2024 is the 15th anniversary of A. Lange & Söhne‘s original introduction of the Zeitwerk watch back in 2009. The Zeitwerk is a mechanical watch with a digital time display, and it has been produced in a series of mostly limited-edition variations over the years as one of the more exotic watches produced by the elevated Saxon brand. Today, we’ll be discussing one limited-edition Zeitwerk version of 200 pieces, the reference 142.055 A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Honeygold Lumen. The timepiece is steeped with narrative and quality and stands as a legitimate “grail watch” for many enthusiasts. Let’s uncover some of the layers of the Zeitwerk and why I believe this A. Lange & Söhne model family is so compelling.

Even though many people associate digital (versus analog) displays to be modern, the Zeitwerk is actually a vintage-inspired watch. This complicated mechanical movement is A. Lange & Söhne’s effort to re-create (in wristwatch form) a digital-style clock originally produced in the 1830s for opera audiences. The original creator of the clock was a watchmaker known as Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, who designed the clock on order from the royal court so that audiences would know when opera performances were meant to begin at the historic Dresden Semper Opera House. It was too dark in the room to see the hands of a traditional 12-hour clock, and thus a digital hours and five-minute display was created above the stage to be legible and not too distracting. The clock was rebuilt at least two times due to instances where the Semper Opera House was destroyed (due to fire, or bombing during wartime). Since Dresden is the closest major town outside Glashutte, there is another connection between the opera clock and A. Lange & Söhne. Ferdinand Adolph Lange — orignal founder of A. Lange & Söhne— was the son-in-law of Gutkaes and also studied watchmaking under him.

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In 2009, just a few months before the release of the Zeitwerk, I visited the Dresden Semper Opera House with the brand and certainly noticed the clock. I mentioned to the representatives how appropriate it would be if they built a wristwatch version of it and the A. Lange & Söhne team all smiled and nodded knowingly, with the awareness that just such a product was only months away from being announced. The primary difference between this “Lumen” version of the Zeitwerk and the original is the dial and application of luminous material. The Zeitwerk was the first Lange watch to receive the “Lumen” treatment (which has since been applied to some other models), which changes the look of the dial and offers the ability to read the time in the dark. The principal innovation wasn’t just the use of luminous material for printing the digits, but rather the nature of the smoked sapphire crystal dial. For the numerals to be sufficiently luminous when they jump into display in their respective windows, they must first be charged with light. This would not be possible with a traditional solid dial. To solve this, A. Lange & Söhne has developed a semi-opaque sapphire crystal section for much of the face. The trick is to allow enough light in to charge the SuperLumiNova material, but not have an unattractive view of the discs which should for the most part remain discreet. The outcome is very impressive, and the Lumen has been an instant hit with collectors since its first iteration.

This particular version of the Zeitwerk Lumen also comes in A. Lange & Söhne’s proprietary gold alloy blend it calls “honeygold.” As far as I know, all Zeitwerk watches have had precious metal cases, but Honeygold is the most distinctive to the A. Lange & Söhne brand because it has a slightly unique hue. This unique alloy is particularly beautiful when paired with black or brown tones. Accordingly, the reference 142.055 watch has an 18k Honeygold case, a black-accented dial, and a deep brown alligator strap. It looks fantastic on the wrist.

A. Lange & Söhne has created even larger versions of the Zeitwerk over the years, as it has worked to flesh out the collection with further complications. The Zeitwerk platform has seen a chiming decimal minute repeater and a striker, and later, A. Lange & Söhne  even introduced a version of the Zeitwerk with a date display. Still, in many ways, the basic version is the best, mainly because of its focused functionality and because the other versions of the Zeitwerk are larger (and the musical ones are vastly more expensive). The Zeitwerk Honeygold Lumen has a case about 42mm wide, 12.6mm thick, and is water resistant to 30 meters. The crown of the watch is placed at the 2 o’clock position so as not to stick into your wrist, and despite the size, it is very comfortable to wear.

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Despite the Semper Opera House history of the Zeitwerk’s display system, the watch feels much more connected to contemporary machines and vehicles. A. Lange & Söhne hasn’t really found anything other than vintage high-end automobiles as a theme to connect the Zeitwerk with. Accordingly, if you are into the design and construction of such driving machines, you can see various compatible philosophies at play. The dial of the Zeitwerk feels much more like a dashboard instrument display than a traditional timepiece dial. I would be interested to hear what readers associate mentally when seeing the Zeitwerk. What does this A. Lange & Söhne watch remind you of?

Since A. Lange & Söhne introduced the Zeitwerk a long time ago, the price has increased quite a bit. The brand’s reputation and demand have gone up, too, and I think A. Lange & Söhne simply decided that the limited production and niche nature of the Zeitwerk allow it to value each a bit more. That’s probably true and even with the higher price the Zeitwerk still feels relatively competitive. With that said, this is an expensive watch and built as such. Quality oozes from all angles of the timepiece whether you inspect the finely polished surfaces of the in-house mechanical movement or admire the extreme precision with which the digital indicators change on the minute, or on the hour.

On the dial of the Zeitwerk are two large windows for indicating the time digitally. That includes a single disc for the jumping hours and two overlapping discs (similar to the brand’s big date display) that indicate the minutes. The dial also has a traditional analog subsidiary seconds dial, and a power reserve indicator. This latter feature is extremely important for this watch because it is not only manually wound but also very power-hungry. Having said that, since the original release of the Zeitwerk, Lange has improved the movement including increasing the power reserve. I believe the original Zeitwerk only had about 36 hours of power reserve, while the latest versions have increased that to a more competitive 72 hours.

Why is the movement so power-hungry? Inside the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk is the caliber L043.6. Manually wound and comprised of 462 parts, the movement operates at a steady 2.5Hz rate (18,000 bpm) and has a power reserve of 72 hours. In order to make sure that the power-intensive moving discs operate correctly (and quickly) the L043.6 also has a complicated constant force escapement system. This is where much of the power goes. This system is necessary because a force accumulator was found to be the best system to ensure that enough power is used to move the discs, but that the watch also remains accurate. The constant force systems are designed to slowly accumulate energy, which is then used in one large burst when some or all of the discs need changing. The most power-intense operation occurs when an hour changes and all three discs need to shift at the same time. This operation would totally destroy isochronism, without the application of a constant force mechanism playing as an intermediary in the movement. Visually, you can see much of this through the sapphire crystal caseback while admiring the truly beautiful mechanical movement in action.

The movement is entirely decorated (even the parts you can’t see) and includes a combination of polishes done entirely by hand or via hand-operated machines (such as perlage or striping). As is the case with all Lange movements, the 3/4 mainplate is produced from an alloy known as German silver. What makes it special is that it doesn’t corrode, although it “patinates” in the sense that the color deepens a bit over time. This allows for more precision machining and polishing without having to coat or treat the metal components later for long-term environmental resistance. The combination of well-made components and Lange’s love of large proportions and flourish on the movements gives A. Lange & Söhne mechanisms that special status I mentioned above.

As you can see, there is a lot to “nerd out” on when it comes to the Zeitwerk whether you are discussing the history of watchmaking in Germany’s Saxony region, exclusive high-end horology, interesting mechanical mechanisms, or original manifestations of “modern classic” design. In a lot of ways, a watch like this supplies endless room for conversation (or debate), and for that reason, it becomes so appealing as a grail more so than just a high-end watch. Every time I see someone wearing an A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk watch in person, I get happy because of how neat these watches are. The wearers are all confident, mature in their watch knowledge, and, of course, playful in personality. Clearly, a good choice for their wrists. Your wrist, too? All you need now is to be able to afford and buy one of these rare beauties. Price for the A. Lange & Söhne limited edition of 200 pieces reference 142.055 Zeitwerk Honeygold Lumen watch when it debuted in 2021 was $145,000 USD (but has reportedly increased in retail price since then). Learn more at the A. Lange & Söhne website.

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