Saint-Imier is a small town, population about 4,800, in north-west Switzerland, not far from Neuchâtel. It is set on the slopes of a sunny valley, in the Chasseral Regional Park. There are probably more cows than there are people. So it comes as a surprise when you see the large factory buildings down in the valley. This is the location of watch brand Longines, founded in 1832. The factory was built from 1867 by Ernest Francillon, who had two important ideas: grouping all the artisans together under the same roof, instead of following the conventional system of entrusting production to individuals working at home; and using the river at the foot of the valley as a source of power for the machinery. The location was called “long fields,” or in the local French, Longines. And that’s how the brand got its name.
In 2017, Longines will celebrate its 185th anniversary. From the dimension of a workshop, it has reached the status of a global brand, the number 4 watch brand in the world for turnover (for the record, at the top of the list is Rolex, followed by Omega and Cartier). The festivities will no doubt include special watch editions, but also the recently-inaugurated Longines Museum, which is already open to visitors. It’s a fascinating experience, with exhibits focusing on the watches, but much more besides. For example, there is a room lined with about 800 large leather-bound registers that contain information on every watch made by the brand, up until 1969. For the brand these are a useful source of information, and likewise for owners of vintage Longines watches. The museum staff can send an extract from the archives relating to the watch in question.
In addition to many landmark watches, there is a display of some of the calibres made by the brand. These include the legendary 13ZN chronograph calibre, a favourite with collectors. There are documents illustrating the watches made in collaboration with aviators including Charles Lindbergh and Philip van Horn Weems, and pieces worn by personalities such as Roald Amundsen and Amelia Earhart.
Another section documents Longines’ long association with sports, with the equipment made to time sporting events, from the first chronograph used on American racecourses from 1881, to the earliest photo-finish systems dating to 1952.
The modern era for Longines is hallmarked by the slogan “Elegance is an attitude,” and a room celebrates the testimonials who have expressed this approach, from Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, to the current brand ambassadors, amongst whom Kate Winslet, Simon Baker, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Eddie Peng and Aaron Kwok.
Longines Watch Co. Francillon Ltd., 2610 Saint-Imier, Switzerland. Tel. +41 (0)32 942 54 25, fax +41 (0)32 942 54 29