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

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