INTRODUCING: The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, the three-quarters of a million dollar watchFergus Nash
It takes an iron will to walk past an A. Lange & Söhne dealer without losing a few minutes of your day. The German masters ensure their collections soar above the competition, bewitching onlookers and dominating wish-lists around the world. If you’re lucky, dead in the centre of the captivating display will be a Zeitwerk Minute Repeater — the ‘digital’ watch that redefined the holy grail of complications. Now, to celebrate five years since its launch, A. Lange & Söhne have created a limited edition of 30 Zeitwerk Minute Repeaters with a striking blue dial and white gold case.
If you’re unfamiliar with the idea behind the Zeitwerk family, don’t let the word ‘digital’ fool you. The timepieces are entirely mechanical, however they display the time with easily legible digits instead of hands. The premise is simple, having been perfected by Casio decades ago, but the execution for a machine with no LCD screens or batteries is astonishingly tough. Using a series of rings for the hours and minutes, a specialised constant-force escapement keeps the jumping lightning quick and accurate — even when the mainspring is running low on power.
As if redefining mechanical watchmaking wasn’t enough, A. Lange & Söhne went one step further by marrying that technology with a minute repeater complication. A minute repeater typically chimes the time via two gongs, one low for the hours, one high for the minutes, and both in a double-strike for quarters which saves the high gong from needing to chime up to 59 times per use. The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, released originally in 2015, made this process easier to understand in correlation with a digital display, replacing the meaning of the double-strike from quarters to ten-minute intervals. For example, at 3:24 the repeater would chime three times low, twice with the double-strike, then four times high.
Another key difference between the Zeitwerk and traditional minute repeaters is the activation via push button. With so much complexity, the repeater generally needs its own power reserve, requiring a sliding switch to wind an auxiliary mainspring. This watch draws its power from the regular mainspring, allowing the case to be entirely sealed and given the slightly more practical 30m of water resistance, as well as strengthening the sonic resonance of the case. The hand-wound Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is definitely power thirsty, having only 36 hours of power reserve when the repeater isn’t used, but a handy indicator near 12 o’clock will warn you when it’s time to top up.
With a movement so intricate, there is a matter of delicacy. There are a wide variety of processes that must be made in the correct order for the repeater to work and, as such, A. Lange & Söhne have built-in protective methods to stop users from damaging their pride and joy. The aforementioned power reserve indicator shows a red dot at 12 hours, beneath which the repeater will not engage, in case it runs out of power prematurely. The crown also may not be operated during the chiming, preventing unnecessary loss of power, and the minutes will not advance whilst repeating. For those curious, the maximum amount of time for which the gongs will sound is 20 seconds over 31 chimes.
Visually, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater just feels right. Legibility is beyond doubt with that ‘digital’ display, and the commitment to symmetry brings a perfect balance to the watch. It takes a while for the eye to notice the tubular gongs snaking their way around the dial, while the sharp hammers, reminiscent of medieval polearms, guard them stoically. The German-gothic design cues also extend to the longsword hands on the power reserve and seconds sub-dial, the latter counterbalanced to further cement symmetrical harmony. This new edition, with the navy blue dial and matching alligator strap, is particularly stunning, whilst the white gold case and clasp aren’t overly flashy. The crown in the unusual two o’clock position not only echoes the minute repeater pusher at 11, but also ensures that nothing will dig into the back of your hand during wear as is a risk with 44mm watches. It will wear large at that size, however wearing an A. Lange & Söhne is not something to shy away from, and you can be proud that such visibility stems from the necessity of fitting so much technology inside. All this, before even mentioning the quality of machining and finishing, which holds up to the most scrupulous of loupe-wielding inspectors.
With this kind of watch, you would be blessed to even glimpse one in person. Limited to 30 pieces and priced at 449,000EUR shows that this model isn’t so much a new release, but a celebration of a model that sums up A. Lange & Söhne’s excellence in all aspects.