‘PROVOKE, WITHIN BOUNDARIES’
Lange product development director Anthony de Haas on creativity.
As a rule, the senior employees of conglomerate-owned luxury brands are pretty reserved. Many hardly say anything provocative and shun talk about their brand’s failed experiences. Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Sohne’s director of product development since 2004, is not one of them.
For journalists who attend the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva every January, the Dutchman is a familiar face. De Haas is always at the brand’s podium, sharing its new creations with his irreverent humour.
At the end of our manufacture tour, we met him at the former Lange family residence down the road, where he shared his thoughts on doing things the hard way, winning over critics, and why Lange won’t be using silicon any time soon. Here, in his own words:
WHY BIGGER FACILITIES DO NOT EQUAL BIGGER PRODUCTION NUMBERS
When people see the building for the ﬁrst time, they go: “Whoa, it’s big.” And they might think, Lange is going to increase its numbers. But that’s not the plan. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. We made 5,100 watches this year. Next year, we might make 5,300 watches, if everything goes okay. Our turnover is low because we have been making more complex watches – the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, for instance; if we’re lucky, we can make 10 a year.
ON LANGE’S YOUTHFUL TALENTS...
At our factory, you probably saw many young people. We have a watchmaking school, and we train young, talented people, but, when they start working with us, they’re not going to start with the Datograph. They might start with (simpler) models like the manualwinding Saxonia, or an 1815. We watch how they develop. Some work a year on the 1815, and then you see it in their faces, like, “I want to do more. Give me more.” We are not going to say: “No, the ones who make complicated watches must be grey-haired old men.”
HOW HE COMBINES TECHNICAL AND PRODUCT DESIGN AS THE HEAD OF BOTH
Technical and product design are very much related. We don’t have or need creative people who wear two different socks. This is pure watchmaking; it’s about details. There are people who think we are boring, because we are more watchmaker than fashion-week fashion. Then, there are people who are shocked when we bring out a blue-dial line. When we did that two years ago, some people went (adopts a shocked tone): “Why did they bring out four different watches with blue dials at the same time?”
ON THE OCCASIONAL NEED TO PROVOKE
When we made the Saxonia with an aventurine-glass dial, nobody expected it, not even our own colleagues. But sometimes, you need to provoke people a little – within boundaries. When the idea ﬁrst came up, the designers were unsure, and were (de Haas mimics hemming-andhawing noises), and I said: “Just order it. You need to see it in real life. And if we don’t like it and decide we don’t want to work with it, ciao! – we just put it away in a drawer. That’s it.”
THE EXPERIMENT THAT BECAME A LANGE PILLAR
To develop, you need to try different things. You can’t just say, “No, we can’t do that because it won’t work.” Making the Zeitwerk (Lange’s watch with jumping numeral discs) was a big challenge, technically and aesthetically. We thought it would be a niche product. The initial reaction was very polarised.
MUCH MORE THAN A ‘NICHE PRODUCT’
In May 2009, when we launched the Zeitwerk, a German journalist – a well-known, decent and humble man – said to me: “Tony, you guys have been doing great things, but this missed the mark.” I said: “Okay, I respect that, it’s a matter of different tastes.” In January 2011, he came to the SIHH like he did every year, and I looked at his wrist – he was wearing a pink gold Zeitwerk. Sometimes we lend watches to journalists so they can review it, so I asked him: “Ah, you’re writing an article about that?” He said: “No, it’s mine.” I said: “No. Don’t fool me. You hated it.” He replied: “Yes, I hated it. But I also couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then, you guys started delivering the watches to shops. And I went and ordered one.”
A CHALLENGE THAT DROVE EVEN HIS SKILFUL TEAM CRAZY
We don’t do certain things in-house because of capacity reasons. Although we don’t make our own rubies, we know how to make and cut them. There’s a story in that. We had a 30-piece special edition, the Zeitwerk Handwerkskunst. It was a nightmare. We wanted to make a Glashutte lever escapement used in old Lange pocket watches. Instead of gluing ruby pallets to the lever arms with shellac, as in standard Swiss lever escapements, the Germans totally integrated the stone into the gold and cut it in a special way. We thought, we should do that, since (our founder) Ferdinand Adolph Lange invented it. But we didn’t know how to cut the ruby and gold. We found an old lady in Glashutte who was 92 years old, and who used to make them for Lange pocket watches. She showed us how to do it using a lathe. We took three days to make the ﬁrst escapement. I’m not going to tell you how long we took to make those 30 pieces. But we did it. We also made them for our six Grand Complication watches. Then we stopped doing it. You’re not earning your money in a way people understand. (Laughs.)
NEW DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN INNOVATIVE
In my department, I have 10 watches running on a silicon hairspring, but we don’t see any advantages to it. Dresden is like the Silicon Valley of Germany, so we went to those big suppliers, and they asked us: “How many escapements would you like to have? 17,000? 20,000?” We went, “Errr, 10 is okay.” Making them is an industrial process; each of these hairsprings costs nothing. A silicon wafer can (yield) hundreds of hairsprings. No watchmaker can do adjustments on them; if you touch it, it breaks. Some brands ask a higher price for a watch with a silicon hairspring – I think it’s a shame because a silicon hairspring costs a tenth of a regular hairspring. But silicon is useful against magnetism, which is important because of all the gadgets around us today. We should be working on how to make a regular watchmaking material resistant to magnetism. That’s watchmaking.
NEW AND NOTABLE
A look at the latest pieces from Lange.
DATOGRAPH PERPETUAL TOURBILLON
“I’m quite amazed that people are calling it salmon,” said Lange CEO Wilhelm Schmid when we met him at SIHH 2019. He was speaking of the dial colour of the new Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, which looks, well, pretty much like salmon. But make no mistake: The dial of the latest edition of this perpetual calendar chronograph with tourbillon is not just coloured – it’s made of solid pink gold.
RICHARD LANGE JUMPING SECONDS
“Regulator dials are usually the most classical design you can find on a watch,” said Schmid, when we spoke about the new Richard Lange Jumping Seconds. But, thanks to its black dial accented with red numerals, “it is very contemporary-looking,” he added. This timepiece’s technical features include a constant-force escapement, jumping seconds and a zeroreset function.
GRAND LANGE 1 MOON PHASE
In 2019, the brand will launch a series of new Lange 1 models to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its signature model. Following the Lange 1 “25th Anniversary”, the brand recently unveiled the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase, a new white-gold, 25-piece limited edition. The 41mm manually wound watch features a silver dial with a hand-engraved lunar disc in white gold.
At first glance, the Zeitwerk Date looks like a regular Zeitwerk, but with a peripheral date ring. But there’s a lot more to the latest iteration of Lange’s cult favourite. The new, L043.8 manually wound movement doubles the original Zeitwerk’s power reserve to 72 hours. Even more impressively, the white gold Zeitwerk Date is slightly slimmer than its time-only predecessor.
Lange’s 2019 line-up is full of fan favourites. These include its use of a Honey Gold case for the latest version of the Langematik Perpetual,its automatic perpetual calendar watch. Honey Gold is the brand’s own gold alloy – it is more scratch-resistant than regular gold, and has a charmingly subtle hue that varies between pink and white gold, depending on the ambient lighting.
TALKING TIME ADRIAN ONG
Founder of E-lume and watch fan with varied tastes
MAN OF PLENTY
THIS HOROLOGY ENTHUSIAST LIKES SOME WATCHES SO MUCH, HE BUYS THEM IN TWOS.
GOING WITH THE FLOW:
“My tastes can be quite random. I have a rather large Patek Philippe, Rolex and Audemars Piguet collection, but sometimes different things capture my heart because of their design. For example, I have a Devon Tread 1, which has a belt-based mechanism and is charged by induction. Two watches that I like, that are unusual for me, are Hermes’ new moonphase watch (Arceau L’heure de la Lune) and the Ulysse Nardin Freak X.”
WHY I KEEP SOME WATCHES AWAY FROM MY WIFE:
“I buy watches for my wife, Michelle. But she also wears some of my watches, like the Hublot Big Bang and a Rolex Daytona. What I don’t like is that she wears watches with a lot of jewellery – her right arm is full of Cartier Love bracelets – and they scratch the watches. So, I don’t take my Rolex GMT-Master II ‘Root Beer’ home because I think she wants to hijack that as well. (Laughs.)”
THE TIME JACKIE CHAN SOLD ME A WATCH:
“My ﬁrst Richard Mille watch was an RM10; I bought it before the brand became so popular. I like RM’s design because it’s ﬂamboyant and different. Some time after I got my RM10, I was at a Formula One party. I had the pleasure of meeting Richard Mille and (Richard Mille ambassador) Jackie Chan that evening, and we were chatting about watches. They were very convincing, and Chan told me: ‘It’s a very good watch, you should get it.’ You don’t get to talk to big stars like that every day, and the whole atmosphere probably sucked me in. I got my RM11 Felipe Massa the following week.”
ON GETTING THE SOUGHT-AFTER PATEK NAUTILUS REF. 5711:
“I got my 5711 ﬁve years ago. I did have to wait a bit for the watch to arrive, but sometimes I’m quite lucky. When you support a dealer a lot, they tend to give you priority or access to some of their special pieces. So, I support them when it comes to other pieces that may not be as popular, or I’ll take my mum to them if she likes a certain watch. My dealers will never force me to buy something I don’t like; I’ll still buy watches I like. But of course, there are some watches you like more than others. (Laughs.)”
TWICE AS NICE:
“I have two pieces of a few watches, including the Rolex GMTMaster II ‘Batman’ and the Rolex Submariner ‘Hulk’. I haven’t worn them yet, because I have so many watches. They are still wrapped in plastic, unworn and untouched. I buy them to collect. I don’t sell my watches. I sometimes take them out to look at them, and wind and shake them. I see them as appreciating assets, like art pieces.”
THREE WATCHES THAT BEST REPRESENT MY COLLECTION
“Elegant” Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711 in steel
“Functional” Rolex Sky-Dweller in steel and white gold
“Flamboyant” Richard Mille RM11 Felipe Massa in rose gold
TEXT LYNETTE KOH PHOTOGRAPHY ANGELA GUO ART DIRECTION DENISE REI LOW