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      The History of Swiss Chronograph Watches: Longines

      Longines chronograph watch cal.30CH

      The Birth of Longines

      Longines is one of the oldest Swiss watch manufacturers, and was founded in 1832 in the small Swiss town of Saint-Imier by Auguste Agassiz, who worked in the banking industry, and his brothers-in-law Henri Raiguel and Florian Morel.

      The company initially sold watches under the name "Agassiz & Compagni" and was successful in the United States.

      The two brothers-in-law subsequently retired, and Agassiz himself was forced into early retirement in 1850 due to health reasons. In 1852, his nephew, Ernest Francillon, took over the business.

      Francillon, who was also a business scholar, embarked on a revolution in watchmaking, starting with the construction of a new watch factory in 1867 in an old mercury factory on the banks of the River Seuse.

      The land was called "La Longines" (meaning a long, narrow field), so the company name was changed to Longines.

      Watchmaking in the early 19th century was very different to what it is today.

      Each component of a watch was made in a local home around the Jura region of Switzerland, and it was usually a cottage industry with one household making just one type of component.

      The components were collected by dealers who distributed them to individual watchmakers, who again carried out final assembly in their homes, before returning them to the dealers for sale.

      This method was called the "établissage method", but because it was inefficient, Francillon decided to incorporate modern production methods, consolidating the manufacturing process in a newly built factory, gathering craftsmen and carrying out integrated production. This was the beginning of the first Swiss watch factory.

      Longines in-house movement

      Typical watch movements of the time had cylindrical escapements wound by pins, but in 1867, Francillon developed the first movement wound by the crown, the Caliber 20A, in his new factory.

      It also featured an anchor escapement and time-setting system, and won an award at the Universal Exhibition in Paris that same year.

      Longines chronograph cal.20a surface

      Longines movement cal.20a back

      That same year, he appointed Jaques David as technical director of the new factory, furthering industrialisation.

      In 1876, Francillon sent a delegation led by David to the World's Fair in Philadelphia, USA.

      There they saw how advanced the factory production in the American watch industry was and brought many new ideas back to their home country. After hearing from David, Francillon began to work on mechanizing the production process so that they could manufacture all of their movements in-house.

      Despite resistance from Swiss workers, the company gradually cut itself off from its movement suppliers and established its own mechanised production.

      In 1878, Longines' first pocket chronograph movement, the Calibre 20H, was created, with a central chronograph second hand that was started, stopped and reset by a single pusher crown.

      Longines movement cal.20H

      Development of the Longines Caliber

      In 1890, the double-sided chronograph "Caliber 19.73" was born.
      It featured a traditional two-register dial arranged vertically on the front and a double-track tachymeter on the back.

      In 1909, the thinner caliber 19.73N was introduced, which was gradually improved and transformed into a split-second chronograph in 1922.

      By the beginning of World War II, the design had been modified with a more powerful hairspring, which increased the frequency to 50 Hz and enabled it to measure time to one-hundredth of a second.

      Meanwhile, the "Caliber 13.33Z" was developed as a movement for chronograph wristwatches in 1913. This movement was 29 mm thick, had a 30-minute counter, and could measure 1/5 of a second. In 1936, the Caliber 13ZN was produced and patented.

      Longines movement cal.13ZN

      This caliber was made in several versions, including one with a 30-minute counter and a 60-minute counter with a flyback hand.

      In 1945, Longines' first automatic movement, the Caliber 22A, was released and a patent was applied for. An unprecedented large-scale production system was established, and in 1947, the Caliber 30CH, a mechanical hand-wound movement with a chronograph function, was born.

      Longines' in-house developed movement, cal.30CH

      In 1963, they developed the electromechanical movement "Caliber 400", which used a 1.35V mercury battery, and in 1990, they created the "Caliber 340", which had an eccentric rotor and was 3.45mm thin, marking the start of a series of thin movements.

      Later, with the rise of quartz technology, the electronic quartz movement "Caliber 800" was developed in 1965.

      Longines' research and development of quartz watches can be said to have culminated in 1969 with the launch of the first quartz movement with an analog display, the Calibre 6512, known as "Ultra-Quartz".

      In the 1970s, the watch industry was hit by the quartz crisis, but Longines responded with the caliber L990.

      This was the world's thinnest automatic movement, with a thickness of 2.95 mm, even though it had two barrels. In 1979, they created the "Golden Leaf" quartz wristwatch, which was only 1.98 mm thick.

      The Longines column wheel chronograph was introduced in 2009.

      Powering it is Longines' own ETA calibre A08.231, which Longines calls L688.

      Colonel Weems and Lindbergh

      In 1927, US Navy officer Captain Philip Van Horn Weems developed the "Weems Navigation System" and produced a navigation watch in collaboration with Longines.

      Its key feature was a rotating central dial operated by a second crown at the 4 o'clock position. The dial was graduated in 60 equal minutes to allow the seconds hand to be synchronized with the radio transmitted time signal.

      In the same year, Charles Lindbergh made his first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic, using a Longines chronometer as the official timepiece.

      Lindbergh then designed a navigation watch, incorporating what he learned on the transatlantic crossing, and had Longines produce it.

      Longines created the "Hour Angle Watch" based on Weems' model developed in 1927 and added new functions.

      The watch had a diameter of 47.5 mm, and both the central second dial and the bezel could be rotated to adjust the angle.

      In addition, when used in combination with a sextant, the nautical almanac made it easier for pilots to calculate longitude and latitude, enabling them to determine their geographical position accurately.

      Today, modern versions of the Weems model and the Lindbergh Hour Angle watch are still available. Both models are powered by the Longines caliber L699 and both have a historical diameter of 47.5mm.

      Longines participation in sports timing

      The aforementioned calibre 19.73, which debuted in 1890, was a major cornerstone of Longines' involvement in competitive sports. In 1922, this calibre was improved to become a split-second chronograph, able to measure time to 1/100th of a second thanks to a more powerful hairspring.

      Until 1938, Longines engineers were creating large (54.14 mm) chronograph movements for use in sporting events.

      The larger the movement, the more accurate it was, so versions of the calibre 19.73 were equally large, beating at 50Hz and measuring to 1/100th of a second, and remained in production until the 1970s, giving them a competitive edge against quartz timers.

      In 1954, Longines develops the Chronocinégines, a quartz-based photography system.

      Longines movement cal.19.73

      This was a quartz watch equipped with a 16mm camera that could track the movements of athletes as they crossed the finish line by taking negatives every 1/100th of a second.

      Unfortunately, sportspeople tended to place more faith in mechanical timers, so Longines' engineers continued to develop the split-second chronograph throughout the 1950s.

      The result was the Caliber 260. The chronograph seconds hand rotated around the dial every 30 seconds instead of 60, making it easier to measure tenths of a second.

      These days, Longines is known as the official timer of equestrian and horse racing, tennis and gymnastics events, including the US Triple Crown and tennis tournaments such as the French Open.

      Longines brand trademarks and logos

      The Longines logo

      By consolidating the production and assembly of watch parts in one factory and starting mechanized production, Longines continued to grow, and by the early 1900s the factory employed over 1,100 workers.

      The Longines name was registered with the Swiss Federal Office of Intellectual Property (now WIPO) and the winged hourglass logo was added in 1889, making Longines the oldest brand registered with WIPO and the oldest still in use with the same trademark.

      Longines' Relationship with ETA

      In its long history, Longines is most proud of its development of special movements. In 1971, Longines was acquired by a company called ASUAG, which was one of the companies that would later merge with SMH to form the Swatch Group.

      After being acquired by ASUAG and then merging with SSIH, the production of movements by the new joint venture was transferred to Ebauches SA (later merged with ETA SA), but Longines continued to consult with ETA, and as a result continued to produce its own movements for many years. Currently, four movements are produced, including the above-mentioned calibre A08.231 (L688).

      Longines Recent Releases

      Notable recent releases are the Conquest Classic collection and the Avigation Oversized Crown model, the former of which uses the L688 chronograph and is an early, classically styled watch.

      The latter has a design very similar to the pilot's watches of the 1940s. It is available in three versions: a three-hand model, a GMT model, and a monopusher chronograph with two registers. The chronograph version uses the L788 movement, which is also used in the Avigation Watch Type A-7.

      The Type A-7 has a monopusher (crown) at the 12 o'clock position, and the dial rotates 45 degrees with the lugs, allowing the watch to be viewed clearly while driving a vehicle without taking your hands off the steering wheel.

      Longines' Future Direction

      Longines will continue to go its own way, but Swatch Group is also making great strides with new models. The company is healthy, and has continued to grow despite the economic conditions of the past few years. Asia and America remain big markets for Longines, so we will continue to hear about the brand.