The Longines brand has a mixed history that tends to polarise its fans into two categories. The first of which, for its modern persona, as an exceptionally successful, manufacturer of wristwatches at a multitude of price points. The second being the appreciator of their iconic chronograph, aviator and military watches, that the firm, arguably, defined its legacy upon.
Being die-hard fans of the brand, we decided to get on a plane to St Imier, home of Longines, to raid their drawers and ask the heritage department as many questions as they would answer. Longines have one of the most extraordinarily complete archive departments of any major watch brand - all impressively digitised. We brought Matt Hanson with us (also known as @vintagelongines on instagram) which should be self-explanatory. We asked Mr. Hanson to select a handful of rare and unusual pieces from their public museum to give an insight into the brand’s history.
The first piece is a prototype mono-pusher chronograph in stainless steel with a 24-hour dial, produced for the Swiss airplane company, Swissair. The Swissair company was founded in 1931 by Balz Zimmerman and Walter Mittelholzer, which would go on to become the national airline of Switzerland in 1947. The details surrounding how the relationship between Longines and Swissair came to be, are somewhat hazy, however, we do know that a number of aviators watches were produced in 1954 as possible equipment for their pilots. One such piece found its way onto the wrist of Harry Hoffman, a pilot for Swissair during the 1950s until the late 70s. His watch was fitted with a 37.9S calibre movement, differing from the 18.72 calibre prototype pictured which featured a chronograph complication. The 24hr dial was used in these watches to simplify certain calculations an aviator would regularly have to perform in order to determine the position of the aircraft. Obviously, with modern technology, these techniques have become redundant. There is a very limited amount of information around this prototype piece as it doesn’t have a serial number.
The second piece may be recognisable in that it was produced as a very practical pocket-watch, however, the wrist-worn version was produced as a test, in March of 1939 and would never leave the vicinity of the Longines firm. While we don’t know the specifics on why it didn’t find its way into production, the piece has been preserved in the museum at Longines, bearing the original serial number 5’810’014. The manually wound mechanical movement, calibre 37.9, features a central seconds hand and a chronograph, with a turnable bezel which made calculating geographical positions more straight-froward. The name Sideograph derives from ‘sidereal’ or star time, and was developed for astro-navigation.
This piece, bearing the serial number 5,305,018, identifies as a wristwatch in stainless steel, containing a manually wound mechanical movement, calibre 12.68z, which was presented to Mr. Pfister, a past technical director of Longines in the mid 1930s. Mr. Alfred Pfister, was appointed technical director of Longines in 1906, overseeing the modernisation of the firm’s manufacturing process. According to records, Pfister was obsessed with scientifically organised work processes, which were intended to push calibre production to new heights of efficiency. This piece was produced in 1935 and thanks to the second crown at the top of the case, allowed for the adjustment of the outer dial to enable tracking of a second time-zone. As a pre-jet age watch, this was certainly a complication ahead of its time.
The last of our prototype and impossibly rare Longines watches happens to remain a mystery. This watch, bearing the serial number 7’867’358 is recorded in the logbooks as a wristwatch in stainless steel, containing a manually wound movement, calibre 12.68n. This piece was produced in 1949 and was also presented to the technical director, Mr. Pfister, to remain with the firm until this day. The piece features a 12-hour rotating bezel, and a rather curious ‘double minute’ hand. At first glance, it would appear that the piece has a GMT function, however, as the ‘second’ minute hand is attached, it’s not quite as simple. After a discussion with the historic team at Longines and the Heritage watch-makers, the current theory is that the piece, which was designed for aviators, relates to airplane fuel reserves. According to what we’ve heard, pilots are to note the remaining fuel in minutes, should the fuel get to that critical stage, and this function would allow for the pilot to note the time, and use the ‘second’ hand as a countdown of 30-minutes, until the fuel reserves are empty. This should certainly not be taken as categorical truth, and we would encourage any input below as to what it could relate to, but it remains a mystery.
For more information, please visit www.longines.com