The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst: I Can Just Feel It!
Texture. It’s one of the most important properties defining our reactions to objects. Visually and haptically, texture can confirm or deceive our understanding of what we are looking at. The tactile experience of texture has been described as sensuality for your sense of touch.
Texture is, put rather simply, the physical variation of a surface. It can be smooth, bumpy, rough, wavy, slippery, abrasive, coarse, burnished, corrugated, embossed, dented, fuzzy, jagged, or one of hundreds of other descriptive adjectives.
Textures are unique, and the ability of our fingers and skin to perceive them or our eyes to differentiate subtle distinctions is absolutely incredible.
Even more, our bodies can sense what a texture might feel like simply by looking at it; and if you focus on the thought you can almost experience the texture without physically touching it. Some textures incite more of a reaction than others, usually those that are particularly liked or disliked.
I can feel what a gooey glob of grease feels like without even getting close, while the rugged surface of sandpaper instantly makes my fingers tingle as if I was scraping the surface.
This could be considered a type of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Similar to how hearing certain sounds can create a euphoric tingle down the back of your neck, seeing certain textures could also create a like response.
Some of my favorite details about objects are their textures, especially when they are contrasted. Bumpy or rough textures near smooth and polished surfaces can induce a tingle in my scalp. One of the best horological examples of that was born in 2012 in a little town called Glashütte by a watch brand you may have heard of: A. Lange & Söhne.
The watch is none other than the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst.
At this point the Zeitwerk was already an icon of modern haute horlogerie thanks to its debut of the first instantaneously jumping digital minutes and hours display. The layout of the Zeitwerk is something special indeed – in fact it was surprisingly special when it made its debut in Berlin in 2008.
And the Zeitwerk was almost universally adored, thus guaranteeing future versions of the awesome design. Little could anyone have predicted the release of the Handwerkskunst edition four years later.
The Handwerkskunst edition arrived amidst a feast of texture like never before seen on an A. Lange & Söhne timepiece, and it immediately made WIS everywhere fall in love (me included!).
The defining detail of the watch is the absolutely fantastic hand-engraved dial using a technique called tremblage that resulted in a deep and randomly granulated surface combined with the logo and lettering in deep relief. The appearance of the grainy surface made my neck and fingers tingle as I yearned to touch its mottled exterior.
But to understand why that texture was so surprising, we first must look at why the Zeitwerk is as fantastic as it is. The Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst and its predecessor, the original Zeitwerk, share the same unique movement designed around the triple jumping disk system.
This system does what other jump hours only wish for: carry the jumping hour mechanism into the minutes, allowing all the digits to change instantaneously and the time to be read just like a digital clock.
The mechanism relies almost entirely on a 60-second remontoir doling out power to the display once a minute and providing somewhat constant force to the balance while it counts the intervening seconds. The reason this remontoir is needed is due to the huge amount of energy needed to drive the time disks.
Even with a stronger-than-normal mainspring, the Zeitwerk has a power reserve just over 36 hours. Now that is definitely more than you need if you wear and wind it every day, but it goes to show how much power the triple-digit jumping time needs.
The Zeitwerk features a large subseconds dial that is tied directly to the jumping time mechanism. There is no approximate time setting here: when the second hand reaches 60, the minute (and, if needed, hour) disk jumps at the very second the hand crosses the threshold.
It is so satisfying to watch the precise synchronization that one could almost be fooled into believing it is digitally controlled.
This is why the Zeitwerk was such a surprise: it pushed the boundaries of modern design from a brand built on perfect classicism. It relies on aspects of its earlier models while adding an entirely new dimension to the design language at A. Lange & Söhne. The Zeitwerk’s layout was unexpected, but what was more unexpected was the engineering behind the piece. It created a set of mechanisms that proved the brand wasn’t fooling around and at the same time showing that A. Lange & Söhne wasn’t “stuck” in tradition.
The old meeting the new was a glorious contrast that made the Zeitwerk an instant classic; in 2012 the juxtaposition of old technique and new engineering took on a whole new meaning with the Handwerkskunst edition.
A completely hand-engraved dial is already a feat of skill and excellence, but when that engraving involves thousands of miniscule cuts in a multitude of random directions creating a visually homogeneous surface that just begs to be touched, it ventures into uncharted territory.
Tremblage engraving requires a specially shaped burin to make micro-sized cuts into the surface one at a time, unevenly spaced and randomly rotated to many different directions. When cuts in different orientations and spacing begin to crisscross and blend together, the result is no longer a clearly planned engraving, but a unique and detail-rich texture. When performed right up to the edge of hand engraved letters in relief, and the smooth brushed surfaces of the time display, the amount of contrast peaks.
The wide variation of textures makes each surface stand out even more than its self-proclaimed fine “art of craftsmanship” (the translation of the German word “Handwerkskunst”) would have had them do on their own. The tremblage engraving frames the original awesomeness of the Zeitwerk’s digital display while contrasting the modern layout with traditional techniques.
The effect was so striking that it actually became my personal mission to create a texture like that myself.
Trying my hand
I searched for the highest resolution photos I could find to get a truly up-close look at the surface in all its glory. What I found seemed like a battlefield with scars, divots, and creases undulating over the dial.
Having no experience with engraving I put my mind to the task thinking of ways to achieve the look without utilizing the actual tremblage engraving technique. I eventually found that using a very small pointed punch, filed into a specific shape and hardened, allowed a hand-hammering technique to be used, yielding something similar but with its own flair.
My process was faster than that of the tremblage engraving (which can take up to two weeks to do an entire dial), though doing an area the size of a dime still took me almost an hour before it looked right. And since the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst edition was limited to 30 pieces and immediately sold out, I figured my best chance to spend time with that texture was probably to make it myself.
But that doesn’t diminish the Handwerkskunst in any way, in fact it builds on it. The texture is like a holy Grail of Lange finishes, and we all know that Lange is one of the best in the business when it comes to movement finishing.
The technique became so adored that it was also used for limited Handwerkskunst editions of the 1815 Tourbillon (see Heartbeat: 1815 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst By A. Lange & Söhne), the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, and the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite – providing more chances for the Handwerkskunst-deprived masses to rediscover and appreciate the texture.
But nowhere was it more fitting and striking than on the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst.
The Zeitwerk is already arguably the best design housing the most innovative movement made by A. Lange & Söhne. Taking it to another level with one of the most intriguing engraving techniques that somehow seems incongruous and at the same time perfectly at home was a stroke of genius.
The brand designs and manufactures a wide range of impeccable timepieces, any one of which would be a no-brainer addition to a serious collection. But the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst is that extra special something among a confluence of rarity and exception.
The textures create a physical response in me, so perhaps my fondness is built-in to how my brain is wired. Regardless of my predisposition to a tingly feeling behind my ears from seeing a touch-worthy surface, the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst is incredible in more ways than one. I urge you to give it a good long look and see if it makes your scalp tingle.
While I wait for that, I’ll give you the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 10 I’m sure you could tell that this watch would be a ten; it literally makes my scalp tingle!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 150.51 » 1,475.99 m/s2 This watch has so much lust appeal it’s ridiculous. This is more than enough Gs to kill you twice!
- M.G.R. * 71 All of A. Lange & Söhne’s movements are amazing, and a couple get a perfect score of 72. Given the complication of this movement and the design, it only falls short of the pinnacle of Lange movements: the mighty Double Split’s Caliber L001.1.
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Being a manually winding watch, having a power reserve is basically a must. And since the jumping hours and minutes do not count as added functions, you only need children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream slight horological swelling.
- Ouch Outline * 13 Stepping on a Lego block in the middle of the night! This watch is something I would walk through Mordor and back to get on my wrist, and if Tolkien had experienced stepping on Legos in the dark he surely would have paved Mordor with the sharpest Legos possible. And I would take that walk.
- Mermaid Moment * The tingles. I would imagine that anything that makes you physically feel the tingles just from looking at it is something you would walk down the aisle wearing a cummerbund for. Like the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst.
- Awesome Total * 1,078 Multiply the number of hours in the power reserve (36) with the number in the limited edition (30), finally subtract the number of screwed gold chatons (2) to find a the physically pleasing awesome total!
For more information, please visit https://www.alange-soehne.com/en/timepieces/zeitwerk/#zeitwerk-handwerkskunst.
Case: 41.9 x 12.6 mm, platinum
Movement: manual winding Caliber L043.4
Functions: digital jumping hours and minutes, seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 30 pieces (sold out before the watch ever went to retail)
Original price in 2012: €95,000; number 23 is the only example to be auctioned thus far, and it achieved a result of 221,000 Swiss francs at the 2015 Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: One