A. Lange & Söhne makes some of the world’s most fantastic watches – impressive both mechanically and aesthetically. If you really know about watches, then you know about A. Lange & Söhne. Earlier this year, we met CEO Wilhelm Schmid on a visit to New York at the brand’s flagship in New York. We talked timepieces, cars, and limited editions.
WHITEWALL: A big part of your role, you’ve said, is making sure that your customers feel like they are part of a family. That must be a big challenge with such a global company.
WILHELM SCHMID: The beauty of it is that it’s a smaller global brand. We don’t talk to millions; we talk to a few thousand. There is a huge difference in creating a space that makes you feel at home or a business. It has to cater to both, but we never want to neglect that home feeling.
WW: At SIHH in 2014, you debuted the Grande Lange 1 Moon Phase and the Terraluna. You’ve said before that you don’t create watches to impress others, but to please the customers. A year later, how did you see the customers react to those novelties?
WS: We always underestimate the demand for the watches. It’s a very complex watch, the Terraluna, and it’s also a big watch. It has to be a big watch because of the main barrel that gives power to the watch for about two weeks, the instantaneously jumping perpetual calendar, the moon phase indication; all of that deserves more space. The demand for the watch and the reception for the watch has been incredible.
WW: It is quite beautiful in person.
WS: It actually is. It’s one of these watches where you can use that to tell a story. On the back side of that watch you can explain day and night very easily. Collectors love these kinds of stories.
WW: You have a number of cultural partnerships, including a more recent relationship with the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
WS: We always like to have something in common with the events that we partner with. I must admit I am also a petrol head: I love classic cars, I used to work for BMW, and I did know about the Villa d’Este. I realized that if we talk about craftsmanship, performance, innovation, and heritage, that’s exactly what all the cars there represent. I always call it art on wheels because that’s what it really is. And the setting is fantastic. I mean, Italians say nobody knows what paradise looks like, but it’s probably very similar to that place.
We also have this cooperation with the museums in Saxony. I’ve always wondered why on earth there is a little town in the mountains called Glashütte, and why on earth did they become famous for world-class pocket watches, and now they are famous for world-class wristwatches? The answer lies in Dresden and the cultural background created by the kings of Saxony. They were interested in engineering and art, and craftsmanship brings those two areas together. And you can see that perfectly if you go through the museums in Dresden. You go back to the 15th century and you see their hunger for precise time, because all there experiments only worked if they had precise time. I love that part of the world, and it’s so easy for our guests if they come; they can experience that. It’s still intact, and you can go back to the roots.
WW: You mentioned you were at BMW before coming to A. Lange & Söhne. What was your experience with fine watchmaking prior to joining the brand?
WS: I’ve always had two hobbies: cars and watches. So, I’m still driving a BMW, and I’m running the nicest brand in the world. I think I bought my first watch at the age of 17. I bought my first 1815 in 1996 or 1997.
WW: What are your thoughts on the next generation of watch collectors?
WS: We are very much at the end of the food chain. A. Lange & Söhne is usually not your first watch. It means you made it through the ranks, you have an interest in fine watchmaking, you have to have success in your life to afford one. But the interesting point is, you see more and more young people wearing good watches from us; they are not the entrance models. I am not worried about, “Will there be a generation that still wears wristwatches?” I always say that we outlived our use for wristwatches long ago. You don’t buy a watch because you need to know the time, at least not at the top end.
The U.S. is amazing, too. The bloggers are predominantly from the U.S. It’s the biggest community on an electronic platform. It’s amazing to see how the culture on fine watchmaking is developing in the U.S.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s spring 2015 Art Issue.