A. Lange & Soehne - Love Thy Neighbour

Dubai's extravagant retail therapy has us delighted. And when you have the largest A. Lange & Soehne store there, it certainly beeps strongly on the radar of LuxuryFacts! We chat over espressos with Mr Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of Lange

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: June 26, 2013

Dubai is almost like the Mecca of shopping for us Indians. Isn’t that so? A short three-four hour flight away, Dubai serves as the ultimate shopping destination with a plethora of brands available in an environment which interestingly blends eastern and western sensibilities.

Wilhelm Schmid A. Lange & Sohne CEOIt should actually be no surprise then that Dubai houses the largest A. Lange & Soehne store till now. That says quite a bit about the opulence and taste of the Dubai and Middle Eastern market.

Taking a closer look at this much developed market vis-à-vis the nascent Indian market, and pondering upon other watch trends, we grill Mr Wilhelm Schmid, CEO, A. Lange & Soehne. Sitting in the plush VIP Lounge of Lange’s Dubai store, responding to us with charming smiles, witticisms and knowledgeable facts, we recount our interesting tête-à-tête with him.

When Dubai calls
Soumya Jain: How come Dubai has the largest Lange store out of all the 11?
Wilhelm Schmid: Business around the world is very different. In some countries size matters, in some countries it doesn’t matter. And sometimes it also has to do with availability. Specifically in Asian region, quite often you have very small spaces available. You can’t implement a boutique like this there. On top of that, for us it’s a huge challenge - the bigger the space, the more watches you should have on display, which then causes an issue for us because we don’t have enough production. I must say the one in Dubai is exceptional. Dubai has always been at a point for us where we wanted to be. I think Dubai is a rare combination. It’s a combination of local and tourist business. And Dubai is a very important location for almost all luxury brands around the world.

SJ: Do you see a lot of Indian also shopping for Lange in Dubai
WS: Actually we have a long lasting tradition with Indians and we have good network in India as well. But yes, we do see Indians buying in Dubai too.

SJ: So is there a cost difference which makes Indians buy from Dubai?
[Matthieu Dupont, Regional Director, Middle East & India said because of import duties, watch prices are a little higher in India, but not very much.]
WS continued: Usually we try to deliberate a pricing policy in a way the watches have the same price around the world. We monitor it very tightly because of the currencies going up or down. But a lot of people come to Dubai either for holiday or for shopping, or as a stopover. I think Dubai has developed itself nicely into that sort of destination. And therefore all nationalities come and purchase all sorts of goods in Dubai.

SJ: What are the differences between the Indian and Dubai market in terms of doing business? India has a lot of infrastructural, bureaucratic problems. Is Dubai simpler?
WS: Dubai is simpler in a way it is smaller. India is huge, not only in the size of the country, but also in population. And on top of that, what makes me think it is so difficult to establish luxury retail business in India is that it doesn’t have typical centre points. If you go to Milano, you know where to go shopping. You go to London you know where to go. You go to New Delhi, do you know where to go? So that’s a big advantage in Dubai. You come here, you know where to go. And I believe that’s the biggest challenge for us in India. And if India wants to establish a retail luxury market, you have to identify the central points for luxury business. You have that in other cities. I think in India that is still a job to find these focal points to do luxury business.

SJ: How is an Indian customer different from a Dubai local customer?
WS: Generally, Indians are very familiar with all the artisans work. India has a rich history and culture of jewellery, working with gold, and art and craftsmanship. Therefore I believe appreciation for these aspects, which other people might not recognize, is rich in Indian customers. The Indian customers I know love us because they like that extra perfection and the beautification of the movement.

Wilhelm Schmid A Lange & Soehne interviewSJ: So does that mean that a Dubai customer is not as mature as an Indian customer?
WS: No, I don’t say that. I just think that generally speaking, we are on the top end of the market. We don’t produce millions of watches. We only produce a few thousand. I don’t think a Lange customer, regardless of his nationality, is different from other customers. If I travel the world, the discussions are not really different, whether I am in the US or India or Middle East or Germany for that matter. Why, because we only target the top-end of that market. And once you reach that level, you are familiar with watchmaking, and I don’t think that has to do with nationality. It has to do with what are your key interests. And for me it’s very difficult to distinguish between Indian or Dubai or African or American or European customers because at the top end, they behave very similar.

SJ: It is the Lange cult…
WS: In fact we had a very nice meeting at this time’s SIHH and there was a big Japanese customer of ours who made a very nice speech. He said, “Some 10 years ago, I was infected by a virus. And the virus is based in a little town about which I didn’t even know before I was infected.” It was Lange he was referring to as the virus. So at the top end, it doesn’t mean there is no specific purchasing behaviour, but it’s very, very similar. We are a very expensive brand. So if you cannot appreciate what we do, why would you buy a watch from us?

For the fairer gender
SJ: Lange is mainly a men’s brand, though you do have some women’s watches. What is the fraction of women customers you have?
WS: Let me answer this in three different ways. First of all, in a lot of countries around the world, women don’t buy women’s watches. Women buy watches they like. And more often these are watches which have been designed for men. The second thing is that because we have a strong belief in whatever we do must be in line with our DNA, we would not accept any shortcuts in producing a ladies’ watch. So it means the beautification, the details that go into making a women’s timepiece is same as that goes into assembling a men’s watch. Now if you cannot even supply the demand of men’s watches, and if you open the ladies watches as well, then every ladies’ watch produced would mean one less men’s watch. Therefore we are fairly restricted in the way we look at ladies watches. And thirdly, we do need some of the ladies watches and therefore we have one-two preferences that we think are clearly Lange, though with a female touch. So it’s a balance of. And then you know ladies don’t really know what they want. Which is true (he said with a sly smile)!

SJ: Do you see Indian women also buying Lange watches?
Mr Dupont: One of the most successful watches with women is Saxonia Automatic with the mother of pearl dial. They appreciate the dial, the bezel and the movement itself too. That does fantastically well. But then again, we are told, the Lange 1 with gold also does well with women.

SJ: So basically Indian women are also maturing in their preferences and going beyond just women’s watches.
Mr Dupont: This is not only a trend in India, but we have noticed this all over. In fact we are noticing that more and more. It’s not a new trend, its just increasing more.

What the future holds
SJ: And what are your future plans for Dubai and India?
WS: In Dubai I think we have reached a good level now. There is always work to do and I believe Matthieu and the team don’t run out of steam. There is lot to do in the Middle East generally speaking.

A. Lange & Soehne SIHH 2013 watchSJ: So in Middle East you are planning more stores?
WS: We are definitely looking to in other countries, and if the market is mature enough, and if we see a good opportunity, we will definitely go ahead.

SJ: How many pieces of the new novelties are coming to India and will all be available?
WS: The numbers is something I can’t disclose. We don’t distinguish between markets because we know customers travel to another country and buy it there, so that doesn’t make sense. We’ll allocate a good proportion of the novelties around the world. But they’ll all be available with one exception – the Grande Complication. And then again, it doesn’t make sense to make it available. It’s only for six customers, six collectors.

SJ: What is the application procedure for the Grande Complication? Has it started?
WS: Yes, yes, it has started. Generally speaking, what we want is that this watch is the crown of the collection and it should go to a known collector – a collector who is not famous for getting a watch as soon as there is a chance to make a quick buck (because that is very important for us) otherwise we will run into trouble.

We do have the first customers. We are still in the process of meeting people because we got a higher number of potential customers than what we had presumed. And it’s a delicate process. We don’t want to upset anyone, but our limitation means we can produce only six pieces.

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