By Laurie Kahle, November 03, 2015
When he joined A. Lange & Söhne as director of product development in 2004, Anthony de Haas made building a striking watch a primary goal. “One thing was missing, and that was the fact that we were not making striking watches—no sonneries, no minute repeaters,” he says. “There was no knowhow.” De Haas, who had worked on grande sonneries and minute repeaters at the renowned specialty house Renaud et Papi, changed that with the introduction of 2013’s Grand Complication, featuring a grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, and minute repeater, in addition to a perpetual calendar and monopusher split-seconds chronograph with flying seconds. “The object was to start where our grandfathers had stopped and continue,” he says. “That was the beginning of a new era at A. Lange & Söhne—the era of striking watches.”
This year’s Zeitwerk Minute Repeater ($467,700) built off that newly acquired savoir faire, but with an unconventional twist: a decimal chiming system that complements the watch’s digital time display. “The idea of this watch is you read the time from left to right, and if you push the button, you hear what you read at all times,” says de Haas.
Rather than strike the hours, quarter hours, and minutes as a classic minute repeater does, a decimal repeater sounds the hours, tens of minutes, and single minutes. While the traditional chiming system was designed for an analog reading of the time, only a digital system sounds the time as you read it on the Zeitwerk’s dial. “We wanted to create a modern interpretation of a classical complication like a minute repeater,” says de Haas. “A decimal system is more modern.”
With large discs that move instantaneously every minute, Zeitwerks are power-hungry devices energized by a constant force system with a huge barrel that can supply ample energy for the striking system. Engineers tapped that power source to devise a push-button system to activate the chiming sequence, rather than a traditional slide lever. The minute repeater, however, naturally draws energy from the movement, so the striking function is disabled when the watch’s power reserve drains down to about 12 hours. Another patented protective measure prevents you from pulling the crown to set the time while the striking mechanism is activated, a combination that would break the system. And another patented delay of time setting is designed to compensate for the rare occasion when you may activate the chiming sequence at the turning of the hour, for example at 12:59. In this situation, the time instantly readjusts to 1 o’clock immediately after the minute repeater finishes.
The Zeitwerk’s waterproof platinum case did pose a sound transmission challenge. “You have to adapt the watch case construction and fixation of the gongs, and that is very important,” says de Haas, adding that they spent 1.5 years developing the hardened steel gongs, which are struck by steel hammers. “You have to bring the right dimension to the thickness of the gong compared to the weight of the hammer and also the speed at which the hammer hits the gong.”
At its unveiling at the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in January, some experts criticized the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater for its low-decibel power, likening it to a muscle car with a three-cylinder engine. The dampening effect is presumably due in part to the platinum case. But, de Haas points out that the brand has since been tweaking the prototype to produce optimal sound for its global tour this fall. “We like the sound in the platinum case because it is very pure and clean,” he says. “A minute repeater is for the owner, not the whole bus.”
(Originally published on Art of Luxury at Forbes.com)