Like many towns within ‘The Watch Valley of Switzerland’, the 19th century residents in the French speaking town, of Saint-Imier, gave up agriculture in favor of more lucrative jobs in the watch industry. From its creation in 1832, to this day, the history of the Longines watchmaking company, or Compagnie des Montres Longines Francillon S.A., has been marked by many important events including being listed as a ‘Swiss heritage site of national significance’. In fact, the entire village of Saint-Imier is part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites which is a law protecting it’s cultural heritage.
The Longines story began, in 1832, when a local banker and Swiss watchmaker, Auguste Agassiz, partnered with Henri Raiguel and Florian Morel, two lawyers. They named their company Raiguel Jeune & Cie and sold pocket watches with crown wheel escapements. The crowned wheel escapement was the earliest known type of mechanical escapement that controls its rate by allowing the gear train to advance at regular intervals or ‘ticks’. They were typically used until the mid 19th century in pocket watches. The three men were doing what many others in the area were already doing and followed the same formula, open a store and sell goods. However, Auguste had a vision and ambition for something more. He realized that if he oversaw the entire manufacturing process he could increase production. The idea worked and very soon his watches were being worn on both sides of the Atlantic. With his connections in the American market, including family, he was able to sell his Artisan watches to people enthralled with the old country. As things were starting to grow, his partners Henri and Florian retired from the watch industry, leaving Auguste as sole company head.
In 1852, Auguste brought in his 18 year old nephew, Ernest Francillon, to help manage the growth. The decision was a good one as Ernest was just as ambitious and is the man behind many of the brand’s innovations, going forward. By the 1860’s, Ernest became the head of the company as Auguste’s health began to fade. His first major decision came, in 1866, when he purchased a large piece of land known as ‘Les Longines’ with the purpose of building a factory. With this, the new name for the company was born.
In 1867, Ernest hired Jacques David, a talented engineer, as operations manager – a role in which he oversaw all factory equipment and mechanical systems. That same year, Ernst produced his first movement. The 20A movement had an anchor escapement as well as a pendant winding and setting mechanism, a significant upgrade over key-wound pocket watches. With their new advanced production method and upgraded technology Longines was poised to ascend.
News of the advancement of American watch production was starting to make headlines. Ernest, being proactive, sent Jacques to America’s first World’s Fair, in Philadelphia, in 1876. His mission was to gather new ideas and strategies from the Americans. The strategy worked, Jacques returned and wrote a comprehensive 108-page report on his findings. The report detailed the inner workings of American factories including the entire production process from raw materials to finished watches including internal structure and quality control measures implemented, from within. This report is considered one of the most significant documents in watchmaking history and put Longines at the forefront of the industry and a pioneer in mechanized production. The end result, he concluded the Swiss watchmaking industry needed to change to keep pace with their American competitors. His travels to the US influenced the Longines watch factory which opened in 1867 and still operates, from the original site, to this day.
The next accomplishment was the release of the 20H movement, in 1878. This mono-pusher chronograph movement featured a single pusher to start, stop, and reset the chronograph function. The brand gained exposure building its reputation in horse racing and jumping as the movement was suitable for precise timing in professional events. Even today, the brand remains synonymous with high profile events such as The French Open in tennis and The Kentucky Derby in thoroughbred racing.
As the company grew, the brand was presented with a genuine problem, counterfeiters. Cheaply-made watches looking to pass off as genuine Longines products. Again being proactive, Ernest made the decision to trademark the Longines name, in 1880, and later the distinctive winged hourglass logo, in 1889. This logo is the oldest unchanged yet still active registered trademark in the international registers kept by the World Intellectual Property Organization – Impressive, to say the least. To combat the counterfeiters, a decision was made that all the factory’s watches would bear the Longines name on the dial. A winged hour glass is also engraved on the movements. In fact, Longines meticulously records each of its watches’ serial numbers. To this day, Longines will provide a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ to their customers, upon request.
Longines released the caliber 19.73 pocket watch, in 1890, an effective mechanism for sports field timers. By 1922, Longines was producing split second chronographs which could measure time to 1/100th of a second. The 24 ligne chronograph movement was designed, in 1932, specifically for sporting events, too.
The 1900 Paris Exposition World’s Fair, held between April and November, of that year, was an important event for Longines as they won the Grand Prix with their La Renommée pocket watch 21.59 caliber chronograph movement. Another feather, in their cap, for the brand.
In 1927, Longines created a series of navigational devices with the help of Philip Van Horn Weems, a US Naval officer. This technology helped change the aviation industry by contributing, with the help of Charles A. Lindbergh, in the creation of the Lindbergh Hour Angle watch, in 1931, which helped locate a pilot’s precise geographical location.
By 1945, Longines rolled large scale production of their patented 22A automatic movements with an upgraded rotor winding mechanism. An automatic watch houses a swiveling metal, or brass plate, that swivels, on its axis, when the watch is shaken horizontally to wind the watch’s mainspring automatically.
The Chronocinégines, launched in 1954, was another important achievement for the brand. It was a 16mm camera attached to a quartz clock, perfect for providing sports officials filmed tape showing still images recording at 1/100th of a second.
In 1971, Longines was purchased by ASUAG. The Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG, the former biggest Swiss watch industry group was looking for a luxury brand to add. The ASUAG and SIHH eventually combined and, in 1985, they formed the Societe Suisse de Microelectronique et d’Horlogerie which went on to become SMH. By 1986, Nicolas G. Hayek took the reigns of the SMH and renamed it ‘Swatch’ after the popular watch brand. Everything from there, as folks say, was history. The Swatch Watch Company now brings in an annual revenue of over $7billionUSD. Longines is one of Swatch’s major luxury brands which, all total, covers over 20 brands including Blancpain (the oldest watch brand in history), Hamilton (the American brand that built the first commercial electronic movement), Tissot, Omega, Rado, and of course Swatch.
In 1992, the Longines museum opened at the companies headquarters in Saint-Imier. The museum traces the history of Longines, from 1832 to present, with exhibits of pocket watches and wrist watches from various periods, chronographs and other navigation instruments, as well as some collective advertising materials. As of present, guided tours are available and are free to the public.
The most expensive Longines watch, ever auctioned, sold in October, 2008. Albert Einstein, the famous physicist, owned two Longines watches. He had a 1943 silver pocket watch and a 1929 gold wristwatch, too. The watch which was engraved ‘Prof Albert Einstein | Los Angeles | Feb 16 1931’ and sold for a record $596,000USD.
To fill a void, Longines launched the PrimaLuna collection, in 2009. A line dedicated entirely for women to satisfy a niche they felt they were neglecting. The line is a huge success mixing classic with elegance and continues, to this day.
Today, the Longines brand remains at the cutting edge of innovation and seeks to ensure that all its watches offer a unique combination of Tradition, Elegance, and Performance. A luxury masterpiece in every timepiece.
Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it. Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.