Named after the long meadows (les longines) of the area in St. Imier, Switzerland, Longines might not be the most familiar watch name but it’s certainly a prestigious one. In possession of the oldest, unchanged yet still active, registered trademark and in existence in one guise or another since 1832, its origins lie in a company called Raiguel Jeune et Cie, a co-founder of which, Auguste Agassiz, took sole ownership in 1847.
But it was Agassiz’s nephew, Ernest Francillon – who took over the business in 1867 – who really began to pull the burgeoning brand into shape, buying the land in St. Imier and building a factory with machinery and equipment designed and built by his own mechanics that gave him control of the entire operation. The resultant success led to a rise in fake Longines that, in 1800, saw Francillon trademark the brand name and, later, the winged hourglass symbol stamped on the movement of every watch as a sign of authenticity.
In the late 1870s, Longines developed a super-accurate pocket chronograph, which made it invaluable for sports timing and established a reputation for the brand in equestrian circles that it still enjoys today. In the 1920s, Longines diversified to become the official supplier to the International Aviation Federation, flying all over the globe in the likes of Graf Zepplin dirigible instrument panels and establishing illustrious connections with some of the greatest names in aviation history, including Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart (who famously sported the brand on her solo flight across the Atlantic).
In 1954, Longines produced the first home-built quartz clock – the size of a suitcase – for use at that year’s Oslo Olympic Games, going on to launch its first-ever quartz wristwatch in 1969, a full 10 years before Seiko appeared on the scene. But it was the merger of Longines’ owner ASUAG with SSIH into the behemoth that would later become the Swatch Group, took the brand from globetrotting to truly global.
That move saw a notable shift in focus from sporty numbers, such as its Conquest wristwatch, to the brand’s establishment as Swatch Group’s bastion of elegance. Earhart was out and Hepburn (Audrey, of course) was in, with Formula One sponsorship dropped to (re)focus on the arguably more refined equestrian sports, alongside gymnastics and alpine skiing. Longines now leverages its position within the Swatch Group by using base ETA quartz movements but also getting its stablemate to make exclusives, which it can call its own.
The brand’s emphasis on elegance, with all its gendered accoutrements, may seem conservative within the changing luxury landscape, but that sense of grace and style is writ through every design; even the trusty Conquest – your standard steel-bracelet sports number – seems somehow more refined that its counterparts. If you’re looking for ground breaking or disruptive, this isn’t a brand that will hold your attention. However, if you want that classic everyday wearer you’ll know you can always rely on, there’s plenty to get excited about.
There is a dearth of decent diving watches for women, which is why this 36mm version of its vintage Legend Diver is such a splash of cool water. Everything about it from the retro numerals to the internal rotating bezel (just in case you thought it wasn’t a proper diver) is perfection.