Feature: Nomos vs A. Lange & Söhne
Think of Nomos and think of the German brand that gives you bang for the buck. A few thousand pounds spent with Nomos gets you a substantial list of must-haves and desirables, including minimalist Bauhaus design, supreme build quality and a movement made not by someone else, but by Nomos itself. So, imagine what the brand could do with a much bigger budget? Well, wonder no more, because here is just that, the Nomos Lambda. Should rival luxury German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne be worried?
If German watches are the best kept secret of watchmaking, then Nomos is the best kept secret of German watchmaking. The Germans have been making watches since the 1760s—that’s some 30 years before the Swiss properly industrialised watchmaking—brands like Laco, Stowa, Junghans and of course A. Lange & Söhne carrying the torch for the nation’s contribution to the mechanical arts. The Germans are even credited with the first iteration of the portable clock.
But if there’s one thing that jumps immediately to mind when thinking of German design and engineering, it’s Bauhaus. An art school founded in 1919 that became a design movement, the Bauhaus style emerged following World War One and the rise of liberal expression, entwined with the cultural shift of modernism—that is, the move away from realism and into minimalism.
That’s a lot of ‘isms’, and as far as German watchmaking is concerned it quite simply boils down to the alignment of the Bauhaus movement and the rise of the wristwatch. Just as the old style of art—think traditional, realistic portraits—was on its way out, the pocket watch was too. These were relics of an old world governed by class and status—this post-war era was new, fresh, shocking and exciting.
A. Lange & Söhne and Stowa were the first on the scene with Bauhaus inspired watches, in 1924 and 1927 respectively—but where does Nomos come into this? Founded over half a century later in 1990 after Bauhaus had been and gone, Nomos emerged around the end of the Cold War, just after the fall of the Berlin wall. Like Bauhaus, it was established as a breath of fresh air, recalling a period of similar optimism that seemed like such a long, long time ago.
And while many of the original German manufacturers were still in production, most were struggling. A. Lange & Söhne, having only just been released from nationalisation the same year as the inception of Nomos, would not produce another watch until four years later.
Nomos took the opportunity to bring back Bauhaus and bring it back properly. This meant earning the coveted ‘Glashütte’ standard—that’s where watchmakers in the German watchmaking region of Glashütte must produce at least 50% of its calibres locally. Nomos surpassed that, bringing that number up to 95%. Modern, automated technology pulls the cost down, with the final touches executed by hand to keep the quality up.
That brings us to the Lambda. This, new, costs just under £15,000, some ten or so times more expensive than its entry-level Club, and when those entry-level watches are as impressive as they are, that can only mean one thing: the Lambda is going to be one extraordinary watch.
As far as David and Goliath matchups go, pitting the Nomos against A. Lange & Söhne’s £50,000 Grand Lange 1 is more akin to a deathmatch between Goliath’s bigger brother and David’s pet chihuahua. Nomos makes good—excellent—watches, but A. Lange & Söhne’s league is so far removed, it’s playing a different sport.
Well, that would be the case normally, but this isn’t normally. This is the Lambda, a ground-up effort by Nomos to take the fight to the big guns—namely A. Lange & Söhne. It’s all very well and good charging £14,800 for a watch, but what exactly is the Lambda bringing to the table to justify its proportionally enormous cost?
Well, I’m glad you asked, because it’s well worth looking at. Alongside the white gold case, the focus here is the DUW 1001 calibre, a twin barrel, 84-hour manually wound movement. It gets the full, top-end German treatment, with a striped three-quarter plate, swan neck regulated screwed balance and an engraved balance cock—and we’ve barely even got started.
Where the DUW 1001 really earns its crust is in the bits Nomos didn’t need to do but did anyway. For example, back in the day when natural, fragile rubies were used, when precision was more of a challenge, jewels were sat in gold collars called chatons and adjusted manually with a set of screws around the perimeter. Artificial rubies and modern precision has negated the need for all of this extra work—but Nomos has done it anyway, in honour of the tradition and skill involved.
And how about the bevelling, where the fragile corners of the plates are chamfered to prevent the edges breaking away and working their way into the movement? Modern materials preclude this from necessity, and yet it’s been done here anyway—and not by machine, by hand, right the way to the polished finish.
The same could be said of the striping, in an unusual and fetching sunray pattern, and the engraving on the balance, which appropriately reads, ‘Lovingly produced in Glashütte’—it’s all done by hand. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s just as true of the A. Lange & Söhne—except the ‘Lovingly produced in Glashütte’ bit, of course.
But can the Bauhaus minimalism of the Lambda really hold a candle to the might of a £50,000 A. Lange & Söhne? To the average person on the street, probably yes. It’s only with a loupe that the superiority of A. Lange & Söhne’s watchmaking really makes itself known; details are crisper, more polished, more refined. Where the calibre DUW 1001 glistens, A. Lange & Söhne L095.1 shines; it’s almost like the Nomos is a little out of focus by comparison.
Nomos has certainly achieved what it set out to with the Lambda, offering true handmade German watchmaking—but at a cost. This Grand Lange 1 may be £50,000 in platinum, but the slightly smaller Lange 1 in white gold is almost half that at £27,000, and when you lose the running seconds, big date and power reserve, an entry level A. Lange & Söhne will actually leave you with change compared to the Lambda—but still with the outright quality you’d get from the £50,000 Grande Lange 1.
This doesn’t mean that Nomos shouldn’t have made the Lambda; quite the opposite. The Lambda is everything that watchmaking should be about, pursuing the ultimate, chasing perfection. For a company that cut its teeth making affordable watches with prices that belie their specification, the lack of restraint in a project like this shows you what it can really do. That it actually competes not just with A. Lange & Söhne, but with the likes of Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin is truly remarkable. Just imagine what Nomos could do with £50,000 …
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