Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne discusses the watchmaker’s latest limited edition timepiece and the future of the brand in the Middle East
On October 24th A. Lange & Söhne unveiled one of its most exciting timepieces yet. The limited edition The ZEITWERK HONEYGOLD “Lumen” timepiece is the latest addition to the brand’s ZEITWERK family which offers the most revolutionary technology and design concepts in fine watchmaking. With a new, cutting-edge movement this timepiece is limited to just 200 pieces due to its complicated movement which took years to create. As the timepiece debuted last month in Dubai, CEO Wilhelm Schmid was proud to share this new watch with the world after many years of development. A timepiece that pushes the boundaries of watchmaking and craftsmanship, as well as innovation and technology, this was a key moment for the brand. Here, we find out more about this key moment for the Glashütte watchmaker.
What can you share with us about the new ZEITWERK HONEYGOLD “Lumen” timepiece and how it represents the brand’s identity?
The Lumen concept developed very nicely over time because it gives even a traditional watch a very contemporary look. And for us, I think it’s a nice way of showing the movement from an angle that you usually don’t see, but at the same time, it is still protected. If you expose a movement to sunlight and the elements too much, there will be an impact on it and this is something we wanted to avoid. This is why we don’t do skeleton watches because we want to ensure our watches are protected so I think this is a nice way of doing it without having to deal with the negative implications. This is a brand new watch, it’s not just another ZEITWERK in another case or a different material. This is a completely new watch with a completely new movement from beginning to end.
Can you tell us a little about this and the process of developing this complicated movement?
There is a good reason that you don’t find these kinds of complications on the market very often. Over the last 15 years, we learnt that the control of power that you need to make large disks like these without damaging them is very difficult to achieve. We learnt a lot over the last ten years about this and that’s why eventually we started to address the topics that we could not solve in the beginning. Firstly, this watch has an extended power reserve of 72 hours so we have been able to double it. Secondly, watch collectors will know that the system of this watch is the same as the others in the collection in the way that you screw the crown, but on a large disk, it just feels so much longer. So we have a power adjustor and we also used a system so that activates not when you press the pusher, but when you release it. Because that momentum, we can define – it doesn’t matter how lightly or strongly you push it, the release momentum will always be the same.
You launched this watch on a very special date – tell us why October 24th is a special day for the brand?
The 24th of October is a very important date for us as it’s the date when we re-started the business. We were re-registered on 7th December 1990, but then there were four years of developing and producing the first four watches. Our first major launch was on 24th October 1994 and ever since then we have tried to bring out something special on this date.
Can you tell us about the choice of honey gold and why this is a key material for the brand?
Honey gold is a special material that we use only for limited edition watches. There is a very simple reason for this which I will try to explain. We know that our watches are actually used by their owners – we are not the kind of brand whose watches are locked away in a safe, living a protected life – most of our clients wear their watches on a daily basis. So eventually these watches come back to us for repairs as many clients prefer their watch to look immaculate. We can’t just polish the metal to remove scratches, because if you do that you will remove some of the material. So instead, we laser all of the dents and scratches with the same material that the watch is made from and then we polish what we have added on top. So essentially we laser on too much, then we polish it until it smoothes out evenly. By doing that you maintain the integrity of the case. This is already quite a complicated process with regular gold, but with Honey Gold, you cannot do this process in a normal environment, you have to do it in a controlled, oxygen-free environment and this adds an additional complication that is not easy to work with. So we therefore will never use honey gold on our regular watches, it is something that we keep for special edition timepieces only due to the complication of the aftercare.
It’s great to have you back in Dubai – can you share a little on what is in the pipeline for the Middle East?
I cannot recall a time when I saw Dubai as busy as this. Dubai Airport is one of the most efficient airports on the planet and to push that to its limit; it’s something that I’ve never experienced before! There is a buzz here which is amazing and a lot of things have been handled really well over the pandemic. I am looking forward to visiting Expo 2020 before I fly as well. The Dubai Mall store is one of our flagship boutiques and Dubai is a very important communication centre for us because we are seeing more and more great customers and collectors in this area and it’s a magnet for them because it is like a home from home. We don’t have a manufacturer in Dubai of course, but our boutique here in Dubai is the next best thing to Glashütte. We have people here from all over the world and that’s why it’s so important that we have consistency in our approach and to our customers and we get great compliments about that which makes me proud. Overall we behave like a family company and our values are very much family company values and I hope you and our clients can feel that.
What was the feedback from the clients after they saw the new timepiece?
It was unbelievable. I think I will need a lot of time to answer all the emails and What’s App messages! But I’m not surprised because it is an absolutely beautiful watch. My team is busy dealing with all the requests that have come up over the last 24 hours and I am afraid that there are going to be many people who are disappointed because we have only produced 200 watches.
How did this past year and a half affect the way you operate as a company?
Firstly we defined what we do not want to change which is our way of watchmaking, but that opened up the willingness of the company to address change where change is necessary because the entire environment has changed. Our whole digital approach developed in a way I would have never thought it could. Not only because we adapted but also because our clients adapted and so the request for change was there. And I think the future will be formed of a hybrid. We want to stay close to our customers through physical events and meeting them in person, but at the same time, I am convinced that for many occasions we will use digital technology to connect with our clients and to stay close to and understand them. I think that’s the future. Some of our watches are already available online and this is really amazing for us. On the one hand, it is surprising but on the other hand, it’s a way of allowing us to connect to collectors who live anywhere in the world, even if they can’t always get to a store. I hope that we can create the same sort of relationship that we already have with our clients in this way because it’s not only the watch alone it’s the whole package.
How does a brand like A. Lange & Söhne continue to balance innovation while honouring its rich heritage?
I think we have the great advantage of having six different watch pillars and they all have a very defined design language. There is a very clear design laid out for each. We also realised that while we are traditional in the way that we produce our watches because they are made by hands, not by machines, the design language we use, even for the most traditional, classic designs is very modern and attractive to young people. If we talk traditional and you mean values, then yes, we have it. But if you say traditional and you mean design: I will challenge you. Because that is a perception and it may not be reality. However, we have to stay clean and precise in the way that we do it and stay true to the original DNA of each watch. You have to be compliant with any new iteration if you put it into a certain watch family.
You recently celebrated 20 years of the Lange 1 – what do you think makes a watch like this iconic?
The Lange 1 epitomises everything we stand for. It’s innovative, relevant, it’s useful, and it is so distinctive that you can recognise it from afar. And that’s why I think it will always be our best seller and why we don’t touch the original design.
How do you stay relevant for the young generations?
I always challenge this because I don’t believe that a feeling for quality, scarcity, craftsmanship, exclusivity or clear design is necessarily something that has to do with age. The question is how do we stay in touch with the younger people because they don’t communicate in the same way that the older generations did. So for me, it is a case of showcasing what we do on a stage that this younger generation is looking at to explain to them who we are. I still leave it up to them whether they like what we do or not, but if I don’t expose it, they will never see it and therefore it will never become relevant. If we expose it in the right way we will of course find that some people like what we do and some don’t, but at least we have made them aware and that’s something we have been working on over the last two years.
What is something that you would still like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
There are so many things but I think there are three main challenges that I think will keep us busy for a while. A lot of our clients love wearing our watches because most people won’t know what brand it is. We create very expensive watches that people will admire but they will not have an immediate association with a brand and that is a real asset. But at the same time, we’ve realised that more and more people know about us. So the challenge is asking ourselves how we remain a secret, but at the same time share that secret with more of the right people.
The second challenge is that about 90 per cent of my staff work in Glashütte and most of our customers of course don’t live there. So the challenge is: how do we connect the world which is busy, vibrant, volatile and challenging, with Glashutte which is the absolute opposite? So we need to look at how we can build that bridge. And thirdly is the challenge of staying relevant for the younger generations which we already touched on.
Are there any changes overall that you have noticed in the industry since the beginning of the pandemic?
I think there are trends that obviously everyone is doing, but we tend not to follow trends. I also believe it’s time that we all meet each other again at a big watch fair so we can see what each other is doing face-to-face. This is my first international trip since March 2020 and I like to see what others are doing. As an industry, we are creating something desirable and we are all in it together so I hope to see my colleagues in person again soon. I have seen that some brands have come out of the crisis stronger than they came into it, but I also believe some have lost part of their identity. Let’s see what happens now as we are heading towards a more normal time and how that develops.
What is a message that you would send to your clients and friends in the Middle East?
I believe that our clients here have a great opportunity that hardly any other region has. The Middle East has these hubs in the form of shopping malls where you can walk around and see every brand that’s active on the planet, in one location. And I think that’s a great opportunity. I’m not aware of many areas on the globe where you have that huge presence and I would invite everyone to use that, go there, experience all the brands and see what watchmakers are doing. It’s a great chance for anyone who is interested in fine watchmaking to discover more about what brands are doing today.