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Interview With A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid At Concours D’Elegance At Hampton Court Palace

Interview With A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid At Concours D'Elegance At Hampton Court Palace Shows & Events

Can you describe to us the process your watchmakers go through to attain the level of skill they need to create items that can stand the test of time like these cars can?

A watchmaker does not construct watches. That’s the job of the construction department. They have the ideas. They design and construct the parts. But it is not always straightforward. There is a lot of work to be done to bring these two stages together. Sometimes things work on the computer but not in reality. It is the job of the watchmakers to figure out what works well and what doesn’t.

This is one element, one path, where watchmakers learn throughout their career [through time at the bench] what works and what doesn’t. We aim to give our watchmakers a good start in their career with our watchmaking school, and a three-year apprenticeship program to bring up young people to the necessary level. And then it takes another two years after that apprenticeship before they are really capable of working in the factory.

After that, it is a lot to do with your personal talent and dedication, your passion and patience. It takes the whole package to elevate you to the necessary level.

Interview With A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid At Concours D'Elegance At Hampton Court Palace Shows & Events

What do you see as the biggest challenge for a brand like Lange in the future?

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That’s a very easy question. We have three challenges. The first challenge is that about 85% of the people working for A. Lange & Söhne live in and around Glashütte, while 100% of our customers do not. So to bring Glashütte and Lange & Söhne to the world, and the world to Lange & Söhne and Glashütte is, in my mind, the biggest challenge.

Because we are the biggest brand in town, it is easy to get complacent, because you do not feel that breath of change and competition upon your neck. This means we must be proactive in reaching new people.

The second challenge is how to share the secret. For a big brand, Lange is also a bit under-the-radar. A lot of people buy Lange & Söhne because they can get a very expensive watch without being identified as a big spender – the American concept of “stealth wealth.” So how do you maintain that? How do you remain a secret while increasing awareness? That is the second challenge, which leads in into the third one.

How do you make sure that young people understand what we do and how and why we do it? That is what keeps me kicking every day. We just have to explain what we do, and it is up to the audience to decide what to do with that information.

Interview With A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid At Concours D'Elegance At Hampton Court Palace Shows & Events

Is being part of a luxury group (Richemont) restrictive for a brand with the legacy and reputation of Lange, as it tries to position itself correctly to speak to a new generation of watch consumers?

No, not at all. There are many things that would be very difficult for us if we were on our own. For example, managing cybercrime, logistics, legal matters etc., etc. That whole backbone is dealt with by dedicated professionals that are part of Richemont’s core. So, as a matter of fact, it is a great advantage to be part of a big company.

Being part of a group does warrant a bit of explanation, a bit of communication to the customer. I think Richemont is a great company that gives us, the brand of A. Lange & Söhne, a lot of freedom, as well as a lot of support.

Interview With A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid At Concours D'Elegance At Hampton Court Palace Shows & Events

Last question: Beyond the acquisition of beautiful things like cars and watches, what do you think the positive effect of visiting an event like this and being exposed to these mechanical marvels can have on someone who has no previous interest in either field?

It’s almost art. If you are never exposed to art, you will never understand art. If you are not exposed to these cars, these watches, this environment, you will never understand why people are crazy about it. And I think it’s a good side effect that, if you experience it here, then you experience it in a different habitat than you would see it if you went into a shop or if you saw these cars on the street.

Here you can really indulge yourself. That’s why we prepared this marquee – the House of Lange. Because you can really go and see, experience, and touch it. Having the chance to meet so many like-minded people as they go about exploring and sharing in our passion for watchmaking is a pleasure and the thing I love most about my job.

A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid spoke to Rob Nudds for aBlogtoWatch at the Hampton Court Palace Concours d’Elegance 2019. Learn more about A. Lange & Söhne and the traditions of German watchmaking at alange-soehne.com.

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  • Jiri

    Nice one, but that buckle look awful.

  • SMB

    I’d love to go to an event like that, for the watches and cars both. Stunning! A good interview, Rob.

  • H.S.M.

    But I must say: I hate the word “luxury” – I prefer “quality exclusive products.”

    Am I the only one, or is this something only a “snob”…
    Sorry, a “consumer of quality exclusive products” would say?

    • The way I interpreted it was that it places the emphasis on the quality of the product in question, rather than the more relative concept of luxury.

      You know, we hear a lot about new brands trying to offer “affordable luxury”, and while that means something different for each individual I think it misses the point of what consumers want.

      I believe that the quality of a product is more important than its designation as luxury. And that intrinsic quality is more personally satisfying than the idea that something is luxurious to some people.

      I’m pretty confident that watches in Lange’s sphere would be regarded as luxuries by anyone, but their quality should be talked about more than the status boost they may provide.

      But that was just my impression of how it was meant. It’s interesting to discuss these words and terms that are bandied around the industry so regularly.

      Thanks for engaging with the post!

      • Beefalope

        He’s at an event with a bunch of Ferraris and McLarens, neither of which can make it 100 miles without a visit to the mechanic. He’s part of a company that refuses to make steel watches, even though steel is more useful and objectively superior to a case made of gold, which is soft and scratches and dents very easily.

        People don’t buy luxury products because they’re quality products. They buy luxury products because they’re status symbols. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

        • DanW94

          Luxury and quality are not mutual exclusive. Lange watches are certainly both. You’re assuming people buy Lange watches because they’re “luxury” and status symbols. That’s simply not one hundred percent true. I’m sure some people buy them because they’re well made and beautifully crafted, not just to show off. And so his company doesn’t work in steel but prefers precious metals. I don’t see why you’re all wound up about it. If you don’t like the product, fine. But if you don’t like the product because it’s expensive and exclusive and you can’t afford it, well that’s just sour grapes.

          • Beefalope

            I don’t really care whether his company makes watches in steel, platinum, gold, plastic or wood. I’m just saying that luxury doesn’t automatically equate to quality. Luxury and quality may not be mutually exclusive, but they don’t necessarily go hand in hand with one another.

            Many luxury products — whether we’re talking about watches or cars or suits or what have you — are actually quite delicate.

            It doesn’t have to be that way, and frankly I wish it wasn’t that way. A luxury product should be built so well that you can rely on it after many years of use.

            A great comparison here is between Ferrari and Porsche. Good luck finding a Ferrari with more than 100,000 miles on it. That’s because they’re trash that can’t be drive like a normal car. Compare that to Porsche, which has always had a design ethic that emphasizes daily usability. I’ve put 35,000 miles so far on my 911 with nothing but a couple of minor issues. If I put 35,000 miles on a Ferrari, I’d probably have repairs bills for at least $35k. It shouldn’t be this way.

            With respect to the watch, it makes no difference whether I can afford it (I can). I don’t like it because it’s a lousy value proposition. That much money for a three-quarter plate movement? No thanks. I’d rather stick to my Glashutte Original, which represents a much better value proposition.

          • Rob Crenshaw

            You have the sourest grapes I’ve seen in a long time. Why are you concerned with what other people buy or how they define luxury?

          • Ayreonaut

            GO makes ’em in steel and ALS won’t. Which means that GO is the better value, and ALS keeps the edge in “exclusivity.”

        • I’m not kidding. Quality means more to me than what anyone else thinks.

          • Berndt Norten

            You have the best quality?

    • Raymond Wilkie

      At the end of the day it’s semantics. I prefer luxury. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

      • Beefalope

        Are you 15 years old?

        • Raymond Wilkie

          No I’m 51

          • Beefalope

            Amazing.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Thanks, I’ve been told I look younger 🙂

          • Beefalope

            By the legally blind?

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Now now Beefalope, keep it light.

          • Berndt Norten

            This is the Central Scrutinizer. It is my responsibility to inform you that you may be breaking an unwritten law

    • Beefalope

      I’m with you. The whole interview was pretty worthless, but that part of it was a low point.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Good read thanks Rob.
    ” The same kind of crafts can be seen in these classic cars as in our watches “, I will NEVER get the connection, ” There is a connection between these classic cars and Lange & Söhne watches that exists at their core ” ….what am I missing?. Hampton court palace is the home of Prince Michael of Kent, the show is on his front lawn so it’s hardly surprising he hosts it. ( I’m sure he gets a nice back hander gift ) His wife has the unfortunate title of Princess Pushy.
    To the brand. A. Lange & Söhne, as far as I’m concerned they can’t do a thing wrong in my eyes. The #1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is on my would kill for list very closely followed by the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater.

    • Independent_George

      Well, I guess the escapement and the internal combustion engine were two mechanical inventions that cemented Western political and economic dominance in the 19th century. Plus, cars and watches have gears and things, so there is that.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Weeeeeeeell, I suppose so.

        • I’ve heard the connection between cars and watches explained in this way loads of times before, and while I “got” it, I certainly wasn’t “feeling” it until I visited this event. I’ve never really had the chance to study classic cars up close, and I’d never appreciated the detailing and finishing that goes into some of the parts people rarely lay eyes upon. It did help me get on board with the similarities between the two crafts, but I think it’s only relevent to very small windows of each.

          And if it still sounds a bit flimsy, I did notice that every single car I saw had an abundance of wheels, so there’s always that 🙂

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Weeeeeeell, I suppose

  • Thanks, SMB. It is quite amazing to see such a wealth of amazing craftsmanship (and wealth) in one place. The best bit was talking to Herr Schmid, though. He is a genuinely nice guy.

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