The Datograph is famous for its exquisite blend of form and function; it’s a watch that seems to embody horological greatness from both a design perspective and an engineering perspective. With that in mind, today we will examine a particularly rare and downright audacious example, the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph 403.031 Rose Gold “Dufour”.
As you’ve no doubt come to expect from the watches we discuss here on The Collective, the Datograph Ref. 403.031 is a rare watch. It was only made for two years, from 2003 until 2005. Its instantly recognizable rose gold livery states proudly that it’s no ordinary Datograph (is there such a thing?). This first-of-its-kind rose gold Datograph has been nicknamed The “Dufourgraph” by some in the industry because the legendary watchmaker Philippe Dufour proudly owns one, praising it for its movement architecture, its finishing, and its design, and touting it as the best serially made chronograph in existence.
The rose gold of the case may be what first catches your eye about this watch, but more careful examination reveals that the material is carefully interwoven throughout the watch, making a powerful, lustrous visual statement against the deep black dial. The roman numeral indices, the hour, minute, and chronograph second hands, the baton indices, and the strap buckle all share the same soft golden hue.
There are certainly other eye-catching elements beyond the precious metal, however. Take the big date window, for instance, seated at 12 o’clock beneath the A. Lange & Söhne signature and just above the words “DATOGRAPH FLYBACK”. Then there are the subdials below 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock, which are small seconds and the instantaneous 30-minute chronograph totalizer, respectively. To some, these two subdials may throw off the dail’s sense of balanced symmetry by seeming to “droop” rather than sitting squarely at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock as many chronograph subdials do. Still, there’s a lot to be said for this design. For one, it allows for larger, more legible subdials when needing to accommodate a big date complication. As for balance and proportion, it’s actually pretty magnificent—the two subdials balance themselves against the big date at 12 o’clock, creating an equilateral “triangle” with three equal points of visual weight. That big date is a key feature, as much a part of what makes this watch as the chronograph; the name Datograph, after all, is a portmanteau of the word “date” and the word “chronograph.”
If you’re a fan of the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph 403.031 Dufour, or a fan of chronograph complications in general, you probably already know how a flyback chronograph works. Essentially, the flyback function provides an instantaneous chronograph reset without stopping the timing function in its entirety. Among other things, this can be practical for when a series of timed intervals is required (steak timing comes to mind). Without this functionality, you’d have to stop the chronograph, reset it to zero, and then restart, by which time you’d have long been left in the dust by whatever it is your timing.
Underneath that lovely dial is the built-in-house A. Lange & Söhne caliber L951.1 column wheel chronograph movement. This handwound movement is found in the other iterations of the Datograph and is absolutely legendary in its own right. It debuted with the Datograph in 1999, when the idea of prioritizing the creation of in-house movements was a more radical idea than it is today. The movement was designed Lange’s Annegret Fleischer. The challenge of engineering a flyback chronograph with that outsized date and low slung subdials was immense, and Fleischer’s success lead to one of the most heralded calibres ever made. In the meeting of form and function, this was a watch whose form was decided first, and only then did Lange turn to designing its innerworkings. Not only is it functional, however, it is a mechanical triumph in its own right; the snail cam attached to the chronograph minute hand is engaged by a lever that pushes the minute counter forward at the precise instant it passes zero. That kind of precision set a new standard for wristwatch chronographs.
The movement consists of 405 parts. It beats at 18,000 VPH, has 40 jewels, and boasts a power reserve of 36 hours. The movement, which is beautiful not only for its elegant design but for its masterful finishing work, is visible through the large exhibition case back. It features German silver bridges and plates, blued screws, and polished gold chatons.
Philippe Dufour, as mentioned, has passionate praise for the Datograph. This Swiss-born watchmaker is regarded by many as one of—if not the—greatest living watchmaker. Famously, he was the first watchmaker to pull off adding a Grande Sonnerie complication to a wrist watch. His Simplicity watches are also incredibly sought after, both for their masterful engineering and for their brilliant hand finishing. With all that in mind, it says a lot that Dufour purchased one of these rose gold Datographs with his own hard earned money, wearing it proudly on his wrist.
I’ll bet it’d look pretty nice on your wrist, too—agreed?