Usually, if you’re looking for digital watches, at least as they’re commonly defined, you’d have been better off attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas last week rather than trekking to Geneva this week for SIHH, the year’s first major trade fair for the highest echelons of the watch industry. But not all “digital” watches are equal. Germany’s A. Lange & Söhne, for example, one of the most elite watch maisons exhibiting at the Salon, has been creating its own decidedly high-end version of a digital watch — that is, one that tells time via digits rather than hands — for 10 years now, and its highlight piece of this year’s show is a new model in its groundbreaking Zeitwerk collection with an innovative date display. And yes, it’s all mechanical.
The Zeitwerk Date, with its all-new manufacture movement, represents the latest leap forward for the iconoclastic timepiece, whose design is inspired by the famous clock at Dresden’s Semper Opera House — Dresden, of course, being the nearest large city to Glashutte, the cradle of German watchmaking and longtime home of A. Lange & Söhne. Introduced in 2009, the Zeitwerk was the first mechanical wristwatch with a constant-force escapement and precisely jumping digits for the hours and minutes; it has since become firmly ensconced within Lange’s well-defined portfolio of watch families, with increasingly complicated models added over the years, including the Decimal Strike chiming watch in 2017. This watch, however, is the first in the line to include any type of date display, and it is a distinctive one indeed: a ring-shaped date scale made of glass, numbered 1 – 31, encircles the dial, with the current date always highlighted in red.
The watch’s manually wound Caliber L043.6 accomplishes this tableau with the use of a small, red-colored segment positioned beneath the circumferential date ring with its cutout numerals, which moves one step every day precisely at midnight, making a single revolution once per month. The current date is this always highlighted and easy to read — perhaps the next best option after Lange’s more common Outsize Date, which would have been technically impossible to incorporate into this watch. A pusher at 8 o’clock serves to correct this date indicator quickly and easily: the switching impulse is activated upon the pusher’s release. All of this works in concert, of course, with the Zeitwerk’s unconventional digital time display. Another pusher at 4 o’clock advances the hour indication separately, thus solving the issue of the wearer needing to adjust the time minute by minute via the crown whenever he wants to ensure that the watch is accurate to 24 hours (i.e., AM or PM). Lange’s watchmakers addressed this potential problem — the one that had heretofore prevented any Zeitwerk watches from adding a date — with a clutch that uncouples the hour ring from the jumping numerals mechanism when the pusher is engaged.
Housed inside a 44.2 mm white-gold case — under a gray dial made of solid silver, displaying small seconds in a subdial at 6 o’clock and the traditional Saxon “Auf/Ab” power reserve display at 12 o’clock in addition to the hours and minutes apertures, the newly designed Caliber L042.8 beats at a frequency of 18,00 vph and amasses a power reserve of 72 hours when fully wound. Crafted to Lange’s meticulous standards, it features the hallmark elements the manufacture’s avid enthusiasts have come to expect — three-quarter mainplate of untreated German silver, hand-engraved balance cock, blued screws, lever escapement, shock-resistant cam-poised balance with in-house-manufactured balance spring, to name the highlights — with the entire ensemble assembled and decorated by hand. In all, the movement is comprised of 516 components, of which an astounding 70 are jewels. On the dial, the hands are made of rhodiumed gold and the “time bridge” that connects the hours to the minutes, of rhodiumed German silver.
The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk comes on a hand-stitched brown alligator leather strap with a white-gold pronged buckle. With the release of this technically fascinating piece marking 10 years of the Zeitwerk, and the newest special edition of the special 25th-anniversary limited edition of the Lange 1 (which we shared with you here), it is clear that the brand is committed to celebrating its dual anniversaries in style in 2019.