The Lange 1 is one of the great watch designs of the last fifty years, and when it was originally released as part of Lange’s first collection in 1994, it took the watch world by storm (albeit being taken by storm in the watch world was rather a more sedate affair than now, in those pre-social media days). It has become such a staple of horology in the last 26 years that it is hard to imagine that it hasn’t been around much longer, and it seems to me as enduring and irreplaceable a part of post-World War II watch design as the Royal Oak and Nautilus, albeit of a very different nature.
The Lange 1 spawned a whole family of watches in subsequent years (there are a total of nine in the current collection, including everything from the Grand Lange 1 to the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar) all with a basic movement architecture derived from the original Lange caliber L901.0, with its two distinctive “islands” in the middle of the German silver 3/4 plate. In 2015, the L901.0 was updated to the new L121.1 (for a comparison between the old and new versions of the movement, check out our In-Depth story). Since then, Lange has been updating movements in other watches in the Lange 1 family, and today, it has announced a new version of the Lange 1 Time Zone, which Lange says is now the last watch in the Lange 1 family to receive a technical update to its original movement. This is the first technical update to the Lange 1 Time Zone since it was first launched in 2005.
The newest version of the Lange 1 Time Zone retains the dimensions of the original at 41.9mm x 10.9mm, and at launch, you’ll be able to get it in white gold with a black dial and pink gold with an “argenté” dial. There will be a limited edition as well of 100 pieces in yellow gold with a champagne dial (which would probably be my own personal choice, not because it is a limited edition, but because there is something about the combination which speaks to a deep and irrational attraction to the old-school luxury vibe of the combination). The new version’s updates from a design perspective are rather subtle, but the overall effect is of a somewhat visually cleaner watch, and one which is easier to use as well.
The most immediately noticeable change is to the 24-hour display. Formerly, this was implemented in the Lange 1 Time Zone through the relatively simple expedient of nestling two small sub-dials with pointers in the home time and time-zone dials. This works and was hardly a fatal flaw from a design standpoint (the original Lange 1 Time Zone is one of the most popular Lange 1 models), but in the interest of greater clarity, this is changed in the new model. Instead of separate dials, we now have, in the center of each of the main dials, a rotating disk divided across its diameter by a blue sector. These disks rotate once every 24 hours, and whenever the hour hand is over the blue sector, it’s PM for that time zone. A pusher at 8:00 adjusts the city ring in one-hour increments (as per the usual custom, there are 24 reference cities for each time zone with a full hour offset from GMT), and there’s a pusher at 10:00 to adjust the big date. The mechanism for advancing the city ring is a complex one as the pusher for incrementing the city ring has to advance the city ring, time zone hour hand, and day/night disk simultaneously; 67 components make up the entire corrector system.
Reached by Zoom (what else), Lange’s Director Of Product Development Anthony de Haas told us that the reason for an AM/PM indication in the larger of the two dials – which is the home time dial as the watch is usually set up – is owing to the fact that it’s possible to set the hour hand in the main time-zone dial independently. You do this by pulling the crown out to the second position and holding down the pusher for advancing the hour hand in the time-zone dial. Normally, when setting the time by the crown, the hour hands are synchronized along with the minute hands, but this maneuver decouples the hour hands and lets you use the larger of the two dials for local time, with the smaller dial on home time. If there’s no day/night indication in the (larger) home time dial, there is no way of knowing, if you decide to use it as a local time dial, whether or not the big date will switch correctly at midnight. Apparently, says de Haas, Lange realized this a bit late in the development of the original Lange 1 Time Zone, and it was something of a scramble to implement a second day/night indication in time for the deadline of the first release.
Another small but useful addition is a change in the pointer which indicates the time zone reference city. It still performs its basic function of showing the correct reference city for the time-zone dial, but it now includes a small window which shows you whether or not that city is one in which Daylight Saving Time/Summer Time is observed – red for DST and white if DST is not observed.
With the dial off and city ring removed (above), L141.1’s cadrature (that’s the term for under-the-dial work – it occurs to me that there must be a German equivalent which I ought to know, but don’t) is visible. You can see the two disks for the 24-hour indicators, as well as the paddle-shaped red and white indicator for DST or the lack thereof.
The position of the DST indicator is controlled by the city ring, which indexes it to the appropriate color as you click through the different time zones. The lever which indexes the GMT indication is shown above at 3-4:00, and its tip, adjacent to the number 8 on the date ring, rides along the inner edge of the city ring, which has steps in it. If the reference city observes DST, a higher step corresponding to that city lifts the tip of the lever, which moves the DST indicator to red.
The above diagram shows the mechanism for advancing the city ring, time zone hour hand, and day/night indicator for the time zone dial. Says Lange, via a technical supplement, “Via corrector lever, the movement of the time-zone pusher is transferred to the four-toothed corrector star. It is rigidly connected to the corrector wheel which engages with the gear rim of the city ring and advances it clockwise to the next reference city by 15 degrees. The motion of the city ring is transferred to the city correction pinion and then to zone-time correction wheel. Only for the short duration of the switching process, the two parts are connected via the lower protruding teeth of the city correction pinion. As soon as the switching process has been completed, they are uncoupled from one another again. Via the day/night indicator wheel and the intermediate wheel, the rotary motion of the correction wheel switches the twelve-toothed hour- wheel pipe by one tooth. This causes the zone-time hour hand to advance by one hour.”
A natural question to ask is whether or not you could arrange things so that the time-zone indicator only shows red when DST is actually in effect in the city in question. de Haas says that while this is technically possible, it would be extremely complex. The dates for DST where it is observed vary from city to city, and so not only would the indication have to be controlled by a perpetual calendar, there would have to be a separate more or less ad hoc mechanical solution for each city. A big part of the challenge would be that calendrical complications are really exercises in encoding cyclical patterns – you can make a perpetual calendar partly because the Leap Year occurs with regularity, once every four years, and always at the transition from February to March.
Summer Time rules, on the other hand, follow no natural rhythm. They are set arbitrarily by different nations (on top of everything else, they are more or less six months apart in the Northern and Southern hemispheres) which makes the problem even harder. Such a watch, says de Haas, is technically feasible, but making it work reliably would be an enormous challenge, and it would make for a watch at least three times as expensive as the current Lange 1 Time Zone – and all that for a complication whose benefit would be difficult to see as justifying the greatly increased cost by potential clients. (I would love to see Lange do it, but then I love complexity for its own sake, which as far as evaluating complications is concerned, is a character flaw or at least a lapse in taste).
One other technical change is hinted at by an alteration in the dial. The original version of the Time Zone had two mainspring barrels and the word “DOPPELFEDERHAUS” (double mainspring barrel) on the dial at 6-7:00 acknowledged this. The new version has a single barrel, delivering a 72 hour power reserve and the text on that part of the dial now reads, “GANGRESERVE 72 STUNDEN.”
All in all, this is a subtle but, I think, significant update to an old favorite. One of the nice things about the new version is that none of the changes to the old version feel arbitrary. On the contrary, they feel sensible and motivated by considerations having to do with creating better utility for the owner. The watch remains easy to understand and even easier to use, and pretty intuitive in operation. That you get all the very high-quality fit, finish, and overall extraordinary beauty – front and back – which are customary with A. Lange & Söhne continues to really sweeten the deal on the Lange 1 Time Zone.
The Lange 1 Time Zone: Case, yellow gold (limited edition), white gold or pink gold; 41.90mm x 10.90mm; dials; argenté (pink gold model) black (white gold model) or champagne (yellow gold limited edition). Sapphire crystals front and back. Movement, A. Lange & Söhne in-house caliber L141.1, hand-wound, with 72-hour power reserve; 448 parts, running at 21,600 vph in 38 jewels. Lever escapement, plates, and bridges in German silver; hand-engraved balance cock with whiplash fine regulator. Adjusted to 5 positions. Functions, home time and second time zone, power reserve, day and night indicators; switchable use of dials for home and local time; DST indication and big date. Reference numbers, 131.021 (yellow gold) 131.029 (white gold), and 131.032 (pink gold). Straps, hand-stitched alligator with matching precious metal pin buckles. Prices, $ 52,900 for the white and pink gold models; $ 56,100 for the yellow gold limited edition. See it at alange-soehne.com.