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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

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.

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

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.”

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

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.

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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!

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

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.

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

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.

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

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?

Haha.

No.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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Comments

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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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