Time Takes Its Time
The rich and someTimes whimsical hisTory of longines is well preserved in iTs fascinaTing museum. Joezer mandagi reporTs from sainT-imier, swiTzerland
This year, Swiss watch brand Longines celebrates its 185th anniversary. In other words, it has 185 years’ worth of history that has culminates in the brand’s current position as the fourth biggest watch brand in the world that is slowly but surely edging into the number three slot. And all of that history is immaculately preserved, curated and presented in the Longines Museum in Saint-Imier.
What’s in a name?
Now, Saint-Imier is a small town that almost perfectly fits the stereotypical image of a Swiss town set on the slopes of a deep valley. Animal husbandry is still a large part of the local economy, so dairy farms and cows are just about everywhere. And then, in the middle of this quaint picture, you have a modern factory complex (which traces its roots all the way back to 1867). More importantly, this place was once called “long fields,” or, in the local French, “
The Longines Museum is part of the complex and, just like in any other respectable museum, is designed to afford visitors an immersive experience with a carefully laid-out route covering the brand’s journey through the ages. I must admit, that the journey to the museum itself was quite the experience, as winding roads through the mountains suddenly gave way to the lush valley and its open (and long) fields.
An even more eye-opening experience was the first room that I was shown to, just past entrance. It was a small room lined with hundreds of leather- bound registers. These contain entries for every single watch made by the brand up to 1969, when modern bookkeeping took over. “It’s called, in French,
says Walter von Känel, CEO of Longines, in an interview several days after my visit to the museum. “There they wrote the date, the number, the calibre, the reference number, the watchmaker who signed it and the first customer.”
“I was lucky that my predecessor didn’t throw this away,” von Känel added later. “They respected the heritage, and so do we.”
adventure and elegance
All in all, the museum was divided into six different sections. The first two, named Agassiz and Francillon, tell the story of the brand’s origin and its two most influential figures: Auguste Agassiz (founder of the brand) and Ernest Francillon (Agassiz’ nephew who established the brand’s factory and therefore its stature as a manufacturing powerhouse). The other four segments are called Tradition Horlogère, Aventure, Sport, Publicité and Élégance.
A particularly intriguing display in the Tradition Horlogère section is an enormous wall-mounted display containing the various calibres produced by Longines until this day. The display features a moveable magnifier that allows visitors to observe the details and minutiae of every single movement.
Moving on, the museum showcased Longines’ role in the age of naval exploration and aviation. The extent of the brand’s expertise in navigation equipment was