A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk
The Definitive Guide – June 2020 – Updated Feb. 2023
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 – gems that do not get recognized by many, but solely by true enthusiasts. 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
I always liked to discover the people behind the scenes, as most of the time they’re the true heroes, unfortunately hidden away for the brands’ ambitions. 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.
The first generation 140.029 (left) and the second generation 142.031 (right). Courtesy of Lange Uhren GmbH
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.
Following 13 years of continuous production, the first generation Zeitwerk was retired in 2022. The new generation came in platinum case / rhodium dial and pink gold case / black dial configurations. Interestingly, neither are limited, yet as usual with the brand’s late launches, boutique exclusive.
Design-wise, the Zeitwerk update strongly reminiscing the Lange 1 updated made in 2015. Namely; as much small touches as possible on the dial side to retain the originality, but with a bit of a modern spice. In the new Zeitwerk, we see that the sub-seconds dial is a tad larger, expanded through the german silver periphery. The detail that changes the look however, is the updated font. It is thinner, more defined, leaving much more space to the dial – hence the reason the piece feels a bit larger, despite having the same size.
Note the thinner font, bigger sub-dial, and “MADE IN GERMANY” inscription within the sub-dial. Courtesy of Lange Uhren GmbH
The new Zeitwerk also brings quick-adjuster pusher at 4 o’clock. Thanks to the new arrangement, the hours disc can now be advanced by a pusher, and not only via crown.
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.
Zeitwerk Movements - L043.1 & L043.6
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.
Caliber l043.1 (left) and Caliber L043.6 with modernized look, and updated technics. Source: Lange Uhren GmbH
The new caliber, came with the introduction of the Zeitwerk Date in 2019, doubles in power reserve to 72 hours thanks to its new barrel system, without increasing in size. Just like its dial side, we see a few changes, the biggest departures being the straight remontoire bridge and the sunray finished ratchet wheel.
With the new updates, I can wholeheartedly say that A. Lange & Söhne brought a fresh breath to the signature Zeitwerk collection and I don’t have any doubts that the new collection is going to be as successful.
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.
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.
Concluding Thoughts / Buying a Zeitwerk
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.
For a long time, we saw that the pre-owned Zeitwerk models lingered around $50k, while the retail was at mid $80k. With the growing popularity of the brand, Zeitwerk took a piece of the pie, and as of 2023, we see that the most popular reference (140.029) of the first generation is available around high $60k to $70k. With the new generation MSRP at the north of $100k, I can say that the first generation is an incredible bargain in the secondary market.
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 [email protected]
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