“We elevate our customer experience by offering the best product,
the best story and the best services”

Never standing still

The watchmaking traditions of A. Lange & Söhne continue to evolve

 


December 2019 Investing in japan / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Benjamin Parks


In 1554, German theologian Caspar Huberinus coined the expression, “Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis”, or, “The times change, and we change with them”, to express an undeniable reality of life. But changing with the times shouldn’t mean that the past is forgotten. Prestige watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne creates timepieces in the belief that continual renewal, while building off the past, is the best formula for success.

First established in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in the small German town of Glashütte, A. Lange & Söhne was severely damaged in a bombing on the last night of the Second World War, and it was subsequently nationalised by the communist government of East Germany. Before he could be sent to a labour camp, the fourth-generation owner, Walter Lange, made a dramatic escape in the middle of the night to a border town in West Germany where he settled for nearly five decades. After the reunification of Germany, Lange saw his chance to resurrect the firm.

Since the brand was re-established in 1990, it has expanded to 54 countries with 215 points of sale, including 31 boutiques. For the past 25 years, the spirit of renewal and rejuvenation has become the heart of A. Lange & Söhne’s identity. But it still cherishes its heritage.

“The reason we could revive the brand — the reason we’re still here — was Walter Lange’s drive to follow his great grandfather’s path, so we are dedicated to making the best watches in the world,” says Japan’s Regional Brand CEO Kaori Yamazaki, who joined the firm in September of this year from a luxury German car maker. “His DNA is about sticking to the standard of perfection, but also always trying to renew our watches. We don’t cling to older methodology or technology.”

 

 

Yamazaki says Lange’s personal motto, “Never stand still”, is an inspiration for the company’s employees today. He believed that watches, like lives, are always in motion, and that the same should be true of their company.

The re-established A. Lange & Söhne acted quickly to rebuild its reputation. It launched its first four new watches, including the LANGE 1, in 1994, just four years after it reopened, and they were released in Japan only two years later, in 1996. The LANGE 1, with its distinctive multiple dial faces and outsized date, has become an icon, and it is the firm’s bestselling watch globally — including in Japan, a crucial market for A. Lange & Söhne.

The watchmaker’s Japan branch has recently undergone its own renewal. In addition to appointing Yamazaki as brand CEO, its Ginza store has a new manager, Osamu Sekiguchi, who has spent nearly a decade with luxury jewellery and watch brands. Their combined skills and experience put them in the perfect position to push customer engagement in Japan to a new level.

“The Ginza boutique is among the brand’s top stores in the world in terms of sales volume, so it is very important for us,” says Sekiguchi. “It’s our Japanese flagship store, so we have a lot of valuable watches here that you can’t see anywhere else.”

As an example of how important the Ginza branch is to the brand, Yamazaki cites the creation of a Japan-only exclusive run of just twenty LANGE 1 special edition watches to celebrate the boutique’s tenth anniversary last year. But while limited production volume is a hallmark of A. Lange & Söhne — it creates fewer than 10,000 watches a year — the appeal of these timepieces isn’t just how rare they are. Connoisseurs are drawn to the beauty of the display and the quality of the clockwork’s engineering.

“Japanese customers love that German craftsmanship — we see similarities between it and vintage Japanese craftsmanship,” Yamazaki says. “It’s very elegant and traditional, but it’s also a state-of-the-art watch.”

Sekiguchi explains that each watch is made twice, as they were when the company was founded. The first assembly ensures that all the clockwork pieces are in working order. The watch is then disassembled and each piece finished and polished by master watchmakers before being reassembled.

“There are many watch brands around the world, but there are not many that deliver a craftsman’s passion for watchmaking done from the users’ point of view,” notes Sekiguchi. “This achieves excellence in its appearance, as well as in its mechanical performance for our customers.”

Faithful to the belief that it should never stand still, A. Lange & Söhne persists in developing new products and manufacturing techniques. To celebrate 25 years since the brand’s revival, in October it released the Odysseus, its first watch with a case made from stainless steel rather than the firm’s standard gold and platinum. It is made for everyday use, with an adjustable steel bracelet and waterproofing.

 

 

The Odysseus is a step forward for the company, but it also pays homage to the firm’s history. The watch’s face is based on the design of Dresden’s Semperoper opera house clock, called the five-minute clock, which was built by the firm’s founder F. A. Lange with his master in the 1800s.

“We describe the Odysseus as a sporty-elegant watch,” Yamazaki explains. “If you look at trends in the luxury watch market, sports watches have become more and more popular over the last 10 years — but we don’t want to be followers. This had to be a Lange watch, and it has to work for all lifestyles.”

The pride that the Japanese office takes in the firm’s history is apparent not just in its products, but also in its service to customers in Japan. One distinctive way it shows this is through organising special visits for selected customers to the original A. Lange & Söhne factory in Glashütte — where, despite the nearly 50-year hiatus, the mechanism pieces are still made today. Through these tours, customers can see first-hand how modern machines create clockwork to standards established more than 170 years ago.

“We elevate our customer experience by offering the best products, the best story  and the best services,” Yamazaki says. “We love to build strong relationships with customers by welcoming them as one of the family.”

Each tick of the clock is a reminder of how precious time is, and it’s what keeps A. Lange & Söhne always moving forward. 

“There are many watch brands around the world, but there are not many that deliver a craftsman’s passion for watchmaking done from the users’ point of view”

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