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A. Lange & Sohne’s 20th Anniversary

Chief executive Wilhelm Schmid on how the brand moves forward by staying the same.

“There aren’t many companies that have survived two world wars, recessions and depressions, and have never changed hands,” states Wilhelm Schmid with more than a hint of pride. The CEO of German fine watchmaking brand A. Lange & Sohne sat down with The Peak for an interview when he was in town in July, during which he shared his thoughts on the past, present and future of the Glashutte-based manufacture.

There is good reason for the pride he takes in his company. Dating back 170 years, the manufacture’s history is an eventful one, with the one constant being the acclaimed quality of its watches.

This month, A. Lange & Sohne celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Lange 1. One of four watch models presented to the public in 1994 – four years after the company was re-established – the Lange 1 continues to be the brand’s signature model.

First started by watchmaker Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845, A. Lange & Sohne was forced into a four-decade-long hiatus under the East German communist regime. After the Berlin Wall fell, the founder’s great-grandson, Walter Lange, revived the brand and created a new generation of watches.

One of them was the Lange 1, which became the basis for an iconic family of timepieces including the Lange 1 Timezone, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar (Schmid’s favourite) and the larger Grand Lange 1 watches.

Of the enduring and multi-award-winning design, Schmid says: “Today, the Lange 1 looks so classical but, in those days, the decentralised dials and outsized dates were very unusual. Combined with the beautiful movement, the watch has (had continuing appeal) for 20 years.”

The manufacture’s philosophy is just as unwavering. Its founder set out to create innovative timepieces of utmost quality, introducing inventions such as the three-quarter plate for greater movement stability. When Walter Lange restarted the company one-and-a-half centuries later, his vision was simple: “To build the best watches again.”

Even as the brand focuses on global expansion and expands its manufacturing facilities in Glashutte, this credo remains very much evident. Even within the rarefied world of luxury timepieces, A. Lange & Sohne commands respect even among the most persnickety of critics, particularly for the incredibly fine hand-finishings of its movement parts.

Considering that the finishing alone can take weeks or even months, it is little wonder that the manufacture produces fewer than 5,000 timepieces a year. The upcoming new production facility will provide more space for the company’s some 700 staff, says Schmid, adding that production numbers will remain constant. (In other words, those waiting lists for its watches aren’t going to get shorter any time soon.) Smiling, Schmid sums up the happy problem: “As long as everybody is complaining about us not delivering watches, I think the brand is in good health.”