From the Lange 1 to the Zeitwerk, A. Lange & Sohne offers its unique perspective on technical innovation

What the German manufacture considers classical is already the exception to the norm.

In the modern context, there are generally two kinds of high complication watches. The first is a faithful reproduction of the complication, done according to how our horological forebears had intended. While already exemplary in its own right, especially with haut de gamme complications such as striking watches and rattrapantes, this is nonetheless a continuation of what has already been set out over a hundred years ago.

The second, more exhilarating kind is a modern interpretation of the complication, re-conceptualized and yet crafted to achieve the same technical results — if not higher. To do so, it is necessary to rethink the mechanical architecture of the movement such that it is capable of performing the task to the qualitative standards and finished to the levels expected of a luxury timepiece today. Bridging past and present, this latter category is where you will find the high complications of A. Lange & Sohne, which has consistently taken its stalwarts like the Lange 1, the Zeitwerk and even the Odysseus onto higher ground, all without a shred of compromise to the distinctive identities of these watches.

The Zeitwerk

Most recently, A. Lange & Sohne introduced a new limited edition Zeitwerk Minute Repeater which perfectly exemplifies the manufacture’s unique vision in the creation of high complication timepieces. Innovative on so many levels, the A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk is the first mechanical wristwatch displaying the hours and minutes with outsized jumping numerals. This watch is also singular for its linear display of hours and minutes arranged from left to right which can be viewed through its prominent time bridge along with a running seconds sub-dial at six o’clock and a power reserve indicator at 12 o’clock. Positioning the crown at two o’clock was a brilliant move by the manufacture to downplay the watch’s hefty proportions.

A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater
A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater in Honeygold

All taken in, this is the by-now highly recognizable yet undoubtedly esoteric core aesthetic of the Zeitwerk which is evidently miles apart from the archetypal analog timekeepers — and one that A. Lange & Sohne is determined to preserve no matter what new functions will be added. Designing high complications from ground up, this is truly where the German manufacture’s technical division showcases the best of its savoir-faire, led by Technical Director Anthony de Haas, a man who needs no introduction to the watch loving community and who has been with A. Lange & Sohne since 2004. Known for his preference for an unconventional approach to high complications, de Haas has played an instrumental role in developing the manufacture’s signature icons. His assignment always remains the same: to change the watch without changing the watch, and time and again, de Haas delivers.

A Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk
A side by side look at the Zeitwerk and Zeitwerk Minute Repeater

So the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is a great example of this philosophy. The Zeitwerk as a collection has seen tremendous growth since its introduction in 2009, counting such models as the Zeitwerk Date, the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike Honeygold, the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst, and the Zeitwerk Honeygold Lumen as variations on this fantastic theme. For all these watches the manufacture never once strayed from the Zeitwerk’s identity, not even a little bit. And among all these timepieces it is the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater that has truly secured the timepiece a permanent place in the uppermost echelons of fine watchmaking.

The very fact that it is a striking complication based on linear jumping hours and minutes is already an indication that this is no ordinary classical minute repeater. To further complicate matters, A. Lange & Sohne went with a decimal repeater which strikes the hours, ten-minutes and minutes to achieve parity between the chimes and the digital time display. Indeed, decimal minute repeaters have existed before this one, but all have been featured in analog watches. So how is the strike works of the A. Lange & Sohne decimal repeater different? It requires three jumping discs in order to sample the time to tip off the hammers, plus a remontoir to manage constant flow of power from barrel to balance.

A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater
Unique gongs shaped by hand to follow the silhouette of the time bridge

Impressively, despite the addition of a decimal minute repeater and with its hammers and gongs placed dial side, the watch remains ever faithful to the Zeitwerk aesthetic. The gongs in particular were shaped by hand to emphasize the time bridge, beginning from the gong holders at six o’clock, then meandering upwards and following the curve of the dial. Black-polished to perfection, the hammers are placed on either side of the running seconds sub-dial, and are simply magnificent to behold. In comparison, the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike released in 2017 features circular gongs that go around the dial and hammers that have been finished with tremblage.

The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater has just been reintroduced by A. Lange & Sohne, this time with a Honeygold case that offers a new sound quality to the collection, which already includes earlier variants in platinum and white gold. Says de Haas about the decision in 2015 to debut the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater in platinum, “We did it in platinum because it is beautiful. It’s maybe not so loud but the sound is very clean and pure. And it is also a sweet sound. It is always a challenge to make the case a good resonator of sound while also being water resistant.”

Now in Honeygold, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater chimes with a different tone, one that is perceptibly louder than the platinum version, but that is also utterly unique to A. Lange & Sohne. Because no other watch manufacture in the world could make a minute repeater in Honeygold, a material exclusive to A. Lange & Sohne.

The Lange 1

Unequivocally the icon of A. Lange & Sohne, the Lange 1 is a true classic of the manufacture and one of the most easily recognizable modern watches of all time, with its omnipresent outsized date, off-centered time display, small seconds and power reserve gauge. Honoring the famous rule of thirds in harmonious design, these four elements consistently define the Lange 1 and are staunchly preserved no matter how many additional functions have been incorporated — once again, this is a testament to the wealth of in-depth technical mastery of A. Lange & Sohne.

Lange 1 Time Zone
Lange 1 Time Zone in platinum with a solid silver dial exudes understated elegance

To date, in addition to the classic Lange 1, the collection includes the Lange 1 Moon Phase, the Lange 1 Time Zone, the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar and the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. In each of these models, A. Lange & Sohne succeeds in introducing an additional complication to the watch without veering from its quintessential design. It is both a brilliant exercise in creativity and a magnificent display of technical ingenuity, to be able to look at the restrained design of the Lange 1 and see not a string of limitations but a world of possibilities.

A Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Perpetual
A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Perpetual

Among the best examples of this innovative approach to movement construction is the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar. Ordinary classical perpetual calendars come with a litany of sub-dials and a flurry of hands placed all over the dial, resulting in a predictable design at best and a busy design at worst. But in creating its first perpetual calendar watch, A. Lange & Sohne thought far outside the box and reconsidered how the Lange 1’s dial layout could actually contain day, date, month, moon phase and a leap year indicator. Obviously the date is already sorted, with the signature outsized date remaining well in place. Next, the manufacture cleverly repurposed the power reserve indicator, changing it to fulfil the role of a date display. The moon phase was neatly sequestered within the small seconds, and the leap year in a discreet triangular-shaped window at six o’clock.

This leaves the month display which is the trickest one, but de Haas and team offers a brilliant solution involving a rotating ring around the periphery which is to be read off the triangular aperture. What an ingenious way of changing something without actually changing it.

Month display and moon phase of the Lange 1 Perpetual Calender

Likewise the Lange 1 Time Zone demonstrates A. Lange & Sohne’s technical ingenuity by rethinking how an existing feature can take on additional functions. As a dual time zone watch, its job is to display home time, local time and day/night indication for both home and local time. Being a bit more useful than a simple GMT watch, it also includes a cities ring that occupies the periphery of the dial, and it is so easy to use. Just push the 8 o’clock button and it advances one city at a time.

Lange 1 Time Zone
A. Lange & Sohne incorporates additional features to the classical Lange 1 dial

Simultaneously, it also advances the home time hour. To preserve the Lange 1 aesthetic, A. Lange & Sohne fitted the home time display within the sub-seconds and incorporated a small arrow tipped window to help keep track of daylight savings time.

A Lange & Sohne Lange 1
A side by side look at the Lange 1 and Lange 1 Time Zone

Meanwhile, the manufacture shifted the sub-seconds and set it within the local time display. This is also where we find another intelligent application, which is the day/night indicator for local time, marked by a circular disc with a thin blue line. Also found in the home time sub-dial, this disc rotates along with the hours and minutes and can be intuitively read with just a glance.

The Odysseus

The third A. Lange & Sohne timepiece that epitomizes perfectly the manufacture’s unique take on watchmaking is unequivocally the Odysseus. As the youngest member in the A. Lange & Sohne watch family, Odysseus broke onto the luxury watchmaking scene to great fanfare — and a little debate. “Is this a Lange?” some of them decried.

A. Lange & Sohne Odysseus
The Odysseus Chronograph in stainless steel

But since 2019, those sentiments have abated and the Odysseus has proven itself truly worthy of the name A. Lange & Sohne. Four years on in 2023, the collection grew to include a new chronograph model and this distinctive timepiece with its day and date windows at nine and three o’clock, plus a running seconds sub-dial at six o’clock has finally come onto its own. Looking at this new model, what is imminently clear is that the same horological philosophy that made the Lange 1 and the Zeitwerk such epic stalwarts in their own right is unquestionably present in the Odysseus as well.

A. Lange & Sohne Odysseus closeup
Two chronograph hands, one for the seconds and another for the minutes

Says de Haas, “The brand has six product families. You can push the boundaries, well maybe not every year, but you can push the boundaries. The exercises we did with the Zeitwerk or the Odysseus take up a lot of time energy and frustration.” He continues, “It is very complex to come to a decent solution where we finally say ‘yes, this could be a Lange.’ So yes it’s a long way.”

Staying true to the core identity of the Odysseus, the Odysseus Chronograph incorporates a chronograph function, once again without detracting from the layout determined by the time-only model. A chronograph often involves the addition of two or three counters to track elapsed time, along with pushers numbering anything from one, two and sometimes even three.

A Lange & Sohne Odysseus
A side by side look at the Odysseus and the Odysseus Chronograph

But in the case of the Odysseus Chronograph, all that we see is a pair of centrally mounted chronograph hands, one in silver with a white tip and another in red. At rest, they are perfectly aligned and point to 12 o’clock. Once the chronograph is actuated, the red hand starts to clock the seconds and every time it passes 12, the white-tipped hand underneath advances one minute. Not only does keep the dial from clutter, it is also much more intuitive to read.

Another move that was also incredibly smart was how the crown protectors double up as chronograph pushers. Indeed, looking at the harmonious sport-chic elegance of the Odysseus Chronograph, it would have been unthinkable to throw in chronograph counters and bulky pushers.

 

With such timepieces as the Odysseus Chronograph as well as the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater and the Lange 1 Time Zone, A. Lange & Sohne has proven beyond all doubt that nurturing its icons and furthering its watchmaking ambitions go perfectly hand in hand.

See these A. Lange & Sohne icons and more at House of Lange: Kuala Lumpur where timepieces past and present reveal the German manufacture’s unique journey of innovation. Click here to book a guided tour of the event or meet a Lange watchmaker and master engraver.

House of Lange: Kuala Lumpur
From 16th to 29th November 2023, 10am to 9pm daily
The Starhill Foyer, Ground Floor, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur

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