Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Wilhelm Schmid, the CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, to discuss his passion for automobiles, craftsmanship, and what it means to be an ambassador for “Made in Germany.”
Roger Ruegger: As a former BMW executive and the son of a car distributor, what brings more pleasure – a car or a complicated wristwatch?
Wilhelm Schmid: The feeling of a sophisticated watch strapped to my wrist when driving a vintage car makes my happiness complete. Being in touch with these fascinating mechanical works of art makes me feel connected to the world.
RR: Is that why A. Lange & Söhne supports the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este? What connection do you see between vintage cars and mechanical watches?
WS: Absolutely. Watches and cars go together like cookies and milk. That is why so many watch geeks are also car enthusiasts and vice versa. At first glance, the fascination with both cars and watches seems to be rooted in their functionality but what they really have in common goes deeper. Collectors often say that the most exciting aspect of cars and watches is the human factor. Who designed the body or the case, who is the mastermind behind the engine or the movement, who owned a particular treasure, and ultimately, where can I meet kindred spirits who share the same passions?
RR: What was your biggest challenge or success since you joined the company in 2011?
WS: When I joined the company, our strategy had three goals: to build an extension to the manufactory in order to optimize processes, to sharpen the profile of A. Lange & Söhne’s five watch families, and to extend our worldwide distribution network with our own boutiques. The biggest challenge was that I had to tackle all three issues at the same time.
RR: A. Lange & Söhne is not only a driving force in the renaissance of Saxony’s fine watchmaking tradition, it is also an ambassador for traditional German watchmaking and craftsmanship in general. How do you reach out to a new/younger audience with a complex message like that?
WS: We should keep in mind that the digital natives are now in their twenties and will eventually appear as buyers of high-end watches in several years’ time. The current challenges lie mainly in the entry-level segment. I see much progress here, especially in the development of new product concepts. Based on experience, I am confident that the industry will use all the creativity and technical know-how at their disposal to come up with exciting new ideas. On the bottom line, I am convinced of the long-term and sustainable success of our approach to watchmaking because it stimulates the mind and fulfills the desire for distinction, timeless beauty, and lasting value.
RR: A. Lange & Söhne promises its customers the same level of finish throughout the whole collection. Was that a management decision or did product management come out on top?
WS: In the pocketwatch era, A. Lange & Söhne had three different quality categories. At the top was the 1A quality, characterized by the three-quarter plate, screwed gold chatons, a hand-engraved balance cock, a movement adjusted in five positions, and an 18-karat gold case. When A. Lange & Söhne was restarted in 1990, it was a strategic decision that the wristwatches of the new era should display the main quality characteristics of the 1A category. Our success is based on the consistent adherence to these self-imposed rules.
RR: “Made in Germany” is not controlled by a central regulatory body. How do you define the merchandise mark “Made in Germany”? What additional qualities/values does “Glashütte” represent?
WS: “Made in Germany” was originally introduced by the British Government in the late 19th century to warn consumers against allegedly inferior products from Germany. But the plan backfired as the German industry responded with a quality offensive. At the time, A. Lange & Söhne contributed to establishing “Made in Germany” as a seal of quality. Today, the font sizes on the dials of our watches indicate how we – and our customers – rank priorities. The quality promise is primarily constituted by the brand name, “A. Lange & Söhne,” followed by the designations of origin, “Glashütte in Saxony” and “Made in Germany.”
RR: A. Lange & Söhne stands for traditional, handmade watches (and not for silicon, new materials, etc.) How and where can you still be innovative with a position like this?
WS: The strength of A. Lange & Söhne lies in its respect for traditional craftsmanship and its ability to explore new avenues in the field of innovative horological complications. If you take a look at the intervals at which we have launched timepieces like the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon or the Triple Split you may assume that watch connoisseurs can look forward to some really trailblazing developments in the years to come.
RR: What excites you most about A. Lange & Söhne?
WS: The mindset of the people who work at A. Lange & Söhne. It is, of course, exciting to be able to shape the future of one of the most prestigious watch brands. But what I appreciate the most is the friendly and concentrated mood in the watchmakers’ workshops. Visitors to our manufactory cannot escape this very special atmosphere of dedication and enthusiasm.
Very interesting. I have two of your 50s watches.