Without giving too much away, we can say that Anthony de Haas is one of our favourite interview subjects. Not only is he a charismatic personality and, consequently, always a great interview, he is also disarmingly honest about his work and A. Lange & Söhne in general. This is not to say that other spokespeople such as Wilhelm Schmid and Tino Bobe are less forthcoming, but de Haas just has a certain vibe. Or it might be all down to de Haas being Dutch.
Now, de Haas is hardly a stranger to us, and to you, being one of only three people who speak on the record for A. Lange & Söhne (all of whom have obliged us with face- time in the last five years or so). As such, you could be forgiven for thinking we would have little to discuss with de Haas. Nothing could be further from the truth though because this watchmaking legend is a popular and much sought-after interview subject. The reason – there are many but this one works as an indicative illustration – is that de Haas gives great quotes and is a hurricane of information. Getting swept away by a deluge of information is a real possibility every time one engages de Haas.
On the occasion of this latest meeting, WOW Thailand editor Ruckdee Chotjinda is with us because we are visiting the A. Lange & Söhne manufacture in Glashütte. The conversation happened in a nondescript conference room with journalists from our region; also present are representatives from Robb Report Malaysia and QP Thailand. For the most part, the questions and answers presented here are from Ruckdee and this writer, although interjections did occur but have been excluded for the sake of brevity. The second question, on double-assembly, came from the Robb Report journalist.
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On that note, de Haas’ first answer is presented largely unedited, just so you can see how garrulous he can be, even when confronted with the simplest of questions (mine, as it happens, which is unusual for me). Both the question and the answer have been edited for clarity, language, an even length, but are otherwise unaltered. In case you are wondering, de Haas’ answer unfolded over 10 mins, which took up all of my time for the interview, but he graciously carried on for well over the time the group was originally assigned. We honestly have enough material for quite a personal piece on de Haas, but unfortunately, neither time nor space is on our side. No doubt we will get the chance again!
Congratulations again on the Odysseus Chronograph, which Tino Bobe showed us at Watches and Wonders Geneva this year. Everyone wants to know why you made this as a limited edition, and only a limited edition, which is a first for A. Lange & Söhne…
Yeah, now we thought it’s a very, very, very complicated chronograph (so) frankly, we said, you know what, let’s start with a limited edition in (steel), and then we’ll see. Let us first deliver these hundred pieces, then we’ll see. Making the world mad with (a claim that) “it’s available everywhere…” when we know that we struggle a little bit (with production)…we have long waiting lists for the steel Odysseus, the standard one. And we have titanium and white gold (versions of the standard time-only Odysseus); we were really overwhelmed by the success…by the demand for the Odysseus.
When we launched the watch in October, 2019 it was very polarizing and that was good. But by December already we had to have a production meeting because, you know, we don’t make dials, we’re not dial makers; the bracelets, we don’t make (this) in house. So, we had to order extra pieces (of everything that we required suppliers for) and we did. Then we all went into (COVID-19) lockdown and all those things got delayed and we never were able to catch up with the backlog…
On the watchmaking (movement) side, in-house, we had another problem, and maybe it is also because we were caught off-guard (about the demand for the Odysseus): the watchmakers who work on the calibre (L155.1) are the same ones who work on the Lange 1 (calibre L121.1). It is the same level of qualification needed to make either, so now we have a problem because is the Odysseus more important than the Lange 1? No! So, poor Tino and his team (have to manage this)…you can’t say to a watchmaker this week you make Odysseus and the week after you work on the Lange 1. It doesn’t work like that; for a watchmaker, it is annoying [de Haas himself is a trained watchmaker – Ed] but we are actually about to do (something like this).
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On the other hand, there is also planning – I have planning and development (under me) and you could (suggest) that I postpone development but that messes up my whole programme. We have (for example, another complication planned for the Odysseus) and this takes between two to three years. If I postpone this, then something else gets delayed, and it all starts to eat into the life cycle of the collections (so there are a lot of wheels turning and there is a lot at stake).
At the moment (returning to the matter of the Odysseus Chronograph), we have two watchmakers in training to make the calibre L156.1 [this is the Odysseus Chronograph calibre – Ed]. I say they are in training but they are not absolute beginners – they were previously working on the Triple Split. But the Odysseus Chronograph is so different to all the chronographs we have made before. I mean, yes there is a vertical clutch here but, as a watchmaker, when I hear ‘vertical clutch’ I think of something made industrially. We wanted to make something completely different, and that is the challenge we gave ourselves. (The two new guys) are excited to be working on the Odysseus Chronograph and if they start in November, maybe the first pieces will be delivered by (early 2024).
Do not also underestimate complexity. For something like the zero-reset (function of the Langematik Perpetual and 1815 Tourbillon)…I get questions about why we do not have a zero-reset across the collections because it is so genius… We could do it, in the regular Lange 1 for example, but then the price of the watch would explode…it would be EU10,000 more expensive (or more) because the zero-reset is almost like a chronograph mechanism itself. You have more parts, and so you need more space.
So (back to the Odysseus Chronograph), because it is so different and so challenging for us, we make a lot of laboratory tests for it. We test the start-stop chronograph action 50,000 times, and then another 50,000 times after letting the chronograph run 10 minutes (all of which is done by a machine, there is no person who is sitting there to start and stop and restart the chronograph). We are German here, and we would like a little German quality control! This is why we said just 100 pieces, although – on the first day of Watches and Wonders Geneva – our sales guys asked why we do not make 250 pieces. We know that there are maybe 500 people we could sell the Odysseus Chronograph to [and probably much more than this – Ed] but (again, because of the complexity of doing something so challenging for the first time) we said let us first make and deliver these 100 pieces. How fast – relatively – we can even make these watches is something we don’t know. We do not know if we could make one watch in one year, or two years… Selling the watches is one thing, making them is another thing.
Developing (something like the Odysseus Chronograph), that is what you [meaning journalists and collectors – Ed] will never see because we are making something completely new. Maybe, these two watchmakers who will work on the Odysseus Chronograph will say “Oh, this is easy; I can do one a month,” but we just don’t know before we start. We need a reliable plan that tells us how much time we need to actually deliver. Look (bottom line), we are not playing games here…it is not like we have 50 ready already, but we’re waiting a little bit because it is interesting…
Sorry, this is a very long answer to a relatively short question, but I’m bad at short answers.
Tell us more about double-assembly, which is a signature at A. Lange & Söhne.
You know, second assembly is, in the world of complications, a very common thing. I used to work at Audemars Piguet in Switzerland [close to 20 years ago now because de Haas celebrates his 20th anniversary at A. Lange & Sohne in 2024 – Ed]. We did the same thing. In the process of the first assembly, you might get oil all over the movement, and you don’t want to sell something in that state. So you take it apart and clean it; that is what we do here too. The special thing we have at A. Lange & Sohne is German silver and this material is a bit sensitive. If you touch it, it will oxidise – but of course no watchmaker will ever touch any component with (bare) fingers. Never, whether here or Patek Philippe or Seiko [component manufacturing is another matter though, no matter where you go, and contact with bare skin might happen – Ed].
So, you did not see our CNC machines because it is all the same stuff as they have in Switzerland, and you have probably seen more manufacturers than me. But there is one machine we have that no one else has, and if I were to give the (A. Lange & Söhne) tour that would be the only machine I would show. It is a washing machine for the German silver parts. We developed this with the technical university here in Dresden. So when, for example, you make a base plate or a gear train bridge, the machine does first one side and then the other. In between, the parts all go into the specially made washing machine. That, to me, is really interesting (and different here at A. Lange & Söhne).
Double-assembly (where we do a first assembly of every calibre and then take them all apart and do everything again) has been standard at A. Lange & Söhne since the start. It is just how we work. Now, we tried to do just single assembly, with the Saxonia, once and it was a disaster. You think we would save time but we didn’t; we wasted time!
On that note, A. Lange & Sohne does not do everything in-house, so how do you decide what things you will do?
We do not make dials and cases (as mentioned earlier), but there are exceptions. We do make our own enamel dials, which was a huge project for us and we even got support from Vacheron Constantin when we encountered issues. You know, in Glashütte, there are maybe eight or nine watchmaking brands, and zero dialmakers. This means a dialmaker won’t have enough business here to survive. Can you now imagine the kind of investment it takes to start and run a dialmaker? It is not something we want to touch, generally.
Similarly, we make some complicated cases ourselves, but the rest we leave to the great casemakers that we have in (Richemont) over in Switzerland. You may have heard that we do not make our own screws, and it’s true. We know how to make them, and we do make these parts for prototypes. We send the specifications to specialists who have 40 times the number of machines that we have (or can have). It makes sense for such a specialist to produce these components.
On the other hand, you know we make hair springs, and this we want to do. Sure we have the capacity to produce for others, and we do, but I prefer to experiment with that capacity. You know the remontoir system we use in the Zeitwerk? There is a second hairspring there, and you must know we never would have found this solution… even had the idea of a remontoir system in the Zeitwerk, if we didn’t have hairspring manufacturing capacity.
This article first appeared on WOW’s Legacy 2024 issue.
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