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Review: A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Decimal Strike

Hands-on analytical review with high resolution live photographs.
by Frank Chuo on February 28, 2017
Review: A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Decimal Strike

There aren’t many watches today that are as disruptive as the Zeitwerk was when it was first unveiled in 2009. Many liken the introduction of the Zeitwerk to that of the Lange 1 in 1994, shocking and paradigm-shifting. To this day, the Zeitwerk remains the black sheep of the Lange collection with its very contemporary, atypical design. And yet a black sheep is still a sheep. The Zeitwerk embodies the highest standards of Saxon watchmaking in spite of its un-Lange appearance.

At SIHH 2017, A. Lange & Söhne introduced yet another member to the Zeitwerk family, the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike, bringing the membership count up to four (not including all the different variants). Here we bring you the nuts and bolts of the novel Zeitwerk and some perspective on how this new chiming timepiece fits in the now-iconic Zeitwerk family.

 

The case, dial, hands

Upon examination, one will quickly realise that the case features a different hue to that of Lange’s standard pink gold. This is because the case is made of the manufacturer’s proprietary (and not to mention rare) honey gold alloy. The hue of honey gold (Honiggold in German) is hard to describe; it isn’t intense like yellow gold, nor is it warm like pink gold, and it definitely hasn’t got the coldness white gold. We figure that it sits somewhere between pink and white gold, like a much softer, mellower variation of pink gold. While its exact composition is a secret, it is known that the honey gold alloy is significantly harder (300 HVI on the Vickers Hardness Scale) than the conventional pink (190 HVI), white (195 HVI) and yellow gold (160 HVI) alloys.

The design and finish of the case is, on the other hand, a more familiar sight. Lange makes “austere” look charming like only they know how. While the rounded bezel of the watch is polished to a dress watch-worthy sheen, the alternating brushed-polished finish on the case flanks injects casual flair to the timepiece. As with other Lange watches, the screwed-in lugs are substantial, polished and decorated with a thin bevel that tapers off at the end. At the 4 o’clock position, a button on the side of the case allows the user to deactivate the chiming mechanism in situations where silence is preferred (like in a meeting, or a funeral… same difference). Actuating the button arrests the mechanism and deflects the hammers away from the gong – this also happens when the crown at 2 o’clock is pulled. Like in the preceding models of the Zeitwerk family, the crown is large and deeply grooved for enhanced grip. This is necessary as the watch winds hard, a real pleasure for aficionados. Overall, the case measures a sizeable 44.2 mm in diameter and 13.1 mm in thickness – the same as its older brother, the Zeitwerk Striking Time. As such, the Decimal Strike wears with tremendous presence on the wrist.

 

Just as it was in the Zeitwerk Striking Time, a deeply-grooved crown is placed at the 2 o’clock position while a button to activate/reactivate the chiming mechanism is located at 4 o’clock.

 

The Zeitwerk Decimal Strike has a dial that is quite unlike any other outside of the Zeitwerk family. There are the power reserve indicator and seconds sub-dial at 12 and 6 o’clock, respectively, but other than that, the dial will appear alien to the uninitiated. The middle of the dial is largely occupied by the German silver time bridge – affectionately nicknamed the “T-shirt” for obvious reasons. The time bridge frames the digital time displays – the hours on the left, the tens and minutes on the right – and the seconds sub-dial. Its other role is more functional as it also serves as bridge bearing the sapphire bearing jewel for the minute arbor. On each side of the seconds sub-dial are the steel hammers of the chiming mechanism. When the mechanism is activated, these hammers will strike the gongs encircling the dial en passant. The main difference between the chiming functions of the Decimal Strike and the Striking Time is frequency – the Decimal Strike chimes every 10 minutes while the Striking Time chimes every quarter hour. Each passing tens of minutes is denoted by a single high-pitched strike while the hour is marked by a single low-pitched strike. Acoustically, the chimes of the Decimal Strike sound noticeably warmer than the Striking Time (white gold), a difference arising from the use of different case materials.

 

The key distinguishing features of a chiming Zeitwerk include the hammer bridge, the two hammers and the gongs along circumference of the dial.

 

Another key distinction between the two digital chiming watches is the types of finishing applied to the time bridge, hammer bridge and hammers. In the older Striking Time, the time and hammer bridges have a grained surface while the hammers are black-polished; in the Decimal Strike, all three components are decorated with tremblage engraving, a treatment normally reserved for the brand’s Handwerkskunst watches.

 

The Zeitwerk Decimal Striking Time features tremblage work on the time bridge, hammer bridge and hammers.

The movement

Inside the Decimal Strike is the manually-wound Lange manufacture calibre L043.7. The 528-part, 78-jewelled movement has a power reserve of 36 hours while operating at a traditional 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour beat rate. Under normal circumstances, a power reserve of 36 hours would be considered beneath industry standards. However, the Decimal Strike does not operate under ‘normal circumstances’. One must consider that the Zeitwerk (Decimal Strike included) displays time by means of numeral discs that are significantly heavier than just two hands. Then consider that at least one of these discs will jump instantaneously by one increment every minute; and then two discs simultaneously every ten minutes; and three discs all at once every hour. To achieve such a feat, a mainspring that develops greater torque than the one found in the Lange 31 (yes, the one with 31 days power reserve) is utilised. The remontoire in the calibre L043.7 not only delivers an abrupt impulse every minute that moves the numeral disc(s) by precisely one step, but also ensures delivery of constant force from the extra-powerful mainspring to the escape wheel, thus improving timekeeping. In the chiming Zeitwerk models like the Striking Time and the novel Decimal Strike, the mainspring is also responsible for powering the striking mechanism. What is interesting about the Decimal Strike is that it possesses the same power reserve as the Striking Time even when the strike frequency is increased (from 4 per hour in the Striking Time to 6 in the Decimal Strike). And it does this with an identical mainspring in an identically-sized movement. By optimising power use within the movement, watchmakers at Lange were able to find the power necessary to support the additional strikes without jeopardising the 36-hour power reserve.

 

The calibre L043.7. At the centre of it all is the remontoire, carried by the anchor bridge.

 

Of course, no review of an A. Lange & Söhne watch movement is complete without mention of finissage. As surely as the Pope is catholic and water is wet, the Lange calibre L043.7 is beautifully finished. The unique architecture and layout of the movement lends itself to an amazing array of finishing and decorative techniques. The calibre L043.7 features not one, but two signature hand-engraved cocks, one for the balance wheel, the other for the escape wheel. With the exception of the time bridge, hammer bridge and the anchor bridge (anchor-shaped bridge carrying the remontoire mechanism – you can’t miss it), the top surface of all the German silver bridges within the movement are decorated with Glashütte ribbing, with the edges meticulously chamfered and polished. While the time and hammer bridges (only visible dial-side) are given a granular tremblage finish, the anchor bridge is straight-grained. Also a delight to see are the two black-polished star wheels on top of the snailed flying barrel which provide a stopwork mechanism to halt the mainspring from unwinding at the end of its 36-hour power reserve.

 

An entire banquet of finishing and decorative techniques can be savoured in the calibre L043.7, from the straight-graining of the anchor bridge, to the black-polishing of the swan neck regulator, and the tight and even perlage across the base plate.

 

Finding one’s place in the world

When the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike was first announced, many asked the question: how is it different to the Striking Time? The fact remains that these are two very similar watches. The Decimal Strike looks identical to the Striking Time at every angle, save the tremblage finishing. Functionally, the Decimal Strike and Striking Time are in essence the same in that they tell time a la Zeitwerk and chime en passant. Commercially, they also fill the same role as a “mid-complication” Zeitwerk, a bridge between the base model Zeitwerk and the world-beating Zeitwerk Minute Repeater if you please. Would it therefore be too harsh to say that the Decimal Strike is redundant in the current Zeitwerk collection? Almost as if to make the Decimal Strike appear more distinct than it is, Lange broke two traditions that it had previously observed: 1) the use of honey gold for anniversary/special edition watches, and 2) the use of tremblage engraving in Handwerkskunst models. The Decimal Strike is neither an anniversary/special edition model nor a Handwerkskunst model. It may be a limited edition piece but that does not usually warrant the use of honey gold or tremblage engraving. It should therefore not be surprising if one questions the place of the Decimal Strike.

 

The Zeitwerk Striking Time (pictured) and Decimal Strike are in essence very similar watches and fulfil similar roles in the Zeitwerk collection.

 

In defence of the Decimal Strike however, it is also worth considering that much more is done to realise the Decimal Strike than simply having the striking mechanism chime more frequently than the Striking Time. As previously discussed, it is no easy task extracting additional power from a movement that is already ravenous for power. To keep the 36 hour power reserve from the Striking Time in the Decimal Strike is a feat in its own right, a feat that remains underappreciated. In addition, and perhaps more than ever, there is a strong market for mid-complications. The Decimal Strike and Striking Time may have similar functions but at the end of the day, one is strictly a quarter striker, and the other, a decimal striker – this presents potential customers with options. And options are always a good thing to have. Not to mention as well, the tremblage finishing on the time and hammer bridges, and honey gold case material in this edition of the Decimal Strike are themselves novelties within the Zeitwerk family and will definitely appeal to certain clients, we imagine.

 

Does the Decimal Strike do enough to distinguish itself? Whatever the answer, one cannot deny its devilish good looks and immense presence on the wrist.

Final thoughts

The Zeitwerk Decimal Strike is currently only available in honey gold in a limited run of 100 pieces, at the price of €120,000. Non-limited editions of the Decimal Strike may appear sooner or later but there is no news of this as yet. We feel that at the current retail price, the Decimal Strike represents good value. The stunning tremblage finishing, the proprietary honey gold case and the additional functionality of the chiming mechanism are worth the slight premium over the Striking Time. Regardless of what one feels about the watch, the Decimal Strike remains a handsome work of art and a testament to the highest level of watchmaking. Whether one chooses the Decimal Strike over the Striking Time or vice versa is purely down to taste and preference.

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