September 18, 2019
by Rob Nudds
For a watch brand of A. Lange & Söhne’s status, event sponsorship is a big deal. Choosing to align such a prestigious name with anything is not a decision taken lightly, and once that alignment has been made, the inevitable expectation is that the partnership and the associated event(s) will run like clockwork. The Concours d’Elegance is an international roadshow, showcasing some of automotive history’s finest machines. With the main focus of the event a parade of exquisite classic cars, A. Lange & Söhne’s presence is as a champion of excellence, operating as a charmingly humble support act. A few months ago, David Bredan attended the same event held by near shores of Lake Como and analyzed how and why Lange involves itself with proceedings. To provide a different angle, focusing on the leadership and decision-making behind this famous German brand, I headed to Hampton Court Palace, London, to take part in the British leg of the tour and to meet with brand CEO Wilhelm Schmid.
Hallo Herr Schmid! For the benefit of our readers who don’t yet know your story, could you please tell us about your career before you arrived at Lange?
I had a very straightforward career, but a little unusual for a German. Usually, Germans stick to one industry, if not to one company. I first worked in the oil industry for Castrol, for 13 years, and then 10 years for BMW, and now almost nine years for A. Lange & Söhne. So from commodity to premium to luxury. But I must say: I hate the word “luxury” – I prefer “quality exclusive products.”
And when did you find yourself falling in love with watches? You mentioned earlier that it had been a longstanding passion, along with your love for cars, and that when you worked for BMW you spent all your spare money on watches, and now that work for A. Lange & Söhne you spend all your money on cars! But how far back do these interests go?
I’ve had a love affair with mechanical watches since the age of 17. Funnily enough, I bought my first car at the age of seventeen (which I still have), and also my first watch (which, I don’t have anymore because it got stolen)! But it wasn’t stolen as a watch itself… My then-girlfriend, now wife and I lived in Hamburg in those days, and on a hot day we went swimming, and I thought it would be a great idea to put the watch into the [trunk] of the car, because I thought that would be a lot safer than having it [on my person] while we went swimming.
The next morning, because I was in a rush, I forgot to take the watch out of the car. I took a different car to work, and my other car, with the watch in the trunk was stolen! And so I still have the box, I still have the papers, I still have the invoice – believe it or not – but I don’t have the watch!
And which watch was it?
(Laughs) I don’t ever reveal that…
How mysterious. I’m sure our readers will enjoy guessing which make and model it might have been. But now that you’re surrounded by beautiful watches every day, which watch do you choose to wear?
The Zeitwerk Date! I have had it since January – since it was launched. And it’s a keeper, you know?
Yes, I think I would keep it myself if it were ever to fall into my collection.
Yes, it is a great watch. It lives on my wrist. I like watches you can wear with everything. You can wear it with shorts, you can wear it with a suit, you can wear it with everything. And it’s a beautiful complex watch.
When that watch was released, there was quite a positive reaction to the size, because it was significantly stepped-up from the original.
But I tell you what, there is a big dispute in the community about who likes what more. There are a lot of people who say the original design – especially in the white gold with the black face – is the one to go for. But the good news is, we have both in the collection, so you can choose.
One of the things I heard mentioned around the time of the Zeitwerk Date’s release was how its added bulk made it the sportiest model in the collection. And it raised the question: Will you ever make the Zeitwerk in stainless steel?
Good answer. But aside from the Zeitwerk family, is it possible we may see a stainless steel watch in the Lange catalog in the future?
We are so good at surprises… So, if I now give it away, there will be no surprise. We’ll see.
Well, that was the perfect cryptic answer. I’m sure it will get people talking. We know you love cars (especially your beautiful AC that you brought along for us to admire), but aside from your own masterpiece, which car was your favorite of the show?
I just love that Fraser Nash – that blue Fraser Nash Lagafloria. That’s a stunning car. That’s a car I’d take home with me, something really special. I haven’t seen all the cars yet, but that one was parked next to mine so I had to look at it all day.
What’s the main focus of this event for A. Lange & Söhne? Is it to reach watch fanatics? To reach car fanatics? Is it to establish a connection with a younger generation, or is it mainly to consolidate your existing following?
I believe that, as a small company, you need to focus — because if you don’t focus, you get lost. So we decided to focus on the Concours of Elegance, on vintage car shows, because the same kind of crafts can be seen in these classic cars as in our watches.
As I said on the Concours stage earlier, cars from the past were built to last. They were built so they could be repaired. There are some fantastic new cars around these days, like the BMW I8. But what will become of it in five, 10 years? Will it be collectible in 30 years’ time when it cannot be fixed because the parts do not exist? I am not so sure.
It is similar with our watches. Our industry – luxury watchmaking – has been obsolete for a long time. It persists because these things are real. They are made. And they work for years and years. There is a connection between these classic cars and Lange & Söhne watches that exists at their core. It is not surprising that the appreciation of one leads to an appreciation of the other.
But what I like most about this show is the human element that Prince Michael of Kent brings. It is almost like he’s hosting – it’s almost like a family event.
Which marries nicely with the Lange ethos…
That’s exactly what I think. It has that little extra thing that you don’t find easily with other events. It is a very important thing, and I don’t think the event would be the same without it.