An Interview with Mr Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A Lange & Söhne

Just last week I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to spend some time with the CEO of A Lange & Söhne, Mr Wilhelm Schmid. In this interview we covered a variety of topics from watches to cars and to what drives him as a man.
Take a read for yourself.

Dave Kaiten
I am very aware you have done a lot of interviews especially covering Concorzo D’eleganza in Villa D’este and we know your love of cars

Wilhelm Schmid CEO of A Lange & Söhne
My two loves, watches and cars, I have always said that and it is once best said by my wife, “when you were in the car industry you used to spend all your money on watches, and now you are in the watch industry you spend all your free money on cars.” So my spending behaviour has just changed direction but it is still too much.

DK
We as individuals can relate to the loves and passions. What I would like to ask is a couple of things, firstly, what is it you see in a watch? To some it is to commemorate an occasion or achievement? What is it to you?

WS
Look, we all start with this usually and then we find better excuses to buy the next watches. If we say a birthday then it is good, you can buy a watch once a year, if you say a wedding then you have to be careful, if you are a loyal person like me then you end up with only one watch which is not clever. (Laughs) I have to say for me, if I have go back to even the first watch I bought, I would look at the watch and it was a case of I have to have it. Upon further reflection and delving deeper sometimes things would come out that it just looked nice and other things did not work for me. I realised early on that quartz watches did not work for me as they just did not appeal to me. But I could not boil it down to this is what attracts me, usually it has to be a solid brand which is not doing strange things, it has to be a real watch ie mechanical, and I really love understatement. Nothing ostentatious as I would not wear an ostentatious watch.

DK
So you do have criteria

WS
I have never really defined it as such, but funnily enough I hardly have any disagreements with my wife as she understands me and buys me what I like, she knows me.

DK
What drives you as a man and the CEO of A Lange & Söhne, what would you see as success for you and the company?

WS
I am only a custodian of the brand for the time given, every year we have a ceremony where the new incoming watchmaker students sign their contracts. We invite the family, partners and whoever they like, it really is a room full of people. But then you look at these people, I am 55, these people are 16-17 and we have trained them to be watchmakers. The one thing that makes me come to work, sometimes not sleeping at night is what if we fail. If there is no future for fine watchmaking, I have trained young people in something which you can only execute if we do our job well. That drives me, there is a responsibility that goes beyond the time I am here, because I know people have learnt something that they can do for the rest of their lives. What else can you do if you are a trained watchmaker other than watchmaking?

DK
You are a very conscientious individual

WS
I am a loyal person, I mean what I say, I still drive BMW and buy Castrol oil as these are the two companies I have worked for. I like innovation, I hate if people stand still I just cant stand it. I also feel a responsibility to those who have trusted in me, in this case Richemont and A Lange and Sohne that when the time comes to hand the reins back, it will be a better company than when I took over.

DK
This has been exemplified with the new pieces from SIHH namely the 1815 Tourbillon and the Triple Split.

WS
We built 100 of both models, and it is hard to say which would be more popular. It all depends on what sells. What I know is that there is a huge appreciation for both watches
The more wearable is probably the 1815 Tourbillon because it is thinner and the white dial goes with everything. I had the triple split as that is not big as you can see. I recommend the normal buckle as it just fits better around the wrist.

DK
Which do you prefer?

WS
I am a chronograph guy so thats easy.
You know the chronograph is probably the most useless complication, I would only use it on a Sunday morning when I am cooking eggs.

DK
But surely that is a useful complication if you are using it. What about the Moonphase as a complication?

WS
It is a beautiful complication isn’t it? If a purpose is beauty then it has a purpose not just a function. Taste and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

DK
What you are doing very successfully is designing with a DNA in the family, which gets the community talking. Take for example the Datograph the beautiful movement and the evolution the 1815 chronograph. How do you do it?

WS
We are a traditional company but we are not a company that stands still. We do have a very clearly defined design path and we have a big advantage as we always start with design. We will start with the idea, through the design process and then naturally we then involve the movement development team. As you can see we have the classical range such as the 1815 family which funnily enough has been very much appreciated by younger people, which is something we are trying to digest. Then look at what we have with the Zeitwerk which is hugely contemporary, which means our design scope is fairly wide. As long as it stays within that we can work on different families but it is always based on the foundation of fine watchmaking, Whatever we do it is fine watchmaking.

DK
Id like to touch a little bit on how the company is able to maintain such a tight community without having a huge media presence. Everything A Lange & Söhne seem to do is very personable.

WS
We only produce about 5000 pieces a year and if we choose a strategy that attracts the masses, why would we produce so few watches. Which is why we chose a completely different strategy. It takes people a while to know about us, and then takes even longer for them to understand us, but gladly and fortunately and for the rest of their lives they are going to love us. There is a good expression that somebody came up with, we are a secret, and people do not want to share the secret with too many others.

DK
I am very lucky to be a part of the secret so thank you.

WS
We have to reach out to the younger audience and that was an organic conversation around Concours D’elegance. If this was just a story for grey-haired individuals then the story will die with us. We have to be attractive for the younger population.

DK
How do you feel the industry is changing with smart watches, even the big brands are doing different things to appeal to different types of watch fans. Where do you see the industry going?

WS
I fundamentally believe that the big brands will always be the big ones. Successful brands will continue to be successful. In a normal world I think some brands would disappear but if they are in a big group then the parent companies will not let them disappear. If today you do not have a clean profile, if people do not know what you stand for and do not experience what you stand for in terms of communications, product, at events, personal interaction. If they feel the slightest disconnect then you will have a tough time. The future will be about exclusivity certainly at our end and we will realise what makes you a luxurious brand does not mean you are an exclusive brand. I know we are only servicing the top end of the market and a niche.

DK
How are you finding the Concours.

WS
I love England, I do mean that. I used to work here a long long time ago. The setting is spectacular. We are very happy with the way they are treating us here. There has been a great amount of interest, and today is only Owner’s day. You have seen the giant watch right at the entrance. Public days are yet to come, so we are here to generate interest in our brand. If you know about us, you will learn about us and then eventually love us.

DK
You have quite the presence here with a number of booths and stands.

WS
It is all about the team, anyone can build booths, thats just a question of money. Personal interaction is clear and is what defines us and allows us to get the message out there.

DK
So when is the chequebook coming out for any potential purchases? Car wise

WS
As you know I have one in the field, but lets see.
With watches it is different, they are so much easier to store.
Cars have to be driven. I set myself a limit of 4 cars, but actually I have 5. One is for sale, but at the moment there is some space to manoeuvre.

DK
Thank you Mr Schmid for a great interview and allowing me an insight into the workings of A Lange & Söhne.

This is where I would like to thank ZDLUX&Co. for arranging a fantastic day.
Mr Schmid personally for being so candid in his interview with me.
And the whole A Lange & Söhne team for being on hand to show us the pieces and being so generous with their time.

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