Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne discusses staying true to the values and the legacy of the brand with every innovation.
Since the very beginning, A. Lange & Söhne has been true to its brand DNA of celebrating craftsmanship and creating elegant, refined, yet innovative watches. Throughout recent years, although the offering has expanded, CEO Wilhelm Schmid has ensured that these original values and messages are at the heart of everything the brand does and every product they create. In 2019 the German watchmaker undertook one of its biggest moves yet with the introduction of the ODYSSEUS, its first full steel bracelet watch, which opened the brand up to a new market that it had not tapped into before. This year at Watches & Wonders, the brand launched the new ODYSSEUS in titanium with an ice blue dial, taking this casually elegant timepiece to a new level.
Also presented was the redesigned GRAND LANGE 1, a reimagined version of one of the brand’s classic designs, available in 18-carat white or pink goldwith a sophisticated grey dial and leather strap. The main difference in this watch is its new proportions which offer a refined look. And finally, the RICHARD LANGE Minute Repeater which features a classically executed design that’s contemporarily evolved. With its white, three-part enamel dial, this limited-edition timepiece is for the most devoted watch collector. Here we meet Wilhelm Schmid to find out more about the latest launches for A. Lange & Söhne.
Tell us about the highlights of what A. Lange & Söhne is presenting at Watches and Wonders this year?
Every year we have a theme that helps us to structure the year and gives it meaning. Last year was focused on subtle differences and this year it’s about devotion to the highest standard, and I think that the latest watches nicely illustrate what we mean by that. Let’s start with the RICHARD LANGE Minute Repeater. As you know, we already have the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater and now we have the newest addition, the RICHARD LANGE Minute Repeater. Each has a very different style and very different execution, and are in fact, two very different watches and this was done on purpose. If you dig deeper into the RICHARD LANGE, it’s the first time that we have produced our own enamel dial, even the printing is done in-house. It’s an achievement because these techniques take years to perfect, they don’t come overnight. This is the result of years of trial and error, and we are very proud of it. Yes, it’s something that we could have sourced outside of the company, but we wanted to see whether we were capable of doing it in-house and this highlights our devotion to the highest standard.
The ODYSSEUS has been a great success so far… tell us about the journey of that timepiece?
You can never plan success; all you can do is your best while making sure it’s still in line with the brand and that it’s very different from anything else that you have done or that others are doing. After that, it’s in God’s hands! I think that the ODYSSEUS, from the early days of the steel design to the titanium watch that we are launching now, has created a good discussion. And the element of “extra devotion” comes in with the new dial. It’s very different in its details, its structure, and its colour. The bracelet features the same design, but the finish is very different to the steel watch, and even the case finish is different. It’s all these tiny details, that highlight our theme of devotion to the highest standard.
Then for me, the watch that has been the biggest challenge is the GRAND LANGE 1, because if you touch a product that is essentially the face of your brand, as the Lange 1 is, you must be quite careful. Making it thinner by 0.6mm without touching the movement is quite an achievement. Previously, the difference between the standard Lange 1 and the GRAND LANGE 1 which launched in 2015 was minimal, so you would not immediately notice the difference, but now for the first time, there is a distinctive, immediate difference in the appearance of the two watches, and that is exactly what we wanted to achieve, without changing the design. So, it is the same, but just thinner. And now because the crystal is so close to the dial, you look at it and you almost worry that there’s no crystal on it. This is what we wanted to achieve. So, to summarise, we have three very different watches, that are all very classic in their own way.
The ODYSSEUS was created for a very different customer that you didn’t attract before – let’s say it’s a more casual approach to Lange…
What happened was that people who purchased the ODYSSEUS, didn’t know much about us before, or they did know us, but we were for some reason not at the top of their minds. But when they came to us to discover ODYSSEUS they started to explore the rest of our portfolio and many of them left with something completely different to what they came for! You have no idea how many people came for the ODYSSEUS and left with a Lange 1 or an 1815, or even a Zeitwerk. So that was a nice side effect of ODYSSEUS.
So the ODYSSEUS was a good addition to the assortment?
It gave us freedom. As a brand we want to change but at the same time stay true to ourselves, and the best way of doing that is to be strict with our five families of watches, our selection of precious metals and our design executions, and then, we have the Odysseus which is a playground that we can experiment with. And that’s what I like about it.
How would you summarise where A. Lange & Söhne is at today?
We can’t complain. We want to stay humble; we want to stay vigilant. I have been around too long to know that when you become complacent, it’s the moment you start losing it. We are truly about watches, and I think you can see that when you enter our booth, creating watches is our only interest.
I love the coherence, I love the consistency, it’s been ten years since you joined and there is no deviation on the objective, the power is the consistency…
One thing we have changed is our booth at the fair. The old one was very different, it was much bigger, now it’s a lot cleaner and it features very different materials. This is very interesting as to some extent, the COVID-19 crisis was a learning curve. It was an accelerator of things that we were already working on, but it gave us the time and strength and the necessity to implement changes and execute them more quickly. We do not want to change the way we produce, design, or represent our watches, but we are happy to change everything else if necessary. We sell through e-commerce, we talk to our friends and clients digitally, we do zoom meetings, and remote sales, and we do everything the customer wants, but we do not want to change the way we do our watches. This is our anchor point to ensure we do not lose ourselves. It is a permanent challenge, but no matter what, we won’t change, regardless of what comes.
What is in the pipeline this year specifically for the Middle East?
The Middle East has always been an important region for us. We have our key flagship store in The Dubai Mall, it’s a great location and we have a great team. Again, it’s about consistency in the way we communicate and consistency within our team. We are not a brand that changes our team or moves people around too quickly because you need people to be here for a while to really understand what we do and then it is truly a joy to work for us.
What are the upcoming key moments for the brand this year that you can share?
Well, we like to surprise so I don’t want to take that away, but what I will say is that the watches that we are launching here at Watches and Wonders are not the last watches we will launch this year. That I can unveil! We learnt over the last three years, that it’s quite nice to have great watches for Watches and Wonders, but it is also good to have a few more watches to launch throughout the year.
What can you tell us about women’s watches this year?
I don’t think we should still think of watches as being men’s or women’s anymore. It’s not what we do, or at least we have not done that for the last five years. We realised that there is fine watchmaking and there are people that like fine watchmaking, some of them are men and some are women. Yesterday a lady came to visit us, and she was wearing a Zeitwerk, which you would not think of as a typical ladies watch, but it suited her very nicely. So, I believe we should stop thinking as cliches. What can be a challenge sometimes, is the size of the dial. But don’t forget that we launched the beautiful little Lange 1 Moon Phase last year and we still have such a huge demand for that watch, and again it is not a watch that was launched as a ladies watch, but we probably see a 50/50 gender split on the sales.
What is a message you would send to your customers and our readers about the new novelties?
I will start with an apology because I am sure that a lot more people want these watches than what we will ever be able to produce, and that is a sad story but that is the DNA of A. Lange & Söhne. We are still impacted by COVID-19, especially at our factory, and that plays a toll on our output. But overall, we will make sure that for our customers, especially those that we have known for a long time, we will do everything we can to please them.