“Part of our success is that we’re a secret” – A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid

From obscurity to a Richemont group jewel — how the German brand became every watch connoisseur's best-kept secret

When you think of luxury watches, and we think about them a lot, there are certain brands that will instantly spring to mind. It’s fair to say that German watchmaking company A. Lange & Söhne is probably not one of them.

“Part of our success is that we’re a secret,” CEO Wilhelm Schmid tells the Gentleman’s Journal, “and people like that.”

At the helm of this prestigious Saxon watch manufacturer for the past seven years, today the charismatic 57-year-old is behind the wheel of his precious Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupe, at the Concourse Of Elegance.

Surrounded by classic cars in the grounds of Hampton Court (Schmid, an avid motoring enthusiast and collector), the seasoned CEO reflects on the company’s journey from 19th Century Dresden, via Soviet nationalisation, to one of most loved watch brands by those who know their watches.

“It’s not about how loud you shout…”

“Part of our success is that we’re a secret” – A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid
Schmid showing one of his prize vintage cars at Hampton Court. Photo: Ben Gierig

“…It’s about who you talk to,” Schmid tells us. When it comes to getting your name and product out there, with the right people, quality always trumps quantity.

A. Lange & Söhne have seemingly cultivated a select audience, one who value fine craftsmanship and prepared to pay for it, but less ostentatious.

“In today’s world it’s not good to show off your wealth too much,” says Schmid. “People like that they can express their tastes and their wealth without being jeopardised and labelled as capitalists.” 

Don’t forget your past

“History doesn’t mean anything if you don’t use it as a path going towards your future,” says Schmid.  History is something that A. Lange & Söhne are not short of, this despite at one point almost half a century passing in which no new watches bore their name.

Founded in Glashütte, near Desden, in 1848, Ferdinand Adolph Lange and later his sons established the company name and reputation for fine quality timepieces. This was cut short in 1948 when the postwar Soviet administration nationalised the company’s property.

It wasn’t till 1990 that the company was finally restored by the founder’s great-grandson Walter Lange. It’s now part of the $54.5 billion Richemont group.

Schmid believes heritage is another strength of the brand: “In today’s world, I see a high appreciation or even hunger for traditional values.” 

Always trust the maths

“Part of our success is that we’re a secret” – A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid
Photo: Ben Gierig

Despite this “hunger” for tradition the question still remains: If technology makes the need for a watch largely redundant, why should we spend thousands of pounds on one?

Schmid is optimistic: “I don’t foresee any industry disasters because, let’s be honest, we outlived our usefulness a long time ago.”

“There are 7 billion people on the planet today, we all know that the number of wealthy people is on the rise. Soon there will be 8 billion and that extra billion’s wealth distribution will be the same as the previous 7.”

As simple as that: the more people there are in the world, the more people there are to buy an A. Lange & Söhne watch.

Listen to your team

Some A. Lange & Söhne timepieces, with their simplistic designs, are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. Admittedly most jars of yeast-based spread don’t retail at £46,000 plus, but the principle is the same, not everyone will love every watch, even Schmid.

“The Saxon Thin Aventurine, I wasn’t the biggest fan of. I thought it was not A. Lange & Söhne. I was then convinced that we should go for it — I was wrong and they were right,”  he says referring to his trusted team. “The demand for that watch is huge.” 

“Part of our success is that we’re a secret” – A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid
A.Lange & Sohne's Saxonia Thin

Speaking to the right people, trusting your team, and the maths, and accepting that not everyone will like everything you do, it seems is a formula to making a ‘secret brand’ a global success.

The anticipation for A. Lange & Söhne’s next big move is, as always, high, although when it comes, chances are only a select few will see it. Which is exactly how they want it.

 If you prefer your watches with an aquatic twist, find out about the man behind Panerai, Angelo Bonati…

Further Reading