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Why not...? - Futility and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

Why not...? Futility and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

Our collector usually prefers more simple watches rather than complications. But the Zeitwerk Date has won him over...

First there was a stick in the ground. You needed to know which way the sun was heading, when the menacing black of night would fall and whether it was time to go out hunting. Later, man continued with his desire to imprison time so that he could read it and master it. He has always been interested in the stars and equations. He has calculated, he has measured and in the end he has succeeded.

That’s how the art of horology was born. First of all it was a useful machine. The ability to read time turned it into something concrete. It also allowed man to discover the world. With “watches”, time became a concrete reality that was visible and almost touchable.

After succeeding in showing the time, the next step was to make it “exact”. This is when we started talking about precision. The mad rush for perfection started, leading to numerous innovations. But exactitude always remained just out of reach.

Then came the era of complications: the moon, the date, chiming mechanisms and much more. Watches became complicated, able to provide more and more information. There was an overriding desire always to do better. But above all, time still needed to be legible…

The race continued. Exactitude, reliability and complexity. Engineers and watchmakers worked as a team, but sometimes also against each other. On the one hand there was the consideration of mechanics; on the other the arrival of electronics and using digits rather than hands.

Like every attempt at simplification, the task was… complicated.

But with the world being what it is, technology once again helped solve the problem and “digital” time was born.

There was no need to learn how to read the time displayed by hands. Time became as simple as a few red numbers on a black screen.

Behind this simplicity, another battle was raging. Quartz against gear trains. Electronics against mechanics. Complexity against simplicity. And last but not least, taking time against speed. New movements appeared. They contained electronic components that were easy to mass produce and sell.

They were also a lot cheaper and more precise, more modern.

The “beautiful” movement lost this battle. But the war on time continued. Another enemy was watching. Information technology arrived. The clock became software and thus even more simple. It was even easier to place it anywhere.

Time became ubiquitous. It was available everywhere: on your telephone, in your car, on your fridge, even your hoover. Not a minute goes by without us knowing exactly what time it is. Not just here, but everywhere. Time has no boundaries and no physical limits.

So what about the “watch” in all this?

It was beautiful, professional, useful. It allowed us to navigate, fly, find our way. It probably saved a lot of lives and aided with major discoveries.

But today it has become futile.

It’s interesting to note that the more people become passionate about watches, the more the object itself becomes useless. Some people even wear their watches without even bothering to set them, like a fashion accessory. Is this the supreme insult? Or is it the ultimate way of paying tribute to this strange object?

Digital killed analogue. The number beat the hand. The component beat the movement.

But in spite of everything, the watch is not dead. Quite the contrary, in fact. It has transformed from a useful object to a futile object. I would even go as far as saying that it has moved from the brain to the heart.

Science seemed to have won over craftsmanship.

But all it really did was give it another dimension. And this is the story that the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date tells...

Why A. Lange & Söhne?

Even though its history dates back to the end of the 19th century, the true – and singular – adventure of A. Lange & Söhne really started at the end of the second world war. In the final days of the conflict, the Lange factory was destroyed. But rather than marking the end of a story, the date became a reference that has marked the history of this exceptional brand. Because after the war came the occupation and the secession. The factory ended up on the East German side. It was nationalised and slowly started to disappear.

But A. Lange & Söhne had a date with History. Big history – the fall of the Berlin Wall – and small history, the history of watchmaking. The brand was still alive and what’s more its founders wanted to bring back its former glory.

They did much better than that.

The company was re-established in 1990. The teams got to work and the first patents were filed in 1992 and the Lange 1, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, was born in 1994. This watch put A. Lange & Söhne back at centre stage. And it did so in style, immediately setting out its fine watchmaking credentials and its willingness to compete with Swiss references like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.

Futility and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

Lange 1 « 25th Anniversary » © A. Lange & Söhne

The challenge seemed enormous, but it was completed with great success.

Today, A. Lange & Söhne watches are a dream – often an inaccessible one – for collectors. The brand has created its own style and a place in the wonderful world of fine watchmaking. Seriousness, rigour, excellence and attention to detail make every A. Lange & Söhne watch a genuine work of art.

The Zeitwerk that I am going to talk about is a great example of this combination of style, mechanical excellence and – unusually for A. Lange & Söhne – a touch of craziness and even humour...

The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date: when Digital strikes back!

Before talking about the Zeitwerk, I need to make a confession. I like simple, affordable and quite sporty watches. I have huge respect for the work of watchmakers but I have never been a big fan of complications. Chiming watches, perpetual calendars and tourbillons do not stir any great emotions in me. And when I see complications layered on a watch like the ingredients on a burger at my favourite fast food chain, I am wary. 


But only fools never change their mind and I think that the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk is one of the most beautiful watches around at the moment. It was first presented in 2008 as a world first: a digital watch that was fully automatic. Others had tried before, but A. Lange & Söhne succeeded with the Zeitwerk, a genuine exploit: creating a grand complication that was simple.

Futility and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

Zeitwerk models © A. Lange & Söhne

The entire history of the Zeitwerk is based on this word: simple. The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk is a work of art that is easy to read, but not so easy to understand. I’m not a watchmaker, so I will not attempt to pass comment on the huge work that was required to create this digital watch. It might look simple on the surface, but the fact that the movement inside the Zeitwerk comprises over 500 components should be enough to understand the level of sophistication and technology involved.

This is the magic that attracts me to the Zeitwerk. Instead of making complications more complicated, A. Lange & Söhne has taken a different approach. Like in judo, where you use the strength of your opponent, the teams at A. Lange & Söhne have taken up the challenge of a digital display, the sworn enemy of fine watchmaking. Rather than eliminating it, they have mastered it and put their creativity at the service of simplicity.

The Zeitwerk was born.

At the SIHH 2019, A. Lange & Söhne presented a new version of the Zeitwerk. Yet again, it’s all about simplicity combined with mechanical excellence. Because what’s new is “just” the addition of the date...

Futility and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

Zeitwerk Date © A. Lange & Söhne

What? Just a date? I hear you cry.

But to remain true to the philosophy of simplicity this date is on a simple, legible but extremely complex outer disc. Why? Because of one very simple detail: how do you set a date when the display is “digital mechanical”. For a number of reasons that I won’t go into here, this can take time. So a new system needed to be invented for quick date setting that was compatible with the Zeitwerk movement. This is why the “date” complication is a technical exploit. All you have to do is press a button...

Futility and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

Zeitwerk Date © A. Lange & Söhne

Other than the addition of a date, this A. Lange & Söhne remains true to itself. It has a smooth design and an understated aesthetic. The power reserve and small seconds are still visible. It is dressed in grey, with a white-gold case. And the strap is in gold leather, which I particularly like.

All the things that have made A. Lange & Söhne are present on this watch. It is as beautiful as it is easy to understand. It has an inner richness that perfectly meets the objectives of any watchmaker since the dawn of time: showing what time it is.

What does the devil’s advocate think?

They say that the devil is in the details. And the Zeitwerk is not short of them.

This watch is almost perfect. It is balanced, beautiful, refined. It’s difficult to find fault with it. The logo may be a little big, as is the power reserve indicator. But these are only minor details.

Some may complain that the watch is bigger and thicker than the “normal” Zeitwerk (44mm vs 42mm), but for once I like the fact that the model with the date has a bigger presence on the wrist.

So, congratulations again. With this Zeitwerk Date, A. Lange & Söhne has got me liking complications!

How to wear the Zeitwerk Date with a style that is both simple and complicated?

When I first saw the Zeitwerk I immediately thought of the mechanical belts by Roland Iten. They are the complete opposite of what the Zeitwerk is, an exercise in mechanical art that makes a simple object – a belt buckle – complicated. I therefore see these two objects as complementary.

But apart from the belt, you need to keep it low profile!

With its size, grey livery and dark-brown alligator strap, the Zeitwerk Date is rather sporty.

I can see it going well with a simple bespoke jacket from Cifonelli. Because tailor-made is the only way to pay tribute to such a watch.

Chinos from Kiton would be a good choice for the trousers, since the Italian brand is renowned for its attention to detail. For the same reason, the Berluti Zero Cut is the perfect match for the Zeitwerk.

These shoes show no stitching made out of a single piece of leather are to shoemaking what the Zeitwerk is to watchmaking: the use of the finest craftsmanship at the service of the purest aesthetic.

If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date, make the most of it. There is no better way than to sit on the terrace of a café, order a ristretto and watch time go by.


Lecture 1 Comment(s)

23 January 2019
thank you for thinking of roland iten mechanical luxury in your article regarding this magnificent A. lange & soehne zeitwerk. you propose that they serve opposite purposes, however, i would venture to say that they are quite similar in that they both solve everyday problems in an elegant and functional manner. And they both boast cool mechanical features!!
23 January 2019
Thanks for your comment Carol. Serge doesn't say that they serve different purposes. In fact, he says that they are complementary: "They are the complete opposite of what the Zeitwerk is, an exercise in mechanical art that makes a simple object – a belt buckle – complicated. I therefore see these two objects as complementary."

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