Longines remind us why they boast one of the watch world’s most enviable historiesLuke Benedictus
The person in charge of Longines’ heritage reissues must have one of the watch world’s cushiest jobs. I always imagine them lazing around for most of the year – playing Wordle and drinking endless cups of coffee. Then, as their annual deadline looms, I picture them hastily thumbing through a dusty catalogue and selecting a watch more or less at random, safe in the knowledge that, given the formidable strength of Longines’ archives, they’re bound to have picked another winner. It’s hard to resist this conclusion given the brand’s track record in this area. Every 12 month, the brand delivers another banging reissue. From the clean sector-dial goodness of the Longines Heritage Classic to the pitch-perfect understatement of the Heritage Military Nationale to the two-tone panache of the Heritage Classic Tuxedo… Frankly, I could go on like this all day.
The reason the brand constantly delivers in this way is that Longines simply boasts an enviably long and storied tradition of horological excellence. Yet despite this embarrassment of riches, in my book, the brand still fails to get all the credit it deserves. Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that their output has been so prodigious and straddled so many categories – pilot watches, dress watches, field watches, divers – that their offering is extremely diffuse. With many brands, it’s easy to pinpoint the watch that most defines them. Audemars Piguet? The Royal Oak. Blancpain? The Fifty Fathoms. With Longines, however, it’s a trickier challenge because the brand has simply been so prolific for so long.
I was reminded of all this last week in Sydney at the Longines Heritage Conference (pictures in this story are from the Melbourne event). Daniel Hug, the brand’s Head of Brand Heritage, took to the stage and ran through the brand’s illustrious history. Once again, I was struck by the sheer number of major innovations that Longines has delivered. Daniel reminded us that this was the brand that delivered the brand’s first pocket chronograph (1878), the first chronograph wristwatch (1911), the first wristwatch with a second time zone (1925), the first aviation instrument with rotating bezel (1923), the world’s first “flyback” Chronograph (1925), the first high-frequency wrist chronometer (1959)… The list goes on and on.
Daniel, however, focused on two main areas of Longines’ history. One was the brand’s pioneering tradition of sporting timekeeping. Having produced the first pocket chronograph – the 20CH calibre that was capable of measuring to 1/5 of a second and had a 30-minute totaliser. That was the beginning of a long relationship with sport. In 1912, Longines unveiled the first finish-line “broken wire” system that stopped the timer when the winner crossed the line. Three years later, Longines’ technical director, Alfred Pfister, wrote in his annual report: “Although this timekeeping service is not profitable, it is nevertheless of considerable importance in establishing the reputation of our brand.”
The other area where Daniel focused is perhaps better known to modern audiences and that is Longines’ long aviation history. As early as 1919, the brand was the official supplier to the International Aeronautical Federation, allowing it to develop the highly accurate and reliable navigation equipment used to set some of the earliest distance and endurance records. When Charles Lindbergh made the first solo nonstop North Atlantic crossing in 1927, he relied on Longines to time his flight for the International Aeronautical Federation, but ended up getting lost around Cuba prompting him to develop the Lindbergh Hour Angle in 1929 with the help of Weems. Furthermore, Amelia Earhart used a Longines piece when she became the first woman to repeat the fate in 1932. When Paul-Emile Victor spent seven weeks crossing the Greenland ice cap in 1936, he was equipped with three Longines stopwatches to calculate longitude and navigate his way. Two years later, Howard Hughes broke the record for the fastest around-the-world flight, once again equipped with the brand’s chronometers and chronographs.
As Daniel explained, this dual focus on precision timekeeping in sports and rugged pilot’s watches provided the brand with a formidable base on which to build. Plus, it goes some way to explain why Longines’ back catalogue is the horological gift that just keeps on giving.