will only fit proprietary straps. You could easily put it on a third-party strap.
Lange doesn’t want you to think that the Odysseus is any less representative of its core philosophy and DNA than any other watch it makes. Indeed, characteristic refinement and a range of design cues tie it to other collections, and its movement is hand-finished to the same astonishing degree that all A. Lange & Söhne watches are, from the simplest time-only watch up to the most complicated examples.
A completely new movement also makes the Odysseus notable. It features automatic winding — like a sporty everyday or casual watch should — and large, symmetrical date and day-of-the-week displays.
The brand’s fans and collectors had apparently been calling for a more versatile watch than the delicate and dressy ones that make up the majority of A. Lange & Söhne offerings. The Odysseus seems to offer all this and has a price typical for the brand’s precious metal-cased watches at $28,800.
It can take time for controversial watches like this to sink in, and for the market to make a judgement on them. That was true of the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, as well as A. Lange & Söhne’s own most successful pieces like the Lange 1 and the Zeitwerk. Time will tell if the Odysseus has the magic that made those watches legendary.
Gear Patrol had the chance not only to see the Odysseus in person, but to sit down with A. Lange & Söhne’s CEO Wilhelm Schmid to get his perspective on it.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What were the challenges and inspirations that went into developing the Odysseus?
A: The project is almost as old as the modern company itself, because even Mr. Blümlein [who, along with Walter Lange, revived the company in 1994] worked on concepts, but it took us a lot longer than many other watches before we had the right idea. Let me elaborate a little bit on this. I believe that the success of the Lange 1, the Zeitwerk, the Datograph, or the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds is firstly that there is a high recognition value. You’ll spot a Lange 1 from a distance because there is no other watch like it.
But these distinctive watch face designs don’t fall from a tree. You have to have an idea, and then you have to work with the idea. We had a rough concept by around 2013 or 2014, but it was probably another year before our designer was able to realize it. Then, construction started on the movement to accommodate the ideas.
Q: Did the sport watch idea come first or did it follow other design concepts?
A: It’s not a “sport watch.” I know, it’s always difficult to describe the Odysseus’s category. For me, a sport watch is a purpose watch like a diver or a pilot’s watch — watches made for doing sports or demanding activities.
The reason for us to develop the Odysseus was that a lot of customers said that they wear our watches throughout the year, but often not when relaxing with family on weekends or holidays, and that’s the most precious time. I don’t believe that is because of the gold or platinum cases; it’s more the alligator leather straps that stop them from wearing it when they go to the local pubs, to the pool or beach with the kids, skiing, or just hang around in hot, humid climates. You don’t want to go with that sort of watch to the beach.
You can call it a “sporty” watch, but it’s actually a watch for the most precious times we have: weekends, free time, when we do things a little less organized and planned than throughout the week. Yes, you can call it a “casual” watch.
“You can call it a “sporty” watch, but it’s actually a watch for the most precious times we have: weekends, free time, when we do things a little less organized and planned than throughout the week. Yes, you can call it a ‘casual’ watch.”
Q: Who is the Odysseus for? What does the profile of the target consumer look like?
A: It’s the same target group we address with our other watches. Again, we removed the need to worry about things like the alligator strap or scratching the gold and replaced it with a steel bracelet and case. But all the rest: the hands, the dial the movement, the decoration, the finish…that’s all A. Lange & Söhne, and also the price point is very typical for us.
So I think that it will be a watch for current clients or for people we couldn’t reach in the past because they don’t want a gold watch. You know, there are parts of the world where, even for religious reasons, like in the Middle East, you’re not allowed to wear gold, especially pink gold or yellow gold.
Q: Do you see the Odysseus as the first A. Lange & Söhne watch someone might buy?
A: Yes, of course. With the Saxonia Thin, we reached a lot of young, first-time A. Lange & Söhne buyers. I think that the Odysseus will also become a watch that can reach out to these people, but they have to understand how long the backorder list already is and that, because it’s an A. Lange & Söhne watch, it’s impossible for us to just ramp up production and produce more watches. So a little bit of patience is requested.
Q: What reactions have you seen to the Odysseus from collectors, from retailers, from the media?
A: It’s polarizing. But that is what we hoped for, to be honest. As much as we all want to be liked by everybody, if something is beautiful at the first glance, it’s also not of any longevity, and six months down the road nobody is interested anymore. It created a big discussion, a controversial discussion; people liked it, people didn’t like it.
What we realized is that quite a few people who came with the intention to not like the watch changed their mind after they put it around their wrist. I’m not saying that counts for everybody, but there’s a huge difference in the reaction between people who have seen the watch in person and those who have only seen it digitally or in print.
“It’s polarizing. But that is what we hoped for, to be honest…It created a big discussion, a controversial discussion; people liked it, people didn’t like it.”
Q: What can you share about how the collection might expand in the future? Will it evolve more in a sporty direction or more in the direction of complications and precious metals?
A: I can share that it will be a family, but I always focus on what I just launched and not what I’m going to launch. If you look to the other families, you will see that everything is possible. We won’t restrict ourselves too much, but there’s a clear strategy behind it.
The whole watch, from the push buttons to the bracelet was thought out carefully. If you know the plan is to create a new product family, you have to take that into consideration because a lot of the dial space is occupied by the indications. So anything you want to do in the next 10 years, you better consider now. Otherwise, a retrofit will be very difficult.
“From A to Z it’s the quality they expect from us in the movement, in the finishing, in the design aspects. So I would fight for every every centimeter if somebody told me that the Odysseus is not an A. Lange & Söhne through and through.”
Q: What has your personal experience been in developing the Odysseus?
A: It’s been a really long journey. I’ve now been running the company nine years, and I’ve launched quite a few watches in this time. But I think the Odysseus has by far been the most demanding, challenging, and also controversial watch we’ve launched in my nine years. I have a great team, and there’s a lot of passion that’s gone into this product. I can understand that we don’t meet everybody’s taste; I have to accept it. What I can assure everybody is that from A to Z it’s the quality they expect from us in the movement, in the finishing, in the design aspects. So I would fight for every every centimeter if somebody told me that the Odysseus is not an A. Lange & Söhne through and through.