A luxury watchmaking brand from Switzerland, Longines, is celebrating a very important milestone in its successful history. The luxury timepiece manufacturer from St. Imier has been in the industry for exactly 180 years, since it was founded in 1832. And proud tradition it is. In addition to numerous horological advances which are always packed in elegant and high-performing products, Longines is also the company with the oldest logo (the recognizable winged hourglass logo) in the world of watchmaking. For many people, the first association for this watchmaker is its ties with sports, and especially the Olympic Games, or with some of its successful ambassadors, like Charles Lindbergh. Nowadays the company is a part of the Swatch Group. During the 180 years of success, the famous Swiss watchmaker has launched more than 34 million timepieces globally, and has specialized shops in more than 130 countries around the world.
The fist important figure in the history of Longines is Auguste Agassiz who entered the world of timepieces in 1832 when he joined a trading office in St. Imier. At that time, watches were produced with the use of “établissage” system. All of the components were produced in home-based workshops. Watches were being made by these “comptoirs” whose purpose was to produce and distribute watches. Mr. Agassiz soon took over the company and renamed it “Agassiz & compagnie”, and developed valuable trade tights with the foreign markets, especially with the customers in North America.
The second important figure in the history of the enterprise is Ernest Francillon who was a nephew to the founder of the firm. He took over the company at the middle of the nineteenth century, and immediately started looking for more efficient ways of production that could improve the current system of “établissage”, and enable the production of larger numbers of standardized watches. The first step towards that goal was to concentrate the labor at one place. For this purpose, Francillon acquired “Les Longines” property which consisted of two long and narrow fields (or” Longines” in loval dialect) on the river Suze. This was the birth of the new watchmaking factory which had the advantage of holding all the artisans from comptoir at one place.
Simple grouping of all the labor that was involved in the production was not quite enough of an improvement, so Francillon decided to employ machine tools in the process. The mechanization of production turned out to be a right move, and overall a very important trend in the Swiss industry of watchmaking that other manufacturers also utilized during the second half of the 19th century. Such reorganized production enabled the mechanical manufacture of various parts of movements. However, the main goal of Mr. Francillon was to manufacture ébauches (the foundations for watch movements). This was very important at the time, because it meant that the company will have an ability to develop its own calibers. On the other hand, it also allowed the possibility of breaking free from the dependence to blank movement (ébauche) manufacturers which supplied all the watchmakers in the region at that time. For this purpose, the head of the watchmaking establishment from St. Imier hired his relative, an engineer called Jacques David who, with the assistance of a renowned craftsman Edouard Châtelain, dedicated himself to constructing the machines that would be able to make Francillon’s ideas come true.
These attempts brought to success and caused a number of prizes and accolades to the watchmaker from St. Imier. Furthermore, it even brought to some attempts to use the reputation of the Swiss company by counterfeiting its products. In order to make a stop to it, Francillon took protective measures and registered the name and the winged hourglass symbol that has remained the same to this day. New kinds of processes of creating timepieces transformed the production and enabled the introduction of new tasks and new professions and crafts. Soon, the brand implemented new procedures in order to check the quality and functionality of new timepieces and started publishing the livres d’établissage which contained the information about the accuracy and the measures that would be undertaken to control the product.
The beginning of the 20th century was the time when Longines turned to the American market once again, and consolidated the connections with the United States. The special place in this trend was registered for the New York branch of the enterprise. Overall, the brand continued its efforts to modernize and industrialize the production. During the transition, new technologies were utilized and the company developed new various types of movements. In accordance to the overall trend of miniaturization of calibers, Longines started presenting its first wristwatches, even though the main attention was still focused on the production of pocket timepieces.
A major influence on the direction of the company at the start of the new century was the creative energy of Alfred Pfister who brought the new approach to creating the watch’s movements that took great attention to the aesthetics of calibers which were made in sizes from 8 to 24 lines, and also in some instances constructed in slimmer versions. The period of economic growth of the company was put to the test with the start of the First World War. In this period, Longines started launching more shaped movements of round and square shape that were intended for wristwatches. Another consequence of the war was the shortage of labor, which was quite a test for the company that grew in numbers from its beginning, and at that point around 1200 workers. After the slight downfall that occurred during the war, the brand bounced back and began introducing more new movements, including the one that had a power reserve that lasted for eight days. Likewise, it was the time when it was customary to enter the competitions organized by observatories which tested the accuracy of new watches. Longines had very good results in the competitions organized by the Washington observatory, and its chronometers were often awarded with the grand prizes.
The 1920s that followed were the time of the major development of air travel, a field that requires precise instruments, which also reflected on the timepieces by Longines. Its accurate chronometers enabled the brand to become the official supplier to the International Aeronautical Federation (IAF). The equipment produced was used in many pioneering endeavors that occurred during the time. Probably the most notable of them is the Lindbergh’s first ever flight from New York to Paris. Lindbergh was also included in the design of the new pilot’s watch that included the display of Greenwich time.
The new challenges to the success of the brand came during the great depression and the Second World War. In order to survive, the company had to be reorganized to cut the cost of production and to make the process more efficient. The troubled times also caused the introduction of novelties, such as a bageuette movement or a sideograph, a very useful chronometer that was intended for pilots. Longines also entered the area of sports watches that has a special place in the brand’s collection to this day. However, the most important newcomer was the first mechanical watch with a self-winding mechanism. The first automatic caliber created in the firm’s own workshops had the designation 22A, was circular in shape and with subsidiary seconds. It was launched in 1945. Another breakthrough was Calibre 30CH which was a winding movement with a chronograph complication.
As the company oriented on the implementation of new technologies, it is not surprising that the brand was also involved in the introduction of the new types of watches that utilized quartz. The special model made by Longines that was tested at the Neuchatel Observatory and showed it was accurate within a thousand of a second after 24 hours of functioning. This chronometer was paired with a Pailard-Bolex H16 camera and a new type of a sports timing instrument was created.
The next in line of novelties is the first automatic mechanical caliber designed in-house, the movement 19A. After this, Longines made a smaller round automatic movement that was intended for women’s watches, Calibre 14.17 that was functioning on the higher frequency of 19,800 vph, which was a response to emerging technologies of more accurate quartz and electronics timepieces. The progressive increases in the frequency brought to the birth of a rectangular-shaped Calibre 360 which featured 36,000 vibrations per hour that broke records for precision when it was tested by the Neuchatel Observatory in 1956. Other important landmarks in the history of the brand in this period were Flagship model with Calibre 30L, Jamboree watch available with several variants of the new automatic caliber 290. Apart from the mechanical movements, the company also presented new modules based on different technologies, such as Calibre 800 with electromagnetic motor and a mercury battery, Calibre 6512 also known as Ultra-Quartz which was the first ever electronic movement and Longines LCD, a watch with a digital display presented in 1972.
During the 1970s, there were three prevailing trends in the development of the company, based on the banks of the River Suze. The major decision was to look for the ways to further enhance the properties of mechanical wristwatches, in spite of the overall tendency to incorporate new technologies in measurement of time. Although focusing on the classical approach to watchmaking, the lines of timepieces based on quartz and electronics were bit by bit integrated in the production. One of the new aspects that became increasingly important at the time was the design of products. In 1972 Lonines hired the designer Serge Mazon who envisioned a new collection that consisted of solid silver watches.
The company’s intention to improve the features of automatic mechanical movements in this period resulted with two new types of mechanisms: Calibre 890 and Calibre 990. The former represented an innovative solution to the problems of constancy in the energy transmission which on its own can cause irregularities of the rate and the precision of the caliber. For this purpose, the new movement was equipped with two linked coaxial barrels. The initial solution meant that it was necessary to create thicker movements. However, the designers found a way to resolve this by arranging both of the barrels on the same level, thus creating a Calibre 990 movement. At the end of the decade, Longines presented its in-house made quartz electronic movement with bipolar stepping motor that drew the power from a silver oxide battery.
During this time, Longines was involved in the creation of the automated timekeeping process, developed to be used for Formula 1. The brand has been in ties to racing and Formula 1 specifically, and was the official timer of the first ever Grand Prix in Brazil in 1933. Likewise, the watchmaker from St. Imier was timing a lot of different major racing competitions, such as World Championship rallies, as well as Le Mans 24 endurance race. Its ground-breaking automated system of timekeeping that utilized radio waves had its premier at the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix that took place at Long Beach in 1980. The new technology enabled much more detailed and accurate information about the race times that subsequently improved the coverage of the sport and its success. Another important chapter in the firm’s links with automotive sports is the partnership with Ferrari, for whom Longines made timekeeping equipment.
The beginning of the 1980 was also the time when Longines presented a new quartz caliber, fitted in a new watch from the Conquest collection. The new movement was special because it was not only thin, but also very accurate and more resistant to temperature shifts, the Achilles heel of this type of time measurement. The quartz Calibre 276 VHP movement included an oscillator which was thermo-compensated by tuning fork type quartz oscillating at the frequency of 262144 Hz. This sort of caliber utilizes a very precise thermometer to measure the temperature of the surroundings, and this information is used to make slight adjustments of the the oscillator frequency in order to nullify the harmful effects on the accuracy that are caused by temperature shifts. Such solutions enabled the impressive accuracy of within 12 seconds per year. Besides, the line also incorporated a new and improved type of batteries with lithium.
At the end of the 20th century, Longines became a part of the watchmaking giant Swatch Group. At the same time, the company gladly accepted the new trend in the world of timepieces. During this time, and this is also visible at this point, timepieces were no longer looked upon as merely functional products. The cheap quartz models passed their peak, and the market became increasingly interested in watches with mechanical movements and technical excellence, constructed in the spirit and the principles of the traditional watchmaking. This was reflected by the sales, and Longines started selling more and more mechanical timekeepers at the turn of the century.
As the new trend was becoming more and more clear, the Swiss company introduced the Master Collection which includes only mechanical timepieces (both with automatic and manual winding) whose intent was to celebrate the most important watchmaking breakthroughs that this watchmaker has achieved. In order to create an impact on the market and to present original new products, Longines launched Master Collection Retrograde watch. Since ETA is the company that is responsible for the development of the new movement types within Swatch Group, it was the firm that made two new automatic calibers with retrograde functions. These new mechanisms were made exclusively for Longines and used only in its models.
At the same time, the Swiss watchmaker began to reconnect its ties to the world of sports, which resulted not only in sponsorship of various sports events and teams with which the firm is considered to share the same basic values. Besides, Longines also started producing more sporty-styled timepieces which were included in the new Sport Collection.
More lately, the Swiss company also had some new interesting novelties. Two years ago, Eta constructed a column-wheel chronograph movement for Longines. This type of caliber was initially used in the Master Collection, as it was the case with a quadruple retrograde movement that was introduced last year, and naturally designed and constructed by ETA . Since the beginning of this year, column-wheel chronograph and quadruple retrograde movements are also responsible for the functioning of the watches from the Saint-Imier series. The latest collection, named after the town where the whole story of Longines had begun, tends to mix historical values with the contemporary innovations, as well as the traditional elegance with sportsmanship.
The watchmaker from Saint-Imier can pride itself with a lot of famous ambassadors that promote the products with the winged hourglass logo. The impressive list of Longines ambassadors includes an Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet, the most famous couple in the world of tennis, retired legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, an active tennis player and the winner of the French Open in 2010, Francesca Schiavone, Asian stars of performing arts Aaron Kwok Fu Shing, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Chi Ling Lin, the Norwegian skier Aksel Lund Svindal, the Swiss horse rider Jane Richard, one of the greatest rhythmic gymnasts of all time Evgenia Kanaevam, as well as the Chinese Men’s Gymnastics team, the winners of every single world championship in the last nine years.