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A. Lange & Söhne - Interview with Wilhelm Schmid

A. Lange & Söhne Interview with Wilhelm Schmid

WorldTempus spoke to the CEO of A. Lange & Söhne in Dresden at the brand’s pre-SIHH event in December.

The last time we spoke the new factory building in Glashütte was not yet complete. Can you tell us what changes this new building has brought for the brand?
Everybody is happy working in the new manufactory and we now have parts of the old buildings that are empty and under renovation, which will keep us busy for another two to three years. We are now learning what it means to restore our old buildings, which are a hundred years old. I thought the new building was a challenge, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to incorporate modern infrastructure into our old buildings, which is what we are doing at the moment.
Space was very tight in the past and we have also closed our facility in Bärenstein and the watchmaking school is therefore on site in Glashütte now as well, which had always been my vision. I wanted the students to feel part of the brand as early as possible, because I think learning somewhere else and only experiencing the reality when you arrive here in Glashütte is not good for the students and it’s not good for us. That has taken up some space and we also needed space for things that we didn’t do before, like enamelling and other things we are working on. If we want to work on that discreetly without people walking by and peering in, then you also need a special place. So this extra space gave us the opportunity to do things like this.

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There is a vey high concentration of watch brands in a very small town in Glashütte. How much of a challenge is it to find new talent and get students into the school?
Actually we are doing OK. Without wishing to sound arrogant we are probably the number one destination and students will probably apply to see whether they can work with us first and if not try somewhere else. We had a new intake of 21 students in August and we currently have around 60 apprentices working for us, which equates to a full three years’ worth of students. The challenge is subsequently to integrate these new people into the business because they will need another two years before they are fully operational. So that is a total of five years we have invested before we get any return.

Does the school take into account your special requirements for hand finishing?
Some of the students have a passion for this, but the profession of engraver is really something different. We don’t train our own engravers. We can train experienced engravers in-house but we don’t offer it as an apprenticeship. Quite a few of our finisseurs are either goldsmiths or used to work with dentists because the work involved is very similar. Even so, it takes at least six to nine months before they are up to scratch for working at A. Lange & Söhne as an engraver.

Now you have the infrastructure, do you plan to increase capacity?
Somebody once told me that A. Lange & Söhne was both the biggest independent brand and the smallest big brand at the same time. That is probably our position within the market and that is where I would like to stay. There has never been any question of increasing production. It is much more about flexibility. We are still short on production capacity, in fact, but that means the moment I see one watch not performing as well as it used to, I still have several watches in the same category that I can quickly switch production capacity to.

You mentioned what is hot and what is not hot. So what has been hot for A. Lange & Söhne this year?
That’s very easy. A Lange 1 will always be hot, but we have been producing it for 22 years and if you order one, the likelihood that you will receive it in good time is high. The same is true for the Saxonia and the 1815. These watches are hot but you will find them. A Datograph and most of the tourbillons are, however, different. You won’t see them in a normal store. If they are there it is because they are waiting for a customer or somebody said that they would keep it a while before selling it on. Clever retailers do that, because if they can show it to several people they can generate more than one sale on the back of it. I can say with pride that all the watches that we launched this year at SIHH have been delivered and all limited editions are sold out. We just have to produce them, which is a bit more difficult.

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Is the Lange 1 also a first step on the ladder at A. Lange & Söhne?
Yes! Like I said it is a virus and the Lange 1 is usually the first of many, many A. Lange & Söhne timepieces in a collection.

How do you balance the tradition of the brand and innovating for an event like the SIHH?
I always have mixed feelings about the word “tradition”. Many people use the word to justify repeating what they have always been doing. For me, that is pretty boring. For me, tradition is more about the values of a brand, the values of its people and the values of its organization. The Lange 1 Moonphase Lumen was quite a contemporary looking watch, but it was also classical at the same time. That is pushing the design boundary of our brand in a way that I like. Even for die-hard collectors the watch is clearly recognized as a Lange, yet it also attracts new people to the brand. Our main logo is “never stand still”, which doesn’t go well with always doing the same thing.

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