The highlights of A. Lange & Söhne’s history are quite clear, but what are your personal highlights from your four years at the helm of the brand?
I have a highlight every year and that is when I see the new watches for the first time. I am involved from the early hours and I see things growing but I only have them in my hands and on my wrist in around November. This is the most special moment for me every year and it is what gives me the confidence to go through the rough times.
With over 50 new calibres in just over 20 year years since the brand was re-established you are averaging over 2 new calibres per year. Do you plan to maintain this rate of innovation in the future?
Definitely. We actually increased speed compared with this average over the past few years. Knowing what we have in the pipeline I can assure you that we don’t want to slow down.
The new factory building that was opened by Angela Merkel last month – it’s undoubtedly a milestone for the brand but what does it mean more specifically for the development of the company and its production capacity?
We still need to pack and move some stuff and having two separate buildings at the moment obviously means a certain break in communications while things are ferried around. But controlling the environment where we assemble the watches is extremely important and I think the new building will help us maintain the quality but maybe with less effort than before. We just experienced the hottest summer and the new building was perfect to work in. We had to do this to have the resources in order to train people for more flexibility. At the top we have very few people that can assemble the top watches, while at the bottom of the pyramid we have more people that can assemble the simpler movements. But we have to show these people a career path and for that we need a perfect environment.
Do you expect any sales boost from the publicity of the new factory opening with the German chancellor?
No, we are already at the top and very well known in Germany. The chancellor’s visit was about Glashütte and not just A. Lange & Söhne, so it was an important recognition for the industry as a whole.
Earlier this year, you referred to “changing everything but changing nothing” with the new Lange 1. Can you tell us more about the delicate balancing act between the need to develop your products and movements without changing the iconic design of the watches?
Most of all, I am not alone. We work as a team and one person may destroy and another preserve, while a third moderates. Sometimes these roles may be reversed. I equate it to washing for gold. We can all see that there is a glimmer of gold in there but there is also a lot of other stuff that we need to get rid of. Since nobody can dominate this little group we have to have arguments to back up our claims and we do not take decisions based on hierarchy or job titles. He or she who has the best arguments wins. For the past four or five years this has proven to be very successful. It shows that we are moving forwards but not getting ahead of ourselves. We do take risks, and the decimal minute repeater is one example that nobody would have expected from a brand like us.
There is an attention to detail in your movements that pushes things almost to the extreme, such as the seconds hand coming to rest at 12 at the end of the power reserve for easier time setting. Where does such a painstaking level of detail come from: the customer, the watchmaker or both?
That’s us, that’s German. The Germans like to think things through to the end and that is the perfect example. It’s the same story with the new Lange 1. We decided that we had to have our own hairspring, then as a consequence we said we should have our own escapement, then we thought we should improve the jumping date at 12 o’clock and in the end we had a totally new movement. That’s German engineering: you have a clear task and you work it through to completion.
The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is one of the finalists in the Striking watch category at this year’s GPHG. What sets it apart from its competitors?
If you come up with something completely new for a complication that has been around for 200 years then you automatically set yourself apart from your competitors. It’s a minute repeater that nobody has ever seen before. There aren’t that many minute repeaters around anyway, even though the technology has been around for 200 years.
How important is it to participate in and win the Grand Prix?
It’s a very difficult question. I enjoy winning the prizes but I don’t think about it too much because it’s not in my hands. Sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are not and if I celebrated every time we won I would have to regret it every time we didn’t win. I honestly cannot say whether there is a proper return on investment but what I can say is that when a German brand wins in Geneva it has to be exceptionally good!