“I apologise to all those who are waiting for their watches,” said Wilhelm Schmid, speaking to The Peak via Zoom from the A. Lange & Sohne manufacture in Glashutte. Our interview took place at the end of March, a week before the start of the digital watch fair Watches and Wonders. As a result of pandemic-related measures in Germany, there has been lost efficiency at the manufacture even with “all hands on deck”. He added, “On top of that, demand has been pretty strong, so it’s not easy at the moment, but I must say, it’s a luxurious problem.”
With last year marking a decade since he took up the role of CEO at one of the world’s most respected horology companies, Schmid talks about the highlights of his tenure to date and what lies ahead for the brand.
1) What is the key theme for your novelties this year?
It’s all about subtle differences. There are many perpetual calendars out there and very few have indications that jump instantaneously at midnight. Most of them take an hour or even longer, and every indication advances slowly. For the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, the jump is at 12 o’clock sharp. That’s the subtle difference. Also, the day/night indication is integrated into the moon phase, so you don’t have an extra indication on the dial.
Moving to the Triple Split, it features a combination we’ve not used before. We’ve never had a watch in pink gold with a blue dial. If you see how different it is from the previous version (in white gold with a grey dial) in terms of aesthetics, that’s the subtle difference.
And then there’s the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase, a watch that even my team struggled to take proper photos of. Because in reality, almost no photo does justice to the watch. It’s incredibly beautiful on the wrist. Quite a few journalists, men as well as ladies, have said that that’s the one that they want to see in real life.
2) With its shimmery blue dial and smaller size of 36.8mm, many people might think the Little Lange 1 was designed for women.
We must not forget that the Little Lange 1 was launched for Japanese men (in 1998). Because 38.5mm, which is the dimension of the classical Lange 1, was in those days deemed as too big for the Japanese market. I always say that we do not build men’s or women’s watches. We don’t work for a specific gender or nationality or culture, we just produce A. Lange & Sohne watches.
3) Many brands create special editions for different markets, but this is not something that A. Lange & Sohne has done. Why is this?
Our target has always been locals. You don’t find us at airports, or duty-free shopping, because our business has always been locals-first. Sometimes, it’s travelling locals because they have houses in different countries. Any point of sale we have has to be sustained by the people who live there. That for me is one way to be resilient to the fluctuations that you face with tourists, because they come and go, and it’s not in your hands.
We only produce about 5,000 watches, and we have 73 active references, so that makes it less than a hundred pieces for each watch annually. Why make life even more complicated by making editions for Singapore or New York? No, I don’t think we should do that, unless there’s a very good reason for it.
4) It’s been over 10 years since you became CEO of A. Lange & Sohne. What do you consider your greatest achievements?
It’s never just my achievement, because I’m not a one-man show. I’m fortunate to helm a beautiful company with a great team. We have had many achievements in the past 10 years, but I think these three things will be mentioned when someone writes a book about A. Lange & Sohne in future: Firstly, the launch of [Lange’s most complex wristwatch] the Grand Complication in 2013, because it answered the question, once and for all, of what we are really capable of doing. [Editor’s note: The Grand Complication features a grand and petite sonnerie, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar and a split-seconds chronograph with flying seconds.]
Secondly, I’ll never forget the 2015 inauguration of the new factory, with Chancellor Angela Merkel opening the building. With huge investments in sustainability – it’s a CO2 emission-free building – it will help us deal with the challenges that we may face in future. The third that comes to mind is the launch of the Odysseus in 2019, because it isn’t often that you can begin a new watch family while in charge of a watch company.
5) What is your outlook for the year?
With an annual production of 5,500 watches, I can’t speak for the whole watch industry, but I am rather positive. We have seen positive signs rising in the last six months, and the appetite for new watches is gigantic. The waiting time for the Odysseus – which is now years – is longer than we planned our production. The 1815 Thin that we launched last year is in huge demand. Try to get a simple Lange 1 in pink gold and you will struggle. At the moment, demand is pretty strong. My biggest challenge lies in production, and we are always working on that, but we want to produce watches of the highest quality, and that comes with limitations.