We visited the Lange Manufactory in Glashütte for a full immersion. Join our conversation with Tino Bobe, A.Lange & Söhne’s Manufactory Director as we talked about the past, present and future.
It first started in 1845, when Dresden watchmaker Ferdinand A. Lange established his manufactory in Glashütte. In 1948, the manufactory was nationalised by the communist regime that until 1989 governed the eastern part of a divided Germany. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany in 1990, Walter Lange sought to revive the watchmaking tradition of his family in the fourth generation. On 7 December 1990, he founded Lange Uhren GmbH, and registered the A.Lange & Söhne trademark worldwide.
The realisation and reinstatement of the brand in the world of fine watchmaking did not happen overnight.
Walter Lange, with his partner Günter Blümlein and team of designers and watchmakers embraced the Lange vision to build “the world’s best watches”.
With that commitment, they created and presented the premiere quartet – Lange 1, Arkade, Saxonia, and Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite” – on 24 October 1994, to resounding media and trade reception.
In a short period of the 24 years to come, A.Lange & Söhne has secured a respectable and prestigious place amongst the finest watch brands in the world.
What did this storied legacy brand do right?
They consolidated and reinforced the brand’s foundation and legacy built on quality and integrity. To never stand still, and continue to strive to build “the world’s best watches” without compromise.
In the words of Walter Lange:
“As long as our watchmakers strive to craft the world’s best watches, the brand will be heading in the right direction. We cannot lower our in-house standards: quality is what makes Lange. It must stay that way.”
The A.Lange & Söhne manufactory comprise the following factions:
- Engineering and Design,
- Prototyping and Testing,
- Parts Production,
- Finish and Engraving, and
- First and Second Assembly,
each in strict compliance and commitment to the brand philosophy. Our experience during our privileged visit to these premises will be uploaded in more posts to come.
In this post, I would like to share our engaging and insightful interview with Tino Bobe, A.Lange & Söhne’s Manufactory Director, during our time at at Glashütte. We trust that you will appreciate the conversation and sharing as much as we did.
In Conversation with A. Lange & Söhne’s Manufactory Director Tino Bobe
Curatedition: The round case is and will remain the much favoured shape for watches. Most of A. Lange & Söhne timepieces have round cases. What is Lange’s philosophy in relation to case shapes and can we look forward to see alternative case shape offers?
For us, it was important to have these watches at that time because during those years (in the 1990s), buying shaped movements was not possible. It was standard practice for companies to buy (round) movements and fit them into shaped watch cases. It was an advantage for A. Lange & Söhne to show that we were able to, and did, our own shaped movements. It was really important to us.
The Arkade showed what a good and nice invention the outsize date is. If you had one ring for numbers for the date, it would be difficult to fit (the movement) into that shape. It was clear for us: our first target was to highlight the outsize date, and to show how small this new invention can be in a timepiece.
Our home ground is classic watchmaking. If you asked our clients, most of them prefer the round watches. So to answer your question: we would need to cater to our clients’ and buyers’ needs and likes, and not to confuse them.
If we had too many references, the risk is that the retailer might not have what the client would like to purchase.
From a production standpoint, when we introduce a new model, there is the difficult task of deciding which other model to take out of production because as you know, we are doing around only 5k watches a year. In actual production, more than 30 different movements. You can imagine what it means for logistics, at our level of quality and perfection standards.
It was a difficult decision – we discussed this at great length – now even to cut one tree in our garden which we love, when we had to reduce the range. We took out the Arkade first and then a few years later the Cabaret. It does not mean that the watches taken out are less important, it does not mean that we will not re-introduce the watches if we have new ideas. We have plenty of new ideas, it is just a question of priorities.
Curatedition: Watch trends are notably cyclical – sizes, treatments, colours. Women have also embraced larger case sizes, and in fact been buying watches designed for men. At SIHH 2018, Lange was one of the few brands who offered a novelty (extension) collection for women – the Little Lange in Berry, Beige and Grey. Is that an indication of more women’s watches to come…?
Bobe: It is a nice question about ladies watches. During the 1990s, the Arkade watch was really necessary to have as an option for the ladies. However, 10 years ago and even today, ladies have bought the Lange 1.
This is impressive. Ladies are buying what they like, and not what is designed or meant for them.
Currently, we offer the new small Lange 1, but we see that the ladies market is developing really fast and there is no “protected area” of men’s watches. For a lady, if she loves the watch, “it’s my watch, I want to take this watch”.
In terms of colour, we try nice colours for the little Lange, but we don’t follow colour trends. We plan to stay in this range of understated colours, for these timeless watches. We do not change it every year. The colours we choose, are not short term choices.
Curatedition: The Richard Lange range has been very successful, are there any plans to develop and extend it?
Bobe: Yes. For every family we have, we already have plans for the next year(s).
When we have a movement development which is more substantial – a new movement takes 5 to 7 years of development – we are clear that we are working on new things, to present the new timepiece in time.
When we come to Geneva and present a new timepiece, for us it is not going forward to the future, but going back, because we are already looking at projects for 2021.
Curatedition: Let’s talk about calibers. When, and how do you define a “new” caliber to justify assigning it a new number?
Bobe: It is clear for us, if the watch is optimised for a specific functionality, the movement gets a new caliber number.
If we take the movement and we adapt, for example:
Take a Saxonia automatic which is really optimised for the function of: hours, minutes, small seconds and automatic winding. If we take this and modify it to add on a time-zone for it, you now have a Saxonia dual time. To do that, we have to modify the movement – maybe the wheel train, the balance wheel, main spring barrel, and screws to fix the additional mechanisms on it – and hence, we give it a new caliber number.
We do not work on the modular system, where you add or remove functions to a basic movement. Our client can expect that the watch and functionality is made for him.
Curatedition: How about when you upgrade a caliber?
Bobe: I will give you an example. It was one of our most interesting decisions we have made.
We have a successful watch (the Lange 1).
It is the face of our brand. It is our image, we had this watch for 20 years (since 1994), it was beautiful and perfect.
And during all this time, we learnt how to become better at what we do. Within ourselves we aimed to build perfect watches. We prove it, creating new perfect, beautiful watches every year.
But yet, our icon – the Lange 1 – was left at where it started 20 years ago. So for its 20th birthday, instead of spending the money and time (of our movement designers) on another new development project, we decided to renovate and improve our Lange 1. Design-wise, it is a minimal change. Movement-wise, the outsize date now jumps, and many other things are improved through the knowledge we have gained through all these years. It was a wonderful decision.
Another example is the Zeitwerk. When we discussed it, we had the idea for a single digital mechanical type indication model, because it is a niche in a niche in a niche.
It was a huge success, and we are happy that for even the next year, people came and wanted the watch. It was a difficult watch mechanism, as you need energy for three discs to move at the same time, and then manage the second part when you don’t need the energy anymore. For which, we decided to take this energy, bring small hammers outside to load a small spring, and developed not just a repeater, but a Zeitwerk striking time.
Curatedition: What are your thoughts about steel watches to reach out to younger clientele?
Bobe: I don’t want to say never, because at the beginning, in the first years Mr Lange already made some exceptions in a few watches. To be honest, we have had discussions very often. Yes we did some exceptions, as we did for the auction piece – in steel – really in honour of Mr Lange. It was one of the craziest projects, to tell the guys we have only 9 or 10 months to make a new movement for this “homage to Walter Lange“.
It was clear from the beginning to honour this man, we would have to realise his dream.
Unfortunately we did it not before, but after his passing.
We were not prepared but to honour this man, we have to do this kind of functionality which is something old, even before the chronographs existed. Mr Lange was always fascinated by this idea, it was the patent of his great-grandfather, one of the very first patents in Germany. I understood that the reason Walter Lange was so happy with this patent because to him, “my great-grandfather was one of the first inventors in Germany”.
And so we did this development in 9-10 months. Without Walter Lange and his personality, we would not be able to motivate our people to work within such a crazy timeline for the development. Because everyone knew that we had to do this with no compromise to quality or perfection. The watch movement must be perfect at the end.
Back to your question on steel watches for future, maybe one day.
However, one thing we have to share: if any of our clients came and asked for a steel watch, we will highlight that because of the high value of the movement inside, one cannot expect that with such a beautiful Lange movement, the price would be halved just because of the steel case.
If one is looking to our watches, you know that the movement itself has a very high value.
So maybe one day, why not, it is not forbidden. But we are not keen to head in this direction. Definitely not because of sales pressure, because we are not intending to just increase numbers, but rather, we must increase our quality.
If you have followed us all these years, you will realize that every year there is a new complicated timepiece with more movement parts and components. Hence, we need the space to do and finish these parts. The more complicated the novelty collection, the lower number of watches we can produce. Pressure or not, we can’t clone our people. We have really good watch makers – people who are talented with their fingers, with good understanding of the complicated mechanisms – but we would need the time as well. Quality needs time.
Curatedition: Last question, what can we look forward to at SIHH2019?
Bobe: Only one answer: Beautiful watches.
Curatedition: We are looking forward, very much.
Images courtesy of A.Lange & Söhne, all rights reserved.