Watches with time zone complications have become one of the most useful and beloved complications in the mechanical watch universe, as a result of the incredible frequency with which people travel in the twenty-first century. With a great diversity of brands, models, display systems and capabilities, the Lange 1 Time Zone, which was first introduced in 2005, performs its defining duty with a uniqueness and flair that elevates the timepiece into a league of its own.
Of course, there are a variety of time zone watches by other brands. But A. Lange & Söhne has achieved this complication with the highest standards in precision watchmaking, embodied in the iconic Lange 1 design.
The words “decentralized” and “non-overlapping” have often been used to explain the unconventional dial face of the Lange 1. It certainly is unique among watches but the principle behind it is completely logical.
The Lange 1’s recipe for optimal readability doesn’t lie in passively utilising the whole dial face or having the largest numerals that will fit. Instead, the main off-centered subsidiary dial actively draws your eyes towards it. Following this, your eyes naturally move on to the outsize-date because of how we’re conditioned by habit from an early age to read from left to right.
Reflecting on the Lange 1, which marked the rebirth of A. Lange & Söhne when it was launched in 1994 with three other models, CEO Wilhelm Schmid shares, “I think the real father of that watch is Günter Blümlein. He had the vision, that a new Lange watch had to be completely different to anything that was available at the time.
“The Lange 1 remains outstanding. With an outsize-date executed on a wristwatch with an off-centre time display, legibility became the most important aspect. Also, the size of the watch was a novelty for 1994, when watches for men were normally between 35-36mm. The Lange 1 was 38.8mm from the start.”
If the primary displays were already designed with such intention and poise, adding another complication can very well upset the visual balance. “When we are developing a new version of the Lange 1, regardless of what sort of extra information we incorporate, it has to look like a Lange 1,” says Schmid. Considering the several pathways available towards realizing a time zone watch — be it a second GMT hand, an aperture indication, world time, etc. — the final design of the Lange 1 Time Zone has intelligently avoided pitfalls and kept the balance and purpose of the Lange 1, wholly intact.
According to Schmid, the final dial design of the Lange 1 Time Zone largely fell into place on its own. “The moment you realize these are the fundamentals that you must not touch, you have to start being very creative. Dual time [by simply adding an additional hour/GMT hand] would have been of limited practical value. It was pretty clear that we would have to use the outer-edge of the dial for the city ring and that the subsidiary dial for the small running seconds would have to give way for the second time zone display. All that became quite clear at a very early stage.”
It takes a moment to engage with the Lange 1 Time Zone — there are after all several layers of information being communicated. But as they have been strung along in an order of priority that is the Lange 1’s signature trait, the Time Zone is among the most readable time zone watches out there.
Home time on the largest dial draws the eye first, with its own subsidiary running seconds and day/night indicator. Simultaneously, the outsize-date for home time registers from the upper right, before the eye settles on local time below, with the day/night display, pulling double duty in pointing out the time zones on the city ring. As in the Lange 1, activating the pusher at ‘10’ advances the outsize-date, while the pusher at ‘8’ advances the city ring and local time by one hour as one crosses time zones from West to East. Family resemblance with the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is uncanny, naturally since both timepieces share the same parent.
Courtesy of its Lange 1 DNA, the Lange 1 Time Zone excels where it is the most important, in a manner unlike other time zone watches. It avoids the possibility of overwhelming the wearer like with a world time complication, which displays the time in every time zone simultaneously. Additionally, with the unequal sizing of the time displays, one always knows local time, while centered on home — which is where the heart is. “As a German company, clarity and legibility comes first for us. I’m not aware of many time zone watches where you can read the home time and local time, so clearly, at a glance,” adds Schmid.
Now, on the occasion of the Lange 1’s 25th anniversary, A. Lange & Söhne is releasing a 25-piece special edition of the Lange 1 Time Zone in a 41.9mm white gold case. Resplendent in the signature decoration executed on the regular Time Zone — screwed gold chatons, elaborately hand-engraved intermediate wheel and balance cock — the Time Zone “25th Anniversary” is distinguished by its blue inscriptions on the dial and blued hands. On the back, the balance cock features a discreet blue line engraving of ‘25’ in the typography of the outsize-date display.