The other day I had the distinct pleasure of spending a few days with A. Lange & Söhne in Florence, Italy. The main purpose was the launch of the Lange 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar Handwerkskunst and four new blue dial version (Lange 1, Lange 1 Daymatic, Saxonia and Saxonia handwound), all of which we already showed you last weekend. The team at Lange organized several ‘field trips’ to various handcrafts, like lithography, fabric weaving and printing, among others, and we visited one of the most prestigious winemakers from Tuscany (the region in which Florence is located.) Wilhelm Schmid, the brand’s CEO, tells us more about Handwerkskunst and handcrafts, plus I’ll share wrist shots of a group of Lange collectors whom I accidentally ran into. Be warned… LOTS of photos!
Like all its predecessors the new Handwerkskunst represents an exuberant variation on an existing model (the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar in this case) and is actually not the discrete style that we know the brand for. See it as a showcase of the handcrafts that the brand masters. Wilhelm Schmid, the brand’s CEO, tells us his view on Handwerkskunst and what it represents for the brand.
FG: What kind of craftsmanship, and to what extent, do you want to show to Lange collectors around the world, and why?
WS: I will share an internal discussion with you, which I believe is a good answer to that question. You know that we don’t differentiate in the level of quality, regardless what watch you buy from us. So the difference between the 1815 you have around your wrist and let’s say the Grand Complication, is not the level of quality, it’s the amount complications, the years it takes to develop. But the finish, the decoration, is all the same. So we don’t distinguish in quality. Whatever you get from us, the promise of the quality is the same.
And now comes the big challenge. What do you do with something like the Handwerkskunst, which of course is an expression of what is possible, knowing it’s not sustainable because I know that I could not afford to put so many man-hours into one watch, like we do with the Handwerkskunst.
And on top of that, Handwerkskunst is a bit like a show car for the car industry. So you show what is possible, knowing that you could never do that in big numbers. The difference between all our products and the Handwerkskunst is not the level of quality, it is the amount decoration that we put into these watches. And of course I accept that the result is in a way untypical for A. Lange & Söhne because it is quite opulent compared to our normal watches. So die-hard Lange & Söhne fans love the understatement, and you will have fierce discussions with them about these specific watches. On the other hand, because we only do twenty, it really is a showcase of what we can do and if we put it all in.
FG: One of the things that goes very well with something like handcrafts is bespoke. Is that something you could see coming from A. Lange & Söhne in the foreseeable future?
WS: If we would produce 100,000 watches, then I think there’s room for bespoke. Because then there’s suddenly people who are saying “I don’t want to be like the others.” But you know Frank, we produce 5,000 watches a year. I think that’s pretty bespoke if you take into consideration seventy-two different references. So I know bespoke watches that will come in higher numbers than our normal watches.
On top of that, don’t forget that you always have the chance to personalize your watch. If you don’t buy a stock watch, but you order one, then you can always ask for your initials to be hand-engraved at the balance cock. The process is that you ask for this, and we’ll send you a design proposal. You will get a nice sketch of your balance cock with initials, and once you approve of our design proposal, and then our engraver will do the engraving. This way your watch will be very personalized. So that’s the only part where we say, yes to a certain level of personalization.
FG: So we have tremblage, engraving and enamel, among others. Is it in the planning that some of these artisanal crafts, and enamel in particular, find their way into the normal collection?
WS: Enamel for us will always be a part of limited series. Often people underestimate how difficult it is, to have these (usually) three or four piece dials in enamel, and what sort of process is around it to make this happen. So we always have, and always will have enamel dials in our collection but it will never become part of our normal collection. You see how much work goes in, and as good as it looks, this is also the factor where you say that you can do that, but only for a limited number of watches.
The same goes for Honey Gold. It is so hard to machine, so hard to work with, that automatically you cannot do big numbers in Honey Gold because it would kill your operations. It is harder and tougher than platinum. For instance, the welding of the lugs can only be done without oxygen. So it would be impossible to replace yellow gold with honey gold.
So what happened the night before?
During the cocktail party on the last evening of the event, I accidentally ran into a group of Lange collectors. The weather was quite OK (for my Dutch standards that is) and with a few of Lange’s guests, we stood outside to enjoy a last beer before heading back to the hotel. All of a sudden a group of men, all with a Lange & Söhne watch on the wrist, stood close to us and no, they were not part of our group (who also all had a Lange on the wrist.) That was unusual, to say the least, so I walked up to them, I complimented the gentlemen with their excellent choice for watches and asked if I could take a group wrist shot (which they all agreed with, see below.)
Apparently, they had just arrived in Florence for a Lange event the next day. Around 40 Lange collectors would be present and they insisted I should come as well…
Immediately after the interview…
Luckily I could fit this into my travel schedule. So after a good night’s rest (well, crappy actually, as I never have a solid 8-hour sleep when travelling) I had an interview with Mr. Schmid (see above) and immediately after we took off together with Anthony de Haas (Director of Product Development at Lange) to meet with the collectors. So on a sunny Sunday morning, we enjoyed a lovely 20-minute walk right through the centre of Florence, from our hotel to the Palazzo Gondi, where we met up with the group of Lange collectors. I will not delay another further… let’s enjoy the lovely pieces that these gentlemen (and a few ladies!) had on their wrists.