There is as much likelihood of seeing a model parading in front of the cameras with an A. Lange & Söhne on her wrist as there is of spotting the firm’s logo tearing round the track at the Le Mans 24 Hours race, or on a streamlined hull cutting the waves at the America’s Cup. Such an occurrence is, quite simply, unthinkable. Discretion is a hallmark of A. Lange & Söhne. Its most high-profile incursion into the media landscape would be its presence at the classic cars Concorso d’Eleganza on the shores of Lake Como. Hardly front-page news. “Everything we do must reflect the values we instil into our watches,” comments Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of the German firm, integrated into the Richemont group in 2000, in an interview to Swiss daily Le Temps. “This means we must choose our partners with parsimony. Were we to spread ourselves too thin, there is the risk we might lose our brand’s character, its identity, and ultimately customers. We must be wary of mistakes.”
Customers couldn’t agree more, as Mr Schmid notes in another interview, this time with French lifestyle portal Men’s Up: “They appreciate the fact that they can wear our watches, even the costliest ones, without their being recognised. The few people who will identify them will be someone likeminded, and it’s this recognition that they enjoy. They appreciate our discretion. The watch reveals its secret when it is turned over. We do a lot for the owners of our watches, not for the general public.” So far, then, there has been nothing in the way of mistakes. Anything but. The company, which is at the head of 12 wholly-owned stores and present at just over 200 points of sale worldwide, pursues its development with typical German steadfastness. It has inhabited the upper echelons of watchmaking ever since its resurrection in the 1990s, and won the hearts of a knowledgeable clientele with its superlative mechanisms, irreproachable finishing, and a style that succeeds in breaking a mould with intelligent results. All this from a company which currently produces an estimated 5,000 watches a year and generates sales in the region of €150 million.
Exclusivity over luxury
It should come as no surprise that Angela Merkel herself, recently re-elected for her fourth term as Chancellor of Germany, cut the ribbon at the company’s new manufacturing site in 2015, confirming Lange as the jewel in the crown of Saxon watchmaking. Whereas the watch industry in general has endured its fair share of crises – first the subprimes aftermath then the long, dry spell that came between 2015 and 2017 – for A. Lange & Söhne it’s all water off a duck’s back. “We’re continuing with our very good work and very good figures,” says Wilhelm Schmid. “The situation isn’t the same as during the 2008-2009 crisis, when it was all more difficult. This time, our customers’ buying power hasn’t been affected. Some may be postponing their purchase but ultimately there is no impact on us. We’re fairly impervious to economic ups and downs.” An “impermeability” such that during his brief stint as Richemont’s Head of Watchmaking, before his move to Breitling, Georges Kern didn’t include Lange on his list of projects. Or as Schmid puts it: “I’m not sure A. Lange & Söhne was at the top of his to-do list.”
This leaves the brand to focus on what it does best, which is to “manufacture watches of the highest possible quality, and without distinction between those at €14,000 and those at €2 million.” For each one, “we assemble the movement, test it, take it apart, clean it, decorate it, reassemble it and test it a second time. Hence a virtually insignificant number of returns.” This isn’t about German-style luxury, a term lacking in substance in Schmid’s view. “Invoking ‘tradition’ signifies endlessly repeating the same thing without ever inventing, while ‘luxury’ is a way to improve a product that lacks exclusivity, without any effort,” he says. “I once heard an advert for a Bircher that was described as ‘luxury’ because it contained more grapes. Is that the definition of luxury? The way I see it, luxury has become divorced from exclusivity, which is why I no longer use the term. A. Lange & Söhne is exclusive. This means we treat our watches with care, we pay attention to the market, and we are mindful that demand is never swamped by supply.”