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We’ll meet again…

It’s a song that’s been playing quite a bit over the past few months. That refrain was even referenced by Her Majesty the Queen, in a rare non-Christmas broadcast to the nation. Strangely, I have a feeling that this watch, the new LANGE 1 TIME ZONE from A. Lange & Söhne, might well provide a solution, although speaking to both Zeina Dakak (from PR Agency ZDLUX&Co.) and Tony de Haas (Director of Product Development at A Lange & Söhne) over Zoom, I was reminded that it may be some time away.

At this point, I should probably state that I have no financial links to A. Lange & Söhne, or ZDLUX&Co., their UK PR Agency*. In a rather lovely twist of fate, however, it was while I was talking to Zeina about an unrelated matter that she mentioned that she might be able to loan me the new LANGE 1 TIME ZONE ahead of its official launch on 25th June. As you know, I’m an infrequent writer at the best of times, and rarely get the opportunity to see watches under embargo, unless they are at larger events, such as SIHH (now Watches and Wonders). Spending time with any watch is a privilege; spending time with A. Lange & Söhne’s first material update to their 2005 icon is an honour.

A. Lange & Söhne's LANGE 1 TIME ZONE 2020
On the wrist, the 10.9mm x 41.9mm case is nigh on perfect

As many of you will recall, the LANGE 1 TIME ZONE debuted on the 8th July 2005, a few years before the majority of the current batch of #watcherati were writing, so there are few reviews of the event. However, I did find a brief write-up on Timezone. Coincidentally (and please do correct me if I’m wrong) I think there’s a rather odd link between the launch of the original TIME ZONE and the COVID-19 enforced virtual reveal of this new version: they both occurred online. When the original model was released, a live link-up to jewellers in 36 countries took place, with the watch being unveiled via satellite from Glashütte.

Almost fifteen years later, I find myself speaking to Tony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne’s Director of Product Development, via Zoom. In many ways, it’s a fitting way to discuss the TIME ZONE – the virtual medium squashes any sense of time, and with the advent of virtual backgrounds, one is never sure from where they are really taking place (Tony’s background was the TIME ZONE dial, obviously). He explained that the calibre L141.1 had been some years in the making, having been started in 2014 as part of the ongoing effort to update the entire LANGE 1 range. Many of these changes are obvious from the dial, while the display case back reveals the now iconic 3/4 plate movement, complete with central “island” and decorated cocks.

You may notice that the jewel count has dropped, presumably due to the removal of the second barrel and its associated gearing, but other than that, the module of the wheels has remained similar and the overall look of the L141.1 is reassuringly familiar (apart from the missing gold chaton). Although other members of the LANGE 1 family have been given a free-sprung balance and weights, the LANGE 1 retains the original balance wheel and signature hand-engraved cock.

the A. Lange & Söhne calibre L141.1
The 3/4 plate and iconic “island” of the LANGE 1 TIME ZONE

The first, although not necessarily most obvious, update is to the movement. Gone is the compound DOPPELFEDERHAUS statement, replaced with GANGRESERVE 72 STUNDEN. For those non-German speaking readers, this refers to the removal of the double mainspring that previously provided a 72-hour power reserve. A single, slightly larger, barrel is now able to provide the same guaranteed power, as well as accurate timekeeping throughout the duration, including the ability to operate the city ring pushers and associated indicators. While this provided some additional room in the movement, there is no change to the dimensions of the watch (it’s still an almost wilful 41.9mm x 10.9mm).

The large date sits proudly at the top right of the dial, directly above the power indicator hand and local time zone. The off-centre home time display is on the left – something that still has its detractors, even fifteen years on. Perhaps that’s the sign of good design; to be polarising but still to be recognised as iconic.

A. Lange & Söhne LANGE 1 TIME ZONE
A. Lange & Söhne LANGE 1 TIME ZONE

The next change is far less subtle – gone are the quirky day/night indicator sub-dials, to be replaced by centrally rotating discs on each display. It can’t be easy, updating an icon. For many, the off-centred symmetry of the original TIME ZONE was part of its charm – a modicum of chaos in a world of order. Unlike most other LANGE 1 family members, none of the golden spirals, squares or triangles quite described the dial layout, which appeared to be in a permanent state of tension. There now appears to be more space in which the two sub-dials and power reserve indicator can breathe, while the enlarged city ring pointer draws the eye. In addition, the rotating day/night indicators are more intuitive to read, and no longer require a change of thinking in order to read across home and local time (the original indicator scales were at right angles to each other). Replacing the off-centre indicator also allows us to see the entire local time dial for the first time, removing the need for an “eaten eight”.

These two indicator dials are made in-house, rather than by A. Lange & Sohne’s dial manufacturer, due to the tolerances to make them fit and the specialist finishing required. Each indicator is solid silver, with an applied protective coating, so ensuring that each of the dials-within-a-dial sits properly is essential. And while dial making tolerances are usually quite good, they pale into comparison to the tolerances that are used when producing watch components.

Calibre L141.1, the company’s 65th to be produced since 1994 (C) A. Lange & Sohne 2020

The dial of the pink gold / argenté LANGE 1 TIME ZONE is a subtle blend of silvers, greys and blacks, which act to soften the contrast. I haven’t had a chance to look at the champagne-dialled yellow gold version, nor the white gold model with black dial, but it would be interesting to compare them. The subtle use of grey is very pleasing indeed, and is mirrored in the track of the local time dial, as well as the track and markers on the running seconds sub-dial.

As mentioned previously, GANGRESERVE 72 STUNDEN now replaces the tracked-out DOPPELFEDERHAUS, while the almost embarrassingly small “MADE IN GERMANY” remains below the home time dial. In another slight change, the weight of the Monograph Engravers-inspired typeface used on the city wheel appears slightly different; I asked Lee Yuen-Rapati, multidisciplinary designer and creator of watch-specific typeface Matic, for his view. He agreed, noting that a different font within the typeface may have been used for this version, and also pointed out that the kerning on AUF had also been fixed, to reduce the space between the A and the U.

A. Lange & Söhne day/night indicators
The LANGE 1 TIME ZONE’s dial appears more balanced, following the introduction of two day/night indicator dials

Although the movement has been reworked, there is little mechanical evidence of this; the two pushers for changing the city ring are placed prominently on the left hand side of the case, transmitting the instruction to move the city ring forwards or backwards via a level, star wheel and pinion. The city wheel then transfers that movement via two wheels (the city ring correction wheel and an intermediate wheel) to the local time zone hour hand (and the day/night indicator). I was unable to use the city wheel on the watch I borrowed, as the movement had been stopped. The original LANGE 1 had a very satisfying double-click to it, as the star wheel / pinion engaged with the city ring, and then disengaged to engage with the wheels to change the hour hand.

A. Lange & Söhne LANGE 1 TIME ZONE
The two pushers that operate the City Wheel on the LANGE 1 TIME ZONE

The red window in the city pointer is the DST indicator: rather than correcting for summer time in each time zone (a complication that would be akin to several times more difficult to produce than a perpetual calendar) the indicator shows which cities observe Summer Time, warning the wearer that the time may be different. You can see from the technical drawing below that the city ring is notched, like the programme wheel of a traditional perpetual calendar. When there is a raised area, the city observes DST; where it is lower, the DST indicator will revert to white.

A. Lange & Söhne LANGE 1 TIME ZONE City Wheel
The A. Lange & Söhne LANGE 1 TIME ZONE Calibre L141.1, with city ring, showing cities where DST is observed

I don’t know where, or when, I’ll see this watch again. It was a pleasure to spend some time with it, marvelling at the striped 3/4 plate and the deeply engraved cocks, and the subtle changes that had been made to the dial design and visible movement parts. I particularly enjoyed wearing the watch in natural light, as the new dial really shines in sunlight. As a travel watch, and a piece of watchmaking, it remains one of my favourite examples of the complication: a slightly quirky piece of German-made horology that has always done things slightly differently. I wish I’d had a chance to spend more time with it, and to use it in another time zone, but that luxury, the luxury of travel, will have to come later.

With this upgrade, the last of the LANGE 1 family to be updated, A. Lange & Söhne can move forward to their next challenges. Tony tells me that design on this calibre started in 2014, and that he currently has his team of ten movement designers working on another 15. It’s a remarkable watch from a remarkable brand.

* I have enjoyed A. Lange & Söhne’s hospitality at previous events (the last being the final SIHH in 2019, where I was a self-funded representative of the Horologium ‘blog, and the most memorable being a rare dinner in the Octagon Room at the Royal Observatory on a balmy Summer Solstice eve in 2017). You may well ask whether I would have posted on Instagram, or written this piece if I had not been lent a watch for 36 hours. And you’d be right to ask. I probably would have mentioned it in my IG Stories, as the LANGE 1 TIME ZONE happens to be one of my favourite complications. But I’m unlikely to have spent this amount of time writing an article. Probably.

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