Three years is a long time for any head of a global company to not visit his team and stay in touch with retailers and customers located all over the world. This is especially true for Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, who was back in Singapore with stops in other major Asian cities after a three-year break. He was happy to visit the region but he paid a price for it, suffering a bad back after a long flight from Dresden, where he is based, to Singapore. However, the pain did not stop him from meeting the media and Options had a chat with him standing up at the A. Lange & Söhne boutique at ION Orchard.
Nothing, not even a bad back, could keep this CEO from meeting the watch journalists who had many questions and he answered them all in his usual affable manner. He kicks off the conversation by commenting how Covid-19 has changed the way everyone does business and A. Lange & Söhne had to rethink the way they did business.
Schmid says that Covid-19 accelerated a lot of things but the realisation of the full impact the pandemic had on the world hit them in March 2020. “We still had a great February. And then March arrived and it was like going off the cliff. For the next three months, we had to understand what is happening and how can we react and the one thing we realised is the closer you are to your customer the easier and better you can manage even an existential crisis like this,” he says.
Plans were quickly made to increase the number of boutiques and decrease the total number of points of sales because although he could see that the demand was a lot higher than what they could produce, this situation still won’t be good for anybody if your point of sales have no watches. The digital world became an important source of contact as monthly meetings with boutique managers around the world. He also says that they did “many things which helped us to compensate for the fact that they couldn’t meet physically”.
With pandemic and lockdowns fading fast into distant memory, this year’s Watches & Wonders was able to take place in Geneva where new timepieces by A. Lange & Söhne were launched. The watches produced by the Saxon manufactory are the Richard Lange Minute Repeater which pays homage to classic precision watchmaking. The Odysseus which is the first Lange watch with a case and bracelet made of titanium. Lastly, two Grand Lange 1 timepieces that are available in white or pink gold with a grey dial.
The Grand Lange 1 is an elegant timepiece that had its height reduced to 8.2mm, giving the watch an even better fit on the wrist
The big hit for Schmid was the Grand Lange 1 as it was one of the watches that he only saw in design sketches. However, when he saw it for the first time, his reaction was one of pleasant surprise. He says, “It’s one thing to see the designs [on paper], it’s the other thing to see for the first time. I never thought that the impact of making it slimmer and bringing the crystal closer to the dial made a huge difference.”
Indeed, those who had a chance to see this watch will appreciate this year’s iteration as it was a challenge to make the proportions of the timepiece even more elegant while at the same time retaining its high degree of recognisability. The new model’s height has been reduced to 8.2mm, giving the watch an even better fit on the wrist.
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The Odysseus features a case made from light and robust titanium that is water-resistant up to 12 bar (120m) and features a a matching bracelet that guarantees the highest levels of comfort even when playing sport
The other watch Schmid mentions is the controversial Odysseus timepiece as some people love it and some do not. To that, he says, “There’s no one that stays neutral, you either like it or you dislike it. If everybody likes it, there’s usually no longevity. If everybody hates it, you also have a problem here because it will never be a success. But if there are enough people that love it and enough people that hate it, that keeps the discussion very vibrant.”
Launched in 2019, the Odysseus was the very first sporty-elegant watch for A. Lange & Söhne, a different approach for the brand. This year, the watch features a case made from light, robust titanium that is water-resistant up to 12 bar (120m) and features a matching bracelet that guarantees the highest levels of comfort even when playing sport.
We took the opportunity to ask Schmid why it has become more and more difficult to get our hands on luxury timepieces. Schmid says A. Lange & Söhne has production capacity limitations. He says its factory produces about five and a half thousand watches a year. “With that amount, we need 500 people that’s what we have in the manufacture. So, if we want to produce more watches, I need more people. And not just more people, I need more skilled people. To bring in a young, talented and dedicated person up to scratch to watchmaker level, it takes about three years for apprenticeship training and another two years before he or she is really a member and part of the production team.”
He understands the difficulties and says that if A. Lange & Söhne automates the manufacturing process, machines can be made to work 24/7 but not people. Humans also need time off for sick days or even to look after sick children or a sick spouse. “There’s a limit to it and we have to accept this is the maximum we can produce hopefully more unless Covid-19 plays havoc with our planning again.”
Still, Schmid cautions against flipping timepieces. He gives an example, “If you get the Odysseus today, you can easily double your money. Can we build a manufacturer with people that just flip the watches? No. We need to identify those who flip the watches and those who stay loyal to us. So far, we have done quite well because only very few watches showed up at the grey market or at auctions. And trust me, we know where these watches come from.”
The next few months leading up to the end of the year are proving to be a busy one for Schmid with more watch launches which is always good news for collectors and watch aficionados. He ends on an optimistic note, he says, “It looks like a good year.”