Conversations we normally used to have at places like Watches & Wonders and Baselworld have moved on to a digital interface — hopefully, temporarily. Still, a bit of social distancing won’t have us without nerdy and insightful chats with the most influential people behind the scenes of the watch industry. Beyond our regular and hugely popular Instagram Live sessions on the @ablogtowatch Instagram account, we love to create other opportunities to perform tradeshow-style interviews and chats. This is the transcript — edited for brevity and clarity — of one such interview, with none other than Anthony de Haas, Director of Product Development at A. Lange & Söhne. I have had the chance to chat with Anthony many times before, and every time we have spiraled into nerdy and insightful discussions on Lange and the greater watch industry — and so, this latest interview was something to look forward to.aBlogtoWatch: Anthony, how have you been tackling the recent situation?
Anthony de Haas: Thankfully, well. The main thing is health. Family is healthy, colleagues are healthy. Actually, I don’t know anyone personally who’s been infected. I am looking forward to going to the hairdresser next week!
aBlogtoWatch: Our first topic today concerns work itself. Like you, many of us work in multidisciplinary fields. What aspect of your daily work has the current situation made easier, and what part of it has become more difficult?
Anthony de Haas: Well, it’s easier because I have less travel to do. I am in the office only twice a week; the rest of the time, I’m at home. We have shut down parts of the manufactory, but my team is fully working, because we have a lot to do and to test, and the better you can test in advance, the better situation you will find yourself in later on. There is still enough to do: we have five-year plans, which gives us plenty of projects to work on!
I must say, the situation has its complications, but it’s crazy how quickly you get used to working through Zoom or Skype. So, we are all helping out and hoping that everybody remains healthy, but I do have to say I am very much looking forward to seeing and working with my colleagues in person again.
aBlogtoWatch: Introduced recently, the Odysseus has opened a new chapter for A. Lange & Söhne as the first steel sports watch for the company. The world only sees the end result, but we understand it was one heck of a challenge, as it’s way more than an existing watch re-cased in steel. Could you please give us a behind-the-scenes look into its development?
Anthony de Haas: We entered a region where we have never been: the highly occupied segment of sporty watches with some especially big brands with iconic pieces such as the Nautilus and the Royal Oak, making it tough to compete. The Odysseus was one of our most difficult projects at Lange, the most challenging product, I think, in my 15 years here.
I think it was 10 years ago that we had collectors begin coming to us saying, “I have 10 or 15 of your watches, and I love them all, but I don’t have a Lange watch for the most precious time of the year: my holidays. When I’m with my family and I jump in the pool. I can’t wear a Zeitwerk, so why don’t you make a watch for this?”
And so you start thinking, what is the solution? What is the answer? Is it a Datograph in steel, or a Lange 1 in steel, maybe on a steel bracelet? Nah! It would be a cheap ripoff. It’s just too gimmicky.
Plus, it wouldn’t be much appreciated if someone is buying a platinum Datograph and then you make a steel one next year.
So, you look, of course, at your colleagues. Patek, well, they have the Nautilus that’s 40 years on the market. That’s an icon. Then, the Royal Oak. Coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, the two watches were created by the same designer. And his style is to shape the cases around hectagons, ovals and so on — and we thought that’s not something we should do, we don’t want to be copy-cats. What was clear about what we wanted is that it had to be 100% Lange. I think that’s the most important thing: 100% Lange. And to create a new face. You know a little about watches, you know a little bit about sports watches, so you know how many different sports watches there are in the market: way too many! Incredible shapes, designs, things — it’s almost mission impossible to design a new face that looks good and is your own — a watch the buyer can identify with A. Lange & Söhne.
Now, you don’t work on it for 10 years straight. You know, sometimes you make an attempt and then you put it in the drawer because you are fed up with it. That’s the way it is. And then you pick it up again and I think it was about 5 years ago that we found a face with the grand day and Outsize Date, and we gently worked our way from there.
Then we considered doing a bracelet, but we had to make it integrated to make it sturdy against forces. When we launched it last October, this [integrated bracelet] was quite the shocking element, I think. This is a stronger statement, visually, and that’s exactly what we wanted. That said, the watch is very smooth and it must be smooth. So, no crown protectors, no bulky rings and things. It’s not meant to be an aggressive all-purpose sports watch. No. It’s an elegant sports watch you can jump in the pool with; you can swim in the sea without any hesitation, but in the evening for the nice dinner in the restaurant, you can wear a perfect A. Lange & Söhne watch. So, that was the idea behind it.
aBlogtoWatch: And it’s not just the case and bracelet, but also the movement that was designed specifically for the all-new A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus.
Anthony de Haas: We had the Outsize Date, which we love for its functionality. So, we thought, what would be a good movement for a watch with 120 meters of water resistance? We thought, giving it a bit higher frequency is a good thing considering it’s got a little bit better resistance against shocks when riding your mountain bike or whatever. So, we said, OK, we need 4Hz. But we didn’t overdo it with 5Hz or other extreme stuff like that because then things become complicated in the other direction. Furthermore, because the Outsize Date has never been so close to the edge of the dial, near the bezel ring, we were not able to use a common system from the Lange 1 or the Saxonia — we had to develop a completely new one. Then we chose to use not our usual balance cock but a balance bridge, and as we were making prototypes for those, our people from the engraving department suggested we not go with the usual floral pattern but something different — and so, the balance bridge of the Odysseus has little waves and splashes of water instead. Considering the new layout, the desired greater resistance to shocks and other details, we had to develop a new caliber — and the whole team was involved in this.
aBlogtoWatch: Eventually, the day to show Odysseus to the world has come. We have seen plenty of recent examples of how hard it is to launch an established and well-loved brand into a completely new dimension. How did you experience the public’s reaction to the Odysseus?
Anthony de Haas: Obviously, it was a lot of stress! [laughs] I was quite nervous about the launch. The launch was quite particular for us, as we didn’t have a watch fair to launch it, but the 25th anniversary of the first collection in the new era of A. Lange & Söhne. I think we could have done a lot of things wrong, like work with the Genta design theme, or just put a Saxonia Outsize Date movement in a beautiful, modified case “and there you have your sports watch!” We wanted to go further but not too far.
From a commercial point of view, I must say, this was quite a challenge for us. Although people may not understand and say: “Wait a moment, that is a funny guy. He talks about a sports steel watch for 28 thousand Euros and says »that product is not so interesting for us.« Sorry, that guy doesn’t understand his business.” The other point is, turn things around. We have done a completely new movement while many other brands use existing calibers in that field. We are not coming from the outside — we are coming from the inside.
My feeling is that our audience would not appreciate something like that from us, that they’d say something like, “Oh, but that’s commercial, they were probably forced by Richemont to make something like that.” But that’s not true. We simply stick to what we are and what we are good at. And that makes it especially exciting when you start with a new type of product, such as sports watches, where we were not at home.
But all that has to come from the inside, and that’s the price we pay because we wanted to make that watch. And you see that this new watch family is also an investment to broaden your audience a little bit. I think it will be younger people jumping in on this watch — in fact, they already did. I was surprised that we already have a quite young audience. I was having a couple of dinners with collectors last year, sitting with people from 25 to 35 years-old, and they were not only wearing Zeitwerks or Lumens, no, they were also asking to see the Odysseus and they were so amazed by it. This has happened both in the U.S. and in China, and we are very happy about that.
And so, we now finally have a watch for collectors that they can wear during the most precious time of the year.
What we learned is that sometimes it’s necessary to make big steps. The difference for the audience is that they see a watch when it’s ready. We see a watch right after its birth, and we see some of its problems as it, so to speak, goes through development — sort of its puberty stages [laughs]. And so when it’s ready to go, we launch it, and then it’s like in real life: ups and downs! Sometimes you are just not sure, is this the right way? Is this not the right way? That was the case with Odysseus.
I’m not the type of guy who has sleepless nights. But in the end, we have what we think is our thing, and we definitely do not want to force people to like it or to buy it. It’s a matter of taste: if you like it, fine; if you hate it, that’s fine too. Sorry, that’s the way it is. After the launch, there were people criticizing it, “Hey Tony, I don’t like it, the bracelet is not good,” etc… And two weeks later, they send me a message: “Listen, I’ve been down to the boutique, I’ve had it on my wrist and it’s fantastic! But in the pictures, it didn’t work like that.” That’s a problem we probably have with all Lange watches — they do not work so well in pictures — we spend a lot of effort trying to make them look good and, you know, most of our pictures are real pictures, not renderings.
aBlogtoWatch: Really? That’s interesting because they look so sterile that I was convinced they were renders.
Anthony de Haas: Yeah. I can tell you, because our designers could work with the most sophisticated computer techniques not only for design but also for these purposes. In fact, even when we are designing new pieces, we take off the computer and we print them. There is an A3 size, there is a 3:1 size, and the real 1:1 size. We only work from a front view at most stages, as that’s where you can see the greatest details on the thickness of the printing, length of the hour markers — we go very deep. This is done by a bunch of nerds. And of course, with the Odysseus, it was much more complex, as we had to come up with a new case, special pushers, and so on. And what many others do is just take the renderings they use during the design process and create images from it. This is very exceptional for us. Usually, our marketing organizes the photoshoots, but it’s always on us to approve them. Because it takes so much effort to create a beautiful product.
aBlogtoWatch: How did you experience the public’s reaction to such a controversial new chapter like the Odysseus?
Anthony de Haas: It was funny, the feedback. In the beginning, people were shocked over the integrated bracelet. I read some comments on the internet this week [at the time of the launch of the rubber strapped white gold A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus] saying, “Oh, the dial on the gray watch has a different pattern than the blue one on the steel. Maybe that’s because it didn’t sell well!” No, that’s not true. As if I can develop a new watch in just 6 months — it’s impossible! The idea was to create for the steel watches a certain frosted middle part and circular edge, whereas for the watches in precious materials, the dial will have this different pattern. Because the former is a more robust look, and the latter is, when you see it live, is more elegant for its reflections. We always work with design codes. Just how the white over black or black over white Outsize Date changes on black-dialed Lange 1 watches to differentiate between gold and platinum. We love working with these little details as our collectors and fans have the eye for these.
aBlogtoWatch: Earlier on, you mentioned 5-year plans, so I wonder, when it comes to the future of A. Lange & Söhne, are there any other areas that the company is not currently represented in, but you wish, or you plan, it will be someday?
Anthony de Haas: The Odysseus is a new playground for us! It’s something that I want to further explore, of course, and we just launched the new model already. Some people are saying: “Wow, that’s fast! Just launched the steel one and now it’s in a precious material.” Yeah, we did that on purpose. Because we wanted to make it clear that it is a product family, but not a family of just steel watches. We already had requests for precious materials.
So we have the product families, then we have Handwerkskunst — you know, the German word that nobody else can pronounce — for our specially handcrafted watches (such as this), then the playground with Lumen watches (like this special Lange 1), and now we can add the Odysseus product family to these. We will fill that over the years, not too rapidly, just with the things we like to do, and it will always stay a Lange. In fact, even for this spring, we had other releases planned — but, in light of the current situation, we have postponed them. So we have the white gold Odysseus, and the latest Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, two distinctly different watches… And there is so much more to come!
aBlogtoWatch: Anthony, that certainly sounds like a lot of exciting Lange watches to look forward to. Thank you for your time and hope to see you soon.