Royal Seal Of Approval: The Hampton Court Palace Concours With A. Lange & Söhne
The royal residence of Hampton Court Palace provided the Concours of Elegance a quintessential British essence. Watchonista was present at last weekend's festivities with A. Lange & Söhne. Go inside to discover why the English institution is not content with merely maintaining its classic image.
With a extraordinary array of unique Aston Martin bodywork by Zagato, a historic Bentley for the centenary of the brand, and a Ferrari racing squadron, the English competition emphasizes quality and rarity. And under the guidance of its CEO, a gentleman-driver who loves cars as much as he loves watches, it is a favorable environment for A. Lange & Söhne which sees parallels to its own strengths in this event.
The crowned transmission
In England, the question of borders is everpresent. In this first week of September, the border between summer and autumn is nebulous as the sun plays hide-and-seek behind the clouds creating a postcard-worthy light show on the facade of Hampton Court. Additionally, the line of demarcation between tradition and modernity is unclear. And in its way, the Concours of Elegance contributes to this lack of clarity. I’m not advocating for a clean break, but rather reconciliation. This is how, without chronology, cars of all generations follow each other.
Just behind a 3/8 LC Ballot, a 1920s race car, a Lamborghini Miura with pearly bodywork like a beetle is wisely waiting for its turn, while visitors note the peculiarities of the Bentley State Limousine, the official car of Queen Elizabeth II since her Golden Jubilee of 2002. At this time of the year, the queen is in Scotland, but her cousin represents the crown.
As a connoisseur and patron of the event, HRH Prince Michael of Kent appreciates the quality of a 1904 Napier L49’s restoration. However, no one is surprised by the contrast when the Aston Martins with custom-bodywork by Zagato pass in front of the oldest participant. These contemporary beauties are marvels of high technology, as was Napier in the early twentieth century.
Time does not affect passion. In the aisles, fans of all ages meet. Some well-known collectors even tour Europe driving their cars, not only for competitions of this kind but also for tourist rallies, races, or vacations. Stoic, one of the drivers personifies the faded patina of the dashboard in the Bristol coupe he has owned for half a century. But there are also young people who are attentive to both design and engineering excellence.
“Enthusiasm for timeless elegance, sophisticated mechanisms, and top-quality craftmanship – that’s what connoisseurs of extraordinary watches and classic cars have in common,” commented Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, who is entirely in his element. Under his leadership, the German watch manufacturer has supported such events for several years. In addition to the Hampton Court contest, the brand is present at the Villa d’Este in Italy, the Schloss Dyck Classic Days in Germany, and the Autumn Days in France.
On this occasion, Wilhelm Schmid is also expected to take the wheel of his Frazer-Nash or his white AC Ace Bristol, both of which he brought to Hampton Court. Encouraged by his father, who sold cars, Schmid bought his first car when he was only 17. It fostered a passion for mechanics that spread to fine watches. “When I was in the car industry,” Schmid, who started his career at BMW, recalled, “I spent my savings on buying watches. Today I am in the watch business; I buy cars. Fortunately, my wife is not listening to me.” His wife is his faithful co-driver aboard their English roadster. And, before joining Hampton Court, the couple agreed to take advantage of the private rally organized for competition car owners, this year it was in the Norfolk region. “It was a very good idea because we really had time to get to know [the other owners] and to talk more about the meaning we give to our collections and to those objects that we particularly appreciate, whether it be cars or watches.“
“The enthusiasm for technology and elegance is shared by today’s collectors and connoisseurs of micromechanical timekeeping instruments as well as by fans of historic automobiles. I am particularly delighted that the next generation has now embraced this passion.”
Becoming tomorrow’s classics
Meeting their expectations is one of Wilhelm Schmid’s priorities. “Our approach must be relevant in the eyes of future generations,” he strongly emphasized. “The world changes and transforms. The younger generations, like my children, are searching for meaning and quality. It’s up to us not to disappoint them and to be uncompromising about the quality of what we do, whether it’s restoring a historic car or designing a mechanical watch.”
This constancy pushes Schmid to chart his path in a determined manner since arriving at the German manufacture in 2011. The course is clear: to establish A. Lange & Söhne watches as the benchmark for quality of execution and development of refined mechanical watches with perfectly mastered classic complications, from complete calendars to moon phases – including the emblematic Zeitwerk – and cutting-edge technical innovations, such as the Triple Split. A clever way to take a stand in an era dominated by digitalization.
Installed behind the wheel of his roadster, facing the dashboard studded with meters, switches, and hands, Wilhelm Schmid confided, “When I drive a classic car or wear a mechanical watch, I feel connected to the world. Tinkering with my cars puts me in touch with their designers. The astonishing details they came up with never cease to amaze me. Listening to the ticking of a mechanical watch evokes similar feelings. To me, it’s like hearing the heartbeat of life.” A life punctuated with celebrations. The day before, during the dinner offered to collectors in the dining room of Kew Palace, a royal residence in the heart of London, Wilhelm Schmid celebrated his birthday. But during the competition, it’s the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Lange 1. A birthday that the brand is celebrating throughout the year with a novelty each month. The September model, with its reduced diameter of 36.8 mm, will also appeal to the ladies.
Little Lange 1 Moon Phase 25th Anniversary: The sense of proportion
A new interpretation, this Little Lange 1 Moon Phase incorporates the main elements of the Lange 1 range moon phase, introduced in 2017, particularly its off-center hour dial, its large date by counters (typical of the brand), and hand-engraved lunar indication disc. As with each model of the 2019 anniversary series, the hands, indexes, and inscriptions are blue. This watch, limited to only 25 pieces, is equipped with the L.121.2 hand winding caliber. A very desirable machine cased in a perfectly polished white gold case.
The “Best of Show” of the 2019 edition of the Concours of Elegance of Hampton Court was given to a spectacular Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Ordered and owned by Bhupindra Singh, Maharaja from Patiala. The long silver cabriolet is made of polished aluminum made by Barker, a British coachbuilder. Long hours of cleaning were needed to keep it flawless in the tropical climate, or to restore it when returning from the hunt! Even today, the car has its well-equipped rifle racks. A royal car in more ways than one, as it served to transport the young Prince of Wales on a 1919 visit to India. It finally made a majestic return to Hampton Court. The price that comes to reward this goldsmith’s piece of the past, the guarantor of exceptional know-how, is a way to crown the meaning of the transmission.
(Images provided by A. Lange & Söhne)