In August, an Instagrammer uncovered what appears to be an authentic internal document from A. Lange & Söhne that explicitly details the process of vetting customers prior to being allowed to buy from their mono-brand boutiques.
To be clear, the top internationally recognized watch brands do have waiting lists for their most desirable timepieces, which in many cases are just lists of potential clients with no sequential order, or require a customer to go through an approval process before purchasing their in-demand timepieces.
Professional Watches has directly researched watch resale and company policies in recent years, with some of the firsthand data ending up in articles such as this review of Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas Chronograph, this article about MB&F, this article about Rolex GMT-Master IIs, and this article about Rolexes as investments.
We’ll likely publish something more comprehensive in the future. In the meantime, I’ll discuss the context of the practice of vetting Lange timepiece customers prior to purchase in regard to a very specific document that’s allegedly sent to all mono-brand Lange boutiques as evidence as a basis for this article and that can be viewed on @kingflum’s Instagram page.
For years Patek Philippe has publicly stated that certain timepieces are “application only” which means the head of the region or the international CEO, Theirry Stern, himself (depending on the exclusivity of the timepiece) must approve the sale based largely on whether the company thinks the client will keep or try to flip the watch for profit. There’s really no question this happens as it’s been stated numerous times to Professional Watches while visiting Patek Philippe US. What’s unclear is how formal the vetting process is at Patek Philippe, particularly with regard to non-application pieces.
Based on the document in question, what appears to be clear at Lange — which is owned by one of the world’s largest luxury groups, Richemont S.A. — is that their process is formal and has specific preset rules that guide the local boutiques through some or all watch purchases. Meaning even if you walk in off the street with a huge amount of money to spend on a watch, it will not be an automatic sale, unless you meet the prerequisites.
These vetting processes, whether talking about Lange or Audemars Piguet, are designed to drive up the demand for the respective brand’s watches in the short term, which in turn gives the said brand the ability to raise the retail prices in the long term, much in the same way that reducing the quantity of annual watch production does. Both strategies make watches more exclusive and harder to get, through internal sales policies, that would otherwise seem counterintuitive in non-luxury retail categories where volume is the primary goal.
Five to ten years ago you could buy Datographs for $10K-$20K retail. There was too much inventory available back in those days — and many people had no clue the small German watch brand even existed — so both private collectors and secondary dealers were listing them well below retail. Simple supply and demand. Lange and its parent company Richemont S.A. have clearly put policies in place to change that.
Fast forward to 2022, and considering the strong resale prices of Lange timepieces nowadays, the policies appear to be working in the brand’s favor. Bear in mind, the resulting high resale prices also now favor owners of Lange timepieces, because those timepieces are now rarer (we’ve been told Lange reduced annual production in recent years, from 5,000 down to 3,000) — and are worth considerably more than they were a decade ago. So the question is, as a consumer if you had to pick only one, do you prefer 1- a higher resale price, 2- a lower purchase price, 3- or would you rather not have to deal with the rigmarole and just let the Lange resale market play out naturally?
Photo of A. Lange & Söhne boutique in New York City by Professional Watches.