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A Different Digital: The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date

This A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date is one of the newest watch models that was added to the already popular Zeitwerk collection in 2019. This new reference (148.038 if you’re wondering) adds a date complication, as well as some notable technical improvements. Regardless of the additional complication, the watch still retains all the instant jumping digital charm of the original in a package that’s modern but still has a strong connection to Lange’s heritage.  

History

While the history of A. Lange & Söhne in the modern context is relatively short, with the brand relaunching just 31 years ago, the original founding of the brand was in 1845. This Zeitwerk Date and the standard Zeitwerk from which it was born both have strong design links to some of founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s earliest work as a watchmaker.

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When Ferdinand was a young watchmaker, he worked on a large digital display clock in the Dresden Opera House, which is still there to this day. If you look it up, you can instantly see the connection between this opera house clock and the Zeitwerk Date’s design. The typeface on the numerals is extremely similar, and even the shape of the plate surrounding the numerals on the dial matches the shape of the frame on the opera clock. So while this Zeitwerk Date was recently launched in 2019 to celebrate ten years of the Zeitwerk line, it’s also a tribute to the brand’s rich history. It’s worth noting here that this plate is not just a little visual add-on, but rather acts as one of the main bridges supporting its geartrain.

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Design Details

The Zeitwerk Date is a complicated timepiece with a simple design. Despite Lange adding a date complication, they still made sure this watch was instantly recognizable as a Zeitwerk. To achieve this, they avoided using their trademark big date—there’s already enough big numerals on this watch—and instead moved the date to the outer perimeter of the dial. This distinct peripheral glass date display has instant jumping functionality just like the hour and minute numerals and displays the current date in red.

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The red from the date and power reserve are a welcome, fun, and functional pop of color that stands out among the various shades of grey. However, with this added outer date track comes a significant size increase; this model measure 44.2mm in diameter compared to the 41.9mm of the original. The size increase, along with the lustrous white gold case and its prominently protruding lugs, means this watch is not for the faint of wrist, but it’s good looking enough that you may not care. One detail that stands out to me is curved brushed finishing on the plate that surrounds the hours, minutes, and seconds. Lange’s finishing is second to none, and getting a taste of that on the dial is a welcome treat. 

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If you’re a fan of Lange, the round case, rectangular lugs, and finishing, which is polished on the bezel and lugs but brushed around the case band, will be very familiar. What’s new to this watch, however, are the two pushers at eight and four o’clock. The pusher at eight advances the date while the pusher at four advances the hour; the minutes are done via the crown. It’s intuitive, straightforward, and begging to be played with. In fact, the Zeitwerk Date’s most impressive trait may just be that it will make you excited for the end of the month and daylight savings time. Creating a watch this simple to read and operate, however, is anything but simple. The movement inside the Zeitwerk Date is exceptionally advanced and equally as beautiful. 

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Inner Workings

Powering the Zeitwerk Date is the A. Lange & Söhne in house caliber L043.8. This is a manually wound movement with a 72-hour power reserve thanks to its two stacked barrels. The movement utilizes a remontoire d’egalite constant-force escapement, which allows the watch to maintain accuracy when the power is winding down or after the energy-intense jumping of the minutes, hours, or date display.

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The jumping digits individually are taxing, but together, as is the case at midnight, when all of them jump at once, this effect gets amplified. This instant jumping not only takes more energy than moving a traditional watch hand, but it’s also physically disruptive and, without consideration taken, could disrupt the rate of the timepiece. The constant force escapement used solves for both of these issues at once. On top of being a technically advanced movement, the L043.8 is, as expected, exceptionally finished.

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Fully visible through the display caseback are the beautifully blued screws, the engraved ratchet wheel, filigreed remontoir bridge, and german silver and jewels aplenty. Lange makes reliable and advanced movements from an engineering standpoint, but visually, they’re almost without peers and are often considered the most beautiful in the industry.

The Zeitwerk Date Vs. the competition

The Zeitwerk Date is a distinctive watch at a very high price point—this example is selling for $98,500, making its field of direct competition somewhat small. One of the first watches that came to mind as an alternative to The Zeitwerk Date is the F.P. Journe Vagabondage III. The Vagabondage III has jumping digital hours and minutes but is unique among this group in that it also has jumping seconds. It utilizes an exceptionally finished and advanced movement that—like the Lange—employs a remontoire d’égalité constant force escapement. It’s a more petite watch with its Tortue shaped case measuring 45.2 mm x 37.6 mm x 7.84 mm and has a bit of a bolder look but is still very much formal appropriate like The Zeitwerk Date.

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The big caveat with the Vagabondage is that it was only produced in 69 examples in platinum and 68 in red gold, making it very hard to get a hold of. This also makes its price hard to nail down. From the market data I could gather, I would expect to pay upwards of $60,000 for a good example. Another watch to consider if you like the mechanical digital approach of The Zeitwerk Date is the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime Gunmetal. It’s a much more aggressive and sporty take on the mechanical digital concept and aesthetically has more in common with a UFO than the Zeitwerk, but they both share the same zeal in their resistance to the status quo.

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The caveat with the UR-100 SpaceTime Gunmetal is similar to the Journe in that it was only produced in 25 examples. A good example can be found for around $100,000. When considering these three, I think it really comes down to how casual or formal you want to go. The Zeitwerk Date is easily the most formal, with the Journe a bit in the middle and the UR-100 filling a distinctly sporty role.

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Personality

The Zeitwerk Date is a watch for someone who wants to take the road less traveled. It’s for the collector who loves high-quality classical watchmaking but has a desire for something unusual. At this price point, anyone who’s buying The Zeitwerk Date can, within reason, buy pretty much any watch they want, so the decision to go with this watch is a statement that they purposefully avoided some currently very hyped up watches.

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Final Thoughts

This timepiece is everything you love about A. Lange & Söhne all rolled up into one. It’s got a simple and intuitive design despite utilizing an advanced and complicated movement, its finishing is superb, and it’s not one of the holy trinity brands that you see so much of despite its quality being up to their standard. The Zeitwerk Date is German watchmaking at its finest, or one might say it’s just watchmaking at its finest.

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