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20th Anniversary
A. Lange & Söhne - One Year, One Watch

A. Lange & Söhne One Year, One Watch

2009 : Zeitwerk*

Digital

In November 2009, Steve Jobs was named CEO of the decade by Fortune magazine. Slowly but surely, information technology had changed the world, and day-to-day life was truly going digital, perhaps more especially in 2009. The reasons for that were legion. Although the famous App Store had officially opened in 2008, at the start of 2009 there were a mere 15,000 applications available on the site, and some 500 million downloads. By December, those figures had skyrocketed to 100,000 apps and over 2 billion downloads. Digital was making inroads on all fronts, even into money. A mysterious individual invented a new means of payment: Bitcoin.

And down in California, a company named Uber took on yet another real-life tradition: taxis. Some made fun of the startup – but not for long. On the East Coast, there was another tectonic shift in the works. Kickstarter had just invented crowdfunding, aimed at micro-innovators. The watchmaking industry seemed very remote from these goings-on in New York, but was soon to be hit head on by this new wave. What could be more real than books? Yet 2009 saw the arrival of the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s e-book. Even the bricksand- mortar book retail giant now had a digital option. That sent a strong message. Living a digital life did of course require a smartphone. While Apple launched an improved iPhone 3, Motorola and Palm persisted with the good old-fashioned keyboard as the right way to enter data, launching the Droid and the Palm Treo Pro. The future would soon reveal who had made the right choice…

One Year, One Watch

Zeitwerk © A. Lange & Söhne

Over in cinema, a wholly virtual film, Avatar, brought the house down. James Cameron brilliantly demonstrated that a film based on new technology could win audiences over; the movie was to remain the most-watched in history for an entire decade. And a digital year naturally calls for a digital watch. Initially, I toyed with the Casio Pathfinder PAW 1300 watch worn by Avatar hero Jake Sully. But in the end, I’ve chosen a mechanical-digital wonder to stand as the watch for 2009: A. Lange & Söhne’s Zeitwerk.

Why A. Lange & Söhne?

I’m sure nobody was expecting A. Lange & Söhne in a piece on digital technology. Its story began a long time ago, but picked up speed when the Berlin Wall came down. Very quickly, the former East German company recovered – and boldly targeted fine watchmaking. The Lange 1 was released in 1994. And word got round, placing A. Lange & Söhne in the spotlight. The gamble had paid off. A. Lange & Söhne went on to consolidate its image as a firm that struck just the right tone for fine watchmaking, delivering the required blend of good taste and classicism. All this meant that when, in 2009, the brand unveiled a watch with a refreshing new concept combining the two entirely opposing worlds of digital and mechanical technology, nobody saw it coming.

Lange & Söhne’s zeitwerk – A watchmaking ‘chaotianmen’!

Chaotianmen is the name of the longest arch bridge in the world, inaugurated in China in 2009. And in its own way, the Zeitwerk is a bridge between the world of digital display and the age-old techniques used in fine watchmaking. With this piece, A. Lange & Söhne offers a digital display powered by an outstanding manual-winding mechanical movement. It features the firm’s own distinctive font, a 12-hour power reserve, and a seconds hand at 6 o’clock. The 42mm watch comes in gold or platinum, on an alligator strap. Although digital mechanical watches had been done before (Cartier, Genta, and IWC had all produced their own), the Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk is probably the finest example of this type of complication. And what’s more, it arrived at just the right time!

The Take from The Devil’s Advocate

The devil doesn’t feel like saying anything at this point. He’s sulking because his favourite series, Reaper, was axed in May 2009. For me, the Zeitwerk is another Holy Grail among watches, right up there with Richard Mille. There’s very little to criticise, but if I really must perform my duty as devil’s advocate, I think the balance of the dial could have been improved by enlarging the two digital ‘screens’ and making the small seconds hand and power-reserve indicator smaller. Then again, perhaps it’s just that my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

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