Like the parable of the tortoise and the hare, A. Lange & Söhne believes slow and steady wins the race in the long run
IT’S BIGGER NOW, I thought when we arrived at the
A. Lange & Söhne manufacture. It’s been nearly six years since my last visit and I couldn’t be sure. Certainly, a new building had popped up adjacent to the older ones. Where an old brewery once stood now offered a view of an imposing gate watched over by a guard who is, according to the chief marketing officer of the brand, the only person who has the key at any time. He’s literally the gatekeeper to the sanctum of the A. Lange & Söhne universe.
It isn’t only the facility of Lange that has changed. The entire town of Dresden, where the watchmaker has called home for the last 170-plus years has been undergoing a grand revival. In the centre of town, an entire side of the main square is now blocked up, with foundations being fixed for a new massive building that looks to be a mixed use design. Once the centre of the Saxon empire, the city that had been devastated during the war has recovered in most parts, but a second round of refurbishment is in the works for buildings that need further enhancement. The traditional Altstadt has given way to a flood of new merchandise in the newer city centre and along with it, a younger crowd that now inhabits the city. Dresden is finally revived.
The near simultaneous renovations to both the Lange manufacture and the city seem to be yet another reminder of how the watchmaker’s history has always been tied with Dresden itself. When F.A. Lange was establishing his business and watchmaking school, he was also mayor and spent a lot of effort making sure the city was an appealing place for businessmen to establish themselves, while also offering family oriented setups so it would be welcoming for residents. Now, it looks like the two are in synchrony once more.
AN UNUSUAL COMPANY
To call A. Lange & Söhne unusual would be perfectly acceptable. Its technical head is a Dutchman who spent the earlier part of his career with Renaud & Papi and spends his personal time playing in a band. The company’s CEO has his roots in a German car company. The Lange double assembly, when it puts a watch together, then take it apart (just for fun, really) and then put it back together again, is another wonderful, though exhausting routine to make sure the watches it sends out are quality checked twice.
But last year was a particularly unique experience with Lange. It was, in fact, the 170th anniversary of the brand since its founding but rather than commemorate that, since there were gaps between the brand’s history due to the separation of the country, they decided to commemorate a more honest moment in its past: Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s birthday, 200 years ago.
The F.A. Lange 200th Anniversary collection wasn’t a vast one ‒ nothing at Lange is really vast. It was the 1815 small seconds model, which is dedicated to his year of birth, in honey gold and offered in a limited edition of 200. The revival of honey gold, which was a unique alloy invented by the company in 2010 and designed to create a more durable precious metal watch was welcomed by collectors, ever since the 2010 “Pour le Merite” pieces were released and practically sold on the spot. In a similar turn of events, the 1815 limited edition went about as quickly as Taylor Swift tickets at her latest concert.
It underscores the incredible cult appeal of Lange’s watches that seems to continue despite a global economic crunch that has made many watch brands jittery (the big conglomerates recently announced buybacks from retailers, conservative estimates of sales and the likelihood of greatly reduced profits). The way Lange is run, despite its holding parent company’s influence in the watch industry (Richemont) is different. We attempted to nail down a number of watches that Lange produced each year, but no one would give a clear indication. As we found out later, that number varies depending on the type of novelties that are released and how retailers and distributors buy into each collection. Rather than impose stern numbers on production, Lange still allows watchmakers to produce according to their ability.
At around 6,000 watches each year, Lange is in no danger of overproducing. Neither is CEO Wilhelm Schmid concerned with numbers or increasing them. Lange is one of the few watch brands that has quite the reverse challenge: trying to figure out which retailers and markets should get some part of the constantly oversubscribed allotments. And he’s pleased as punch about it, even though he concedes that it’s a bit of a headache. “We have to be very logical about it and offer it to retailers and distributors who can secure a customer for the stock immediately, without appearing to be biased about keeping stocks for our monobrand stores.”
When we think of Lange, we perceive a brand that’s risk averse and unwavering. After all, one can easily recite the commandments of German watchmaking, most of which were invented by Ferdinand Adolph Lange. But Schmid disagrees with the idea that the brand doesn’t move the