Next Generation: CEO Wilhelm Schmid Discusses What’s Next for A. Lange & Söhne
Recently, we sat down with A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid to talk cars, craftsmanship, Como, and a very special Concours.
As the brain trust behind A. Lange & Söhne, Wilhelm Schmid is a man on the move. From the bustling halls of Geneva’s SIHH expo to the scenic vista of Lake Como, Schmid is front row center for the brand’s numerous activities. And that’s just the way he likes it.
This interview is part of a two-part series on the 2018 Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este where A. Lange & Söhne is a title sponsor. You can read more about my journey HERE.
Over the weekend of Concorso d’Eleganza, I had the chance to sit for a privileged discussion with Mr. Schmid. I wanted to know more about the brand, the projects and of course the longstanding sponsorship of the Concorso. We had a very pleasant conversation. This man has a great knowledge of the brand and a clear vision for its future. He further explained to me why Lange is so special to him, the brand’s clients, and the efforts Lange is taking to appeal to the next generation.
Alexander Friedman: I would like you to tell me, as a fanatic with a passion for mechanics, what’s the relationship between A. Lange & Söhne and Villa d’Este?
Wilhelm Schmid: You know, I believe when great engineering meets style, design and craftmanship (you get a great result). Lange has something very special. And if you look what we do with our watches, how we manufacture them, how we design them you’ll see. If I then look at the cars that are being on display at the Villa d’Este, I see a lot of common ground. Because they’re also very rare, you will not find a mass-produced car in these lineups. They are all master, but not only masters in craftmanship in the first-place build cars. Also, today, the maintenance of these cars, that keeps them up and running, restores and preserves them. This is all art, the art of craftmanship which is very much us. Then, I have to say, is there any place other than Lake Como in May in Italy? So, these elements kick in on top of all the beauty, that beautiful “Dolce Vita” lifestyle, Germans love that, and we are a German brand at the end of the day.
AF: How many years now have you been at Lake Como?
WS: This is my 8thyear, but we have actually been sponsoring it for the last 7 years.
AF: As I mentioned, you are a passionate, you are really living the dream. At the moment you had to decide, how did you take the decision to be part of Villa d’Este?
WS: It is not a secret for you that I used to work for BMW, and I believe they are doing a great job in patronizing the event. They pay the bills, they organize the structure. But they leave enough room to make it the Villa d’Este that is now known for since 1929! That’s how old it is! I know the people and we are in a people business after all, so you know what you can or cannot do something. That was certainly one point.
Then I also thought about it from a customer perspective, our customers love watches, but they are also collectors, and to connect a collector with another collector, even if they don’t share passion for the same object. It is much easier than if you have a very non-passionate person entering a subject he is not interested in. That’s why we said Villa d’Este and then, I believe there are hardly any events around the world that can compete with Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza.
AF: You are also extending other Concours outside Villa D’Este?
WS: Yes! We’ve decided this is a good platform for us, it fits what we want to express with our brand. We will have the Hampton Courts Concours in September. And because we’re German, we’ve always been involved in the “Classic Days at Schloss Dyck” a sort German Goodwood, which takes place early August. So, there are three more events that we will have in our schedule this year.
AF: So tell me, we’ve met at SIHH, where the Triple Split was one the taking pieces, but what is the hottest news in terms of watches for A. Lange & Söhne this year?
WS: We’ve had an exciting year so far, it all started at SIHH and I believe that the Triple Split was the talk of the town. About 3 weeks ago, we had the auction for the steel watch that we did for Walter Lange to honor him. Which I’m glad to say went for a lot of money ($852,525 to be exact) and all the proceeds went to the Children Action charity.
Which was the second big passion of Mr. Lange: supporting the next generation – specifically children in need. That kept us very very busy. Now we have a full range of events planned. We are working hard to distribute the watches that we launched in January. Many people have a misunderstanding, because when we launch watches, it doesn’t mean they’re already done and available in stores. There is a structured approach throughout the year. So, there is a lot of work still ongoing. And believe it or not, we are already working full steam ahead for next year’s SIHH. It sounds funny, but I think it’s a German Soccer coach that said that the after the World Cup is before the World Cup. And for us, it’s after SIHH it’s before SIHH.
AF: You see younger generations that love Lange, which I used to think was more dedicated to more matured customers. A lot of youngsters my age, they look very much at Lange. As CEO, how do you appeal to the next generation?
WS: I don’t believe (the rumor) that new generations don’t like craftmanship, are not after quality, (don’t care about) sustainability, not after longevity, and not into investing a lot of money into something which is not consumable.
I don’t believe there is a huge difference in taste between younger people at our end. Don’t forget that we build five to six-thousand watches per year. I don’t need a million people (purchasing our products). I just need to serve a small number of people. Quite frankly and specifically in the US I realized that some people love the Zeitwerk and other people love the 1815. Which is absolutely, from a design perspective, the opposite of the Zeitwerk.
But they all appreciate quality. What we have to change, is our way to make us accessible for them. Because their purchasing behaviors, their access to information, and the way they want to link and interact with the brand is very different from people of my age.
That’s why we’re upgrading. Slowly but surely. We have a new website coming later this year, with many new functionalities, specifically to address their needs. Also, if you look at our boutique Managers, and boutique staff, they are usually younger. So, there is a lot of ways that makes it easier today to communicate with these people. But it is not the product, it is not the watch. The watch you do not need to work on it too much because quality and craftmanship is not a question of age. It’s the experience. You need to understand what you buy and if you understand that, then it’s not a question of age but a question of funds. Lastly, I’m afraid to say, you need to have some money to buy our watches.
AF: Talking about funds, are you planning to lower prices likes your cousin brands at Richemont?
WS: it wouldn’t be possible, I have to be honest. It’s where we define, starting at 14’000 Euros, it’s the maximum we can do. That already is a stretch for us, because we have to distinguish quality. The movement decoration, case, everything is like a Grand Complication, just simpler with less time to develop. We cannot go further down because otherwise I wouldn’t know how to pay my people. That means to me, if we had to decide, we wouldn’t be A. Lange & Söhne as we are today. And I don’t see any good reason to do that.
AF: What happens if a client comes and says, “I like this watch, the movement, but I would like to have it on a special case”? Up until today, have you ever made a custom piece for a client?
WS: Well, this year, we have the Walter Lange if you bring the right card. That’s the only way to get a unique piece. What we do is – because some people has some addiction for – let’s say diamonds, that’s what we do (diamond set cases). It’s not happening overnight, and it takes a bit of time. If you produce 40-60k watches a year, then of course, for your serious collectors, you can have something which is not as usual as all the other watches. But we have 72 references and we produce 5’000 watches a year. That makes less than a hundred watches on every reference. Which means every watch is very unique and therefore we decided not to go down that road for the time being. I believe that we do not have this necessity. What we do is already so individualized, so small and so rare, I wouldn’t know why to do it separately.
Best of Show
AF: What’s this year’s best of show?
WS: We are in Italian grounds, and it doesn’t make sense to mention any other car but an Italian. The problem is, that what I say is usually not the winner. It won’t make it, but I love the Jaguar. I love the Aston Martin BB3S. And for me, this best of show is the Ferrari 335. It’s the strongest Ferrari ever built, before modern cars. It was an undrivable car, only the best drivers could drive it. It has been restored by Paul Russel, back to its two originals colors. I think it’s a very hard to beat car. If there was an Alfa Romeo Typo 33, which I believe is very high up in the race. But if it comes to rarity, it would be Ferrari because there is only three.