A. Lange & Söhne: The Pride of German Watchmaking
August 19, 2008
A. Lange & Söhne is a premier German watchmaking company. Its watches rank among the finest in the world. Lange was founded in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in the little town of Glashütte, near Dresden in the state of Saxony. All Lange watches are mechanical rather than quartz-driven, and, with the exception of a few special edition watches, all Lange cases are made of precious metals (gold or platinum) rather than steel. All Lange movements are developed, made, and assembled in-house. Lange is also a pioneer in watchmaking technology. For example, it developed a rare “double split chronograph” that enables the wearer to time two events for up to 30 minutes. The company also developed an innovative fusee winding system used in certain models. In 2007, the company unveiled the world’s first mechanical wristwatch with a power reserve of 31 days. Fabian Krone, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, spent time with Today’s Outlook to discuss the company and the coveted hand-made watches they are so well-known for.
You are making regular trips to Lebanon to promote Lange. Does that mean that the market in the Middle East is growing, particularly in Lebanon?
Definitely. This is my third visit to Lebanon and although I haven’t been here for two years now, I do hope that my trips will become even more regular. With our partner, Cadrans, we have really managed to build strong brand recognition in the last two years. In fact, today we are having a lovely dinner with collectors from Lebanon, so things are looking very positive.
What is your opinion of Lebanon?
Honestly, there is a lot happening here. There is a wonderful energy you find here – I believe it is because of the people; it radiates from them. The Lebanese have been through hard times and of course, turbulent times, but now it feels as if there is a certain and distinct calmness that envelops the people and emanates palpable positive energy. It is beautiful to see the investments and the buildings down by the seaside. I think it is fantastic. I appreciate the Lebanese people very much and I am sure that Lebanon will soon enjoy a prosperous future…I really believe it and hope it.
Seeing as how you always meet your clientele, what is your impression of the Lebanese clientele?
They are relatively young; they are still in business and working hard. They seem to have a way of appreciating watches; appreciating nice things, the beautiful things in life and that’s very nice; it’s a serious passion.
Do you enjoy the public relations your job entails?
Not always, but mostly yes. It depends a lot on whom you have to speak with and whom you have to deal with.
Is there a lot that goes into marketing the brand?
Well, I think that everything that explains the brand a little bit more is important. Of course, there are certain things which help us communicate about the brand and PR is surely one such thing. It’s not all bad; the events and dinners can be a lot of fun.
In a time where machines produce hundreds of watches a day, each and every piece in a Lange watch is still manually-installed. Surely it is a challenge. How do you explain to the client the value of this concept?
Of course it is always better to explain it in person than through an advertisement campaign, but we do both. We are developing the brand slowly by explaining it in person, through the media. So it is step-by-step; it is not something that has to happen overnight.
There is a trend in the industry to use brand ambassadors. What is your strategy regarding brand ambassadors?
At Lange we do not employ the strategy of brand ambassadors; the timepiece stands alone as the star. The timepieces that we produce do not need to have celebrities to endorse them and if they did, then that would be a clear indicator that we are doing something wrong.
The presentation we saw this year at the Annual expo in Geneva was amazing; is it hard to maintain such an exceptional image and level of professionalism?
Thank you very much. The image is a by-product of always striving to do things a little better each time. We have reached the level of professionalism Lange is known for by having my colleagues and watchmakers work to exceed what they have accomplished in the past and by creating an environment that is fun.
I read recently that you have a Lange watchmaking school. Is that correct?
Yes, we have a watchmaking school where we offer a three-year course. We currently have 32 students who are learning to become watchmakers, eight of whom graduated this year; they are now ready to enter the world of watchmaking.
Would it be easy for a Lebanese to attend the school?
We welcome every nationality. Anyone that wants to learn watchmaking is most welcome to apply and we will teach them. Currently, we have Irish, Austrian and American students. Everybody is welcome as long as they have the passion and the discipline; this is all they need to learn and excel.
Have you ever had a graduate work for another brand?
Luckily we have very, very few that go away to other brands. Normally they stay and we are happy that they do. Needless to say, it is to our advantage to keep them on; it is quite cost-intensive and requires considerable effort to train a young person for three years. You cannot put a new graduate on the complicated watches at first; it takes another two years before they learn to do a chronograph. So, it is a long process and of course we are happy that they do stay and want to stay.
Which watch is your best-seller worldwide and how large is your production base?
Worldwide is the Lange 1. It is the icon and really the base; it is still appreciated by our customers and clientele and it is affordable for a wider customer group. We produce a total of 5000 watches per year, which makes our watches limited by production. We will keep it limited because of the time-consuming craftsmanship needed to complete each watch. As the watches become more and more complicated, we need more time to produce them. Just to give you a figure, four years ago we were 270 employees producing 5000 watches per year and now we are nearly 500 employees, still producing 5000 watches per year. With nearly double the number of watchmakers, we produce very little more watches because far more time is needed to produce the watches of today compared to the watches of four years ago; they have become more complex, more difficult, more complicated.
How do you deal with the competition?
Well, with a team like the one we have at Lange, it is not that hard…but of course competition is tough! We are doing things the way we believe is best. We focus on what we can do better and how we can do better.
Where is the biggest market for Lange?
The biggest market is still Germany, but other markets like Asia, the Middle East and America are growing. With our market-size growing, and only 5000 watches a year, it is not easy deciding where to sell them.