While on a weekend away in Lake Camo a few weeks back for the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza, we managed to catch up with A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid to talk about the event, its significance to the brand, and also learn about Wilhelm’s influences from the automotive industry.

A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid Ville d'Este Concorso d'Eleganza 2014 1


The Horophile: Wilhelm, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I’m just curious, what is the essence of this relationship between A. Lange & Söhne, who aren’t exactly the most sponsorship-oriented luxury watch brands out there, and the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza?

Wilhelm Schmid: We had a very successful relationship with the Salzburg Whitsun Festival, which came to an end. We only do one big event per year, so we had to look for a replacement for that. We’re quite active in the sort of “cultural” area, so we said we want to do something completely different, you know how we love surprises! So we came along to the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza. Our brand is defined by craftsmanship, heritage and innovation, and that’s exactly what you find if you look at the cars. That, and the fabulous setting of the shores of Lake Como and the Villa d’Este, quite timeless really. So from any angle you look at it, it’s a perfect match for our brand’s DNA.

There’s another sort of similarity. All the cars you’ll see have a purpose. Some were built for races, some for beauty contests, but they were made for a purpose and were 100% dedicated to that purpose. That’s exactly what we do. Regardless of how complicated we make a watch, if you can’t read the time anymore we wouldn’t make it. So there’s a purpose that goes with all the other attitudes like classical appearance, complications and innovations, and that’s giving you the time.



TH: Comparing this to other automotive partnerships in the watch world, where typically a brand would team up with a car manufacture or historical race and produce a limited edition or series of co-branded watches, A. Lange & Söhne’s involvement with the Concorso d’Eleganza can appear quite restrained. Why so?

WS: We certainly don’t want to go down that path. Some of these cars as old as 80 years. But you look at them today and they still hook you in, truly fascinating and That’s exactly what we want to be: timeless, classic. Whenever you buy an A. Lange & Söhne, 20 or 50 years from now people will look at the watch and still say “what a beautiful piece”. That’s exactly what you’ll find in the cars here and with our watches.


TH: Let’s talk about BMW, where you spent a good portion of your professional career. I can only assume that you left on good terms since they’re also a partner of the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Elegenza. But coming from the car industry, where I would say the emphasis is put on technology and innovation in both design and function, A. Lange & Söhne have remained fairly traditional in the sense of not exploring high-tech materials like silicon. So I guess my question is, what have you brought on board to A. Lange & Söhne from BMW?

WS: Well, I always say that you can’t really compare the two business models. For cars it’s all about industrialization, homologation. It’s an environment where things are constantly evolving, fuel efficiency, emissions, and so on. That’s a completely different ballpark from what we do. We pride ourselves in the craftsmanship we put into the product, which hasn’t been the case in the car industry for some time now.

But what you can take from the car industry is this: when I was at BMW, we had a production plant in South Africa. They didn’t produce South African BMW’s, they produced BMW’s in South Africa. That’s a huge difference. Running a brand globally and giving it the same image regardless of where you are in the world, that’s what you can learn from German car manufacturers, and that includes Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. They’re very good in running one brand globally. That’s certainly something we’re working on with A. Lange & Söhne. We want to have the same perceived image of A. Lange & Söhne whether you buy your watch in Germany, Hong Kong or Dubai. We also want to have that feeling that you’re part of the family, regardless of where you meet us or where you come from. This is far more difficult that it looks at a first glance, though I believe it’s the most important part of the job.



TH: Even though A. Lange & Söhne is part of the Richemont group, I feel that the brand remains one of the most exclusive and discrete luxury watch brands especially in terms of marketing, in contrast to many of the Swiss “big group” brands. Is this a German way of doing things, or simply Lange’s chosen strategy? 

WS: I’m only familiar with the top segment of the watch  industry. I believe where you come from doesn’t play a role. You can be authentic as A Swiss watchmaker, just as you can as a German watchmaker. What’s important is that you do what you tell everybody you’re doing, and that you do that within your brand DNA. I believe there are some Swiss brands do it fabulously. We do it well, but we do it our way and not anybody else’s way.

I believe people will see it; it’s a lot of tiny details that  form the perception of your brand. The best way to illustrate this is if you come to SIHH, what do you see at our booth? Right in the center, you’ll find a a giant watch. We’re good at making men’s watches and occasionally ladies watches, and that’s what we communicate.



TH: One last question to keep things on topic, since we are here at arguably the most prestigious classic car event, is there any car in particular you’re looking forward to see?

WS: (laughs) you have no idea, looking at the list of cars there are some real milstone cars. Certainly any Ferrari 250 GTO you see anywhere in the world is a rare treat, since they only made about 36 of them. There are also a few Maseratis I think that have a good chanve. Some of the Rolls Royces are also quite impressive, though I personally have a thing for cars from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.

I think this is one of the finest collection of cars you can see anywhere on the planet.



TH: Wilhelm, thanks again for taking the time to talk to us.

WS: Thank you and enjoy the show!



You can find my event report on the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza on Watchonisa here, as well as my car photo album here.

I’ve also published a “watch spotting” special report from the event on Watch-Anish here.

More information on http://www.alange-soehne.com