Today we are talking grail watches, in particular one of my personal grail watches that I recently had the privilege of adding to my collection; the A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk.
Now, chances are you’ve probably never seen a Zeitwerk in the flesh before, and by that I mean on someone’s wrist in the wild, not sitting behind glass at your local AD. I certainly hadn’t. The fact is there’s just not that many of them around, which is what makes them all the more desirable to collectors like myself.
Add to that its very distinctive appearance, not to mention complex construction and it quickly becomes clear why the Zeitwerk should be on your grail list too (assuming it’s not already, of course.) But I am getting ahead of myself, to help you truly appreciate why this timepiece is so special I should really start from the beginning.
Lange & Sohne – A Brief History
Given the high esteem Lange & Sohne is held in these days, many people tend to assume that the German watchmaker shares a history not dissimilar to its Swiss peers such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin. This could not be further from the truth however, which is what makes the story of Lange & Sohne all the more remarkable.
Originally founded in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange the company, along with many others, was summarily taken over and shut down during World War II and the subsequent Soviet occupation of Eastern Germany. For the next 48 years the company would languish in silence whilst the Swiss watch industry continued to thrive and grow.
This lasted until 1990, when the East German government finally collapsed and allowed Lange’s great-grandson, Walter Lange, together with watch industry veteran Günter Blümlein, to restore the company to its former glory (with a little help from their friends, such as IWC and JLC). The brand unveiled its first four timepieces in 1994 and has not looked back since, literally taking the world of haute horology by storm. Which brings us to my beloved Zeitwerk.
I think it’s probably fair to say that the Zeitwerk is one of the most distinctive looking Lange’s out there and yet your average person in the street would have no idea what it is or how much it’s worth, which is just one of the many reasons why I love it so much. Launched in 2009, it quickly found favour with connoisseurs and amateurs alike who praised its innovative design and clever construction. It was so popular in fact that it won the prestigious “L’Aiguille d’Or” (“Golden Hand”) award at that year’s Grand Prix D’Horologerie, marking the first time the award had ever been presented to a non-Swiss brand.
For me though it’s all about the unique digital time display. There’s just something about it that looks so cool, so contrary to everything that mechanical watches typically stand for and yet it offers a level of complexity that seldom few will ever achieve. To make this possible the manufacture calibre L043.1 movement is equipped with a patented jumping numerals mechanism with three discs, with the time displayed on a large hour ring and two minute discs. Precisely once a minute, a constant-force escapement generates the necessary switching impulse to propel the minute discs forward as required.
As a special touch the disc switching action is optimized to allow an attentive listener to acoustically distinguish between a single minute advance (which occurs a staggering 1416 times a day) and a collective progression of all three at the full hour (24 times a day).
It really is a remarkable feat of engineering, and yet the design is so simple you would never guess it, unless of course you turn the watch over and check out the incredible movement in all its glory through the sapphire exhibition case-back. Lange is known for its movement decoration but this thing is just on another level.
Housed in a 41.9mm wide x 12.6mm high white gold case, the watch wears nicely on the wrist although it does feel a little higher than a lot of the other pieces in my collection, which is taking some getting used to. That being said it has quickly become my daily wearer thanks to its combination of class and legibility.
Plus it just looks damn cool.