Several years ago, contemporary Brazilian photographer and artist Vik Muniz epigrammatically described why the Lange 1 appealed to him so strongly since its 1994 debut, saying “Since this is one for the rest of my life, I want it to be pretty.”
From the day it was announced on October 24, 1994, the Lange 1 is likely the most recognizable watch in the Glashütte-based A. Lange & Söhne catalog. And for good reason — the prototypical big date display was the first in modern history, and the dial layout was like few others at the time. The collection has grown in scope and reputation since then, with all Lange 1 watches since having used some iteration of the original caliber L901.0 movement, immediately recognizable due to its august three-quarter plate done in German silver. Last month, A. Lange & Söhne updated the collection’s travel watch, the Lange 1 Time Zone, for the third time since its initial 2005 release, and it is set to be the final Lange 1 with an updated version of the L901.0.
As for the elephant in the room, yes it’s tricky to discuss a travel watch in the age of COVID-19, when traveling is both restricted and potentially dangerous. It’s even trickier when that travel watch has a price roughly equal to the median annual household income in the United States. I really hope the tone and content of this article convey my very real awareness of these facts and it serves as an appreciation of a work of horology, as opposed to a tone-deaf flaunting of a luxury status symbol. Now, back to the watch…
I’ve always admired Lange for not sticking to the traditional script of making major collection updates few and far between, rather choosing to constantly iterate and improve. The new Lange 1 Time Zone justifies the practice, revealing itself to be not only a near-perfect Time Zone but the white gold and black dial I spent some time with is perhaps my favorite Lange 1.
While the dial is changed and the movement is new, the case size remains untouched. Measuring 41.9mm-wide, 10.9mm-thick, and with a lug-to-lug height of 50mm, the Lange 1 Time Zone is sized for contemporary tastes. It’s not the thinnest manual-wind watch, but this is permissible considering the complexity and robustness of the L141.1 movement with its 448 components. The model I spent time with is the reference 136.029 in white gold case with black solid silver dial and rhodiumed gold hands. The other two new models are the reference 136.032 in pink gold with solid silver argenté dial and pink gold hands, and the 100-piece limited-edition reference 136.021, which is done in yellow gold with solid silver champagne dial and yellow gold hands.
I’ve noticed several people make the mistake of referring to the Lange 1 Time Zone as a world-timer which is not the case, even though the presence of the city ring is an understandable reason. World-timers show the time in each time zone, whereas the Lange 1 Time Zone only provides a second time zone. A city ring would need a corresponding 24-hour ring to be a world-timer. So, while the Lange 1 Time Zone cleverly incorporates the ease and aesthetics of the city ring, it is a dual-time zone watch and not a world-timer.
One reason I’ve always had a soft spot for the Lange 1 is because it immediately and effectively renounces the crutch of symmetry in design, rather favoring the rule of thirds AKA the golden ratio. Lange itself has a set of self-described design principles that includes, “Prominent design elements such as the asymmetric dial layout and the outsize date with a double aperture transformed the LANGE 1 — first introduced in 1994 — into a style-defining icon…The non-overlapping arrangement of the displays reflects the harmonious proportions of the golden ratio. Since antiquity, it has been considered a paragon of aesthetic equilibrium.”
While so much of the Lange 1 Time Zone’s charm lies in its joyously busy and asymmetrical dial, this new iteration does elegantly simplify the things just enough while achieving the same functionality as its antecedent. The 24-hour display was done through two small sub-dials, one within the larger home dial and one jutting out from the smaller second time zone dial. Each display had a blue semi-circle to indicate PM, which is a pretty simple and efficient way of communicating the 24-hour display.
Still, there was room for doing this more efficiently and elegantly. The new Lange 1 Time Zone loses two whole pointer hands by replacing the old dials with a rotating disk centered on each main dial. If the hour hand is over the blue semicircle, it’s PM, if not, it’s AM. The mechanism is simple, the blue semi-circle indicating PM completes one rotation per day, while the hour and minute hands complete the typical two rotations per day. This is a welcome change that I find to be a positive across the board. When you consider the previous Lange 1 Time Zone had 9 hands/pointers, this small but substantial edit makes just a few stitches less prominent.
In the above gif, you can see a bit of how the Lange 1 Time Zone operates.
First, the pusher at 8 o’clock moves the city ring one city from west to east, and pushing it 24 times would complete a full revolution around the city ring. Note that there are only one-hour deviations, so there are no 30 or 15-minute time zone increments. Second, something new for the updated Lange 1 Time Zone is the small aperture within the city pointer at 5 o’clock. When this aperture is red, this means the city observes daylight savings time and one hour needs to be added to the second time zone. Third, of course, the pusher at 10 o’clock advances the signature Lange big date forward. But, let’s get back to that DST function…
Whether or not Daylight Savings Time is actually being observed at that present moment isn’t something the watch can tell you. So, if I’m wearing the watch right now (late July) and the second time zone is set to New York in the Northern hemisphere, I would only add that hour between March 8 (“spring ahead”) and November 1st (“fall back”). From November 1st through March 14th 2021, you would not add the extra hour. An extra complicating factor in tracking this would be the fact that there is no uniformity between cities for when DST goes into effect. The next location on the city ring is Santiago, in the Southern hemisphere where DST doesn’t start until September 6th of this year and ends April 5th, 2020. A mechanism that could take this into account for all 24 cities would be a considerably huge undertaking, though Lange’s Director of Product Development Anthony de Haas did tell Hodinkee’s Jack Forster that such a movement is technically feasible.
Setting the time via crown simultaneously synchronizes the two time zone dials, though it is possible to decouple the two. By pushing and holding down on the city ring pusher at 8 o’clock and pulling out the crown to its second position you can set the main time zone, while only the minutes hand of the second time is also adjusted in parallel and the hour hand remains static.
The new calibre L141.1 is the first time Lange has updated the Time Zone’s movement since the watch debuted back in 2005, outfitted with the older L031.1 which was based on the first generation Lange 1 L901.0 calibre. Something that I admittedly may care about more than others is how much of the case is taken up by the movement, and while the new L141.1 is the same 34.1mm-wide (and 6.7mm-thick), the dial and case back are now uniformly sized. The L141.1 retains the three-day power reserve operating at 21,600 semi-oscillations per hour, although the twin mainspring barrel is replaced with a single barrel. There is also a new hairspring and balance wheel, but not the over-coiled free-sprung balance you’ll find in some Lange movements such as the L 155.1 Datomatic on the Odysseus. Made with 448 parts and 38 jewels, the manual-wind movement is a pure Lange masterpiece.
That monolithic three-quarter plate made of German silver is utterly perfect, all the while hovering over those beautifully finished parts of the movement that you don’t get a view into. This plate is a 156-year-old Lange hallmark first introduced by Ferdinard A. Lange, initially developed to improve movement stability as well as overall resistance.
The three-quarter plate is immaculately finished with Glashütte ribbing that is done hand-done by using a grinding wheel that operates at a slight incline and creates these incredible stripes. The quarter of the movement that you really do get a view into efficiently demonstrates all the techniques and finishing that Lange deploys. The bridges and plates have hand Perlage finishing, there are screwed gold chatons, and I delight at the whiplash spring which is mirror polished. In this process, the finisseur presses the movement component into the pith of an elderberry shoot, gradually guiding it to create figure eights on a film of finer and finer diamond powder. If done perfectly, it takes about two hours to complete the process. That’s if it’s done perfectly, as the process is highly sensitive to the presence of dust or how much pressure is being applied.
Of course, the hand-engraved balance cock and the hand-engraved intermediate wheel cock are the decorative highlights, as they have been. The Lange signature of the stylized flower petal engraving is perfect though never totally uniform as they are, of course, always done entirely by hand.
As recently as a decade or so ago, Lange was dinged for having dials or cases that didn’t quite reach the same truly special levels as its movements. I speak in past tense, as those days are long gone, but it really is impressive just how swiftly the German Lange has catapulted itself to the top tier alongside, or at times exceeding, what any members of the borderline heretical club produce. As I previously said, this black-dialed white gold Lange 1 Time Zone is by far my single favorite variant produced to date. Of course, this is due more to taste than execution, as I’d still do unspeakable things to get either of the other two current models in my collection.
This black-dialed white gold Time Zone embodies everything the watch enthusiast community loves about the Lange 1. The black dial with rhodiumed hands is magnificently crisp and legible, but it also affords a youthful informality that I’ve always found lacking in the warmer classic light dial with gold hand layout. Looking past the city ring and two time zone displays, the dial of the Lange 1 Time Zone has two more major aspects. First is that exalted big date window at 1 o’clock, which is just the essence of A. Lange & Söhne. About three times as big as a typical date window on a watch this size, the Lange outsize date was inspired by the five-minute clock found in the Dresden Semper Opera House, which was designed in 1838 with the intention of being easily used by audience members all the way in the back of the opera house. Easy to operate with the pusher at 10 o’clock, the date window is a masterful staple of the Lange 1.
Right below is the power-reserve indicator, pointing at auf when fully wound and ab when the manual-wind watch is out of power. I’m agnostic about power-reserve indicators on dials (indicators on the movement viewable via caseback are a whole different matter altogether), but I default to accept it, seeing as how it’s always been a feature on the Lange 1.
The new A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone further refines the already iconic contemporary Lange 1 Time Zone and emerges as one of the most impressively finished and balanced travel watches out there. A testament to German watchmaking, the Lange 1 Time Zone is available in three variants: the limited edition of 100 pieces yellow gold ref. 136.021 is priced at $56,100 and both the pink gold ref. 136.032 and the white gold ref. 136.029 are priced at $52,900. You can learn more at alange-soehne.com.