German luxury watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne is known for creating the kind of complicated, handmade watches that drive collectors crazy. With years-long waiting lists for its most popular models, however, the company has no plans to produce any more or bend to the prevailing winds of fashion. The brand’s latest release is the 1815 Rattrapante in Platinum, a complication designed for timing multiple events simultaneously (like runners in a race).
Built and finished by hand, and limited to just 200 pieces globally, it’s a textbook example of A. Lange & Söhne’s oeuvre — a delightfully nerdy complication, produced in highly limited numbers and priced to keep away all but the most committed collectors. We spoke to Anthony de Haas, the brand’s longtime Director of Product Development, about what makes this watch — and the brand as a whole — so unique.
What’s most exciting about the 1815 Rattrapante in your opinion?
It’s a really classic chronograph. What is exciting is that unlike other pieces like the Triple-Split or the Datograph, which are highly technical beasts, this is actually quite classic in its design. So there is no isolating system, there’s no instantaneously jumping minute counter, and that helps to make it a good-wearing complication because it’s only 12.6 millimetres thick. We’re not planning to go in Bulgari or Richard Mille direction to make the thinnest watches in the world, but for an elegant watch, it’s really nice in that size.
What’s the appeal of a rattrapante complication?
It’s a watch for a watch nerd because if you wear the watch and don’t activate the rattrapante, you can’t tell what it is because the two stop-seconds hands are on top of each other. When you start measuring and you push the left button at the 10 o’clock position, then suddenly you see a second hand for split time. I doubt if anyone who has to watch is really using it for measuring, but the movement is gorgeous and the watch is gorgeous.
Can you walk into a boutique and buy one, or are they mostly already allocated?
People can go to the boutique and apply for one, but what we have changed in the last three or four years is that we want to know where our watches go because we have some bad experiences. We launched Odysseus in steel for 30,000 Euros and not even a year after its launch it appeared in an auction and sold for 97,000 Euros. That watch came into the hands of someone who was doing speculation, and I think that is not fair towards our clients and collectors. So now we want to know where the watches go, not only with Odysseus but all our watches.
What other things are you doing to prevent people from speculating on your watches?
We had an experience, for example, with a guy who sold his watch at an auction. It was a Handwerkskunst limited-edition, limited to just 30 pieces, and he sold it for something like twice the price he paid. These are the things we monitor, and we don’t work with the shop where he bought it anymore. Then when we made the Grand Complication, we only made six pieces, and there was a guy who said, “If you promise me not to make a seventh I’ll buy all six.” You know what kind of guy that is. So he never got one, of course. In my personal view, if you read about what’s going on in these auctions it’s crazy. It seems like a bubble, and I’m a bit worried that it’s not so positive for the luxury industry, especially for watches. I don’t have good feelings about that.
I can see how that could be problematic for a company that only makes 5,000 watches a year…
You can buy an Odysseus now for three times more than the retail price, which is stupid because the watch is not limited. It’s not — for us — an expensive watch at 30,000 euros, but because there’s someone who doesn’t want to wait three years. Our watches are made by hand, and at the moment we have a shortage of Lange 1 and a shortage of Odysseus. It’s a bit of hype, but it’s not us who’s creating the hype. We’re feeling very honoured but it’s again, it’s stupid, for someone who’s not willing to wait to pay three times the price. I can understand if you have one of our watches from 1994, one of the first watches, the first tourbillon from Lange, when that does do an enormous price at auction, I can understand. It’s limited, it was the first one, it’s historical, but not the Odysseus. I like the Odysseus but this is rubbish.
We are so small and we put so much effort in because we are watchmakers. We develop movements and we try to make a timeless design because we know our watches are expensive. But they take years to develop, so it’s not a trendy thing. I think that’s more something thing for the nouveau riche, who want to show that they’re successful. But then you don’t buy a Lange & Söhne because that’s a connoisseur’s watch. I think we are different. The watches are not loud and even if we wanted to, we can’t go faster.
So was Odysseus conceived before the luxury sports watches took off in such a big way?
Odysseus was planned long ago. Even in the original strategy papers, the late Günter Blümlein wanted to have one day a sporty-elegant watch, because the watch collectors from Lange asked for it. They said, “I have 50 Lange watches, but not the watch for the most precious time of the year, my holidays.” We made three attempts and finally I think in 2012 we found the idea of the two windows and the result was launched in 2019. That is how we work. I get all these trend reports and market overviews from Richemont and they do a good job, just because chronographs are trending, or minute-repeaters, no. Of course, we do listen to our salespeople on the market, but it’s not like we get a briefing from the sales guys about what watches to make for one target group or another.
So I guess that means you won’t be increasing production anytime soon?
This year we made I think 5,230 watches and we don’t have a target for next year that it should be 6,500 watches or something like that. It doesn’t work like that, because one year we have this number and the next year it could be a lower amount of pieces because the pieces got more complicated. Every company has to grow, but we can’t grow enormous even if we wanted to. We have now almost 300 watchmakers, and if we wanted to make 10,000 watches a year we’d need another 300 watchmakers and another bunch of machines. So that’s not what we do. We’re lucky because we have the freedom to do what we want.