Updated: Nov 25, 2020
For those of you who don't spend your weekend reading Hodinkee articles and are just looking for something to read whilst on the toilet after your first working-from-home-coffee, The Holy Trinity is the term given to the three pinnacle brands in Swiss watchmaking, or watchmaking in general for that matter. Since the 1970s Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin have been held in such respect and allure that they are held above the rest in an almost blasphemous regard. Until now there were three main reasons for this. Firstly, they are essentially the longest-running watchmakers in the game. Secondly, they produce the highest quality watches with intricately hand-finished movements using prestigious techniques such as the Cote de Geneve (Geneve Stripes). Finally, a large proportion of these brands' core collections are extremely complicated watches such as Perpetual Calendar Chronographs and Minute Repeaters. In fact, AP and Patek have both, at one point in time, held the title for making the most complicated watch in the world.
The Patek Philippe 5970. Often considered the greatest watch ever made is a Perpetual Calendar Chronograph from one of the longest standing watchmakers in History. Source: Bobswatches.com
However, with the continued growth in popularity of independent as well as already long-standing brands, do these three brands still really stand out from the crowd still?
Well in regard to the age of the brands, these three still hold the prize. Yes, Blancpain and A Lange & Sohne began making watches around the same time, but both of them went through issues that for whatever reason saw them cease production for a number of years to be relaunched at a later date. Blancpain was is, in fact, the oldest surviving watch brand being founded in 1735 but ceased all production after going bust in the 1970s Quartz crisis before being relaunched by Jean Claud Biver in 1983. A Lange & Sohne was founded in 1845 in Glashutte Germany. At the time A Lange & Sohne were one of the main players in the industry until the Soviet occupation of Germany in 1948 lead the German powerhouse to close its doors. It wasn't until the founder's Great-Grandson relaunched the brand in 1990 that A Lange & Sohne began making their astronomic come back. However, concerning the Holy Trinity, AP has been producing top tier time pieces nonstop since 1875, Patek since 1839, and Vacheron since 215BC (1755). In the eyes of the purists, this makes these three the most experienced watchmakers in the industry. The Big Three. The dinosaurs that survived fucking meteors in the form of Japanese battery-powered watches and evolved with the industry to remain on their throne-like the APEX predators.
However, is this where their differentiators end? My argument is that, in today's industry, A Lange & Sohne, in particular, do more than compete with the Holy Trinity brands.
The Stunning Lange 1 Moonphase date achieves peak legibility through thoughtfully and efficiently designing the dial in an unchartered way. Source: Alange & Sohne
For starters, the quality and craftsmanship that goes into ALS is second to none. When you see the case back of the Datograph in person it genuinely draws you in. I took a fairly inexperienced watch person window shopping in Harrods and we stopped off at ALS. After they laid eyes on the movement inside the Datograph with its multilayered construction of thousands of intertwining hand-finished components, you could see the genuine shock and amazement in their eyes like a child at a magic show. When we left the store they told me it actually took their breath away. This was March 2020 so it turns out it was actually Covid-19 that took her breathe away... I am joking calm down. My point is that anyone in the industry would agree that the craftsmanship and finishing are on par if not better than that demonstrated by the Holy Trinity brands. It goes so far that rumour has it, when purchasing certain models in their catalogue, you get the opportunity to fly to the factory in Glasshute and meet the team that made and engraved your watch. What's more, they can even tell you which of their watchmakers did the engraving by the unique style of the finishing.
This is the exhibition case back displaying the Datograph movement. Every single component is hand finished giving each piece a unique personality. Source: A Lange & Sohne
Secondly, ALS's core design mentality is based around taking complicated watches and presenting them in a typically clean, concise, and minimalistic German design. Not only do they have Perpetual Calendar Chronographs, Annual Calendars, Minute Repeaters, and Tourbillons across their production models, they even have the famous Jump Hour watch known as the Zeitwerk. This extremely complicated to make yet beautifully simple to digest movement is one that Patek had once experimented on very limited pieces in the past but do not currently make.
The stunning A Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk which features this exceptionally legible and efficiently executed jump hour complication. Source: A Lange & Sohne
Finally, the direction that AP has taken in the last decade has, in my opinion, diluted their prestige and class. The Holy Trinity was, yes, about the upmost craftsmanship, lineage, and watchmaking mastery but it was also about class and sophistication. Patek, AP, and Vacheron were all the epitome of a sophisticated and classy watch. They were the choice of Royalty and those who exuded a quiet and discrete class. They were never loud, brash timepieces that the average man could spot across the street. AP has chosen a path of large, boastful, loud timepieces that are the choice of horrific mainstream celebrities who simply purchased them to gain status and followers on Instagram. The Queen wears a Patek Philippe whilst Kim Kardashian wears a Royal Oak for fuck sake. AP is like the dickhead son who inherited the family money like his Aristocrat Brothers and Sisters but whom instead of spending it on investible art, real estate, and Philanthropy, spent it on a green Aventador, prostitutes and paying to party with Dan Bilzerian. Meanwhile, ALS is the quiet, hard-working, intelligent, classy German cousin who's impeccable craftmanship and efficient minimal design has won a place at the dinner table with Patek and Vacheron. In fact, I am fairly confident that had ALS not had had the 40-year hiatus, they would likely be universally be considered on par with Patek as well as easily recognisable.
The extremely tasteful and timeless AP 41mm Royal Oak Chrono in frosted steel and purple dial. The Queen can regularly be seen sporting this for official functions...… Source: Audemars Piguet
To conclude, the gap of light between the Holy Trinity brands is diminishing thanks to a sexy, sophisticated German brand that has essentially arisen from the dead. For a while now I have said that ALS has replaced AP as the third brand to the trinity. As per, I am ahead of the curve and shall consistently remind all of those who'll listen as it becomes more widely accepted.
Co-Founder and Editor