A luxury Swiss watch manufacturer with its headquarters in Saint-Imier, Switzerland, is recognized as Longines. Since the 80s, the company has been a subsidiary of the Swiss Swatch Group and its predecessors, founded by Auguste Agassiz in the 1880s. Its winged hourglass emblem, registered in 1889, is the oldest registered trademark that has remained intact and is still in use. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) produced an official study three years ago that rated the environmental performance of 15 prominent Swiss watchmakers and jewelers. Longines received the lowest environmental grade of “Latecomers/Non-transparent,” along with seven other companies, including Omega, Rolex, and Tissot. This indicates that the corporation has taken only rudimentary steps to mitigate its manufacturing activities’ environmental and climate change impacts.
The Pursuit of Excellence and the World’s Oldest Brand
Longines distinctive winged hourglass emblem is the world’s oldest trademark – of any kind, not just in watchmaking—still in continuous, unchanging use today, having first been globally registered. This is a fun fact about Longines and evidence of their lengthy watchmaking tradition.
Longines began winning awards at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Longines’ print advertising and watch boxes bore the legend “The World’s Most Honored Watch” for much of the twentieth century, owing to their accomplishment as winners of ten “Grand Prix” at world expositions and many astronomical accuracy competitions.
Auguste Agassiz founded the company as ‘Raiguel Jeune & Cie’ in Saint-Imier, Switzerland. It was renamed Longines, after the local area (‘Les Longines,’ or ‘long meadows,’) where Agassiz’s nephew, Ernest Francillon, centralized all watchmaking enterprises under one roof.
Longines were important influencers in modernizing the Swiss watch industry, encouraging the move away from the ‘Etablissage‘ home-based cottage industry to machine-assisted, mass parts production while still maintaining their renowned Swiss quality.
The Space Race and Chronographs
Anyone with even a passing interest in timepieces is familiar with Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatch, which has a long history with NASA and was used during the Moon landings. Omega beat out Rolex and Longines in NASA testing, which is perhaps less well known. During the extreme temperature and decompression testing, the Longines crystal stretched and detached, while the Omega’s time-shifted remained intact. Longines, a brand with a long and storied history in Chronograph development, has unveiled their first ’20H’ pocket watch Chronograph in 1868, missed out in the lucrative competition for the Space Chronograph.
Longines introduced the ‘13.33Z’, their most important Chronograph. It was the first Chronograph movement created for a wristwatch. It was a ‘mono-pusher,’ meaning that it just had one button to activate the timer, unlike most current Chronographs today, which have two independent start/stop/reset buttons. Later, the stunning ’13ZN’ presented yet another world first: a ‘flyback’ Chronograph, which let the timer be reset and immediately restarted without stopping first.
It’s difficult to emphasize how inventive those were — monopusher and flyback chronographs are still technical achievements beyond most companies’ capabilities today. The advancement from preceding pocket watch timers was groundbreaking when timepieces were still necessary working equipment and not jewelry, permitting a much easier ‘hands-free’ operation, which became vital in early aviation and military endeavors.
Longines was the first to invent the “broken wire” finish-line timing method in 1912. These new technologies (the “Photogines” and “Contifort”) produced photographic records of participants that could be used to determine the winner of the race immediately.
In the 1920s, Charles Lindbergh made history by completing the first solo, the non-stop transatlantic trip between New York and Paris. Longines timed the perilous 33.5-hour accomplishment, which had already claimed the lives of three others. In the 1930s, Lindbergh and Longines partnered to produce the ‘Lindbergh Hour-Angle,’ a tool watch that allowed aviators to determine their position using celestial navigation.
Humphrey Bogart wore his own Longines in the 1940s film ‘Casablanca,’ and he later appeared in a Longines advertisement campaign with Audrey Hepburn, with the motto ‘Elegance is an Attitude.’ Longines has also maintained time for Formula One racing in the 1980s, the Commonwealth Games, the French Open, and horse racing events like Royal Ascot and the Melbourne Cup, all while partnering with models of performance and elegance.
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Because the Swiss were afraid of being left behind by the Japanese when the Quartz’ Crisis’, even mighty Rolex built their Quartz watch, Longines seized the lead once more, unveiling their ‘Ultra-Quartz’ as the world’s first serial manufacture, Quartz. Their ‘Feuille d’Or’ (Gold Leaf) was the world’s thinnest ever watch, at only 1.98mm thick, and their VHP (‘Very High Precision’) Thermo-Compensated Quartz, accurate to an incredible 10 seconds per year, was introduced. In the 20th century, a gold Longines watch originally held by Albert Einstein, the physicist, was auctioned for $596,000.
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