The PuristS Interviews Hartmut Knothe Lange Uhren GmbH

The PuristS Interview Hartmut Knothe,
CEO, Lange-Uhren GmbH 

by Jaw
© September 2002

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A. Lange und Sohne has attained a singularly impressive stature within the world of high horology brands during its surprisingly short existence as a "reborn" company.  Even the most established and insular of the traditional haute horlogerie industry privately praise the achievements of the company.

Having been with Lange since 1991, Hartmut Knothe comes from an engineering and production background, something entirely consistent with the product oriented culture of Lange.

Following is an interview with Mr. Knothe, CEO of one of the brightest stars in the high end watch firmament.

The Interview

P178: Firstly, all of us at would like to share our deep concern  about the recent flooding at Glashutte and Dresden. Although I am relieved  that no Lange employees were hurt in this unfortunate disaster, how is the  damage in terms of equipment, lost productivity and disruptions to  production?

HK: The damage due to floods in Glashütte has also cost Lange Uhren GmbH millions. Whilst the Lange 1 and Lange 2 buildings at Altenberger Straße 15 were largely spared, the cellar of the main building was flooded out. Everything stored there such as office furniture and decoration materials, and the technical installations for air conditioning, heating, electronic processing, telephone etc. were covered in filth or even destroyed. In addition, the water destroyed some of the yard in the main house, as well as the company carpark and grounds. The mount of the Lange monument in the centre of the town, which we had set up only last year, was damaged.

Some of Lange's employees have also been personally affected by the flooding. Power cuts and damage to the heating and telephone installations meant that production was limited in the first two weeks. In the meantime, most of the damage has been repaired and production is running normally again. Of course, our chief concern was to guarantee the high quality of the watches from A. Lange & Söhne whatever the circumstances. 

P178: From my visit to your factory, I noticed a uniform and consistent passion and dedication from all your employees from every department. How do you manage to motivate and maintain such positive outlook and performance?

HK: Glashütte has been a watchmaking town for over 155 years and many of the people from this region are involved in watchmaking. For them, working for A. Lange & Söhne isn't just a job, it's a passion. In many cases, they are carrying on a family tradition. All of us are motivated by an ardent passion for our watches. Moreover, of course, we also endeavour to create a pleasant environment for our employees, and take their wishes and needs very seriously. 

P178: Never have I dealt with a company in the watch industry that is so passionate about watchmaking and so respectful and appreciative of their customers. Why? And do you think this good policy is financially rewarding?

HK: Thank you very much for the compliment. Respect for our customers and interest in their wishes is something we take for granted. Every single Lange watch meets the highest quality standards when it leaves our factory. However, the attendant service must also be of an equivalent level. For instance, if a customer wants to know how his watch was made we are very happy to show him the process. Lange watches are indeed a passion, and we want our customers to share it with us. 

P178: I also feel that Lange movements are the best finished in any production line setup. However since the initial launch of Lange 1 in 1994, the general quality level of other watches has improved tremendously, notably L.U.C. by Chopard and scores of others. Will Lange strive to stay ahead of others? And if so, how will you ensure that it will continue to be the case?

HK: Watches made by A. Lange & Söhne are guaranteed to satisfy the highest level of horological quality, precision and finish attainable under present day conditions. They are, in particular, popular with watch lovers and collectors who appreciate something out of the ordinary. If other watch companies are following our example, we are pleased, as this shows we're on the right track. It goes without saying that we shall continue to maintain our high standards in future.

P178: Watch hobbyists like us are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of the late Mr. Günter Blümlein. In your opinion, what is the impact in terms of unfinished plans or projects? Any significant changes in direction or general 
mood of the company?

HK: Günter Blümlein's passing was and still is a very painful loss to all of us. In him we have lost a very special person, on a personal level as well as from the point of view of watchmaking and the company. Of course we miss his genius and his farsightedness. But he gave us all at Lange a great deal to be going on with, and you can be sure that we shall continue to follow his strategy in future, too. 

P178: The take-over cost of LMH is not exactly cheap in absolute dollar term, is there any pressure from Richemont to increase production, cut cost and pay less attention to quality? If so, how does Lange cope with the demands?

HK: I am naturally very glad that the watchmaking group LMH (Les Manufactures Horlogères) with the brand names Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and A. Lange & Söhne fetched such a high price two years ago. That demonstrated to me that Lange, like the other companies, is very highly regarded and a desirable asset. Richemont gives us a free hand in developing our brand and we feel very comfortable in this luxury concern. I see the fact that individual makes of watch are joining together to form large groups as a sign of globalisation and part of the concentration process taking place within today's economy.

P178: The late Mr. Blümlein worked rather closely with Mr. Reinhard Meis in the past. Does Mr. Meis still play the same important role with your good self, or has his role in the company now reduced?

HK: The development of product design and construction characteristics for the new Lange watches remain in the hands of Reinhard Meis and his Team. In this he works very closely with myself and the team around Project manager Tino Bobe and Head of movement development Helmut Geyer.

P178: We noted you have lost several senior staff in the past year, notably Dr. Frank Müller, Axel and Richard Habring. Is this the natural evolution of a company in a flux or are you concerned about the turnover?

HK: I think this is a natural development in any company and, taken overall, the fluctuation within Lange is rather below average. When people who have worked well in a firm for a long time leave, it is always a loss that saddens us. But when someone decides that he wants to go for a new career, we don't stand in anyone's way. 

P178: In the past, Lange products have reached several important milestones: The first big date with Lange 1, The first fusee chain tourbillon in Pour Le Merite, the most beautiful automatic movement in Langematik and finally the Datograph simply left us speechless in its near-perfect execution. Last year we saw a nice but not ground breaking Perpetual Calendar, and this year we feel that the Grande Arcade and the Lange 1 Moonphase are beautiful products but lack the past "wow" factor. 

Have Lange products matured and hence getting more difficult for you to shock the industry or will we continue to be positively surprised in the future?

HK: Within just twelve years Lange has presented 14 original, exclusive watch movements. In all modesty: we think that is quite an achievement and of course, you can't come up with a new complication every year! Naturally, we at Lange still have plenty of visions. In future, we want to continue presenting lovers of Lange's watchmaking art with sophisticated horological developments, some of which we have already been working on for years. I don't want to give any more away, but I can promise you one thing: there are exciting things in Lange's pipeline. We just have to ask you to exercise a little patience now and then. 

P178: Will Lange continue to operate, market, and distribute independently or do you foresee these operations being usurped by the general Richemont platform? If so, what are the pros and cons of each option?

HK: As an independent company, of course we still take corporate decisions ourselves. Strategic planning takes place in conjunction with the concern. However, for us not very much has changed in this respect, since we were already part of a large concern before being sold to Richemont.

P178: We hear you will be expanding in USA. How important is the US market? What is your current and future plan in US distributions? Will you be also expanding your after-sales service network?

HK: As the world's largest market for luxury products, the US market naturally plays a significant role for A. Lange & Söhne. We have been very successfully represented for years in New York by Cellini and Wempe. Now our first step in expanding distribution in North America is scheduled, and we are aiming to increase turnover, which is currently in single digits, to double digits in the medium term. Parallel to this expansion we naturally intend to strengthen the after-sales service network. 

P178: Managing perhaps the best watch company in the world can be stressful. How do you cope with stress? How do you try to get some relief sometimes? What are your hobbies?

HK: Of course, I have relatively little spare time. Sometimes I don't know whether what I'm doing is work or hobby, as I'm a total enthusiast about watch technology. My hobbies also include travelling, rambling and swimming. I like reading, especially interesting political articles. I'm fascinated by seeing how things develop. I learnt the best thing from my father – he was also in the watch-making business – namely, that you should never just drift aimlessly through life but work hard to achieve something. Today, I'm very grateful for that lesson. 

P178: Are you sometimes upset by Internet discussions on your watches? Especially when some of the information being tossed around is completely false? Are you supportive of web discussion on watches generally?

HK: To be sure, it is not pleasant to read commentaries in Internet discussions or in the press which contain false information. Nevertheless, we deliberately hold back here and leave it to those who know Lange to put incorrect statements right. We strongly believe that a neutral forum, which is independent of the manufacturer, develops particularly great credibility and positive momentum.

P178: What do you feel about

HK: I think that critical, knowledgeable and competent forums like are of particular interest to watch manufacturers because this is where we find out what customers don't like and where we can get input for our future work. So I wish you great pleasure, success and constantly stimulating discussions – especially on the new Lange Forum. 

P178: Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights with us, Mr. Knothe!

Glashütte, September 10, 2002

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