Or­ganic Growth

Like the parable of the tor­toise and the hare, A. Lange & Söhne be­lieves slow and steady wins the race in the long run

Augustman - - Highlight - WORDS DAR­REN HO

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.”

TAK­ING CHANCES

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

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