Time for the Classics
“Collecting has never been a question of price nor benefit but rather of exclusivity, provenance and expertise,” says A. Lange & Söhne’s CEO Wilhelm Schmid, explaining why people increasingly gravitate towards mechanical watches and classic cars. “Every collector experiences a sense of connection with the author – be it a painter, a notable car designer or a famous watchmaker.”
As time marches on, the synergies between classic cars and fine watches becomes more marked and tangible – in terms of the crossover between the collector bases, the craft skills required to fine-tune these mechanical marvels and the myriad collaborations between the two engineering worlds. It is of little surprise, therefore, that the major motoring events of the season, from Goodwood to Monterey’s Pebble Beach, all have timing partners.
This weekend will see one of the newer and increasingly more successful gatherings when the 2018 Concours of Elegance takes place at Hampton Court Palace, with automotive enthusiast Prince Michael of Kent in attendance (31 August – 2 September). Previously held at some of Britain’s most beautiful venues including Windsor Castle, St James’s Palace, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Concours will bring together 60 of the world’s rarest cars. Interestingly, the “Best of Show” vehicle will be selected by the owners of the cars rather than a panel of judges. In addition to the 60 showstoppers, hundreds of other cars will also be displayed.
The Car-Time Continuum
According to James Brooks-Ward, CEO of the Concours of Elegance, the event is set apart from other concours d’elegance events around the world by the quality of the cars on display, as well as the majesty of the venue that hosts them – the former home of King Henry VIII, as well as a long line of other English rulers. “To give you an idea of the quality of the vehicles on display this year, we have a one-of-26 Maserati 300Ses driven to victory by Sir Stirling Moss in Sweden during 1955. And the Porsche 917K driven by Steve McQueen during filming for Le Mans, which then went on to win a number of championship races in real life, too,” says Brooks-Ward.
“There’s no doubt that the latest tablets, laptops or smartphones are marvels of technology, but you couldn’t necessarily say that they represent the pinnacle of craftsmanship, care and attention. On the whole, they’re produced by the hundreds of thousands, and engineered for a lifespan of only a few years. Classic cars – as well as wristwatches – are almost the complete opposite; they’ve been lovingly designed, exquisitely engineered and imbued with the passion of their designers. In a world of virtual reality, parking sensors and step-tracking watches, they hark back to the analogue – you can marvel at the ballet of a beautifully balanced tourbillon or lose yourself in the wonderfully pure driving experience of a vintage Ferrari. Their beauty and their allure lay in their simplicity, and the care and attention lavished upon them.”
And with those words, Brooks-Wards hits at the very heart of the timing partner of the Concours of Elegance, A. Lange & Söhne. A perfect fit for the event, CEO Schmid has two passions in life: cars and watches. After visiting the Concours of Elegance last year, he was so taken by the quality and atmosphere that he decided to get his maison involved, saying: “The prospect of displaying our timepieces in the beautiful and historic space of Hampton Court, alongside more than 60 of the most amazing cars ever created, is a dream come true. The Concours of Elegance seems to have been made for A. Lange & Söhne. It celebrates the car as a coveted collector’s item, design icon and work of art. Each of these terms is linked to an aspect of fine mechanical watchmaking the way we understand and practice it.”
A lover of all things mechanical, Schmid believes his appreciation for motoring is something he inherited from his father, who was the owner of a car dealership. A man with a passion for British roadsters and the understated straightforwardness they embody, Schmid bought his first vintage car, a 1964 MGB Mark I, at 17 and still owns the car today. It was later joined by a 1957 AC Ace Bristol and, most recently, by a Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé, which he says is very close to his “grail” car.
Having seen watches as a natural complement to cars since his youth, it was an obvious step for Schmid to link A. Lange & Söhne to events that celebrate the joy created by a masterpiece and the desire to preserve a particular work of art for future generations. Since 2012, the brand has partnered the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and, in 2015, Schmid also offered his support to the Classic Days at Schloss Dyck near Düsseldorf. Of the partnerships, he says: “From personal experience, I know that choosing the right car or the perfect watch is a highly emotional matter. The bottom line is that car and watch connoisseurs are united by their passion for technology and art.
“For that reason, we are very confident that the relationship with the Concours of Elegance will create interesting synergies for us. It is a fitting complement to our other commitments in the domains of classic cars and culture. So far, every appearance at a car event has turned out to be an ideal communication platform, and we have always made new friends. This partnership will definitely continue over the coming years.”
For Brooks-Ward, the links between classic cars and mechanical watches is equally as strong.
“It’s a strange quirk of the classic car enthusiast that they’re more than likely to be watch enthusiasts, too,” he says. “Clearly, both rely on an intimate knowledge of the workings of gears, precision engineering and a hand-crafted expertise that’s becoming rarer and rarer. To be able to feel, to see and to hear the mechanicals at work is more satisfying than the silent workings of an electric car or a digital watch. The founder of Jaguar, Sir William Lyons, once said that the car is the closest we’ll get to creating something that’s alive, but I’d argue a mechanical wristwatch isn’t far behind.”
But Brooks-Ward is clear that not any watch brand would have been right to collaborate with and that the challenge for him was to find a maison that shared the same ethos of craftsmanship, history and perfection as the Concours. Each of the cars at Hampton Court was carefully chosen and invited to attend because the organisers see it is one of the finest in the world, and any watch partner also needed to fit this world-leading brief.
“A. Lange & Söhne possesses all the qualities that we would look for in our perfect watch partner,” he explains. “It has a history stretching back nearly 200 years, it has a passion for intricate craftsmanship and is always innovating. Many of the cars in our event pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible when they were first introduced, and A. Lange & Söhne has continuously done the same. The 1902 Grand Complication No. 42500 is a prime example; it features a small and a grand strike, a minute repeater, a chronograph rattrapante with flying one-fifth seconds, a 60-minute display and a perpetual calendar with moonphase display – a level of complexity unheard of at the time.”
For Schmid, Lange’s presence at the event offers the opportunity to engage with clients, enthusiasts and collectors with an exhibition of contemporary haute horlogerie that can be experienced at close quarters. A representative selection from the current collection will be available to view and handle, with a special highlight being the new Triple Split – the world’s first triple rattrapante chronograph.
Beyond the watches, guests can expect an inclusive automotive and luxury experience unlike any other. The cars are not behind velvet ropes or barriers, and the owners of the cars are often on-hand to talk to guests. As Brooks-Ward says: “The cars are just one part of the whole; you’ll, of course, be able to see the latest collection from A. Lange & Söhne, you’ll be able to tour the Palace, you can have a glass of Taittinger Champagne, visit London’s oldest barbershop, Truefitt & Hill, or browse the incredible pieces on display from Augustine Jewels.
“More than anything, I’d love for our guests to walk away with a renewed passion for craftsmanship and for the automotive world. These cars are being shown by their owners precisely because they want to share their passion with as many people as possible. Nothing delights me more than seeing a family united, gawping open-mouthed as a vintage coach-built Aston Martin burbles by at our event.”
As for what Schmid is most excited to see, like the proverbial kid in the candy store, he is hesitant to choose just one thing. “It is hard to tell, because everything you see at the Concours of Elegance is so carefully curated,” he says. “But this year’s event represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the finest cars ever made, the unique 1929 Mercedes-Benz S Barker Tourer ‘Boat Tail’. Knowing the story of its restoration, which shows parallels to the history of our Grand Complication 42500, I guess it will be a personal highlight for me.”
The Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace
31 August – 2 September 2018