Comprehensive Review: The New A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

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Lange revises their Zeitwerk with a new 2022 edition. Available in either pink gold or platinum. Both versions are not limited.

In 2009, A. Lange & Söhne presented the first Zeitwerk timepiece, much to the shock and (followed by) awe of the global watch community. Its then unprecedented wristwatch concept stars large jumping numerals for the hours and minutes and remains peerless even today. The 2009 L’Aiguille d’Or prize-winner was inspired by the famous five-minute clock at the Semper Opera House in Dresden, a clock that displayed time digitally in five-minute steps. The clock was completed in 1841 by Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes and Ferdinand Adolph Lange, eventual founder of A. Lange & Söhne. The unusual idea behind this clock was transposed to the Zeitwerk, with the latter switching five times more often, or once per minute.

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The retail price for the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk is listed as Price on Application.

Chief Editor’s note: This is an interesting but somewhat disturbing trend which have appeared in recent Lange policy. We are not certain or in agreement with the philosophy of hiding the price from publication. In our view, this is a negative practice by the maison, as it may be misinterpreted as being arrogant and elitist. The maison has been well known since its re-establishment in the mid 1990s as being particularly open about all aspects of policy on the manufacture. While they have always published retail pricing in multiple currencies, recently they have started the practice of holding back price information on selected models. The industry norm for POA watches are usually for very high end pieces, in very limited production. This norm is understandable, as these special pieces is not targeted at the regular collector. But the both the new Zeitwerk models are not limited editions and not particularly a top level priced product. And in fact, the Zeitwerk was (and remains) one of the three watches which in our view is an essential watch in a Lange collection. Thus we are puzzled as to the policy. The last pricing we have on the Zeitwerk was in 2014, listed at EUR 74,100 for the platinum with silver dial, and EUR 62,000 for the pink gold with silver dial and EUR 63,000 for the version in white gold with black dial.

Numerous complications and variations later, we’ve gone full circle. The manufactory has decided to return to basics by introducing a new and improved version of that award-winning mechanical digital watch that debuted 13 years ago. As seen in the relatively recent upgrades to the Lange 1 models, when it comes to upgrading an existing model, Lange does so in full stride while staying faithful to the original design; the Zeitwerk for 2022 is further evidence of this. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the new, second generation Zeitwerk.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the new Zeitwerk is its case size. In spite of its technical upgrades (which will be covered below), the watch maintains its 41.9 mm diameter and even had its thickness reduced slightly to 12.2 mm from 12.6 mm. The size of the original Zeitwerk has always been spot on and thus keeping as closely as possible to the original dimensions for the second generation is a wise choice by the manufacturer. In terms of design, the only obvious change is the pusher at 4 o’clock that doesn’t exist on the legacy model. This pusher, when actuated, advances the hour disc, which simplifies time-setting and is particularly useful for traversing time zones. Everything else – including the huge crown at 2 o’clock that looks like the head of a 16th century German mace – remains unchanged. The new Zeitwerk debuts in platinum and pink gold cases. Both cases are polished in its entirety except for the case band, which is brushed. It bears mentioning that pre-2018 Zeitwerks in pink gold are fully polished, including the case band – a minor distinction in finissage compared to the newcomer in pink gold.

The Zeitwerk is wound manually with the large crown at 2 o’clock. Pulling the crown out allows for bi-directional time-setting.

As nice as the case can be, it is the dial of the Zeitwerk that makes the headlines. There is nothing quite like it in the market. The hours and minutes are displayed from left to right by large-format numerals – its size and harmonious arrangement on the curved ‘time bridge’ ensures unparalleled legibility. It is no exaggeration to say that the Zeitwerk is the most legible wristwatch ever made. These numerals are capable of switching within fractions of a second, giving us a seamless time-reading experience. As you can imagine, the most exciting event happens at the top of the hour, when all three numerals discs switch simultaneously. There is no significant difference in dial design between the old and the new Zeitwerks, apart from the colour scheme of the power reserve scale. In the old platinum and pink gold Zeitwerks, the whole scale is printed in black, whereas the new models have black scales with red accent at the end to denote waning power reserve, more specifically the final 12 hours of autonomy.

The ‘time bridge’ in the new Zeitwerk has been subtly reworked to make more room for the seconds sub-dial.

The Movement

Driving the second generation Zeitwerk is the 451-part, 61-jewel Calibre L043.6. While the overall concept of the movement remains the same as its predecessor, several improvements have been implemented to bring the Zeitwerk into the 2020s. Possibly the most important upgrade to the energy-hungry movement is the doubling of its power reserve, from 36 hours to 72 hours. It is known that inside the original Zeitwerk lies the biggest mainspring in all Lange timepieces. This girthy mainspring produces the huge amount of torque needed to move all three numerals discs, the largest (and heaviest) one being 30 mm in diameter. Extending the power reserve to an impressive three days involved fitting in a new barrel with patented design that houses two mainsprings.

The new Calibre L043.6 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The other major upgrade is the added functionality of an hour quick-set mechanism, as discussed above. The integration of a pusher for correcting the hour indication isn’t a new thing for the Zeitwerk family – it was first introduced in the Zeitwerk Date model in 2019. To enable the correction independently of the switching cycles of the time indication, a patented vertical clutch uncouples the hour ring from the jumping numerals mechanism each time the pusher is pressed.

It’s also worth noting that the iconic “anchor bridge” in the old movement is now no longer anchor-shaped but more Y-shaped. This peculiar bridge holds the constant force mechanism of the Calibre L043.6. In order to move the heavy numerals disc(s) every minute consistently for the duration of the movement’s power reserve, the mechanism is needed to ensure enough energy is stored and released in a precise manner.

Another key but subtle discrepancy that can be found between the old and the new movements is in the “pre-arming” phenomenon pertaining the numerals discs. The pre-arming phenomenon refers to the slight movement of the minute discs roughly approximately five seconds before the jump to the next minute, like a preparation to jump, if you will. This is seen in first generation Zeitwerks manufactured before 2018, as newer Zeitwerks – including the second generation Zeitwerk – are fitted with movements that have been updated to eliminate the pre-jump jitter. According to Lange, this pre-arming phenomenon was intentional and not a defect.

The Zeitwerk movement remains one of the most elaborately finished calibres in the industry. Seen here are hand-engraved cocks, a black polished swan neck regulator and the inward angles of the remontoir bridge, among other examples of high finishes.

Matching the incredible mechanics of the Calibre L043.6 is an equally heroic level of finissage and decoration on the movement. A look through the sapphire crystal case back says it all: screwed gold chatons, straight-grained remontoir bridge, solarised winding wheels, heat-blued screws, Glashütte ribbing, black-polished escape wheel cap, and of course, hand-engraved balance and escape wheel cocks, among other things.

The Competitive Landscape

Watches that display time with jumping numerals are scarce. A high degree of ingenious watchmaking is required to create one that is viable, let alone one that is elegant and intuitive to use. The Zeitwerk ticks all the boxes and goes beyond. Even 13 years after its debut, the Zeitwerk remains the undisputed leader of the mechanical digital segment of the watch market, owing to its visionary watchmaking and design. The prices for the second generation Zeitwerks in pink gold and platinum are available upon request from the boutique.

The Zeitwerk is perfectly sized for a contemporary wristwatch. Not so big that it overpowers the wrist, but just big enough to assert its presence. It will also clear all but the tightest dress cuffs. Slightly top heavy given the content inside that case.

What comes closest to challenging the dominance of the Zeitwerk is none other than the F.P. Journe Vagabondage III. Like the Zeitwerk, the Vagabondage features digital jumping hours and a power reserve indicator, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of jumping minutes, the Vagabondage – fascinatingly – displays digital jumping seconds. This makes the Vagabondage III the more visually dynamic watch, a boon for the watch geeks among us. The downside is that it gets confusing, reading the time, where the seconds are too easily mistaken for the minutes. Legibility takes a hit also due to the open nature of the dial, although, it is mesmerising to see the mechanisms in action. A remontoir, as in the Zeitwerk, is what makes the magic happen. The difference, though, is that energy isn’t managed quite as strictly and precisely as the Zeitwerk, leading to display idiosyncrasies as power reserve wanes. From a ‘wearability’ point of view, the Vagabondage III triumphs in spite of its atypical barrel shape, as it is thinner, smaller and a lot less top-heavy. The watch retailed at over CHF50,000 when it was available, though you’d be hard-pressed to buy one now in the grey market for less than six figures.

The F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

For something a little more friendly on the finances, look no further than the gorgeous IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years in stainless steel, first presented in 2018. The Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years displays time in hours and minute using digital jumping numerals, much like the Zeitwerk. The important difference is that the discs are noticeably smaller, not in-line and therefore not nearly as intuitively legible. The minimalist design of the dial means there’s a lot of empty space, but that just means more real estate for the luscious blue lacquer to be admired. Mechanistically, the Pallweber is simpler compared to the Zeitwerk. Instead of a remontoir, it has two separate gear trains, one for the escapement (timekeeping) and one to drive the discs. Each gear train is connected to a dedicated mainspring barrel. The drawback of this less complex, cheaper approach is the need for more space and hence a larger movement and case; the Pallweber is an unwieldy 45 mm in diameter. While movement finissage is not quite at the level of the Journe and especially the Lange, at a retail price of EUR24,000 in 2018, who’s keeping score exactly?

The IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years.

Final Thoughts

With a design that remains as original as the day it was first introduced and a movement that is still avant-garde even today, the Zeitwerk’s longevity continues to impress. Now with upgrades for added convenience, the second generation Zeitwerk is ready to go for another decade or two.

The new second generation Zeitwerk was also presented in platinum – interestingly, not a limited edition either.

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