Within the world of haute horlogerie, Patek Philippe and A. Lange and Söhne are regarded as two of the most lauded marques. Both companies have garnered significant respect as a result of their adherence to a consistent design philosophy and their unrelenting commitment to quality.
When comparing watches of the caliber produced by these two brands, the distinctions between references lie in the subjective realm, rather than the objective. Patek Philippe and Lange have entirely different watchmaking philosophies: while the latter bears strong German design influence, the former exhibits the elegance of its rich traditional Swiss watchmaking heritage. In an effort to highlight the fundamental differences between these ideologies, we will compare two of the brands’ most popular dress watches — the Patek Philippe Calatrava, and A. Lange and Sohne’s Saxonia Thin.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119
Since its introduction in 1932 in the form of the Reference 96, Patek’s Calatrava has served as the benchmark for the classic dress watch. Simple in design, yet tastefully executed, it brought the finishing quality of the Patek Philippe Grand Complications to an entirely new market segment and customer.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 3919 - IN THE SHOP
After the 96, arguably the most important Calatrava reference is the 3919, unveiled in 1985 in yellow gold. Monumentally, this reference popularized the ‘Clous de Paris’ or ‘hobnail’ bezel. The ‘hobnail’ Calatrava quickly became the face of the Patek Philippe catalog, and influenced the design of many subsequent ‘hobnail’ references.
In the first years of the 21st century, Patek discontinued the 33mm 3919 and replaced it with a larger 36mm reference, the 5119. Overlapping in production with the 5119 before replacing it entirely, the 2004 Reference 5196 abandoned the hobnail bezel and returned to the simple case design of the original Reference 96.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref.5196G - IN THE SHOP
As the 5196 became the maison’s primary Calatrava reference, for several years the ‘hobnail’ Calatrava disappeared from within Patek’s ranks. Many collectors nostalgically longed for a piece that would couple the hobnail bezel of the 3919 with a more modern case construction and diameter. Finally, in 2021, Patek answered with the reference 6119.
The 6119 combines many of the defining characteristics of the Calatrava design language into a single package: The case measures 39mm and features the classic profile of the original Reference 96, but simultaneously incorporates the hobnail bezel of the 3919 and 5119.
Alongside aesthetic priorities, Patek invested heavily in the creation of a brand new movement, the Calibre 30-255 PS, which impresses with 65 hours of power reserve, two mainspring barrels, and a stop-seconds mechanism. The 6119 thus represents a vintage-inspired piece heavily rooted within the historical backdrop of vintage Patek Philippe that simultaneously incorporates the luxuries of modern movement manufacturing and finishing.
The 6119 is undoubtedly a modern Calatrava, more sizable and contemporary in presentation than any of the previous references outlined above — nevertheless, it remains true to the heritage of the famed collection and honors the legacy of the Calatrava in the modern era.
The A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin
Lange was established in the Saxony region of Germany, where it originally constructed elaborate pocket watches for the needs of the railroad. As the company shifted its production to suit the desires of modern collectors by designing wristwatches, it never lost sight of its heritage. To this day, Lange’s pieces are designed with characteristic elements of early pocket watches.
Part of the inaugural run of contemporary Lange pieces released in 1994, the Saxonia has remained a staple of the brand’s collection ever since. Introduced as the Reference 102.001, it has since evolved extensively, receiving a slimmer case profile and refined aesthetics. Throughout this evolution, however, Lange has retained the fundamental aspects of the Saxonia design, including slab-sided, three-piece case construction, welded lugs, and pocket watch inspiration for its stark, teutonic dial design.
Alongside the asymmetrical dial of the famous Lange 1, the Saxonia’s is traditional and reserved, with a typical orientation and classic proportions. Since 1994, Lange has introduced a variety of Saxonia models, adding the Saxonia Thin in 2017 in the form of References 201.033 and 201.027 in rose and white gold, respectively. The Saxonia Thin is minimalist in design — with only two dagger-style hands, small faceted indices, a thin bezel, a cream dial, and a slim profile, it’s as reserved as refined dress watches get.
At 37mm, the Saxonia Thin optimally balances the small case sizes of vintage references with the often massive cases of more contemporary watches, allowing it to remain timeless despite the whims of stylistic trends. On the wrist, it is unimposing, and would likely go unnoticed by the majority of the critical general public.
Ultimately, however, the true intrigue of this timepiece lies with its movement, the Calibre L093.1, which offers 70 hours of power reserve and gorgeous hand finishing. The calibre features anglage, perlage, Glashütte striping, gold cabochons, and a hand-engraved balance cock — appointments that are rivaled by few others, and accentuate the exacting standards of the Glashütte watch industry
Swiss vs. German Design Philosophies
While on the surface it’s easy to gloss over the fine distinctions between simple time-only dress watches, upon close examination, Patek and Lange’s design choices within the 6119 and Saxonia Thin coherently reflect their independent ideologies: whereas the Calatrava is smooth and flowing in its curves, the Saxonia Thin features sheer-sided construction and welded lugs.
While Patek utilizes traditional Swiss movement architecture, Lange’s Calibre L093.1 serves as a tribute to the pocket watch era of Saxony, with a ¾ plate, a pocket watch-style click spring and ratchet wheel, and more. Surprisingly, the minimalist appearance of the Lange allows the piece to present in a more delicate fashion, while the Patek features a stronger presentation: the hobnail bezel of the 6119 steals the focus of the room, where the Lange disappears unnoticed by all but the most discerning onlooker.
Some will gravitate towards the Patek for its more open confidence, while others will appreciate the quietness of the Lange. The Patek is more in line with the modern stylistic shift of the industry towards the larger case sizing and greater wrist presence of sports watches, whereas Lange’s 37mm piece comfortably resides in a more traditional reality, and one that is certainly less contemporary and progressive.
And the Winner Is…
From a 35,000-ft. view, these pieces are very similar — both are high-end wristwatches made to adhere to the most discerning standards of quality and finish. At the micro level, however, each has an entirely distinct identity. Their differences highlight the impact of the finest details on the presentation of watches, and reflect the defining attributes of Swiss and German watchmaking in general. Some prefer the refined elegance of Patek’s flowing Calatrava, while others appreciate Lange’s efficiency of design and bold geometry. One certainly can’t go wrong with either of these pieces — the difficult part is choosing which better suits one’s personality!