It seems that nothing and no one is impervious to the digital wave that’s sweeping across businesses around the globe, including the world of horology. The Peak speaks to leaders of the watch industry to better understand how this march towards digitalisation is making its impact on an area that prides itself on the rich history, careful mechanics and art of it all.
Wilhelm Schmid, CEO, A. Lange & Sohne
In the watchmaking industry, conversations about the digital ecosystem are something that most are talking about. What is the strategy here for Lange?
We don’t want to, and probably never will, change the way we design and create our watches; but the future will deserve different approaches to make people aware of what we do, and we think these are two completely different matters.
The new generation definitely has a very different purchasing process – what worked very well for the parents may not work at all for their children, even if they like the exact same things. I believe we need to understand that there is a shift in the purchasing process. We are here to make the whole process an enjoyable one and we cannot do that if we don’t speak the same language as the new generation of consumers.
A good way of saying it would be that we want to stay a secret but we want to share this secret with more people – the right kind of people.
Are you facing any challenges in achieving this?
Glashütte is an absolute paradise for watchmaking. It is tranquil, calm and very difficult to get distracted there because it is in a valley in the mountains. But, if you think about social media, digital retail and marketing trends, and the talents you want to attract in that field, we find it very difficult to establish them in Glashütte. They don’t come.
For this, we think it deserves a completely different environment. Young designers and those in digital marketing love Glashütte but only for a day. That is why we relocated our marketing, public relations and design departments to Berlin, which is the only true metropolitan city we have in Germany. It’s a two-hour drive from Glashütte, so it’s manageable. People from Glashütte who need a different environment and are prepared to learn and grow, will move to Berlin. Then, we also have new people on board; again, it was interesting to see that we could attract new types of talent, people who were in love the brand but they were just not prepared to move to Glashütte. Next year, we will create the paradise for people working in these departments to complement our paradise for watchmaking in Glashütte.
How will a brand steeped in tradition like A Lange & Söhne address the younger generation?
I get this question a lot – ‘What do we do for the younger generation?’ Do you think that the younger generation is not interested in quality or timeless classic designs? Are they not interested in a product that will retain its value?
I don’t think it’s age-related, to be honest, but we may have to address it differently. We had a big Lange Friends Dinner during SIHH 2018, and I think I was increasing the age average. That just shows it’s not what we offer, but how we offer it. That is why we need Berlin.
How has the watch industry changed over the last few years from the perspective of a brand?
Years ago, you had a gut feeling but it was not substantiated by real facts. Today, every day, I get statistics on engagement rates and things like that, so you are far better informed. We still do very much the same in terms of watches but all the rest has changed quite dramatically. That’s why I am saying that I disagree that young people want us to be different. They just want us to speak in a language they can understand.