A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk
The Definitive Guide – June 2020 – 23 min. reading time
Let’s wind our clocks to BZ (Before Zeitwerk) and think how would you define A. Lange & Söhne: Classic? Reserved? Understated? Innovative? Boring? Let me help you here. For purists the brand was utterly traditional and preserver of the fine artistic and engineering heritage of Saxony. English translation for many: It was boring. And to a certain extent this was an accurate identification too.
Lange’s watch families before 2009 were Lange 1, Saxonia (including Datograph – Double Split etc.), 1815 (including Tourbograph) and a time only Richard Lange. Although perfectly characteristic and distinguishable, there was not a bomb so to speak; none was expecting anyway. Because as it was perceived, A. Lange & Söhne was a traditional watchmaking manufacturé which belongs to a group that is known for their position against risk taking. As different and original as the icons such as Lange 1 and Datograph, they were rather classic.
It was, however, pointless to expect from Lange to keep rejuvenating the past with the sugar coat of tradition and heritage. Indeed, little known, the claim of traditional manufacture was against the very foundational codes of A. Lange & Söhne. In an interview by Brunner, Günter Blümlein specifically points out Lange’s ties with tradition as follows in 1994:
Brunner: Do you consider the first modern collection by A. Lange & Söhne as a tribute to a great, albeit long ago, past?
Blümlein: Definitely not. The 1994 A. Lange & Söhne wristwatches and all upcoming models are anything but epigones of watchmaking legends. One can only speak of helpful innovation or mechanical sensation. The same applies to the construction of our calibers. It is not our intention to celebrate traditional craftsmanship or to compete for the most complicated clock. One of our goals is watchmaking beauty and perfect craftsmanship. On the other hand, innovations and differentiating design are important parameters for us.
Then in 2009, when the majority of the top brands were relying on trusted and proven designs, Lange stepped on to the stage with the boldest move they have ever taken with something I refer to as the second re-birth of A. Lange & Söhne: The Zeitwerk.
It was not like anything the brand produced before, not even close. It was not following a trend as there was none. It was not something one would expect from such a traditional brand. Many hated, many loved, but none was indifferent. People wrote I have gone from hating to falling in love in two hours; and that was indeed the goal and success. Famous words that every watch enthusiast used at least once in their lifetime losing the DNA were echoing in every GtG or forum discussions, claiming that Lange lost its core. Yet, it was the true reveal of the essence.
In our conversations, Product Development Director then and now Anthony De Haas told me that it was a tough experience referring to critiques from collectors and journalists; this is what you want. Controversy, polarization… Otherwise, it means you did not try hard enough – but also adds that the amount of controversy is surpassed by Odysseus.
De Haas was right. As the famous saying goes Acquired taste is the best taste not after long, many recognized Zeitwerk – and today the collection has its name written next to the icons; Lange 1 and Datograph. The risk handsomely paid off and introduced A. Lange & Söhne to a clientele that was never into the brand before while not alienating the base it already had.
Namely, a saga on Instagram and watch collecting, known for his inimitable taste in shirts and watches, as well as his honest opinions, @santa_laura told me once “I only like Zeitwerk. The rest pretty much look the same to me. Too German in engineering. You don’t want a BMW on your wrist.”
All in all, repeating the tradition was never the intention; yet building on it was. Henceforth, Zeitwerk is just the perfect example on how A. Lange & Söhne merges 150 years of tradition with modernity; without bleeding not even a bit from its character. The article below is intended to be an extensive guide through all Zeitwerk models from 2009 till 2020. Buckle up!
. Lange & Söhne’s watches have always been stealth – watches that do not get recognized by many. Naturally the brand is still very young and needs some more time to get such recognition. On the other hand, it elevates the watches to a status where one can claim they are only for those who know. Zeitwerk, as much daring as it is took this covertness to the next level. It was, and mostly still, is a watch that can only be truly grasped by a seasoned WIS. Looks deceptively simple, Zeitwerk carries a mechanical ingenuity that could not be solved – or not attempted – for more than a century.
The concept of jumping hours / minutes goes way back to the 19th century. It was patented by Josef Pallweber from Austria in the 19th century and granted to IWC as well as several other companies. The Pallweber model produced by IWC towards the end of the 19th century features vertically aligned hours / minutes indications. The vertical design was actually the result of the technical constraints at the time. In Pallweber’s patent application, it is clearly seen that the inventor actually wanted to have horizontal alignment; yet could not realize such execution. Given that, A. Lange & Söhne’s Zeitwerk is the realization of this concept with extreme accuracy and reliability after more than 120 years. An astonishing engineering achievement if nothing else.
The drawings of Pallweber from the US patents office 1880s
always liked the people behind the scenes more, as most of the time they’re the true heroes. The mastermind behind the jumping digital display of Zeitwerk was Jens Schneider – his patent can be read through here. A prototypist of the brand for more than a decade, Mr. Schneider currently works as the product development director of Lang & Heyne.
Since 2009, Zeitwerk collection has vastly expanded. First introduced in four different metals – platinum, yellow gold, white gold and pink gold – it was obvious that the collection was here to stay. The platinum Zeitwerk 140.025 was limited to 200 pieces whereas the rest was in regular production. Although the collection has been a platform mainly for chiming complications, in its 10th anniversary, the line was blessed with Zeitwerk Date.
An Odd Case
The delicate oddities with the Zeitwerk starts from its case. While examining the case, the first thing that immediately strikes is the big crown at 2 o’clock. Such arrangement is a result of the movement architecture that brings Zeitwerk to life, as the balance wheel occupies the usual 3 o’clock position.
Zeitwerk measures 41.9 mm in diameter and a slender (in regard to its complexity) 12.6 mm in thickness. The case architecture and finish are usual A. Lange & Söhne. Teutonic, serious, hefty and uncompromising. It is constructed on three levels being bezel, case band and case back. While the bezel and case back are mirror polished, the case band is brushed both to give a brilliant contrast as well as create a visual illusion to make the watch appear thinner. The lugs, as the brand’s all other watches, are the main differentiators with their signature notched bases as well as complex architecture and finish.
The lugs and the case structure, finish. Iconic.
Please note that the pink gold Zeitwerk models (prior to 2017-2018) feature a fully polished case instead of the usual partly brushed version. A long time Lange collector CR recently chimed on this topic at Watchprosite.com:
“As those who’ve followed Lange know, the brand never brushed the middle section of its rose gold cases until relatively recently. Their RG cases were always completely polished. This was due to concerns about the rose gold alloy’s ability to withstand the same (standard) brushed finishing that Lange used on all of its other cases (YG, WG, PT, HG, SS).
I think the specific concern involved tarnishing/discoloration of the brushed finish over time — that the middle of the rose gold case might eventually look too different from the rest of the case if it were brushed. It always struck me as odd that Lange didn’t see this as a problem that needed to be solved before any products could be released.”
The feeling on the wrist is gratifying. It is heavy, it is there, and one can feel the snap when the remontoir discharges its energy to move the huge discs. Also, thanks to its lug profile, the watch sits very balanced on the wrist without any wobble. It is truly an “experience” that one can only fully appreciate by strapping it on the wrist.
Here, I would like to quote one of the greatest to write about watches – Walt Odets reflects the feeling of Lange watches on the wrist the best. He describes the feeling on his article Purely Personal Musings on a Lange Saxonia as follows:
At 34mm and a slightly thick 8.5 mm or so, it looked like a biscuit and was twice the weight a gold watch its size ought to be. The buckle was twice the weight it ought to be. Even the sapphire back had more gold in it than two solid backs from anyone else.
Zeitwerk - The Dial
There were two intentions while designing the Zeitwerk: Creating a unique face and placing hours and minutes horizontally, as we read. As mentioned, even though the original idea goes back to Pallweber, A. Lange & Söhne is the first to master such execution, overcoming all of its aesthetic and technical challenges. The design is attributed to Nils Bode.
The most striking design element of the deceptively simple dial are the windows – a modern interpretation of the famous 5 Minute Clock in Dresden’s Semper Opera House; made by Ferdinand Adolph Lange and his tutor and then father-in-law Gutkaes in 1841. Zeitwerk is a time travel machine in 41 mms – it is a masterclass on bringing a traditional element from 150 years ago and adapt to modernity.
Here, I would like to quote one of the greatest to write about watches – Walt Odets reflects the feeling of Lange watches on the wrist the best. He describes the feeling on his article Purely Personal Musings on a Lange Saxonia as follows:
Zeitwerk’s dial is split into two equal parts both horizontally and vertically – windows on horizontal axis, whereas the hands and sub-dial circles on vertical. Aptly shaped, bat wing resembling time bridge further accentuates the symmetry and balances the lower and upper halves. The space between the time bridge and the power reserve indication balances the big seconds sub-dial below; further contributes to the overall harmony. The gong shaped spaces on the right and left hand side are obvious, hinting what is to come. In short, Zeitwerk is one of those few watches where the abundant symmetry is not boring at all.
As in car designs, where the front visage forms a distinct face or human expression; due to two big windows, Zeitwerk has a personality that the classical watches do not and cannot reflect. Its design conveys a certain emotion. I see a reserved one; trying to counterbalance the party, hidden on the back side. So that such arrangement creates an illusion as if the watch is gazing back at you.
The ZeitBrücke (time bridge) is made of rhodium plated German silver and brushed against the grainy dial surface. While it is on the dial side, as seen from the photo above, it is actually a part of the mechanism; hence, the reason there is a screw on the left and bearing jewel on the right. Beautifully and purposefully provides the touch of eccentricity needed within this full symmetry. Moreover, such construction helps to keep the movement thinner. Lange designers deserve a round of applause for incorporating a functional part of the movement to the overall aesthetics in such a masterful way; where the part itself becomes the signature element of the watch.
The disc jump is so fast and accurate; one wants to meet with the watchmaker and hand over a medal for the meticulous adjustment – luckily I did but did not give him a medal. If you blink, you lose it and you have to wait for the next minute. What is more fascinating is, this accuracy never fails.
However, nothing in life is perfect; not even Zeitwerk. As apparent from the minute window (to the right), the discs are not sitting on the same level but rather constructed on top of each other; which was one of the main critiques directed towards Zeitwerk. Whether A. Lange & Söhne thought such a fix or was it applicable at all is beyond my knowledge.
As controversial or out of the line as it is; Zeitwerk was immediately recognized by GPHG in 2009 where the model won the Oscars of watchmaking – AIGUILLE D’OR GRAND PRIX. And I can tell that this watch deserves every bit of the prize.
As of May 2020, in less than 30 years of time, A. Lange & Söhne has developed tens of manufacturé calibers. Sometimes they literally invented things as the Triple Split or Cabaret Tourbillon, and sometimes they crafted something so characteristic, distinguished and exquisite it became timeless as Datograph did. In time, people started to assert the brand as a movement maker above all.
Caliber L043.1; introduced in 2009 after years of development is a further proof to such moniker. To me, as its dial, Zeitwerk’s movement – both technically and aesthetically – stands as unique in the ocean of derivative watches and movements. This is the movement you show to your non-watch friends to make them understand what makes these special.
In order to truly grasp the importance of Zeitwerk; we must understand how it actually works.
Taking the photo above as reference; starting from 12 o’clock and going clockwise, we have the mainspring barrel, anchor bridge carrying the constant force mechanism, escapement, balance wheel and the winding gears.
The mainspring barrel provides the power to run the watch. In a common watch with hands, since the hands do not require as much power as huge discs, the barrel houses a regular, rather short and thin mainspring. Zeitwerk on the other hand, carries the thickest mainspring that A. Lange & Söhne produces the strongest torque due to the tremendous amount of power needed by discs. As our favorite comic book Uncle, Ben Parker says, with great power comes great responsibility and the responsibility here is on the shoulders of the remontoir mechanism.
A remontoire (meaning “to wind” in English) is a small secondary source of power, a weight or spring, which runs the timekeeping mechanism and is itself periodically rewound by the timepiece’s main power source, such as a mainspring. The constant force mechanism, delivers equal torque every minute to create that magical disc jump; 1608 times a day.
Before jumping into the explanation below, it is important to understand the following two concepts:
- The power coming from the mainspring is too much for the balance system to handle. Therefore, the constant force escapement releases an optimal portion for the watch to work.
- The third wheel in regular watches sits between the center wheel (minutes hand) and fourth wheel (seconds sub-dial) and arranges the corresponding gear ratio.
As known, Zeitwerk shows the time with three discs – hours, minute units and minute tens. Zeitwerk demands a significant amount of power to snap forward all three discs at the same time, or at least once in every minute for the minutes disc. Remontoire is the mechanism that makes this magic happen precisely in every 60 seconds.
The pretensioned remontoir spring keeps receiving uniform amounts of energy from the mainspring via the centre wheel and the third wheel pinion stores extra power. In this situation, the lower (driving) third wheel is fixed. Meanwhile, the remontoir spring transmits the newly absorbed energy to the upper (driven) third wheel from where it is transferred to the escapement via the rest of the wheel train.
During this, the lower (driving) third wheel is alternately held by two control pinions. Their upper ends are each configured with a blocking disc and a blocking finger that alternately rest against one of the pallet stones of the Y-shaped control lever.
Every 60 seconds, the lower (driving) third wheel is released by the slightly rotating control pinions, and thus generates an energy impulse for switching the disc mechanism. This process is regulated by the control lever with its cyclical pivoting motion derived from the fourth wheel. With the fourth wheel, the eccentric roller on the same arbor rotates once a minute, causing the control lever to move back and forth.
So every minute, the constant force mechanism releases enough energy to move all three discs; but, this creates another problem. Because, only once in every hour the watch needs such energy. So, what to do with the rest? There comes another ingenious solution called windflüge (wind break), a part resembling a revolving door which can be seen beneath the last jewel bearing of the remontoire bridge. The wind break starts to turn upon the tension release and dumps the rest of the energy by using friction – hence completes the marvel taking place every minute.
Moreover, the caliber L043.1 houses only 36 hours of power reserve – and that is again a responsible decision made possible by the Maltese-cross or stop-work system. Here, I’d like to quote from my watchmaker friend Xavier on how:
“Generally, stop-work is used to cut both the top and the bottom of the energy release to gain consistency. You cut the top and bottom extremes of the power to let the mainspring work only in the less variable central part of the reserve.
A little-known fact, the same mechanism is also present at the first generation Datograph models.
Apart from such mind-blowing technicality, what are things that make an A. Lange & Söhne caliber extraordinary?
Enter: movement architecture and exemplary finish.
The movement measures 33.6 mm in diameter and comprises 415 parts. Within this small area, one can find a myriad of finishing techniques from perlage to free-hand engraving to mirror polish. Finishing contributes to the overall architecture splendidly. For example, the plates next to the remontoir bridge do not feature the usual bevels or circumferential polish to put the stage light on the bridge itself. All in all, the caliber L043.1 – as most other Lange movements are, an example of movement architecture and finish.
One note here: If you check out some Zeitwerk reviews, you are going to see claims such as all the steel parts of the Zeitwerk is black polished – which is simply not correct. Only the Maltese cross and escape wheel cap features flat polish; which slightly resembles the black polish. Such technique is simply not feasible to apply to relatively mass-produced watches, therefore not present in Zeitwerk. The only watch with a surprising amount of black polish on steel parts is the Grand Complication – retails for €1.92 million.
Pre-Arming of the Zeitwerk Discs
It is pretty common at Lange that the movements receive silent updates throughout their lifetimes. I respect to such a philosophy as they keep making progress and – sorry for the cliché – Never Stand Still. Since its inception, the caliber L043.1 went through two major changes. First one was an update to the balance system which does not create much difference for the user; whereas the second one was the elimination of the pre-arming of the discs; in 2012 and mid 2017 respectively.
The Zeitwerk Lumen is the first model to carry the balance system update. So, it can be said that the update came sometime in 2010 – right after the introduction of the original model. However please note that some watches of the Lumen line feature the old balance system. As Lange does not produce watches consecutively, but based on ordered numbers, one cannot say after which number the update is present.
The second improvement is much related to user experience and much more famous: Elimination of the pre-arming.
For those who are not familiar with the pre-arming; please carefully watch the gif above. You are going to notice a slight move on the minute discs some 5-10 seconds before the actual jump; like a rocket getting ready for launch. Since Zeitwerk’s inception, this caused quite a stir in forums/social media – whether it is a movement defect or not… Consequently, I also asked this question and I heard from the manufacturé executives that this was actually intended (I leave it to your judgement to believe it or not). Nevertheless, the brand eliminated this jump around mid-2017.
After this update, collectors frequently ask the question; can Lange eliminate my Zeitwerk’s pre-arming during service?, and the answer is no. The mechanism requires a substantial change in the movement it is not possible with regular servicing.
Please note that the movement on the left belongs to Zeitwerk Date hence the straight anchor-bridge has nothing to do with the pre-jump solution.
If you would like to fully understand how Lange solved the pre-arming, please read the two following articles in order:
All in all, I am pretty sure someone who is able to buy such a monumental watch is reading this, and I can only tell you one thing: GO! Because, someday A. Lange & Söhne is going to discontinue the Zeitwerk and when that day comes, this watch with no alternative is going to wear the crown. This watch is the second renaissance of A. Lange & Söhne.
Addition for 29.01.2021: According to few A. Lange & Söhne sources, the brand dicontinued the Zeitwerk.
Zeitwerk – The Chiming Section
Designing a product family is an extremely demanding vocation. The designer has to make sure that the watch is going to deliver the pleasing aesthetics and intended character both in basic as well as complicated versions. Zeitwerk in this regard is such an exemplary creation. Although almost no one got it; the brand was apparently giving hints of the upcoming chiming complications (the gong-shaped space next to seconds sub-dial) with the introduction of the first Zeitwerk in 2009.
Two years after the first edition and exceptional Lumen edition in between; A. Lange & Söhne launched their first chiming watch in 2011. As you might be familiar with chiming complications, they are mostly found in classical dress watches and many were expecting from Lange to follow the tradition as well. But; Lange being Lange, their first chiming model arrived in the most unexpected family: Zeitwerk Striking Time. For the first time in any Lange watch, you cannot only see; but also hear the passage of time.
Courtesy of Lange Uhren GmbH
Zeitwerk Striking Time is neither a Sonnerie nor a repeater; however, certainly a respectable achievement as it is a combination of such an important mid-complication with the ingenious and already exceptionally demanding Zeitwerk. And above all, it symbolizes a manufacture’s relentless chase for constant development and I consider myself lucky to witness such an era.
Zeitwerk Striking Time
Introduced in 2011, the Zeitwerk Striking Time is produced in platinum, white gold and pink gold. Among three editions, the platinum (145.025) version was limited to 100 pieces; thus, no longer in production. Whereas the white gold (145.029) was introduced in 2011 and pink gold (145.032) in 2014 with no limitation and as of 2020, both are still in production.
Zeitwerk Striking Time in pink gold. Courtesy of WatchBox
The Zeitwerk Striking Time measures 44.2 mm in diameter and 13.6 mm in thickness. The extra 2.3 mm is needed due to the striking mechanism’s implementation in the design. Please note that the case structure as well as finishing stays true to the original version – only with an addition of the “silence” pusher at 4 o’clock.
On the wrist, as you can expect from a Lange watch, especially of this size; it is hefty, heavy and present. Thanks to its further curved lugs, it hugs the wrist quite well, prevents the wobbling and I would say feels close to the basic Zeitwerk model.
A note: All the chiming Zeitwerk watches measure 44.2 mm in diameter and comes with the same case design and finish.
Coming to the dial side; Zeitwerk Striking Time tremendously preserves the defining symmetry of the collection – with a lot more going on.
From the finish to angles given to hammers and time bridge as well as the screws’ locations to the smallest of details, everything on the Zeitwerk Striking Time’s dial seamlessly blend each other; resulting in a timeless harmony.
The hammers implementation to overall design is flawless. They reside in their similarly shaped cut-outs and fit in naturally. Steel hammers are gracefully black polished on top and beautifully chamfered by hand. At certain angles, they appear half black – half grey, showcasing an irresistible result of the technique. The German Silver time bridge surrounding brightened hammers is brushed, putting more emphasis on the exceptional craftsmanship.
The hammer on the right strikes with a high-tone for every 15 minutes whereas the left chimes with a low-tone for hours. What is exceptional to observe on the dial is the visible pre-cocking of the hammers. Like a living thing, with each minute passing, you can observe the right hammer receives more tension and moves upwards to delight the ears and eyes once again. Staggering.
Moreover, the minutes’ hammer slightly winds itself up with every discharge of the remontoire mechanism and gets ready for the next drop. Observing the hammer’s rise every minute delivers an odd satisfaction. Since you’ve read the article this far, I know you’d understand!
On the back, Zeitwerk Striking Time exhibits its soul; the caliber L043.2 – the second iteration of the basic movement found in Zeitwerk. Since the striking mechanism takes place on the dial side, from the back, the caliber L043.2 is identical to the basic version.
As we already went through the movement’s working principle in the Zeitwerk section; below, the focus is on the striking mechanism of the caliber.
Repeaters and Sonnerie mechanisms are known to be the most demanding complications to assemble and craft for centuries. They are the Mount Everest of horological competence, and only the most accomplished manufactures – watchmakers can bring life to such marvels. Although not a repeater or a sonnerie, Zeitwerk Striking Time’s caliber L043.2 is extremely important for one simple reason: It is an exquisite example of engineering in energy arrangement. We know how much energy the discs require; and now add the hammers on top, powering themselves from the same barrel and the watch still runs within the time keeping standards (it is more strict than COSC) of Lange…
The Striking Mechanism
The diagram above is the reason why the Zeitwerk Striking Time’s caliber has 113 more parts compared to the basic version; 528 in total. The explanation comes from A. Lange & Söhne:
“The striking mechanism of the watch is activated by a three-pronged snail (1). The three prongs control the mechanism of the quarter-hour hammer (2a) on the right-hand side. Below it lies a fourth prong for the hour hammer (2b) on the left-hand side. Powered by the switching impulses of the jumping numerals mechanism, the snail rotates about its own axis by 60 small steps in the course of an hour. During this phase, one of the four prongs deflects its hammer via a lever (3a, 3b), thus tensioning its respective spring. Precisely every quarter-hour and hour, the respective lever crosses over the apex of its prong and allows the spring to trip the hammer against its gong (4a, 4b).”
Following the Striking Time, A. Lange & Söhne launched the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike in honey gold in 2017, with a limitation of 100.
Zeitwerk Decimal Strike
The only technical difference between the Striking Time and the Decimal Strike is the number of prongs (nr.1 in the diagram above) in the snail. Whereas the former has three prongs for 15-30-45 minutes, the latter has five prongs thus chimes at decimal sections. Furthermore, the Decimal Strike’s caliber L043.7 carries an engraved escape wheel cock, in addition to the usual balance cock. The dial side however, is another story. It is Handwerkskunst(ish).
The case is made of honey gold, proprietary alloy of the brand, which was first seen in 2010 with the festivities of the 165th (I know it does not make sense) birth year of the brand. The material is much harder than other gold alloys, and has a distinct hue that is somewhere between pink and yellow gold.
In the standard Zeitwerk models, the time as well as the hammer bridge is brushed, and the hammers are black polished. Decimal Strike however, is much more ornate. Usually reserved for Handwerkskunst collection pieces, the hammer system is thoroughly finished with the tremblagé engraving technique. Resulting in a grainy and frosted look, the technique is applied with a fine, chiseled burin carving into different directions with equal pressure to achieve a complete random and three dimensional appearance. This technique is present on the hammers and hammer bridge; whereas the time bridge is machine frosted.
I like what A. Lange & Söhne did here; because it is not just dressing the watch with a different color and calling it a limited edition – which they have done many times. Instead, they added a real value to the piece both with case material as well as the overall appearance. This helps to distinctly differentiate the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike from its standard correspondents; thus, deservedly carries the “special edition” title.
Zeitwerk Minute Repeater
From its foundation in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, till the 20th century, Glashütte Watch Industry produced and innovated upon a vast array of complications and parts from chronograph to dead-beat seconds to escapement systems; except one: Sonnerie and Minute Repeater systems. Including the famous Grand Complication Nr.42500 calibre from 1902, Lange as well as other brands from the region supplied highly complicated movements from Vallée de Joux, Le Sentier or Le Brassus who already had decades of experience and proven track record to craft the best repeaters, ever.
Fast forward 168 years, A. Lange & Söhne became the first company from Glashütte to craft an in-house grand and petite sonnerie wristwatch. Albeit a replica of the aforementioned pocket watch, it was a tremendous learning for the brand and a signal for what was actually coming. In 2015, A. Lange & Söhne unveiled the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater – an exceptional combination of the highest order of the watchmaking craft with one of the most ingenious creations of the modern era.
Zeitwerk Minute Repeater in platinum. Courtesy of WatchBox
Before I go on to the watch, I would like to express why I deem it to be a watch to talk about and why it is important other than the watch being the first serially produced minute repeater of the region; hence, Lange.
Lange is a young manufacturé. When the brand was re-born in 1990, it received great help from its sister companies, IWC and JLC as well as Renaud & Papi on design, movement design and human resources to bring the know-how. Founded with such entrepreneurial spirit, it was only a couple years after when they unveiled the legendary Datograph in 1999. But, they did not leave it as it is and they kept improving its movement with minor tweaks. Constructing upon the learnings from L951.1, they built the Double Split in 2004, an unprecedented marvel.
What is important here; we are witnessing a manufacturé’s constant improvement while differentiating themselves in a better way with the goal of creating its own legacy. Set on this; Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is another spot-on example on how the brand keeps learning, trying to do what is undone before and builds its own history and I respect this.
The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is the world’s first minute repeater with jumping hours / minutes numerals. When I asked Tony De Haas on, why haven’t you make a classical minute repeater in an 1815 version the reply I got was the very summary of Lange; everybody has been doing that, why would we?. Indeed it is true, minute repeaters with classic hands and sliders are around for more than a century; so this, a fresh take on the highest echelon of complications is nothing short of remarkable.
The model measures 44.2 mm in diameter and 14.1 mm in thickness. It is a hefty and sometimes uncomfortable watch on the wrist- but, houses quite a magnificence to atone its lack of contentment. The case structure as well as finish is the same with the Zeitwerk Striking Time – only difference being the repeater pusher at 10 o’clock. As opposed to Zeitwerk Striking Time models, gongs are placed alongside the German silver time bridge, thus the black polished hammers face inwards.
The new, 30 limited Zeitwerk Minute Repeater in white gold with the ever popular blue dial. Courtesy of Lange Uhren GmbH
The mantra of the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is; you hear what you see. To make it concrete; for example the time is 7:52 and we read it as seven-fifty-two. In a regular minute repeater, we would hear seven strikes for hours, three double strikes for three quarters, and additional seven strikes. Zeitwerk Minute Repeater however, is a decimal minute repeater. When activated, it strikes seven for hours, five double strikes 10 minutes, then two to complete- hence gives a much better and easier perceivable voice to time.
The Repeater Mechanism
The repeater mechanism sings you the time. In order for it to sing it to you, first it needs to read the time. In Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, each disc is coupled with its respective snail. The job of the snails is to mechanically encode the time. Connected to snails, the racks read through the code and transfer it to hammers.
Seriously following its mantra, Zeitwerk Minute Repeater comes with another ingenious innovation. The repeating sequence can take up to 20 seconds and within this span, the digits might jump. Not in Zeitwerk. Upon pressing the pusher, the remontoir mechanism is blocked via a lever thus preventing the discs from jumping. Only when the sequence ends, the remontoir starts delivering the power and the switching occurs.
Repeaters are extremely fragile complications due to their immensely tight tolerances, they can easily get broken. In order to prevent the user interaction when the repeater is activated, the safety mechanism blocks the crown – saves the owner from a huge bill.
The movement is made of 771 individual components, beats at a traditional 2.5Hz and boasts 36 hours of power reserve. If there is less than 12 hours of power reserve left, the repeater pusher disengages automatically to protect the movement.
To my knowledge, there are two specially trained watchmakers in the Zeitwerk Department who assemble the Minute Repeaters. One of them is a great musician and has an amazing ear. Since the adjustment of the repeater mechanism is extremely important and demanding; perhaps he was chosen just because of this – next to his exceptional watchmaking talent. The assembly of a Zeitwerk Minute Repeater takes over a month and they are in charge of the whole process.
Ironically, Zeitwerk Minute Repeater does all these exceptional things; albeit it lacks a lot in the area that it was intended to be in the first place. Unfortunately, the watch suffers from the sound and chiming sequence perspectives. Moreover, there are unexpected and uneven pauses between notes. Indeed, the watch is utterly exceptional; but there is a big room for improvement. Lange constantly emphasizes perfection; sadly, the minute repeater is far from it.
Zeitwerk is not the first in its field. As mentioned, there was Pallweber a century ago and there were many jumping hours watches in between. While in modern times, it was without a doubt Vianney Halter who kickstarted and advanced such complication with Harry Winston Opus 3; which was a challenge as it took more than a decade to finally get it running. Coupled with this; Zeitwerk is the first in history to house such time display with such precision (jump happens exactly at 60 seconds).
When I look at Zeitwerk, I see more than a watch. I see a courageous act, taking challenges head on, and the embodiment of A. Lange & Söhne’s motto to “Never Stand Still”. I see a 19 year old company, and a relatively big one leaving defining marks on modern watchmaking much more so than the many others. This understanding behind brings out an appreciation beyond beauty and mechanism; which are things that makes Zeitwerk a unique proposition.
If there is something truly unique in the whole A. Lange & Söhne catalogue it is Zeitwerk and I can guarantee that it is a joy to live with.
As always, thank you for your time.
I hope this was a valuable guide for whomever is looking for a Zeitwerk model or just want to learn the details and history of these pieces. If you’d like to chat, sell or buy a Zeitwerk, please kindly reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org
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