A. Lange & Söhne capped off its 25th anniversary year in a big way this fall, launching its first entirely new collection since 2009. The Odysseus launches as Lange’s first regularly produced timepiece in stainless steel, and introduces both a new integrated bracelet and a new in-house movement. I caught up with A. Lange & Sohne’s CEO, Wilhelm Schmid, in New York recently for a frank discussion about the Saxon manufacture’s first new product family since 2009’s Zeitwerk.
WT: Was it always the plan for the Odysseus to debut in Lange’s 25th Anniversary year?
WS: It was clear that for the anniversary that we would have to do something special, and we definitely intended to launch the watch on October 24, 2019, 25 years after the launch of the first four new watches from A. Lange & Söhne. We didn’t launch them at SIHH, which would have been logical for a watch of this magnitude, even though we had prototypes of the Odysseus at SIHH that we shared with a very few people.
WT: This is a brand that does not follow trends but does listen closely to its customers. What were you hearing over the past few years from your collectors that made you realize that it was time for a “sport-elegance” watch?
WS: The idea for a steel watch, a watch you could wear in a more casual environment, went all the way back to Mr. [Gunter] Blumlein [who resurrected A. Lange & Söhne along with Walter Lange]. We launched four new watches in 1994, and then the next breakthrough really wasn’t until 2009, with the Zeitwerk. We had to create a new face, something unique and different, and remember, we did not inherit any design sketches or ideas from older models, at least none that were strong enough that we could create a family from. It took the team quite a while before we had the right idea and then, of course, we needed to talk to the construction people, to learn if the design was viable regarding the watertightness we wanted and so on. So, we were well ahead of the current luxury sports watch wave in many regards, but as always it was still rather tight at the end.
WT: There was nothing in the archives that even approached what you wanted?
WS: No, because most of what is in there from that era were pocketwatches, which by nature are not waterproof and not really anyone’s idea of a casual watch. Unfortunately we had to start from scratch.
WT: How did you arrive at the name Odysseus? Obviously it’s not a very German name like those of the rest of your collections.
WS: I believe that we tested as many names for the watch as we had design proposals! People underestimate how difficult it is to find a name that you can protect, one that has meaning, one that can be pronounced globally. Many people struggle pronouncing our brand name as it is, so if we put another difficult name like that next to it, we create an even bigger challenge. If you are familiar with the Greek hero Odysseus, he was not the strongest or the toughest, but he was very clever and very resilient and he always came back, and that attitude reminded us of our “Never Stand Still” motto. We could have named it after another Lange cousin or uncle, but how boring would that be? We even discussed calling it the Lange 2, but we’d already been there. I think what we arrived at is perfect for this watch.
WT: The Odysseus model you arrived at has two hands, small seconds, and a unique day-date indication. Was there ever discussion about adding any other complications, like a chronograph?
WS: Our biggest challenge was creating a face for an entire new family. To do that, you have to think in terms of a beginning — what is your next step, and the next ones after that. In the beginning, there was only one Lange 1. This year we celebrated it with 10 different versions, and if you put them all on a table together, you can clearly see they’re all Lange 1. if you don’t think as a designer about how to establish that family with a strong design in the beginning, you probably won’t be able to do it later on.
WT: The unusual (for Americans) two-letter date indication is an aspect that some have commented on. What was the reason for using “MO” rather than “MON,” for Monday, et cetera?
WS: It was about readability and symmetry. If you make the date longer, you make it smaller and less readable. Legibility is something we’ve always strongly emphasized in our calendar displays. Also, the day had to be balanced with the two-digit date window on the other side. If it was three elements on one side and two on the other, it wouldn’t look right.
WT: When a brand creates a watch like this one, there’s always a lot of analysis about the integrated bracelet. How much discussion went into that aspect of the design?
WS: There are really only three basic versions of a metal bracelet, from the Milanese style, with its multi-layer strings, to the three-link to the five-link types. And rest assured there is no bracelet on the planet that hasn’t been executed in some way before by somebody else. What was important for us above all in this area was emphasizing the comfort. It doesn’t chafe, it’s very adjustable, and design-wise it’s very streamlined, going from wide to narrow. And of course, the polished and brushed surfaces are all done to a level you would expect from Lange.
WT: The Odysseus is the first Lange with a screw-down crown for water resistance and the first collection in steel. Any other firsts?
WS: The new movement beats at 4 Hz (28,800 vph); our watches usually have balances at 3 Hz or even slower. And this is because the Odysseus is a watch that is meant to be exposed to a slightly tougher environment — playing with your kids, going to the beach, jumping in a swimming pool, skiing. For activities like that, a fast-swinging balance is just better than a slow-swinging one, so that’s why we changed it. We also moved away from the classical balance cock to a more robust balance bridge. It’s a purpose-built watch for casual wear, and if you’re casually dressed, you’re likely to behave more casually, and that includes exposing your watch more to the elements.