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A Moment on the Wrist: the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

“There’s something one should expect not only of a watch but also of oneself: to never stand still.” Walter Lange – The Honorary Chairman of A. Lange & Söhne who sadly passed away in January 2017.

A. Lange & Söhne are a brand that require no introduction. Their history as the best producer of precision watchmaking that Germany has to offer and one of the best watchmakers in the world dates all the way back to 1845. In the quiet and secluded village of Glashütte, Ferdinand Adolph Lange took on 15 apprentices who had lost their trade at the collapse of the local mining community. He trained them to become qualified watchmakers, each specialising in certain fields such as the production of hands, barrels or pinions. Ferdinand also introduced some revolutionary ideas such as the 3/4 quarter plate for improved stability, a design still used in watches today.

A photo of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, founder of A. Lange & Söhne.

When Ferdinand Lange passed away his son Richard Lange became a catalyst for the watch brands growing success by contributing heavily on the technical side of the company. In total he contributed 27 patents to the manufacture of Lange watches. His most recognisable patent was adding beryllium to the manufacture of watch springs to improve its characteristics such as durability. Nearly all high quality mechanical watches use this innovative discovery today.

Richard Lange

Due to the quality of A. Lange & Söhne watches in the 19th and 20th century, the brand played a large role in the production of precision chronometers used in ventures, ventures such as Alexander Von Humbolft’s expedition of Latin America or Erich Von Drygalskis expedition to the South Pole. However, in 1948 shortly after World War 2 the manufactory was nationalised, A. Lange & Söhne was removed from dials and the brand became a legend that existed no more.

That was until the 7th of December 1990. 145 years later to the exact day of the brands original launch, Walter Lange followed the exact footsteps of his great grandfather and turned the Legend of A. Lange & Söhne into new and exciting brand. Walter Lange dreamed of producing the worlds best watches and just like his grandfather, he relied on the people of Glashütte to help channel their talents and passions and assist him in making the German brand great again. Between 1990 and 1994 A. Lange & Söhne produced 4 pieces to launch the brand into the lime light, it consisted of the Saxonia, the Tourbillon “Pour Le Merite”, the Arkade ladies watch and the beautiful and iconic Lange 1 which is still produced today.

In 2003 A. Lange & Söhne also began to produce their own balance springs, this component is a vital part of all mechanical movements and due to its complexity very few watchmakers produce their own springs, this means Lange find themselves in a very prestigious group who truly make every component for their pieces.

Walter Lange, the man who launched A. Lange & Söhne back into the limelight in the late 20th century who sadly passed away in January 2017.

The Zeitwerk

In 2009 however A. Lange & Söhne changed the game once again. During the development process of the Zeitwerk the genius watchmakers at Lange questioned everything from the mechanics of the watch, all the way to how the time should be displayed. The result of their hard labors revealed a watch that sported a digital display with jumping numerals, yet uses a mechanical movement.

The Iconic A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk 140.029 which was launched in 2009.

A New approach to a developing challenge 

The Zeitwerk was the first watch of its kind, no other watch displays hours and minute with jumping numerals. This was a huge achievement for the small yet truly talented German brand and really helped shed light on the brand and their finesse in finishing truly beautiful watches. The concept of the mechanical digital watch has been tried and failed on several occasions due to lack of legibility of the watch. the masters at Lange however overcame such challenges by having a jumping numerals mechanism consisting of three disks that display the hours and minuets, the minuets is split into two disks while the hours just one. Previous mechanical digital watches had shown the time in very bizarre ways such as vertically due to technical restrictions, however Lange overcame this and the time is shown in standard left to right form.

The caliber L043.1, with 416 individual finished components

The Zeitwerk on the wrist

The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk 140.029 with its clear digital display.

The Zeitwerk is one of the larger watches that A. Lange & Söhne produce, sitting with width of 41.9mm and a height of 12.6mm. This may not seem a lot in retrospect with the current watch industry churning out 45-50mm watches as standard. However, with Lange only producing more traditional style of watches, the Zeitwerk feels a lot bigger on the wrist compared to a Lange One for example. Nevertheless, the Zeitwerk does not feel out of place in the A. Lange & Söhne collection, it’s size maybe large however its details are refined and precise, the time can clearly be scene with its large numerals, the up/down (AB/AUF) power reserve indicator can clearly be scene as it dominates the top half of the watch and its second hand can be seen on the large dial placed at where the 6’o’clock usually sits.

The Zeitwerk surprisingly would not be my choice of Lange for wearing to work or a suited occasion as I find the size of the watch too casual. If I was looking for a dress A. Lange & Söhne watch I would cast my eyes over to the Saxonia, 1815 or even the Lange One family collections. However the Zeitwerk for me would be the perfect watch for the refined every day casual gentlemen, the watch would sit comfortably with a sweater or an every day shirt and would show a refined taste for every day wear.

In conclusion, The Zeitwerk is the perfect watch for A. Lange & Söhne to display its true character. The Zeitwerk displays perfectly that A. Lange & Söhne are a brand not to be messed about with and shows the character and professionalism of each watchmaker behind this innovative design. The Zeitwerk can be recognised as one of the most beautiful designs to come from the German watch industry and would take pride and place in any keen horologists collection and would forever be a talking point for two watch fanatics alike. Not many watches come better than the Zeitwerk.

The Zeitwerk is now available from Owen and Robinson, click on the link here to visit the Zeitwerk page on our website.