Wilhelm Schmid

A Chat with A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid about Numbers, Community, and Luxury Retail

From production insights to the ever-shifting landscape of luxury retail, Schmid offers a candid glimpse into the brand’s ethos and his personal odyssey as the leader of one of horology’s most esteemed names.

By Ash Longet
PR & Business Development

This year commemorates the 25th anniversary of the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph, which was powered by a pioneering calibre L951.1 that was one of the first in-house developed chronographs after the quartz crisis. Fun Fact: In 2007, Philippe Dufour hailed it as “the best chronograph movement ever made.”

That is why, when we were offered a rare tête-à-tête with Wilhelm Schmid, the CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, we were all-in. Seizing the moment, we sought his unique insights on the illustrious Lange watch family, the dynamic retail arena, and the fusion of his twin passions for watches and automobiles.

As the stalwart captain of one of Richemont’s flagship brands, Schmid brings not only general watch industry expertise to the brand but also a profound grasp of the principles underpinning A. Lange & Söhne’s legacy. Moreover, Mr. Schmid firmly believes that nothing beats a face-to-face connection when it comes to selling their watches, and he knows his customers as if they were lifelong pals.

We hope you enjoy our interview!

We understand you are a connoisseur of vintage cars. Can you tell us how your passions for automotive design and timepieces overlap? Does one inform the other?

I often liken it to the Concours d’Elegance: It’s not just about vintage cars, per se. It’s about the harmony of elegance, a concept deeply resonant with crafting watches at the highest level.

I always say what we do is very specific. Any endeavor we engage with must match that level of specificity, ensuring we remain true to our identity. That’s why, over the years, we’ve identified the Concours d’Elegance as the ideal platform for us (beyond our traditional watch events like Watches and Wonders).

So, while watches remain our primary focus – after all, we are watchmakers, not car manufacturers – these events offer a unique space to showcase our craftsmanship and heritage.

Many have the perception of A. Lange & Söhne as a complicated, very lofty watchmaker; yet, some of your models are actually quite visually accessible and even a little “sporty.”

How does a customer of, say, the more classic Lange 1 differ from, let’s say, an Odysseus customer? Or are they the same buyer looking for two different things?

They don’t differ, really. Our clientele is discerning; they approach the purchase of our watches with a deep understanding of horology. It’s not an impulsive decision. Typically, they’ve traversed the watch world, accumulating timepieces or experiences before discovering us, creating a link, a fit, a common ground between us and the individual.

Therefore, I can say that we’ve come to intimately know our clientele. Luckily, being a smaller brand, producing only around 5,000 to 5,500 thousand watches annually, affords us that luxury. So, no, there’s no dichotomy between a Lange 1 enthusiast and someone drawn to the Odysseus.

However, there is a distinction between collectors and those who acquire that one dream timepiece. While we offer simpler watches, it’s important to note that even our entry-level piece begins at around €25,000. Unfortunately, not everyone can reach that level financially, but regardless of price point, each Lange watch has the same meticulous craftsmanship.

We’ve cultivated six distinct watch families. And trust me, the implications of creating a new family, developing a face that is different to any other watch you offer, that is different to any other watch in the market, took us 20 years and a lot of energy.

Sure, we could have taken the easier path of introducing a steel watch in each family – many people, I know, would appreciate us doing so – but I think our core customers would have been disappointed. We are not good at shortcuts; we’d prefer to go the extra mile.

And yes, those expectations continually escalate, driving us to push boundaries and redefine excellence with each new creation.

What are one or two big things about the brand someone familiar with A. Lange & Söhne might not know but that you would like them to understand better?

That’s a challenging question, and I can almost guarantee that the die-hard Lange fans are already well-versed in these intricacies; it’s what sets them apart.

We are a brand for collectors, and collectors are hungry for knowledge – not just about the watches themselves, but also the rich history and stories, even the gossip surrounding them.

How content are you with Lange’s current retail approach/footprint? Are there any additional plans for the year that you can share?

Well, we are still in the process of reducing the number of our points of sale to hit the sweet spot.

Our goal is to provide a meaningful representation of our watches at every point of sale – when you step into one, you should get a true sense of who we are. That’s why we’re cautious about expanding into locations where we can’t guarantee adequate supply or visibility of our timepieces.

After all, when customers walk into a boutique, they want to see the watches up close, not just pictures, catalogs, or the website. So, our focus, for now, is optimizing our current network rather than expanding it.

And in that regard, we’re quite pleased with our progress. By reducing the number of our points of sale and investing in our own boutiques, we’ve brought our customers closer to us, creating more accessible and authentic experiences. This shift has been instrumental in deepening our understanding of our clientele and ensuring that every interaction they have with us is meaningful and memorable.

When I speak with customers, there’s a significant appreciation for simply stepping into a boutique, whether it’s to enjoy a coffee, water, or perhaps even a glass of wine or champagne. It transcends mere purchasing; it’s about creating a welcoming environment, a home away from home. It’s the closest you can get to experiencing A. Lange & Söhne and its essence without visiting Glashütte.

Ideally, our salons will become a home-away-from-home for our clients. That’s the concept and intention behind all our new boutiques. Whether you’re new to the watch world and seeking to understand more, or you’re already knowledgeable and simply want to relax and chat, we aim to accommodate both types of clientele. This ethos is always reflected in the design of our boutiques.

To learn more about the brand, visit the A. Lange & Söhne website.

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