Refined Elegance: A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid On His Brand’s Big Year

This spring, luxury watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne brought its 2014 collection on tour around the world. When the collection landed in the Middle East at The Dubai Mall, A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid was on hand to present the novelties to press, collectors, and watch aficionados, and that’s where Haute Time caught up with the industry leader.

A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid
A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid Photography by Jihad Adnan

Haute Time: Another year, another Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. What has the reception been so far to A. Lange & Söhne’s 2014 unveilings?
Wilhelm Schmid: It’s probably the most exciting moment of the year. Watchmakers like to keep secrets, and throughout the year we don’t share our plans with anyone. SIHH is the moment of truth, the first time during the entire year that we share our plans with the press, VIPs, and our retail partners. It is only then that you know whether your efforts over a great period of time will pay off. This year we were quite happy with the reception of our novelties by the press and the retailers. To be honest—at least over the last four years I’ve attended SIHH—it’s always been good. We hope a good SIHH will turn into a good financial year.
I think this year we surprised everyone, because we launched the Grand Complication last year, which is the most complicated wristwatch ever produced by us and probably in Germany. A lot of people thought that the following year we would take it a bit easier. But we came again with two complications—the Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar “Terraluna” and the 1815 Tourbillon—and I think a lot of people were quite surprised that we had the power to come back with two top complications.

HT: One of our favorite pieces this year was the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase. What was the inspiration for this piece?
WS: The idea developed quite a while ago, in terms of how to produce these wonderful moon disks with a strong blue color, and also with very sharp stars and dots. We still have the classic Lange 1 Moon Phase, so we thought, ‘How can we distinguish between the original Lange 1 and the Grand Lange 1?’ Then we thought, ‘Why not move the moon in from where it usually is—at the second hand—onto the main dial to create more space, since it’s such a beautiful moon disk?’ This turned out to be a well-received decision. Everyone thought it was a lovely watch. It was a big step for the brand, because our style is usually very discreet, and this really pushed the boundaries as much as we could in terms of design.

The new A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon in pink gold.
The new A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon in pink gold.

HT: Another highlight from SIHH was the 1815 Tourbillon.  What can you tell us about that piece?
WS: At every SIHH, we try to come up with something for collectors. This year, it was definitely the 1815 Tourbillon. It’s a watch that will probably only attract people who appreciate how difficult it is to place that zero-reserve mechanism on top of a very delicate tourbillon cage, so collectors at SIHH really appreciated the complication of that watch. This is something really important to us, since we are a collector’s brand.

HT: A. Lange & Söhne recently presented its 2014 collection around the world, and made a stop in Dubai. How important is the UAE market to the brand?
WS: I think the opening of the boutique in The Dubai Mall was a milestone for the brand in the region. If you only talk to your customers through retail partners, you can never be sure you really get what they like. With the boutique, we have first-hand experience, because our customers come and talk to our team. The local team can then report back to Glashütte, and this provides us with access to information we never had before. On top of that, I think The Dubai Mall is one of those very rare experiences—it is one of the shopping malls of the world.
We are really at the top end of the market in the UAE, and the market has been strong for us for the last 10 years or so.

Wilhelm Schmid at the A. Lange & Söhne  boutique in Dubai.
Wilhelm Schmid at the A. Lange & Söhne
boutique in Dubai.

HT: Do you see room for expansion of the brand within the Middle East?
WS: We are keen to evaluate the region, but at the same time we are always careful about opening new points of sale, be it a boutique or a partnership with a retailer. It is easy to increase demand but difficult to increase our output. So we need to be very careful with that. We will take chances if it serves our long-term goals, but we don’t just increase points of sale for the sake of increasing points of sale.
Within the Middle East, you have cities with wealthy populations, and others that are known as luxury travel hubs. Dubai combines both. There are not that many cities in the world that are both travel hubs and have a wealthy population, and that is why Dubai is such a great place to be. Right now we are happy with what we have.

HT: What watch do you wear daily?
WS:  I switch my watches quite often, and I am privileged because I can choose which watch I wear. If I go to a black tie event, then I’ll go for a thin Saxonia model, something very elegant and discreet. For the day-to-day, I love a Datograph. I really have a passion for chronographs—I think it’s an underestimated complication, and it is really difficult to do it perfectly, so the movement for that watch is really incredible. I also have the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, which is probably the most discreet way to wear about a quarter of a million euros! The 1815 Tourbillon also spent three weeks around my wrist, and I really liked it as well.

HT: As the business grows worldwide, who do you consider to be the A. Lange & Söhne customer?
WS: The only common denominator that really covers everyone is that the A. Lange & Söhne customer is very educated. If they buy one of our watches, it is a very educated decision. They know exactly why they want a particular watch, and have done thorough research to understand what makes that piece so special. Regardless of which collector it is, that is always the common denominator: our customers are very knowledgeable about fine watchmaking. You need people who not only like the watches, but like the watchmaking—they must love the technique. And that is why our customers always come back: because we have an honest product, and they know what they are going to get.




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