In the quaint town of Glashutte, Germany’s prime watch-making district, stands a modern building nestling within itself a history of 100 years of timekeeping. A favourite among watch connoisseurs, A Lange & Sohne, founded in 1845, is known for its technical and decorative precision. In a free-wheeling interview, Anthony de Hass, head of development at the company, tells Meghna Sharma of FE why it is important for the brand to stay true to its identity while creating something new. Excerpts:
With expertise of over a century, what are the trends in the watch industry observed by A Lange & Sohne?
It’s difficult to put the whole history down, but until the 1970s, mechanical watch-making was very important because that was the only timekeeping one had. And then the quartz watch came which changed the whole category drastically in terms of pricing, look, etc. Because of this the Swiss watch market had to suffer. So they came up with Swatch watches; before that one would get a watch handed down by parents. One then had different watches for different occasions.
But there were still some who wanted to keep mechanical watch-making alive. One doesn’t need a watch today to keep time; today it is all about the fascination with the mechanics of high-end/luxury watches. In 1990, Walter Lange thought it was a good time to restart his forefathers’ company. It was their dream to relive the brand because the boom came in the 1990s for watches.
In watch-making, 99% of the market is Swiss. We are very small in the market, but to stand out you need to be different. Inspired by the past (pocket watches) designs, we have focussed on performance.
Is there still a demand for classic watches? With smartwatches becoming a rage, do you see them eating into the classic watches share pie?
The young generation is all about smartwatches but they all aspire to have a high-end watch. An Apple watch lasts three years; one update, and it is over. And there are companies which are worried about smartwatches eating into the pie. But the ones which are honest and authentic to aesthetics don’t care because there is a good chance that a smartwatch owner will want a classic and luxury watch in the future.
What are the challenges faced by the category globally and in emerging markets?
Take a soccer team for instance which wins cup after cup, but then the new generation in the team doesn’t do that well. And maybe a good generation will come again.
Watchmakers aren’t grey and old; that’s a marketing gimmick. One needs to be open-minded and give young people a chance. One needs to take care of talent as well. In watch-making, passion is very important. Day in and day out, one needs to make watches with minute details which isn’t an easy task; what keeps us going is passion.
As for presence, being well represented across the world is what we have been focussing on over the last couple of years. From East markets like Japan to our home market, our markets are important to us. We don’t follow a trend; we are discreet and make just a couple of watches a year, so it’s important to be well spread.
How would you describe an A Lange & Sohne consumer?
I won’t use the term consumer, but I would rather call them collectors. Of course, you always strive for new collectors for the brand. We don’t make products for certain markets thinking that we know it will sell there more. Our rules are different – A Lange & Sohne is German, it is of highest quality possible, and people who buy our watches identify themselves with us. Our watches may look simple; but it is the movements that drive them. An owner would know that. You need to be a connoisseur; you need to have seen other watches to know what our brand stands for. Say a kid might start with an Apple watch and one day own an A Lange & Sohne watch. It is a step up.
What is the reason behind Lange consistently avoiding brand ambassadors?
Oh yes, we have a brand ambassador. At Lange, the watch is the hero. We don’t want, say, Brad Pitt running around with our watches. We don’t even give special prices to celebs; everyone buys our watch. Since the beginning, we have been clear on what we want to talk about.
(Travel for this Q&A was sponsored by A Lange & Sohne)