Wrist Check: Review on the A.Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The world’s first mechanical “digital” wristwatch made by one of the finest watchmakers.

Luxury mechanical watches as the world used to know, usually comes with three hands; for the hour, the minute and the seconds. Even the most innovative brands stick to this tradition despite releasing all of the complications you ever imagine. In a competitive industry like luxury watches, everyone is fighting to stand out. Tourbillon, minute repeater, perpetual calendar and grand complication are becoming an “essential” collection that all major watchmakers must have in their inventory. Claiming to be the thinnest, the most complicated or the most innovative are unfortunately becoming a norm over the past few years whenever a new release is announced.

Let’s be honest here, how different is a grand complication from Patek Philippe as compared to a grand complication from Audemars Piguet? Many of you will argue that both brands are very different in terms of design. There is no doubt about that. However, other than the aesthetic and brand, the complication is still, the same. Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that brands like Patek, AP, JLC or Richard Mille are boring. I love them to death. (And would probably die before I can afford to own one….)  But they are just not “different” enough.

Does that mean that “complications” or innovation for luxury watches will remain stagnant for years to come? I’m pretty sure that the product development team at A.Lange & Söhne was thinking about the same questions prior to their new release in 2008.

When you think of a timepiece from A. Lange & Söhne, the Datograph or Lange 1 would probably be the first few models that ring a bell. After all, they are known to be one of the best dress watchmakers in the world. Of course, just like their competitors, we’ve seen A.Lange releasing super complications like the Double Split, Triple Split, Minute Repeater etc etc. However, in my humble opinion, the watch that shook the watch industry upon its debut is the Zeitwerk collection.

The Zeitwerk may not be what many will expect from Lange but it is a watch that collectors need. It’s a watch that steers away from the usual and surprises everybody.

In fact, I would personally prefer the Zeitwerk over the Datograph or Lange 1 as my first A. Lange & Söhne. Why? Because you will not find a watch like the Zeitwerk from other watchmakers of the same calibre.

The Zeitwerk is the first mechanical wristwatch that displays the time digitally. Unlike your usual mechanical timepiece, there are no hour and minute hands on the Zeitwerk. Instead, there are three discs underneath the dial that display the hour and minutes, bearing a general resemblance to digital clocks. The hour and minute display are framed within Lange’s signature German silver with small seconds sub-dial in the middle. Needless to say, reading the exact time on the Zeitwerk is much easier than the standard analogue watches, thanks to the large numerals in the windows. The crown, placed off-centre at 2 o’clock, makes winding relatively easy and gives the watch a unique look. The beautifully patterned crocodile strap is carefully hand-stitched with a practical buckle closure, although I would personally prefer the deployant clasp found on other Lange.

Despite the drastic differences in the design element and function, the Zeitwerk retains most of the characteristics of a Lange timepiece. Collectors will be able to recognise the “auf” and “ab” on the power reserve indicator as well as the signature Lange numeral fonts on the hour and minute display. If you own any other Lange, you will find that the Zeitwerk case styling is very similar. The satin-finished center of the white gold case and the narrowing lugs tones down the sporty elements of the watch, making it a more versatile option for dressier occasions.

The Zeitwerk digital time display mechanism is not an easy feat for watchmakers back then. The “jumping” minute indication has presented a massive challenge for many watch companies, due to the enormous amount of energy required to move the disks. Considering that the display discs jump 1608 times per day, a strong spring is required for the watch to function with accuracy.  However, too much power can damage the mechanical components, therefore Lange placed a tiny governor within the Zeitwerk to turn exactly 525,600 times per year.

On my relatively small wrist, any watch bigger than 41mm is usually too big and looks awkward. However, the lugs wrap nicely on my wrist and it does not look as “imposing” as compared to other watches of the same size. The Zeitwerk sits well on my wrist and wears comfortably, although I do have to tighten the strap all the way until the last loop. But that should not be a problem for you if you don’t have an extremely small wrist like me.

It wouldn’t do the Zeitwerk justice if I review a watch from A. Lange & Söhne without talking about the movement.  The sapphire crystal case-back provides an excellent view of the beautiful movement, which is a true work of art, just like all Lange creations. All 415 components in the movement are hand finished and engraved. Under the loupe, the details radiate the highest level of craftsmanship. The signature Lange three-quarter plate for the escape wheel is decorated with a Glashütte stripe finish and the endplate of the escape wheel is mirror polished. Even without a loupe, the movement is an absolute feast to the naked eyes.

Now, let’s talk about value. If you are looking for a watch that will increase or retain its value like the Nautilus or Royal Oak, you should look elsewhere. At the end of the day, Lange’s consumer usually cares more about the craftsmanship on their wrist instead of the monetary value of their watch. Is the Zeitwerk worth its price tag? It depends on your preference, but if I had the budget to spend, the Zeitwerk will definitely be high on my wishlist.  At 74,600 € (SGD$120,702), it will be oxymoronic to say that it is a bargain. But the craftsmanship of Lange and the technical innovation of the Zeitwerk are enough to justify the price tag. Within the same price range, you will have a variety of options from brands such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and even other models from A. Lange & Söhne to choose from. However, if you are looking for a watch with “WOW” factors and a more contemporary approach to dress watches, you should definitely consider the Zeitwerk.

To sweeten up the deal, you can find Zeitwerk in the secondary market selling for much lesser than retail price. For example, this specific pre-owned Zeitwerk is available for purchase at just SG$63,800, almost 50% off the MSRP stated on A. Lange & Söhne website. For around the same price, you can choose to go for a plain jane yet highly desirable Audemar Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo. Which is more value for the money? A stainless steel, time-only sports watch that is trading for almost twice its retail value? Or the world’s first-ever mechanical digital display wristwatch that is available for 50% less its retail value. I will let you decide on that.

Watch Specs:

  • Reference number: 140.029
  • Functions: Jumping hours and minutes, small seconds, power reserve indication
  • Movement: L043.1, manual-winding; 18,000 vph; 68 jewels; Incabloc shock absorption; Glucydur balance; eccentric fine regulation; swan neck fine regulation for the beat; in-house hairspring; constant-force escapement with in-house spring, hand-engraved balance bridge and escape wheel bridge; 36-hour power reserve
  • Case: White gold, sapphire crystal in front and back, caseback held by six screws, water-resistant to 30 meters, Diameter = 41.9 mm, height = 12.6 mm, weight = 141 g
  • Case number 541’167
  • Strap and clasp: Hand-stitched crocodile strap with white-gold prong clasp

Interested to add the Zeitwerk into your collection?  Feel free to contact us or drop us an email at  [email protected]. We will be more than happy to assist you!