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Marking The Hours With Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne On Distribution Strategies And Luxury Slowdown

THM Desk
13 May 2024 |
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Watchmaking at it’s very best, A. Lange & Söhne is the pinnacle of fine craftsmanship and precision. With its timeless approach to timepieces, A. Lange & Söhne has carved its name in the echelons of the world of horology. The Datograph Perpetual Tourbillion Honeygold ‘Lumen’ and Datograph Up/Down are the two watches that made it pretty clear that A. Lange & Söhne is not only back, but here to stay. Celebrating 25 years of the famed Chronograph movement that makes the brand such an admirable component of the horology industry, the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up/Down is a symbol of excellence. We sat down with Wilhelm Schmid, CEO, A. Lange & Söhne where he shared valuable insights on the history behind this coveted timepiece and his outlook on the new direction the brand is taking in the near future. 

THM: What was the inspiration behind the two new releases at A. Lange & Söhne this year?

Wilhelm: Back in 1999, A. Lange & Söhne created a trailblazing path where they began manufacturing chronographs in house. At a time when all the other watchmaking brands were using chronograph movements made by third parties, A. Lange & Söhne was the first to manufacture the chronograph in house. This lead to a wave of chronographs being manufactured by several other watchmakers in their own workshops. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of this game changing idea we wanted to do something special and memorable. We decided to do two watches and not just one. Some people jokingly said that we have 100% more novelties than last year. Our aesthetic codes don’t normally include the use of colour, and on the rare occasions that we have used it, it has been mostly blue. So to continue on this tradition, we created a blue and white gold rendition of the Datograph Up/Down in 125 pieces. But we also wanted to do something different. After a lot of brainstorming we came up with the idea of telling a story through the most complicated Datograph. It’s sometimes very difficult to say that this Datograph is probably the best we can come up with, but we think it’s a great way to celebrate 25 years of this engineering marvel.

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THM: It is common knowledge that getting your hands on an A. Lange & Söhne is nearly impossible. How can one ensure that they will get the opportunity to purchase their desired timepiece? 

Wilhelm: Sometimes we announce a watch and 99% of our customers have not seen the watches in the flesh. We have launched so many products in the last 2 years that they enter the market gradually. But you need to be quick since there are limited quantities. It’s probably too late for the general public to purchase the two new watches. The Datograph and Perpetual Tourbillion being the centerpieces of the collection, will generate a lot of interest and might be difficult to get your hands on.

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THM: With changing times, one has to pivot. Give us some insight on your modified distribution strategy

Wilhelm: We have changed our distribution strategy so if you go into a boutique you will find watches that you can buy. The Lange 1 is a great watch for someone who is coming into the brand for the first time. It has stood the test of time as it has been around for almost 30 years and embodies the spirit of A. Lange & Söhne completely. Currently the brand stocks the same watches at all its points of sale, A. Lange & Söhne is not reconsidering this strategy. It is clear that if you do not have watches, there is no point in having the same two or three watches at all points of sale. This is not good for the customer nor the retailer. While this strategy was good and also worked well for us, the world is changing and we need to change with it. We now think it is better to have a lot less point of sales but have proper representation of our watches. When we speak to our clients, we try to match their level of knowledge. Each customer is different and is very particular about the details of the watch. We try our very best to ensure that our sales representative is at eye level with each customer. Its very difficult to manage this which is why we stick to small batches of 50 pieces to begin with and see how things go and change accordingly.

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THM: What’s your view of the projected luxury slowdown expected in 2024?

Wilhelm: Fundamentally we are giving our clients the rarest resource on the planet- it doesn’t need to be tangible like gold or diamonds. In the case of watches, it is skilled hands. If you don’t lose yourself in doing too many things, If you stay focused and surprise your clients positively, it will be hard at times, but overall it will always be successful. As a German that lived in South Africa, I’m very optimistic but also always vigilant. We know that this is going to be a tough year so we are prepared for it. Experience has taught us that just when you think you know it all, there’s always something unexpected around the corner. We try to develop, grow and take advantage from those factors that we can influence. Those that we cannot influence we work around. Like we always say, Tough times are good times for good watches!