Many people consider A. Lange & Söhne to be the pinnacle of German luxury timepieces. Relaunched in 1994 (the brand is originally from the 19th century) in Germany, A. Lange & Söhne and a small collection of other companies have made the small town of Glashütte a mecca for timepiece enthusiasts from all over the world. A. Lange & Söhne, is hands-down, the most original-feeling of the Glashütte watchmakers, and also the most high-end in terms of average price point. The company continues to produce only about 5,000 watches per year and has been a serious player at the top of the haute horology market for the last 30 years. There has been broad and consistent support from enthusiasts at all levels for A. Lange & Söhne, and for good reason. These watches are objectively beautiful and well-made.

Now, the latest place to buy and get to know A. Lange & Söhne watches has opened up in downtown San Francisco. A. Lange & Söhne isn’t strictly calling it a store or boutique (even though it is) but is rather referring to this new retail location as an A. Lange & Söhne Salon — the first in the United States. What makes a salon different from a boutique is the design of the space, the process of entering it, and the number of watches on display. A store or boutique is generally open to the public and allows people to come in and browse. A salon offers a more intimate experience, often by appointment only, and is meant to focus on sitting down and having a conversation with clients (as opposed to acting merely as a point of sale). Why salons versus stores for A. Lange & Söhne, and why in California’s San Francisco Bay Area?

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The first thing to mention is that in the United States (only for now, but the trend is expanding), A. Lange & Söhne watches are only available to purchase directly from A. Lange & Söhne. The company is following the path taken by brands such as Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet, where sales to clients are done exclusively through them and there is no wholesale or third-party retailer network involvement.  A. Lange & Söhne has been slowly opening up its own brand stores in the United States for a while now and has recently made a final cut with remaining third-party dealers. For the time being, A. Lange & Söhne is still available via wholesale dealers in many other parts of the world, and it isn’t clear how soon A. Lange & Söhne will extend its direct-to-consumer sales policy to other countries or regions. Brands with high demand and a loyal following like A. Lange & Söhne can often make a lot more money selling products directly to consumers, although there are, naturally, several risks involved, including decreased demand.

Indeed, a major part of a brand wanting to sell its watches directly to consumers is about allowing it to earn more money. However, the story can get a bit more complicated than that. In reality, third-party retail is an attractive option for watchmakers when it helps brands solve problems or enter regions they have a limited ability to participate in. To maintain long-term relationships with the luxury brands they carry, third-party retailers need to continue asserting their value. Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, explained some of the thinking behind the brand’s direct-to-consumer strategy. For him, it is about being able to know the customer and be known by the customer. Selling directly to consumers helps a brand solve two persistent issues that have been common over the last few years, and I think it is interesting to see how traditional brands like Lange are evolving when it comes to how they get their watches. When you sell directly to customers, you know the people you are selling to and can make decisions about who gets what so that you can focus on the long-term health of the brand and the relationship with the consumer. One problem this solves is preventing watches from reaching (most) flippers — an issue that elite brands like A. Lange & Söhne often face. Another benefit of selling directly to consumers is that it allows motivated brands like A. Lange & Söhne to know who is interested and who are regular buyers. Being able to understand the “customer journey” and what they want from the brand allows A. Lange & Söhne to do far more business with repeat consumers than if that relationship were maintained by a third-party retailer. Thus, the relationship between brand and client can become much more rewarding on both ends when they work directly together. I still believe that third-party wholesale works best for most watchmakers on the market, but for those companies where elite status and word-of-mouth recommendations are part of the brand experience, it can make a lot of sense for a brand to invest in the considerable resources necessary to retail its watches directly to consumers.

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A. Lange & Söhne prefers the salon to a traditional store in San Francisco because the setting helps the brand get to know customers better. Being able to have a personal relationship with the people who purchase your products tends to make everyone involved happier, as I mentioned above. Retailers can enjoy long relationships with buyers who end up purchasing multiple items over the years, and consumers can feel a heightened level of importance and connection to a brand that they like to own and wear on a regular basis. Even when I lived in San Francisco a while back, I always noticed that A. Lange & Söhne had a special relationship with wealthy people in the Bay Area. There is an interesting phenomenon you see, where tech leaders and professionals working on state-of-the-art modernity like extreme classicism in their timepieces. Thus, you can start to understand why a brand like A. Lange & Söhne appeals to the wealthy elite living in and around Silicon Valley.

The opening of the A. Lange & Söhne San Francisco Salon on Geary St. near Union Square is also very personally emotional for me because I started my business literally down the street from it. It was in late 2009, I believe, when A. Lange & Söhne first invited me to visit its watch manufacture in Glashütte. I was just getting started at the time after having originally launched aBlogtoWatch in 2007 while living in San Francisco. Now, a full 15 years later, the rarefied high-end watchmaker has opened a store within short walking distance of where I was living and working in San Francisco. (I have since moved back to my native Southern California.) More broadly speaking, the Union Square area has become increasingly in vogue with luxury watch brands in a way that vastly exceeds the horological footprint in the city at the time. As Union Square rents fell after a period of challenging times during and after the pandemic, new spaces opened up allowing European luxury timepiece makers to establish a solid retail foothold here. As San Francisco slowly recovers its poise and the importance of high-end shopping in the area rebounds, much of the space here is dedicated to some of the world’s finest watchmakers, and more are planned. Expect the footprint of mono-brand boutiques, both in California and around the United States, only to increase.

The sitting-room style decor of the A. Lange & Söhne San Francisco Salon is a far cry from the uncomfortable standing spaces of normal watch stores. The idea is that you enter, take your time, and chat with the staff while inspecting world-class luxury timekeeping in comfort. A. Lange & Söhne isn’t so much trying to sell watches one at a time, but is rather now in the business of forming relationships with clients. A. Lange & Söhne (and brands like it) knows that the decision to purchase a very high-end luxury watch is not always made on a whim. Its focus is on being available to interested Bay Area customers and making it clear where people can go when they want to take the next step. This is a very different approach to selling watches in a market compared to a traditional wholesale model, but for brands like A. Lange & Söhne, it appears to be viable. I’ve shied away from the fact that I believe most watchmakers are still wiser to pursue relationships with traditional third-party authorized dealers, but I have made it clear that 10-20% of luxury watchmaking brands can probably go it alone (i.e., sell direct) given their limited annual production and rigorous focus on client relationships.

A. Lange & Söhne is still very German in terms of its philosophy behind branding and communication. This essentially involves a deep-rooted conflict regarding the ostentatious messaging and events that often accompany luxury brand marketing. In Germany, it is just a strange thing to say you are a luxury brand. Instead, the focus needs to be on quality and pride. It isn’t that A. Lange & Söhne watches should be celebrated because they are expensive, but rather because of how carefully made they are and how nice the end result is. Lange’s team evokes a collective sense of pride and confidence in their work, which is apparent, although a sense of quiet humility is always part of the equation. This appeals to many experienced watch collectors and enthusiasts and simply means that novices could take a bit longer to “discover” the virtues of the brand. That’s OK; there really isn’t supposed to be a rush when it comes to someone’s horological journey. And getting to know the A. Lange & Söhne brand is very much a journey. The brand has so much to discover and understand, both when it comes to popular and niche watches (Lange 1 and Datoograph all the way to Zeitwerk and Richard Lange), as well as the many practical and beautification techniques it applies to its famed time-consuming assembly and testing practices.

Another interesting thing about some (but not all) “watch salons” is that they are often not visible to the public walking on the street. If you just walked by the 140 Geary Street address where the A. Lange & Söhne San Francisco Salon is located, you’d probably not see it unless you viewed the discreet placard sign. Visiting requires an invitation or appointment, and it requires going up to the third floor of the building. This is meant to protect the privacy of customers, as well as to ensure a more relaxed opportunity for visitors to get to know the brand, and for A. Lange & Sohne to get to know Salon visitors. That said, anyone can use the intercom on the building during business hours to see if there is availability for a viewing. If you are interested in A. Lange & Söhne watches in the San Francisco Bay Area or want to check out these beautiful Teutonic timepieces, then contact the A. Lange & Söhne San Francisco Salon on 140 Geary St. at 415-228-9915 or [email protected]. Learn more at the A. Lange & Sohne website.

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