No hours and minute hands, but unmissable numerals that jump precisely every 60 seconds. In place of a face with circular time displays, a winged time bridge.
Fusing traditional high watchmaking with a contemporary time display, A. Lange & Sohne’s Zeitwerk looks like the radical youngest sibling of horological aristocrats led by the classically sober Lange 1. But make no mistake. Its roots are as blueblooded as they come: Its design was inspired by the Five-Minute Clock, a clock with a digital display that was co-created by A. Lange & Sohne founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1841.
In 2009, the year it was launched, it bagged the Aiguille d’Or prize at the prestigious annual awards, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve, and has since become one of the grail watches for horology buffs.
Avant-garde yet steeped in classicism, the Zeitwerk family has become a key showcase for the German luxury watch manufacture’s latest complications, as evinced by 2011’s Zeitwerk Striking Time – the company’s first chiming watch.
Now, A. Lange & Sohne unveils the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater. The 44.2mm stunner in platinum is the manufacture’s second minute repeater, following its six-piece limited-edition rand Complication in 2013. Marking the time on demand through mellifluous chiming, the minute repeater is one of haute horlogerie’s most complex – not to mention, beloved – complications.
The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is, true to form, “more than just another classical minute repeater”, says A. Lange & Sohne’s director of product development, Anthony de Haas. He adds: “It is our ambition to surprise the watch world time and again through substantial innovations.”
OF HIGH CALIBRE
Innovative it certainly is. Powered by the 771-part Calibre L.043.5 – a unique movement with one patent and a further five pending – the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater marks the first time that a jumping numerals display has been combined with a decimal minute repeater in a mechanical watch.
A decimal minute repeater differs from a standard minute repeater in the chiming. The former notes the elapsed hours, 10-minute intervals and minutes; the latter, the hours, quarter-hours and minutes. While the decimal repeater is not new, it is uncommon, and makes particular sense when coupled with the Zeitwerk’s numerical time display – and how we tend to think of time in a digital age. (When was the last time you looked at your watch and thought: “2:37 – well, that’s two hours, two quarter-hours and seven minutes”?)
As A. Lange & Sohne CEO Wilhelm Schmid says of the brand’s headliner for 2015: “What you see is what you hear.”
Indeed, in addition to matching the number of chimes to the numerically indicated time, the watch can put everything else on hold (at least on the surface), while it performs its mini musical performance. Even if the time changes as the watch is chiming – which can take up to 20 seconds – the time-indicating discs do not move until the chiming sequence has been completed.
POWER WITH CONTROL
Once the chiming ends, the numeral discs – there is one for the hour and two for the minutes – jump instantly to reflect the correct time. Such control is especially impressive, considering the tremendous amount of power it takes to move the time-indicating discs precisely throughout each day.
To put things in perspective, imagine flooring the accelerator of your car and braking instantly – every 60 seconds. Cringing already? In the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, a patented constant-force escapement makes this possible, ensuring even power delivery and consistently accurate timekeeping.
Another technical feature, on the other hand, relates more directly to what you see. To keep the already sizeable watch from taking on unwieldy proportions, its creators did away with the additional mainspring that supplies energy to conventional repeaters. Instead, the repeater receives energy from the same mainspring that powers the watch’s timekeeping – which limits its power reserve to 36 hours but prevents it from looking like a brick on the wrist.
With this shared energy bank, something had to be done to prevent the chiming sequence from being interrupted prematurely, should the power run low. When energy stores fall below the level marked by a subtle red dot on the power-reserve indicator at 12 o’clock, the minute repeater cannot be used until the mainspring is adequately wound again. After all, peak performance is all about knowing when to rest, instead of sputtering to a stop.
TRUE TO FORM
Matching its novel inner workings, the watch’s exterior gives onlookers plenty of reason for pause. For one thing, there is its unusual gong arrangement. Instead of taking on a generic circular form and/or being tucked away at the back of the watch, the gongs outline the watch’s central time bridge, creating greater visual impact.
As a result of this unorthodox gong design, the black-polished steel hammers strike inwards, instead of outwards. And, as with just about every component in A. Lange & Sohne movements, the gongs are put in place manually, and not just once. To ensure they produce clear and resonant sound, they are repeatedly disassembled, retuned, reassembled and tested by experts in the manufacture.
Despite being a radical departure from the brand’s other, more conservative designs, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater has aesthetic elements that come together in one coherent, covetable package. It is all clean lines and cool palette, from its solid-silver dial to the black-rhodiumed German silver time bridge that serves as a backdrop for its hours, minutes and seconds indicators.
As we would expect of any watch by A. Lange & Sohne, it looks just as good on the front as on the back. On the reverse of the hand-wound watch, the sapphire caseback offers a view of the beautifully finished calibre. The hand-finished movement includes signature elements like an engraved balance cock and a three-quarter plate decorated with Glashutte ribbing, and is studded with 93 rubies.
Notes de Haas, with justifiable pride: “Today, it is perhaps easier than ever to find decent watches. On the other hand, it may be harder than ever to find really interesting ones. I think I can say that with the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, we have presented a watch that qualifies for the second group. For me, it is the epitome of a modern minute repeater.”
TOP OF THE CROP
The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater might be A Lange & Sohne’s headliner for 2015, but its other new releases are also horological forces to be reckoned with.
At first sight (or even with repeated looks), what’s new about the manufacture’s most well-known Lange 1 watch might not be apparent. Flip it over: It’s what’s on the inside that has changed, for the first time in 20 years.So, when the manufacture replaced the existing Lange 1 calibre with the new L121.1 movement, you know it had good reason to do so. New and improved features in the L121.1 include a balance wheel with adjustable poising weights, and a free-sprung hairspring that is crafted in-house. Additionally, its precisely jumping outsized date now switches around midnight, instead of doing so gradually.
First launched in 1999, the Datograph remains a landmark mechanical chronograph watch. Now, A. Lange & Sohne unveils a rose gold version of the Datograph Up/Down, a model with a power-reserve indicator that was first introduced in 2012. Powered by the Calibre L951.6, the 41mm chronograph’s standout technical features include a column-wheel control mechanism, a precisely jumping minute counter, and a flyback function.
An updated version of the Datograph Perpetual – a combination of a flyback chronograph and a perpetual calendar – is clad in a 41mm white gold case, and has a grey dial that contrasts elegantly with its silver-coloured subdials.
The most minimalist of the A. Lange & Sohne families becomes even more refined with smaller case sizes and new aesthetic accents. The manually wound Saxonia is now 35mm in diameter, making it the most petite among its Saxonia siblings.
Subtle changes mark both the automatic and manual models – the minute markers, for instance, have been minimally extended for greater clarity. Unlike the manual version, however, the small seconds
Sharing the numeral-accented small seconds and longer minute markers are the refreshed automatic Saxonia Dual Time models, whose diameters have been reduced to a restrained 38.5mm.
AHEAD OF HIS TIME
A. LANGE & SOHNE CELEBRATES THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF ITS FOUNDING FATHER.
Today, the Saxon town of Glashutte in Germany is renowned for its fine watchmaking capabilities. It is, of course, also the home of the A. Lange& Sohne manufacture, founded by Dresden watchmaker Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845. In 2015, A. Lange & Sohne celebrates the 200th birthday of F.A. Lange, a visionary who was pivotal in turning Glashutte, a former mining town on the decline, into one of the world’s most important horological hubs.