The Beckertime Brand Series: Longines
Luxury Swiss brand, Longines was founded in 1832, making it one of the oldest watchmaker’s still in existence.
While they have a long history of pioneering innovation behind them, they are also a manufacture which clearly cherishes the tried and tested; the Longines headquarters has remained in the same Jura mountain village for the last 189-years, and the maison has kept their original logo for nearly all that time as well—the winged hourglass is now recognized as the longest-running trademark in the world, of any company in any industry.
With a litany of superb diving and pilot’s watches, both in their archives and in their contemporary collections, along with hatfuls of elegant dress pieces too, they are a brand which covers just about every eventuality.
Read on below for a detailed look at the highly renowned Longines.
The company was established by Auguste Agassiz, a member of a prominent Swiss family which also produced several notable scientists of the era.
Teaming up with business partners, Florian Morel and Henri Raiguel, the team set up shop in St. Imier, a small town in the Jura administrative district, in the canton of Bern, calling their fledgling business, ‘Raiguel Jeune & Cie’.
By 1847, Agassiz was able to buy out his partners to become the firm’s sole owner, and five years later brought in his nephew, Ernest Francillon, to work alongside him.
It was Francillon who would go on to become the driving force. In 1866 he purchased two adjoining plots of land in St. Imier called Les Longines—French for ‘long and narrow fields’—and set about streamlining his business.
Inspired by the new mass-production techniques being introduced in American manufacturing, Francillon built a factory on his newly-acquired plot, centralizing all production under one roof for the first time. Before then, the Swiss model had been little more than a cottage industry, with home-based concerns producing single components which were then collected by a central body, known as a comptoir, who would redistribute them to other independent watch assemblers, again working in their homes, who would complete the finished watch.
As well established as this ‘établissage’ system was (the name means ‘workbench’ in French), Francillon’s method was far more efficient and cost-effective. And, by engaging the services of the gifted engineer, Jacques David as technical director, Longines was able to produce high volumes of components by machine without compromising on their quality.
By 1867, the brand was creating its own in-house movements and their first, the 20A, won awards at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.
That was followed up in 1878 with their first chronograph caliber, the 20H, which brought the manufacture to the attention of the world of professional equestrianism, gaining much needed publicity. To protect his interests, Francillon registered both the company name, taken from the area on which his state-of-the-art factory stood, and his logo in 1889.
Longines In The 20th Century
The 1900s were a time of huge advances in watchmaking, and for Longines in particular.
They became one of the leading lights in sports timing, for instance. In 1912 they invented the first finish line ‘broken wire’ system, which stopped the timer when the contestant crossed the tape, along with the Photogines and Contifort systems which recorded a contestant’s time on a piece of film, which could be immediately developed to decide the winner.
The following year, Longines unveiled their most important chronograph to date, the 13.33Z. It represented the very first movement of its type designed specifically for a wristwatch, a monopusher which combined the start/stop and reset actions into a single button.
By 1919, the brand had started their long and fruitful relationship with some of the age’s aviation pioneers. They became the official supplier to the IAF (International Aeronautical Federation), providing them with highly accurate, navigation instruments. In 1927, they worked in conjunction with Philip van Horn Weems, a U.S. Navy officer, to develop a rotating disc watch which enabled the wearer to synchronize the seconds hand with a GMT signal. The patent for the Longines Weems Second-Setting Watch was filed in 1935.
Before that though, in 1931, perhaps the most famous flyer of the century, Charles A. Lindbergh, drew on the brand’s expertise to produce a navigation aid of his own design, the Lindbergh Hour Angle watch, which became a popular tool for the era’s pilots.
The catalog of first which can be attributed to Longines is one that doesn’t get quite the appreciation it deserves.
Along with the sports timing strides they made in the early years of the 20th century, they also introduced the world’s first flyback chronograph when, in 1936, they unveiled the 13ZN. A beautiful dual totalizer wristwatch, it meant the timer could be stopped, reset and restarted immediately at the touch of a button.
In 1945 the brand perfected its debut automatic movement, the caliber 22A. Longines’ use of mass production methods added significant extra challenges to the caliber’s construction, but it was to become the first time a rotor winding mechanism was tailored to large-scale industrial manufacture.
With the advent of quartz technology, the company was able to use the new electronics to develop a revolutionary type of sports counter. The quartz clock they devised had a camera attached, which took an image every 1/100th second and allowed adjudicators to accurately judge race winners in a photo finish. It was also the timer which would go on to be used to document the speed of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird II, as the car set a new land speed record in 1964.
Buoyed by that success, in 1969 Longines brought out their original quartz watch movement, the Ultra Quartz, claiming it was the first of its kind ready for mass production. While that model had an analog display, in 1972 they unveiled an LCD digital watch—a step up from the other LED models produced by competitors.
Although hit relatively hard by the Quartz Crisis, as was all of Switzerland, Longines weathered it better than most by producing some groundbreaking creations which adopted the tech. Their focus on thinness led to some beautiful dress pieces, such as the Golden Leaf from 1979, an analog model less than 2mm thick.
And all the while, the brand has remained at the forefront of professional sporting events. Between 1982 and 1992, they were official timekeepers of Formula 1 and today oversee gymnastics and horse racing events, including the Triple Crown, and tennis competitions, such as the French open.
The Current Longines Collection
The Longines catalog today consists of a well-thought out mix of vintage-inspired models and thoroughly modern pieces.
Within the Heritage range you will find some beautiful dive watches, such as the Skin Diver and the Longines Legend, with its double crown and internal rotating bezel.
There are also plenty of pilot’s models, with the Avigation Type A-7 1935, complete with skewed dial, a particular standout. However, as a sucker for an honest-to-goodness field watch, the Longines Heritage Military, and its maritime equivalent, the Heritage Military Marine Nationale (based on a piece made for the French Navy in the 1940s) remain favorites.
Moving more up-to-date, the Hydroconquest series, available as both quartz and mechanical pieces, are contemporary divers with impressive qualities and even more impressive price tags. A steel 39mm, 41mm or 43mm model, in a selection of colorways, with 300m water resistance and ceramic bezel, powered by a bombproof ETA-derived movement with 72-hour reserve, can be had brand new for $1,600, or considerably less on the preowned market.
For a touch more sophistication, the Master Collection or 1832 series offers some wonderfully elegant dress watches. The ref. L2.7188.8.131.52 from the former range is the flagship creation, with a moonphase and four retrograde functions; day, date, small seconds and second time zone, all arranged on the 44mm stainless steel model, retailing for just $3,900.
Longines was taken over in 1983 by the Swatch Group, but have retained a strong individual identity which continues to serve them well.
Although their name might not spring as readily to mind as the likes of Rolex or Omega, the brand can be justifiably proud of both their history and their continued success.
Definitely one to check out, Longines keeps going from strength to strength.
— Featured Photo: I khushi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.