The Swiss watch brand Longines was founded 180 years ago this year in the village of Saint-Imier. The current Longines president, Walter von Känel, has not been around quite that long, but his tenure is an impressively lengthy one, nevertheless: 43 years with the brand. And von Känel, who spoke with me during this year’s Basel fair, is demonstrably excited about his brand’s 180th anniversary and the new line of watches, called Saint-Imier, that commemorates it.
In explaining how Longines, which has been a pillar of its parent company, the Swatch Group, since 1984, has thrived for nearly two centuries, the outspoken von Känel credits the value of a consistent brand identity. “For a company to last 180 years, it needs a clear vision. You need to focus and not change every bloody day what you want to do. We are very lucky within the Swatch Group, because we have a clear mission, which is to become number one in our price segment. And it is very important for us to stay in this price segment and not to ‘yo-yo’ in and out of it as some other brands have.”
Von Känel points out that the most successful watch brands are those that have not radically changed the look of their most popular models but also realize when the time comes to freshen up their line with new models. “Omega has the Speedmaster, the Seamaster, and the De Ville. Rolex has had the same models for 20 years, 40 years. That’s consistency. This is what we’ve tried to achieve with our Grand Classique and Master collections. But you also have to have some imagination; you have to add some new kids to the family. So this year we have added the Saint-Imier Collection.”
The Saint-Imier case is based on that of a Longines model that dates from 1945; Von Känel hands me an example of the vintage piece and refers to it as the new collection’s “father” and “birth certificate.” As a design, it is intended to tread the line between classical and contemporary. The first three pieces in the Saint-Imier family are a three-hand with date window, a chronograph, and a “prestige” model with four retrograde functions plus day/night and moon-phase displays. All the models have mechanical movements that can be viewed through sapphire exhibition casebacks.
The three-hand models, with a date window at 3 o’clock, are available in a steel, two-tone steel and rose-gold, or rose-gold case, and in four case sizes (26 mm, 30 mm, 38.5 mm and 41 mm). Some will be set with diamonds. The choice of dials includes black, silvered, and white mother-of-pearl with diamond indices. The hands are coated with Super-LumiNova. The watches are fitted on a black or brown alligator strap, or a steel or steel-and-rose-gold bracelet, with a folding safety clasp, to match the dial. “Three-handed calendar models make up probably about 80 percent of the business in a brand like ours,” von Känel estimates. So leading off the new collection with a such a timepiece was an easy decision for Longines. (Click on watch photos for larger images.)
Saint-Imier chronograph models are fitted with an L688.2 column-wheel movement developed and produced exclusively for Longines by ETA, the movement manufacturer that is Longines’s sister company within the Swatch Group. Cases are steel, steel and rose gold or, on certain models, rose gold alone, and come in two sizes: 39-mm and 41-mm diameter. The dials are silvered or in black, and have small seconds displays at 9 o’clock and a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock. The chronograph has a central sweep-seconds hand, a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock and a 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock. These also come on black or brown alligator straps or on steel or steel-and-rose-gold bracelets with folding clasps.
The third model in the collection is the most complicated. It contains Caliber L707, another exclusive Longines movement from ETA that supports four retrograde functions (day of the week at 12 o’clock, date on the right-hand side of the dial, second time-zone with a 24-hour scale on the left-hand side of the dial and a small seconds at 6 o’clock) as well as a day/night display and moon-phase indication (directly below 12 o’clock and above 6 o’clock, respectively). The steel case is 44 mm in diameter; the dial is black or silvered. Each is mounted on a black or brown alligator strap or a steel bracelet.