An Interview with Günter Blümlein
Interviewer: Peter Chong
Günter Blümlein is the Chairman of Les Manufactures Horologie (LMH) who owns the 3 great watchmaking houses: A. Lange & Sohne, IWC, and Jaeger LeCoultre. Together with Walter Lange, he is Joint Managing Director of Lange Uhren, and has been instrumental in the revival of the house.
Born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1943, he has served as Managing Director for marketing and sales of Junghans Uhren GmbH, and since 1981 has held several consulting and line functions within Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC. He has been President of the board of directors of Jaeger Lecoultre since 1987, and President of the board of directors of IWC and also the Managing Director of Lange Uhren GmbH since 1990.
This interview was conducted over the internet by Peter Chong, with a lot of support from Dr. TC Khoo, Walt Odets, and Richard Paige.
GB: The beautiful regaining of the former heights of A. Lange & Söhne has only been feasible due to the will and effort of a strong team in Glashütte. Since such a group consists of many people they need orientation and co-ordination. This task has to be carefully carried out by top management. Being the chief executive officer of the Lange Uhren GmbH, the owner of the brand A. Lange & Söhne, I have devoted myself - in co-operation with Walter Lange - to a very great extent to accomplish this task from the very beginning.
PC: 2. Has this level of involvement increased or not changing? Do you foresee it to change?
GB: If one takes his or her job as a chief executive officer seriously then an involvement always ought to be maximal - we do carry a lot of responsibility for the employees that depend on the quality of our work. What might change however is the nature of tasks or the type of concerns one has to deal with.
PC: 3. What is the level of personal involvement of Walter Lange?
GB: You need to understand the personal background of Mr. Lange to assess his involvement in the rebirth of A. Lange & Söhne. The difficult circumstances that followed a horrible war forced Mr. Lange to give up what his ancestors had built up in three generations before him. The German reunification offered him the opportunity to fulfil what he considered to be his very personal duty: the continuation of the company's tradition initialised by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845. To him it was and is a matter of honour to ensure that A. Lange & Söhne is again considered as manufactory belonging to the finest in the world.
Mr. Lange is the "father figure" for our personnel. His personal integrity and fine character create some sort of emotional parenthesis for all of our employees. Mr. Lange's example of commitment just motivates: he is present, listening to the questions, giving advice.
And finally Mr. Lange is just an outstanding expert of watch-making, resulting in his strong impetus in major decisions which concern for instance product development. To us Mr. Walter Lange is the living "bridge" to the past of A. Lange & Söhne in terms of movements, quality, traditional manufacturing or many other matters.
GB: Yes. All our product developments are running under this rule. You may expect some more surprises in the future.
PC: 5. When will you consolidate and reuse basic calibers for complications?
GB: I am referring to my previous answer.
PC: 6. Will Lange ever make pocket watches again?
GB: Bearing in mind the tradition of A. Lange & Söhne it goes without saying that we are historically, but also emotionally "bound" to present a pocket watch one day again.
PC: 7. What about the obvious complicated watches, like perpetual calendars, minute repeaters...will Lange release these watches?
GB: Knowing A. Lange & Söhne for some years by now what would you guess?
I was informed that some Lange enthusiast intend to visit Basle this year, their journey could be very interesting.
PC: 8. How many watches has Lange made since it was reborn? Would you see the annual figure to increase, decrease or stay the same?
We have started with a few hundreds and have reached nowadays a figure of 3.000. Since 1994 we have produced 7.500 Lange-watches. We still are growing in a prudent rate and expect a continuation of expansion in the following years.
PC: 9. What do you see as the optimal production of Lange watches?
GB: To be truthful, I do not know. Of course, being a sales orientated manager one wishes to develop indefinitely. But fast growth implies risks in terms of product quality or image of the brand. Hence, we make sure that our expansion is a healthy one. So far, our customers do not give signs of any fatigue, we are looking cheerfully into the future.
The LMH Group
PC: 10. What is the intended mission of IWC and JLC vis a vis Lange?
GB: In any sort of portfolio management one major task is to make sure that companies, brands, or particular products do not cannibalise each other unwillingly. I presume of not telling you a big secret if I indicate that Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and Lange are set up in a complementary way giving each company its particular vision and duty without disturbing the two others too much.
PC: 11. Considering all of the production of each of the three companies, can you tell us what you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each of the companies?
GB: All three companies have more or less the same problems to cope with like any other watch-making manufactory too. The advantage of the Lange Uhren GmbH is surely that it was able to learn from its sisters to avoid the most severe ones.
I hope it does not sound arrogantly if I say that all three companies working independently under the roof of the LMH-holding have with regard to strategy and product policy particularly strengths compared to their competitors.
Their possible weaknesses would not be the subject of a public discussion but more a matter of internal work and problem solving.
PC: 12. Would you discuss the talent, design capabilities, and production know-how of JLC in the context of contemporary Swiss watch manufacturing.
GB: This is a very difficult question for it demands a deep insight of what competencies other manufactories actually incorporate. But in general the industry is proving every year its endless creativity. There are very beautiful, innovative, and well executed watches available. Jaeger-LeCoultre is definitely contributing its share of talent. JLC is a prominent ambassador of the progress in the mechanical watch-making. Since 1931 the Reverso is an ongoing example of how a small space in the size of a rectangular watch case can be used for finest design and innovative complications - take the two younger examples such as the Reverso Géographique or the Gran'sport Chronograph.
The IWC Ingenieur Family
PC: 13. We hear that IWC is in the process of producing at least one movement for use in some of its watches - either the 8541 or caliber 100. Can you provide some details on this and on why it is important for IWC to produce a movement?
GB: The authority of a watch-making company among fans, customers, and distributors depends in general on its ability to develop own movements. This is true for Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, and Lange; this is also true for our competitors. IWC is indeed looking back on a very long tradition of having engineered and produced very fine movements. We see no reason to give up this tradition.
At the time being, IWC is producing all pocket watches, calibers, the former 8541 automatic movement and all complications in our classical or sports lines up to the tiniest part - based on external "embouches", which are decorated and assembled by our watch-makers in Schaffhausen.
PC: 14. Can you explain your perception of the tremendous popularity of the Mark XII?
GB: First of all, the Mark XII is a beautiful watch. The clear, black dial, the Arabic numeral and all other characteristic features create its modern appearance.
Secondly, the Mark XII offers real product benefits. Look at the inner case for protection against magnetic fields.
But there is third reason of the Mark XII's success. Today, people are looking more carefully for real values. They sometimes search for them in the past or in the tradition. Here, the Mark XII is the authentic heritage of something IWC has already produced many decades before and since: pilot watches for the professional usage.
Lange and competition
PC: 15. How would you position Lange versus Patek Phillippe?
GB: By principle we are not commenting on our competitors in public. But I will tell you something. I have a great esteem for Patek Philippe - the historical leader in the top segment of luxury watches. The main difference between us is simply: "Made in Germany" versus "Made in Switzerland".
I would describe our relationship with Patek Philippe as following: two chevaliers on strong horses measuring their forces in a tournament to attract the goodwill of a beautiful princess - in the spirit of mutual respect and sportsmanship.
PC: 16. Is the target market Patek Phillipe owners? If so, how do you intend to do it...other than making excellent movements, and the obsession to quality?
GB: We want to convince the watch community in the world that A. Lange & Söhne offers wonderful manufactured and innovative time pieces. The basic line in our segment of highly priced watches is still the product itself and not the additional marketing magic of esoteric advertising campaigns, funny events or extensive sponsoring of adventurous expeditions which you can find nowadays almost everywhere. It is our intention to prove that it is worth to purchase a Lange 1, a Saxonia, or a Langematik simply because they fulfil the righteous and high expectations of the experts.
If other competitors sell more or less pieces, that will not influence the way we are doing our business. We are conscious enough to accept that they make fine watches too. But A. Lange & Söhne tries to concentrate on the customer only.
GB: It is our purpose to follow the path of watch-making tradition in Saxon. Naturally this leads to sometimes "anachronistic" solutions. We try to manufacture time pieces that are an esthetical highlight for our customers' eyes even at the "cost" of less efficient production or SAV processes. A function may be anachronistic, beauty never is - and does not the ¾ plate look nice? We want to do things differently. Take for instance the balance you mentioned. It is used in very large quantities elsewhere. It is technically spoken perhaps less complicated but consequently also more elegant?
And to be frank, I like anachronisms as long as they are as adorable as our movements. But anachronisms not necessarily exclude technological progress or innovation as A. Lange & Söhne has proofed since 1994.
PC: 18. We understand that Lange watches are double assembled, that is the watches are assembled, cased, timed, and then completely disassembled and reassembled, re-cased and re-timed before release. What is the reason for this practice, and how do you see it vis a vis what the other LMH houses are doing, and your competition?
GB: To assembly a watch movement in that very special quality like Lange does, it is very important to protect all the movement parts during operation. Each part needs to be touched by tweezers and other tools to assemble and adjust. To protect the very high range decoration of the ¾ plate or the golden chatons the first assembly is done without embellishment. At this stage the Lange movement is assembled to do the basic regulation without having finished all parts to the end (setting escapement, counterbalancing of balance system, etc.). After the movement brought behind itself a several week long control it will be disassembled one more time to decorate and polish most of the parts. At the second assembly the movement gets its final regulation and the screws you will see at the completed watch.
And there is another important reason: after a disassembly and assembly a movement ought to run as exactly as before. Thus, the described production procedure of Lange-watches is an additional functional test that gives service watch-makers more assurance.
The rotor of the Langematic
PC: 19. What is Lange's philosophy in watch-making?
GB: Our philosophy is basically axed on the following dimensions:
PC: 20. Where do you see the direction of the watch-making to be taking? Would you see that complicated pieces be more common place, or would extreme high quality but simple watches be popular?
GB: It depends on the scale of the time horizon you are applying. History shows that in different market phases different phenomena occurred. And it is very likely that at some moment they will return. But I am not a prophet, thus I do not know when which peculiarity will be relevant again.
PC: 21. What do you think will be the next important innovation in watches?
GB: If I really knew probably I would not tell anybody until the fair in Basle, where I could show an important innovation working in a Lange watch. But without kidding, it is the aim of three LMH-manufactories to create real innovations in mechanical watches. Of course, it is up to the customer to judge whether such innovations are "important innovations" in the chronométrie.
Important innovations will continue to appear in the vast universe of time keeping in general, take for instance those developments such as modern satellite navigation systems and their link to
caesium atomic time measurement - but this is not the world of traditional watch manufactories.
Detail of 3/4 plate on a Lange 1, showing the gold chaton jewels.
We are following for instance the developments in electronic commerce very carefully, and I am convinced that IT-technologies will alter - and is already changing - the way the watch industry is selling its products. This concerns for the moment most of the competitors in the low and middle segments of the market. With regard to our segment the watch collector still seeks the particular emotional thrill and experience of a real and not virtual retail store. To my point of view nothing can beat the breathtaking moment if one is able to look at, touch, and compare the finest master pieces in the world of watch-making in reality.
It is in the hands of our industry that phenomena such as the so called smart shoppers remain limited (information in the retail store and less expensive purchase via internet). If the manufactories and the official distributors are disciplined enough to stay away from rather dubious channels which feed the grey markets then I am convinced that the way we have done our business will not be effected too much by the internet.
But in two other fields though IT will definitely have its impact:
Firstly, EDI, internet and other applications can improve considerably the logistical relations between the manufactories, importers, and the local distributors.
Secondly, internet offers an additional, convenient, and sometimes innovative source of information for the customer. It is another tool in the communication-mix which offers its particular advantages and disadvantages. It shortens the distance between customer and manufacturer.
PC: 24. How do you see the internet as an electronic commerce media work in helping you promote your watches?
GB: Here again my answer is a split one.
A watch of high quality is a somehow mystical thing. Its magic derives from shiny materials, from tiny little wheels, levers, springs, bridges and other pieces matching together in some secret way, and from beautiful design. If you look at it historically a watch is still basically the unchanged cultural achievement that is was already 250 years ago: a case of a particular size and shape, a movement, a dial, two hands. And no innovations in material quality or manufacturing processes has changed this since. A watch is touching us emotionally for it is a "living" example of what mankind has achieved. The internet on the other side is the protagonist of a cold, rational, fast developing, modern world. It transfers just the opposite sentiment of what a fine watch is expressing. Thus, communicating about watches via the internet is in a way a contradiction in itself - thus a fascinating one.
Nevertheless, the internet offers a new and amazing channel of communication to our customers. It allows us manufactories to obtain a more personal and direct contact to our clients and friends.
IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre consider their sites not only as an additional mean to transmit once more the same information they have already given in their catalogues. But they try to use the system with all of its advantages:
GB: It may sound absurd, but I have survived in my business for nearly forty years without using a personal computer at all. I am carefully following all technological developments, and the three companies take advantage of the most modern engineering, production, and information technologies available. The example of Jaeger-LeCoultre indicates that we are pro-actively using the technological progress for our purposes, for JLC was among the very first companies to be in the internet with its own homepage.
Once in a while I have a look into the internet using the PC of my secretary. Additionally, my teams inform me regularly through printouts about interesting or important sites on the web. Therefore, I am almost up-to-date with regard to the actual contents of TimeZone.
We appreciate those marvellous initiatives of watch fans throughout the world who want to share their experiences with others. And it is in our very interest to participate in this revolutionary new dialog that the internet is empowering. However, we hope to be able to cope with this challenge in terms of quantity. Our companies are small manufactories and therefore not comparable with the huge international giants of other industries such as automobile, food, and airlines - though we are acting globally too. The pace of change and the amount of complexity is rising, the watch industry is standing in front of interesting, but demanding challenges. New developments such as TimeZone provide benchmarks which will help us to master those ventures ahead of us.
PC: 26. How effective has the Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC web site been?
GB: We are very pleased with the development. IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre are counting page impressions and visits in numbers of thousands.
A recent example of our internet success is the auction of a Mark XI on the IWC-web site. Collectors from all over the world participated: USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Finally, a tender of incredible 12.500 US$ won - of course, the auction was carried out with a charity purpose.
PC: 27. Would you tell us what your favourite watch is from each of the three LMH companies, and why? Also, from amongst these three, which would you consider your best?
GB: I would be a bad ambassador of the three companies I am representing if I gave you an answer to your interesting question. I am not saying that I have no personal preferences but for they are personal ...
Back to top of page | Return to Time Zone Home Page
Copyright © 2001-2004 A Bid Of Time, Inc., All Rights Reserved