Sixteen years ago this October, Günter Blümlein passed away at the age of 58. Though I knew him only too briefly, I remember him as the kind of person we associate with great things; a man whose life we can recall without the need to summon an anniversary date. In times like this, as brands look for the way forward in turbulent markets and a disconcerting digital environment, it never hurts to cast an occasional glance in the rear-view mirror.
While this isn’t intended as a detailed remembrance of Günter Blümlein’s life and career, we can note a couple of things. After working as a quality control engineer at Junghans, he was handed the reins at IWC (1984) then at Jaeger-LeCoultre (1986), before steering the revival of A. Lange & Söhne (1990) alongside Walter Lange, grandson of the founder. None of these brands, soon to be incorporated into Les Manufactures Horlogères (LMH), were in the best of health when Günter Blümlein was sent by their then owner, the German company VDO, to set them straight. And of course, launching a forgotten brand onto a market still recovering from the quartz crisis was a gamble.
So what happened next? Part of the blitz of mergers and acquisitions taking place at the turn of the century, Richemont took control of LMH in July 2000, and became the owner of three brands which now have their seat at watchmaking’s top table. Already, seventeen years ago, their potential was blooming under Günter Blümlein, who was invited to take the head of Richemont’s watch division. Sadly, he occupied this position for too short a time, but long enough for me to approve his appointment and appreciate his way of doing things.
Much has been said about Günter Blümlein’s “tough love” managerial style. It seemed to me that he showed vision, and that compromise was not a means to achieving that vision. He was always willing to hear what others had to say. Moreover, he knew how to take decisions in contexts that would reveal immense foresight. To imagine mechanical fine watchmaking when everything about the industry was being called into question was to take a chance on the future. At a time when similar doubts cross our minds, we would do well to remember Günter Blümlein and his belief in authentic and true watchmaking.