A Mechanical Digital Watch?

A Mechanical Digital Watch?

Anthony Peacock

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Seen at auction: Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Striking Time

One of the latest offerings from watchcollecting.com poses a philosophical question (yes, we like to bring you philosophy as well as watches here at WatchGecko). When is a digital watch not a digital watch? The answer is when it’s a Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk.

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk - Image Credit: Watch Collecting

Lange & Söhne needs no introduction, as arguably the pinnacle of German watchmaking. But the Zeitwerk probably does. Put simply, it was the first mechanical wristwatch that displayed the time digitally thanks to jumping numerals. Between the two windows that tell you the hours and the minutes, there’s a more conventional seconds dial that showcase the more traditional elements of the watchmaker’s art.

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk - Image Credit: Watch Collecting

The end result is a watch that’s both intuitively clear and aesthetically pleasing – far from a given if we’re talking about watches where the word ‘digital’ enters the description. Seriously, this might just be watch nirvana – as it’s hard to think of any other where the time is so instantly legible, yet the ingenuity so instantly apparent. And the further up the watchmaking ladder you go, the more it seems that manufacturers ignore this fundamental reason for being. You can have either clever or clear, but rarely both.

And the ‘striking time’ bit? Well that’s supremely logical too – as the party trick for this watch is the fact that it chimes every quarter of an hour, ensuring you’ve got no excuse for being late.

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk - Image Credit: Watch Collecting

Originally, this design actually appeared in the form of a clock at the Dresden Opera House (although without the chiming hours, which may have put Pavarotti off his stride). These days you can simply wear it on your wrist, despite the 528 parts that make up the movement.

Yet everything is there for a reason: no surprise that it’s the Germans who put sober rationale front and centre of their creations. The key feature of this watch is something that Lange & Söhne call the ‘time bridge’, framing the time display and bringing it all together – and in this particular instance, it’s made of solid silver.

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk's weighty solid gold case - Image Credit: Watch Collecting

The 44mm case by contrast is in rose gold; all contributing to the fact that this is a big and thick watch that cost more than €80,000 when new. Expect it to go for somewhat less than that at auction, which – on a relative scale at least – makes this superbly-crafted piece something of a bargain. Not to mention a refreshing change from the ubiquitous steel sports watches that are now commanding far more than their original retail prices.

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The impressive movement of the Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk - Image Credit: Watch Collecting

In creating the Zeitwerk, which reads from left to right as we’re accustomed to seeing in a ‘conventional’ digital watch, Lange & Söhne invested in a huge amount of mechanical innovation: the torque needed to shift those chunky digital discs is enormous, and so is the movement needed to cater for that. Lange & Söhne’s solution was a complex remontoire mechanism, which you can look at through the sapphire case back. In fact, you might end up spending as much time looking at the back of this watch as you do the front.

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk

The Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk sitting proudly in its original box - Image Credit: Watch Collecting

This particular example is from 2018 and comes with its original box and papers as well. Condition is excellent: this is a watch that has clearly been cared-for, although haute horlogerie dress watches tend to have a much easier life than their tool watch counterparts, so it comes as no particular surprise.

The Zeitwerk is the sort of digital watch that would be worn by people who would never consider wearing a digital watch. And that’s probably the highest compliment we can pay it. Once again, Watch Collecting has come up trumps – by proposing a watch for auction that you might not even have thought of. Even as a non-digital person, this one has definitely sparked a bit of an obsession…

To see this and more watches for auction, visit the Watch Collecting Website.

Anthony Peacock

About the Author: Anthony Peacock

About the Author: Anthony Peacock

I’m passionate about a lot of things but especially cars, food, wine, film – and watches. As a writer and PR consultant, I’m lucky enough to travel the world and find inspiration from all sorts of amazing places. Sometimes I’m on my own and sometimes with others, but my timepiece is my constant companion.

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