Longines Watch History: Timeless Swiss Elegance From Equestrian Events to the Skies

Longines Watch History: Timeless Swiss Elegance From Equestrian Events to the Skies 2018-06-12T23:36:32+00:00
Longines Luxury Watch Brand Logo

Images courtesy of Longines

Swiss watch brand Longines is famous for timelessly elegant designs and longstanding ties to horse racing and other equestrian sports.

The firm has also made a mark in the luxury watch industry with its impressive ultra-thin movements and watch models.

Like several other leading watchmakers, Longines was first established in St. Imier, Switzerland. However, Longines is the only one that’s still headquartered in its historic birthplace.

Today, the brand continues to proudly represent its illustrious Swiss heritage as an esteemed member of the Swatch group.

Longines celebrates its enduring sporting industry relationships by sponsoring a vast number of major sporting events. Most prominently, these include horse racing, tennis, and skiing.

The company is also known for sponsoring a wide range of celebrities who embody its philosophy of effortless elegance.

Founding Of Longines

Longines Founder Auguste Agassiz

Longines Founder Auguste Agassiz

Longines was founded in 1832 in St. Imier, Switzerland, an area famed for watchmaking in the Bernese Jura mountains.

The company began as a partnership between banker and businessman Auguste Agassiz and lawyers Henri Raiguel and Florian Morel. Its original name was “Raiguel Jeune & Cie.”

Initially, Agassiz and his partners set up their operation as a “comptoir” within the historic établissage system.

How Établissage Worked

In établissage, the dominant Swiss watchmaking production method back then, watches were assembled from finished parts purchased from individual workshops/families.

The établissage system fostered the rich Swiss watchmaking traditions and innovations that are so highly-renowned worldwide, then and now. It enabled the art of fine watchmaking to flourish despite the Swiss Jura’s suffering economy and lack of natural resources.

So how did it work? Comptoirs operated as a central hub for watch production, and were responsible for acquisition of parts, trading, and marketing.

Watch artisans were highly-specialized, focusing on producing only one or a few types of watch components. They generally worked individually from home or in small workshops.

Unfortunately, due to the region’s geography and settlement patterns, these workshops were often scattered in far-flung areas throughout the mountains.

So, comptoirs were tasked with locating, carefully selecting, and negotiating purchasing for all components necessary to craft top-quality watches. For a comprehensive look at essential watch parts, you can visit our Watch Parts Guide.

After enough parts were collected, they were then sent off to assembly and finishing specialists. Finally, completed watches were marketed and distributed through comptoirs.

Surprisingly, établissage worked well, resulting in watches of exceptional quality, despite being dependent on so many complex exchanges and processes.

The Company’s Early Days

Agassiz’s young firm became quickly renowned for well-made pocket watches, aided enormously by his extensive network of overseas contacts.

Longines Company Head Ernest Francillon

Agassiz’s Nephew, Ernest Francillon

By 1846, Raigeul and Morel had retired from the watch industry, leaving Agassiz as sole company head.

Several years later, Agassiz brought in his bright, enterprising nephew, trained economist Ernest Francillon, into the business.

Francillon was the mastermind behind several impressive innovations that would distinguish the company from competitors.

One early stroke of genius from Francillon was to solely produce crown-wound pocket watches rather than the prevalent key-wound alternative.

Later, when Agassiz started suffering from ill health, he passed leadership to Francillon.

The First Longines Factory

Under Francillon, the company began segueing out of the établissage system and moved towards more modern production methods.

Francillon solidified his firm’s progression to mass production in 1867 by establishing his first factory. Its location, an area in southern St. Imier known locally as Les Longines (“long meadows”) gave rise to the Longines name.

To help further his efforts to improve production at Longines, Francillon brought on Jacques David, a talented engineer. In addition, Francillon appointed David as Technical Director and put him in charge of the new factory.

1950s Era Longines Factory

The Longines Factory During The 1950s

1867 also marked the year the Longines factory produced its first in-house watch movement, the 20A.

The 20A, built with an anchor escapement (usually employed in pendulum clocks), was wound and set via a pendent crown. The innovative movement won an award at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Taking Cues From American Factories

Several years later, the U.S. watchmaking industry was earning fame worldwide for making great strides in industrialized watch manufacturing. Francillon sent Jacques David to the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia to garner new ideas and strategies from the Americans.

Upon returning, David wrote a comprehensive 108-page report on what he’d learned about American watch production. Essentially, this report is considered one of the most significant documents in watchmaking history.

It detailed the inner workings of American watch factories, including the entire production process from raw materials to finished watches. Additionally, David also shared the highly-effective internal structure and quality control measures implemented in these factories. In his analysis, David concluded the Swiss watchmaking industry needed to change significantly to keep pace with American competitors.

Early Longines Watch Factory

Inside an early Longines watch factory

David’s observations and insights not only gave Longines an early edge, but also powerfully influenced the entire Swiss watch industry. Though initially met with resistance from established comptoirs, David’s report eventually convinced most to make the jump to industrialization.

Breaking Into Precision Timing For Sports

In 1878, Longines developed its first chronograph movement, the 20H. It was a “mono-pusher” chronograph, in which all 3 chronograph functions- start, stop, and reset – were controlled via the crown.

With the 20H, Longines could produce stopwatches suitable for precise timing in professional events. This was when Longines began building its legendary reputation in equestrian sports such as horse racing and jumping.

Longines Horse Racing TV Commercial

A Longines-sponsored horse race

In fact, the earliest Longines advertisements (from the 1880’s) feature watches specifically designed for timing horse races. By 1886, Longines had already established itself as a primary supplier of timing equipment for most New York sporting officials.

Longines Logo Trademarked

By 1880, Longines was known far and wide for the superior quality and precision of its timepieces. To Francillon’s dismay, the brand became a target for counterfeiters looking to pass off cheaply-made watches as genuine Longines products.

“Knock-offs” of Longines were not only directly stealing business and revenue from Francillon, but also potentially damaging his company’s reputation. So Francillon made the wise decision to trademark the Longines name (1880) and distinctive winged hourglass logo (1889).

Ernest Francillon Registers Longines Logo

Francillon trademarks the Longines logo

In 1893, Francillon managed to obtain global protection of his brand name and logo. He registered them with the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI). BIRPI later became the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency.

Just by exercising his keen business sense, Francillon lent his company yet another notable distinction. Longines is the oldest unchanged brand name registered with the WIPO.

Longines Earns Acclaim Worldwide

At the turn of the century, the Longines name was only growing more and more famous around the world.

Many high-profile figures and organizations in sporting, aviation, and exploration trusted Longines to fulfill their precision timing needs.

One especially noteworthy Longines fan was Italian explorer Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi. Amedeo, who hailed from the royal House of Savoy, was famed for his mountaineering prowess and daring Arctic expeditions. On Amadeo’s harrowing 1899 expedition to the North Pole, he proudly equipped himself with a Longines timepiece.

Achieving high timing precision would also enable Longines to break into burgeoning field of aviation in the early 1900s. Thanks to John P. V. Heinmuller, Longines’s U.S. director, the company was the timekeeper for several historic flights. In 1919, Longines was designated official supplier of navigation instruments for the International Aeronautical Federation.

Longines La Renommée Chronometer Pocket Watch

Top: Vintage La Renommée Pocket Watch; Bottom: Details of the face and gold relief cover

Longines was also garnering fame by racking up prestigious awards. At the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Longines won the Grand Prix for its “La Renommée,” a chronometer pocket watch. Soon, Longines distinguished itself by winning more Grands Prix than any other watchmakers at these international exhibitions.

Breakout Historic Longines Wristwatches

By the early 1900s, Longines began heavily focusing on development and production of wristwatches and specialized movements for wristwatches. Let’s take a look at some of the brand’s most famous historic wristwatch models and collections:

Weems Second-Setting Watch (1927)

American Navy officer Phillip Van Horn Weems is widely known as a pioneering expert in naval, air and space navigation. Integrating new, avant-garde navigation methods under his unique “Weems System,” Weems helped many early aviators hone their navigational skills.

He personally tutored many aviators who would later utilize his teachings to accomplish groundbreaking feats. Weems also established navigation schools and programs that would influence standard U.S. military and airline industry navigation procedures for decades.

Weems collaborated with Longines to develop specialized instruments for the Weems System. Accurate timing was key, as seemingly small variations in timing can significantly affect navigation. Errors of just a few seconds could alter a flight course by several miles!

Longines Weems Second Setting Watch

To combat this, Weems and Longines created the Weems Second-Setting Watch, a wristwatch with a central rotating seconds dial. This dial could be adjusted according to a GMT radio signal to ensure utmost navigation accuracy.

Though originally intended as a nautical watch, its large size and bold dial also made it hugely popular among pilots. The innovative design was released in 1927 and patented by Longines in 1935.

Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch (1931)

Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh used a Longines timepiece on his landmark nonstop trans-Atlantic solo flight in 1927.

Longines Vintage Lindbergh Hour Angle WatchUpon returning, he came to Longines with ideas for a new pilot’s wristwatch.

Using the Weems watch as a starting point, Lindbergh and Longines designed the Lindbergh Hour Angle watch.

With the help of a sextant and nautical almanac, wearers could use this watch to calculate their precise geographical location.

This was accomplished by calculating longitude using the helpful dial and bezel markers.

The Lindbergh watch was popular among professional and amateur pilots, but it also became a hit with the general public.

Conquest Watch Collection (1954)

The release of Conquest marked Longines’s first foray into developing distinctive watch families.

Longines Conquest Vintage Ad

1950s Vintage Ad for the Longines Conquest Line

Featuring waterproof cases housing automatic movements, Conquest models were designed as dressy explorer / sports watches.

Furthermore, with its sleek hour markers, lavish champagne dial, and luxurious straps, Conquest was an early indicator of Longines’s current-day elegant style.

Flagship Watch Collection (1957)

Longines Flagship Vintage WatchFollowing the success of the Conquest, Longines introduced the Flagship, its second major watch family.

Initially, all Flagship models were equipped with manually-wound, high-precision chronograph movements – the same ones used in professional sports timing equipment.

Like the Conquest line, Flagship watches tended toward elegant minimalism in terms of style.

Offered in only solid steel or gold at first, they featured uncluttered dials with delicate dauphine hands and a subtle shimmer.

Longines LCD Watch

The 1969 advent of quartz movements, which enable incredible accuracy at low cost, devastated the Swiss watch industry. Suddenly, Swiss-made mechanical movements, developed from centuries of tradition and the finest craftsmanship, were rivaled in accuracy by even the cheapest quartz movements.

Sadly, many established Swiss watchmakers, reluctant to abandon production of mechanical movements, were therefore driven out of business by quartz.

Longines LCD Vintage Digital WatchLongines, however, managed to weather the “quartz crisis” by readily embracing quartz while still offering cutting-edge mechanical movements as well.

In fact, the company had already developed quartz technology for aircraft chronometers back in 1965! It was among the first Swiss watchmakers to develop its own quartz wristwatch movement, the “Ultra-Quartz” (1969).

So, it’s not surprising that Longines was also keen to delve into digital watches as they came into vogue.

The first Longines digital watch, the “Longines LCD,” was released in 1972. Its successful production was a collaboration between Longines, movement specialist Ébauches SA, and electronic tech giant Texas Instruments Inc.

The technology behind this sleek stunner of a watch was so advanced, it earned a prestigious IR 100 award.

Feuille d’Or Watch

Longines Feuille dOr Ultra Thin WatchIn the 1970s, in addition to its intensive work on quartz technology, Longines also focused on developing ultra-thin calibres.

Finally, the company’s crowning achievement in this field was released in 1979 – the Feuille d’Or (‘Gold Leaf’).

At only 1.98 mm thick, Feuille d’Or was the first watch ever produced that was thinner than 2 mm. When viewed from the side, the watch virtually disappears due to its incredibly flat quartz movement.

Longines’s signature elegance is likewise present. The high-tech marvels features a gold, minimalist square analog dial and chic leather straps.

Consequently, Longines would use its advanced ultra-thin technology for award-winning collections of thin-calibre watches, such as the elegant Agassiz line.

The Legacy Of Longines

As we’ve seen since its early days, Longines has always managed to solidly distinguish itself among other top watch brands. Let’s look at some of the brand’s current-day claims to fame:

Sporting Event Sponsorships

From the time Longines developed its first chronograph movement in 1878, the brand steadily built strong relationships with various sporting industries. First came horse racing, then additional equestrian sports – show jumping, endurance riding, and eventing (a “triathlon” of dressage, cross-country, jumping).

Longines Sporting Event Roster

Longines later extended its influence to other sports befitting its philosophy of elegance. Most notably, these include tennis, artistic gymnastics, archery, and alpine skiing.

Today, Longines is designated Official Timekeeper, Partner, and Watch for over 40 prestigious competitions worldwide, such as:

  • Archery World Cup
  • Commonwealth Games
  • The French Open at Roland Garros
  • Artistic Gymnastic World Championships
  • FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) World Cup
  • FIS (International Ski Federation) World Cup (both Men’s & Women’s)

Swatch Group Pride

The Swatch Group is a holding company originally established to help save the Swiss watch industry. In short, several struggling brands came together and found ways to improve production and marketing by pooling resources, expertise, and facilities.

Longines President And Swatch Group Founder

Longines President Walter von Känel with Swatch Group founder Nicolas G. Hayek

Hence, the group might be thought of a large-scale, modern-day comptoir, marketing finished watches crafted by its members and partners.

Coordinating effective cost-saving initiatives among constituent companies and building up prestige of the “Swiss-made” label, Swatch miraculously revived Swiss watchmaking.

Today, Swatch is the world’s largest watchmaking group, and virtually every Swiss brand has some connection to it.

Longines joined the Swatch Group from its very beginnings in 1983. Though the group is famous for its self-named value brand, Swatch (“second watch”), Longines is among its high-end brands.

Ambassadors Of Elegance

Longines selects brand ambassadors who exude timeless elegance, whether they hail from sports, music, or film:

Andre Agassi

Longines Brand Ambassador Andre AgassiAgassi is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis player of all time, winning over 50 singles titles in his career.

He’s won 4 Grand Slams singles titles, many Davis Cup and Masters Series victories, and even an Olympic gold medal.

On the court, Agassi was particularly admired for his exquisite precision and timing – making him a perfect representative for Longines!

Furthermore, his kind demeanor and graciousness also made him a much-loved favorite among tennis fans.

Now retired, Agassi focuses his considerable talents on charity work, through his Andre Agassi Foundation. With his wife, German tennis champ Stefanie Graf, who also represents Longines, he creates educational programs for Las Vegas youth.

Aaron Kwok Fu Shing

Aaron Kwok Fu Shing is a hugely popular singer, dancer, and actor from Hong Kong.

Longines Brand Ambassador Aaron Kwok Fu ShingKnown for his spectacular talent and stage presence, he’s nicknamed the “Michael Jackson of Hong Kong.” Kwok has already won over a hundred awards for his music and stage performances.

After being approached by the film industry, he tried his hand at acting and quickly excelled there as well. In 2005, he also won the Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actor – in his very first film!

Like many of Longines’s amabassadors, Kwok is also extensively involved in charity work.

Through his Aaron Kwok Charity Foundation Ltd as well as other organizations, he works to assist child abuse victims.

Kohei Uchimura

Longines New Brand Ambassador Kohei UchimuraJapanese artistic gymnast Uchimura ranks among the greatest in all of gymnastics history.

After winning the individual all-around silver medal in the 2008 Olympics, he’s been on a record-breaking championship winning streak.

Specifically, he won every major all-around title up to now in 2017. He was the first gymnast ever to do so within a single Olympic cycle. He’s even accomplished this twice in a row, winning gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics!

According to International Gymnast Magazine, Uchimura’s genius lies in a “combination of tremendous difficulty, supreme consistency and extraordinary elegance of performance.”

Although Uchimura is the newest Longines ambassador, announced in 2017, the brand has long been a favorite of his. He states: “I believe that the values close to my heart perfectly match with the ones dear to the brand.”

Mind-Boggling Museum

In 1992, current-day Longines president Walter von Känel and Swatch founder Nicolas G. Hayek opened the Longines Museum. Located in Longines’s St. Imier headquarters, the museum contains a whopping 10,000 historic Longines timepieces!

Longines Display Heritage Collection

Longines meticulously catalogs all watches produced and safeguards historic models [WatchTime New York 2017]

More impressive yet, it’s home to a staggering digital database with info on every single watch Longines ever manufactured. Currently, this electronic archive contains about 45 million entries.

This comprehensive database project was originally initiated by van Känel in an attempt to trace vintage Longines models from auctions. But today, it’s an unprecedented technological marvel and a true haven for the exalted Longines legacy.

Hottest Longines Collections For Men

Longines started out marketing its watches mostly to men. However, after the late 90s, it introduced several lines exclusively for women, such as the delicate DolceVita and Equestrian collections.

Let’s take a look at some of the brand’s popular men’s collections:

Conquest Line

In addition to the “Classic Conquest” collection, which heavily references the original Longines sporting watch, the brand also offers a Conquest line chock-full of the latest innovations.

Longines even developed unique Conquest models to be used specifically for certain sports, such as the Conquest Jumping, the highly-specialized “equestrian chronograph.”

Longines Conquest Collection Sports Watch

Style-wise, Conquest models are mostly strikingly masculine, with powerful, durable steel cases and impact-heavy faces.

La Grand Classique de Longines

This collection, along with the Agassiz line, features Longines’s famous ultra-thin watches.

La Grand Classique de Longines Profile

With long, slim Roman numerals and the Longines logo on clean white matte dials, this watch exemplifies classic elegance. In addition, its case is stainless steel and PVD coatings are also available for a stylish yellow gold or rose-gold look.

Master Collection

The Longines Master was launched to showcase the company’s longstanding expertise in automatic mechanical movements. All Master models are equipped with self-winding movements powering sophisticated complications, like moonphase dials, column wheel chronographs and date windows.

Longines Master Collection Luxury WatchFeaturing beautiful silver “barleycorn” dials and tastefully-arranged faces, Master Collection watches are artfully styled as well as highly functional.

Heritage Collection

This line contains lovingly updated models of historic landmark Longines watches. Because of this, it’s a very diverse collection, featuring aviation, diver, explorer, and dress watches.

Longines Heritage Collection Watches

Shown above at left is the Longines Legend Diver, a reissued version of one of the brand’s first diving watch. In the center is one of the Heritage Line’s most popular offering, the Heritage Avigation Type A-7 1935. Finally, at right, we see the slimline classic 1918 Heritage with its bold, cheery orange straps.

St. Imier Collection

Longines celebrates its historic roots with the St. Imier Collection, which honors its famed village birthplace. St. Imier collection models all house time-tested mechanical movements and come in a stunning array of style choices. The line also offers a wide section of useful complications.

Longines Saint Imier Collection Watch

Shown above is a gorgeous, in-demand multi-function stainless steel model with luminescent hands, bold Arabic numbering and contrast-stitched straps.

For More Longines

We hope this Longines company timeline, discussion of industry distinctions, and list of historic/current models was helpful to you.

If you’d like to learn more about Longines brand history, current watch collections, and roster of current sporting events, visit the official website.

Longines Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"An emblematic heritage in watch making. From ultra-thin designs to precision timekeeping, Longines is one of the world leaders in luxury horology."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★

2 Comments

  1. Ed February 3, 2018 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Sorry but back in the day Longines was a very respected brand on par with Omega and Rolex, after the Swatch Group they just destroyed the legacy and heritage of Longines, releasing an Explorer 1 homage and a worthless divers range.

    • Paul Anthony February 15, 2018 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Each to their own opinion.

      We believe that Longines has carved out it’s own niche to not compete with Omega and Rolex (being much cheaper) but offering outstandiung value….

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