When A. Lange & Söhne introduced the Zeitwerk Striking Time in 2011—their first wristwatch with a chiming mechanism that sounded the full hours and quarters—the industry was set ablaze. The Glashütte area in Germany, where Lange is based, had no prior history of producing chiming watches, so this watch was quite the accomplishment, even for Lange.
The Zeitwerk Striking Time fuelled rumours that a minute repeater was on the horizon. This was something collectors and enthusiasts had been looking forward to since the brand reappeared on the horological map in 1990, after a 45-year hiatus.
This year, their wish finally came true with the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, an instrument five years in the making. As Lange’s head of product development Anthony de Haas explains, “We had the idea in 2010 that we wanted to do something completely different. We can up with this watch, which we call a modern interpretation of a minute repeater. We say it’s modern because it’s not a classical solution where [time is chimed] in quarters, but in decimals [where time strikes in tens of minutes].”
So, at 7:52, for instance, a regular minute repeater will chime seven low notes (“dong”) for the hours, three high-low notes (“ding-dong”) for the quarters and seven high notes (“ding”) for the minutes. Lange’s version sounds seven low notes, give high-low notes and two high notes. As de Haas explains, “It’s far more logical, because we don’t tend to think in quarters.”
Decimal minute repeaters are not a new invention—Arnold & Son, Breguet, Kari Voutilainen and Seiko have their own versions—but using the complication in combination with a precisely jumping digital time display makes Zeitwerk Minute Repeater a world-first.
Uniquely, if a wearer happens to activate the repeater at 7:52:55—with five seconds to go before the next minute—the second hand will continue to run but the minute disc will not jump to the next minute (i.e. the time will not read 7:53). The time remains at 7:52 and the minute repeater chimes exactly that; only when the chime ends will the disc jump. The wearer therefore always hears what he sees.
The watch also differs from its classical counterpart in its use of a pusher instead of a slide to activate the repeater. According to de Haas, this feature has no strategic advantage other than being a more modern means of activation. However, without the use of a slide—which typically provides the energy needed to drive the repeating mechanism—the repeater draws strength from the single mainspring, tapping into its 36-hour power reserve. A longer power reserve would have increased the dimensions of the movement significantly, and Lange wanted to keep the watch to a manageable size.
Of note, too, is the fact that the watch’s 44.2MM platinum case is the same size as that of the Striking Time, although the Striking Time has a 528-part movement while the Minute Repeater has a 771-part calibre. And while the Minute Repeater is considered a remarkable update and advancement, it still draws a part of its technology from the original Zeitwerk of 2009: the remontoir, or constant force system, which gives an added boost of energy to keep the balance wheel oscillating at a consistent rate.
Twelve hours before the reserve’s energy is completely diminished, a blocking system prevents wearers from activating the repeater. This is to preserve a reasonable energy supply for the timekeeping function, as well as to prevent wearers from over-playing the device. And please believe us when we tell you that over-playing the minute repeater is exactly what you’ll be doing with this watch on your wrist. It makes a very nifty party trick.
First published in Esquire Singapore's February 2016 issue.