German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne has unveiled the second generation of the ZEITWERK – one of the house’s most prominent creations
Since 1841, the historic Five-Minute Clock perched high above the stage of the Semper Opera House in Dresden silently drew the world’s attention. It was conceived by master watchmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, who was tasked with building a chronometer that would be easily legible even from the rearmost seat. Together with his apprentice and son-in-law Ferdinand Adolph Lange, he developed a clock that displayed the time digitally in five-minute steps, which was quite unlike anything the watchmaking world had ever seen.
The prominent stage clock was as admirable as the productions that played out below its commanding presence. That is until tragedy struck down the opera house and its famous clock during the Second World War. Yet, its legacy was such that the reconstruction of the theatre also involved the making of a new Five-Minute Clock, which continues to delight visitors from all over the world to this day.
For German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, the Five-Minute Clock is inextricably linked to the brand’s storied heritage. In the early 1990s, the maison paid special homage to the clock in the Lange 1. The outsize date of the model and its unusual asymmetrical dial design was a first in the world of horology, and, for years, this unconventional approach remained synonymous with the house’s aesthetic.
Then, about two decades later, the brand transposed the unusual idea behind the Five-Minute Clock to yet another masterpiece – the very first ZEITWERK model that was introduced in 2009.
A milestone moment
When the ZEITWERK was under development, the maison’s engineers questioned everything except the mechanical paradigm. The result was nothing short of extraordinary: a mechanical watch with a digital display and a compelling technical concept. For horology purists who could never imagine wearing a digital watch, the ZEITWERK remained appealing, thanks to its unique functional principle with mechanically powered, precisely jumping numerals.
Its unveiling also saw the introduction of the time bridge (which is now an instantly recognisable A. Lange & Söhne feature). Rendered in German silver, it is one of the most prominent signature elements of the dial and constitutes the stage for all time indications, with the apertures featuring the large hour and minute displays arranged from left to right.
Since 2009, several iterations of the ZEITWERK have been introduced, all of which have stood out in an incredibly competitive horological landscape for their sheer technical excellence and classic aesthetic. To this very day, the clear, avant-garde display of time in the ZEITWERK models remains peerless. It underscores the maison’s ambition to constantly redefine the limits of technical feasibility. Following this maxim, the brand’s watchmakers have once again taken the watchmaking world by storm with the introduction of the new ZEITWERK.
The all-new ZEITWERK
On October 24, 2022, on the 28th anniversary of the brand’s rebirth, A. Lange & Söhne presented two new versions of the award-winning ZEITWERK. Available in platinum and pink gold, the mechanical-digital watch has evolved, thanks to the new L043.6 calibre which has doubled its power reserve to 72 hours. Powering the minute-by-minute progression of the large jumping numerals is a precisely controlled reliable calibre with seven patents.
The revolutionary design concept has also been subtly reworked, enhancing its expressive style. The new ZEITWERK has a case diameter of 41.9 millimetres and a height of 12.2 millimetres. The pink gold edition features a black dial, a time bridge made of untreated German silver and a black alligator leather strap, while the platinum edition has a rhodié dial made of solid silver with the time bridge rendered in black rhodium and a dark-brown alligator strap. Finally, the colour-matched hands round out the harmonious design.
A glimpse into the movement
The ZEITWERK has a patented mechanism with three jumping numeral discs that make a glance at the watch a special experience. The hours and minutes are displayed in large-format numerals from left to right on the curved time bridge. Beneath the surface, the underlying mechanism switches the three discs – each displaying the hours and the digits of the minutes – within fractions of a second. At the top of the hour, all three discs are simultaneously advanced by one increment with such precise choreography, making it nothing short of admirable.
A contemporary complication
Creating the lucid and innovative display of the ZEITWERK presented the house with an enormous challenge as they had to fit the mechanism in the limited dimensions of a wristwatch and at the same time, provide enough energy to produce the synchronised switching movement. This called for a highly precise setting.
Anthony de Haas, Director of Product Development, explained: “To switch the discs of the jumping numerals mechanism to forward on time every minute, the movement requires much more energy than a classic time display. Not only are the numeral discs very heavy by watchmaking standards, but they also have to be quickly accelerated and braked again. This calls for considerably higher forces than the uniform rotation of a pair of hands of much less weight. The greatest amount of energy is needed at the top of the hour when the movement advances all three discs at the same time.”
This challenging operation is handled by the patented constant-force escapement. As a multifaceted device, it also assures that the movement is powered by a uniform amount of force and benefits rate stability.
While these challenges were already intelligently mastered by the first-generation ZEITWERK, the new generation goes a step further with the refined calibre L043.6. The patented barrel design with two mainsprings allows the power reserve to be doubled, which means that, when fully wound, the new models have sufficient energy to perform 4,320 minute jumps or, more precisely, 72 jumps with all three discs, 360 jumps with only two discs and 3,888 jumps with only one disc.
Another improvement is the simplified setting of the hour. A pusher at four o’clock can now separately advance the display, which is particularly useful when the time zone changes during a trip. The pusher is inverted, which means that nothing happens when it is pressed but the display switches forward when it’s released.
The integration of a pusher for correcting the hour indication was first introduced in the ZEITWERK DATE. 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. The setting of the minute indication in both directions is performed with the crown at two o’clock.
In its second generation, the ZEITWERK also features an oscillation system with its own balance spring and patented beat-adjustment system. It oscillates with a frequency of 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour (2.5 hertz). As with all of the manufactory’s calibres, the artisanal finishing of the 451-part movement complies with the house’s most ambitious standards. With a glance through the sapphire-crystal caseback, connoisseurs can admire the hand-engraved balance and escape-wheel cocks, the solarised winding wheels, the 59 jewels and the intricate, straight-grained remontoir bridge that accommodates two recessed, screwed gold chatons.
The most prominent feature of any ZEITWERK model is the time bridge. In the new timepiece, this feature was subtly reworked to make more room for the subsidiary seconds dial at six o’clock. In the scale of the power-reserve indicator on the opposite side, harmoniously positioned above the time bridge, the last 12 hours are now marked in red to clearly indicate that the tension of the mainsprings is gradually waning. The sapphire bearing jewel for the ones- and tens-minute ring to the left of the two indications is a refined detail that also builds a bridge to the movement. In most cases, rubies are used for bearing jewels, but in this case, A. Lange & Söhne’s watchmakers chose this colourless, transparent precious stone for aesthetic reasons.