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Watch Face: Gatekeeper of style and luxury

Debonair talks to Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne

The generous use of time is what makes A. Lange & Söhne a luxury brand.

I became interested in the watch industry because… watches already cast a spell over me when I was a little boy. For as long as I can remember, the mechanical aspect has intrigued me. Over the years, my love for watches and my respect for watchmakers has only increased.

My most unbelievable find has been… the first Lange 1, which struck me in a shop window back in the mid-1990s, when I had not the foggiest idea that I would ever work in the watch industry. However, I was overwhelmed by the bold design, which even today has lost none of its fascination.

The generous use of time is what makes A. Lange & Söhne a luxury brand.

The timepiece I currently feel most connected to is… the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike from our 2017 collection featuring an automatic acoustic time indication every ten minutes. It is a pattern that matches the numeric display but, what is more, it helps me to keep an eye on the time. In meetings, this discreet signal — a very soft chime — comes in very handy.

The first watch I received was… at the age of 17, when I purchased my first “real” wristwatch, which means a mechanical one at a time when everyone else wore quartz. And I was incredibly proud of it.

I think the watch industry and high-end luxury has… its raison d’être in setting standards in terms of style, design, quality and precision. This is the reason why we allow ourselves the luxury of time for development, testing, finishing, engraving, double assembly and quality control. The generous use of time is what makes A. Lange & Söhne a luxury brand.

The greatest development I have seen from A. Lange & Söhne, historical or modern is… the Grand Complication, which we presented in 2013. Featuring the highest degree of decoration and the most precious materials, it brings to life seven of the most elaborate complications that haute horlogerie has to offer: A chiming mechanism with grande and petite sonnerie, a minute repeater, a split-seconds chronograph with minute counter and flying seconds as well as a perpetual calendar with moon-phase indication.

Objects from outside the industry that have an important effect on my work are… vintage cars. The way they match design and mechanics make them a good complement to watches and a great source of inspiration. The avant-garde design of the Zeitwerk, for instance, shows similarities with all-time classics like a Lancia Stratos or a Lamborghini Countach — cars that, at the time, broke with usual ways of seeing, yet respected the classic six- or 12-cylinder construction principles.

On my desk, you’ll always find… a watchmaker’s loupe, which allows me to take a closer look at new prototypes or, when time allows, the movement of the watch I am wearing. 

My favourite aspect of my company is… the friendly and familiar atmosphere at the watchmakers’ workshops. Watchmaking is a largely self-determined work that offers a high degree of job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. Visitors to our factory notice this mood of dedication and enthusiasm immediately.

The last gift I received from someone in the industry was… valuable advice that I will keep to myself.

I think the Middle East region is… one of our key markets with great potential for growth. The region is characterised by a sophisticated watch culture with knowledgeable and loyal customers. Our boutique in The Dubai Mall will reach its fifth anniversary in September and we have every reason to celebrate the occasion.

Watch journalism is important because… it makes us better. The way specialised media monitor our work, sometimes benevolent, sometimes sceptic, but always full of curiosity and with an alert eye, spurs us on to ever-greater achievement.

You have a dinner party and can invite any masters of the watchmaking industry past or present, who would you invite? I would host our recently deceased founder, Walter Lange, at which he could meet his great-grandfather Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who brought the fine watchmaking industry to Glashütte in the first place. Perhaps I would also ask John Harrison, Thomas Mudge and Abraham Louis Breguet to join us and exchange a few of their ideas with us.

If you had a time machine, is there a period of watchmaking you would change, and how? If I could I would like to fix a few things in the recent past. In the early 1970s, at the height of the quartz crisis, I would have loved to save some wonderful designs from falling into oblivion and to encourage some CEOs to maintain their confidence in the future of the mechanical watch.

How do you unwind outside of work? I like to play golf, drive vintage cars and spend as much time as possible with my family.

The advent of digitisation in the industry… contributes to the appreciation of traditional craftsmanship. Since the hype around the wearable devices has given way for a sober assessment, I believe even more firmly in the long-term and sustainable success of fine mechanical timepieces — simply because they stimulate the mind and fulfil the desire for distinction, timeless beauty and lasting value.

If I didn’t work in the watch industry, I would… likely also be happy in the car industry, since I am not only a watch nut but also a dedicated petrol head. 

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