Mining its long history for inspiration has proven to be a successful strategy for Longines. The brand has spent the last six to seven years producing limited-edition tribute watches which were enthusiastically received by collectors, who find the price-to-quality ratio difficult to resist. Intriguingly, the brand has a markedly different perspective on the vintage trend, acknowledging its meteoric rise and impact on the market but also maintaining that it is just a small percentage of its 1.5 million watches per year annual production. Perhaps as proof of Longines’ strength with vintage reissues, its Avigation BigEye took home the Revival Watch Prize at the 2017 Grand Prix de la Haute Horlogerie de Geneve.
CEO, Walter von Känel:
“I started looking at heritage pieces in 1987. We made the Lindbergh 1928-1988 because it was the 60th anniversary. Next we relaunched the Heritage 1954 and 1957, and step by step the Heritage collection was formed. Some of our watches we have to keep no matter what the sales are. Watches like the Weems, the Avigation… We keep them because they’re part of our history, proof that we were probably the real brand in navigation. The Heritage 1954 however has been amended with sapphire crystal and slightly bigger because we don’t have the old movements anymore. The Flagship 1957 is our biggest star, we sell about 7,000 pieces a year. Yet not all are successful.
“But I won’t make exclusive movements for these watches. We already have a fantastic movement assortment. Also exclusive movements are expensive. Remember, this company is 1.5 million pieces per year. That’s between 9,000 and 10,000 a day. I agree to do heritage but using existing calibres. The collections are doing very well. At the Grand Prix de la Haute Horlogerie de Geneve we got the vintage prize.
“I insist that we produce less than before. I keep the main core and I accept the volume for heritage pieces won’t be big. The Flagship is the only exception. Having history, having heritage, having a museum, having archives, having great document allows us to tell the truth. We’re not a brand building heritage without heritage. Every year we will have some, but that’s it. They’re below five percent of my business.
“These watches appear to be very hot but the market still wants basic models. For example, diving watches are suddenly huge in China and suddenly I have to produce 200,000 watches there. So it’s not all about heritage watches. This is a journalist thinking. The truth is 90 percent of my business are basic models, which is very profitable and we’re probably number three now in the watch industry in terms of consolidated turnover. Heritage we love of course, it’s food for the press, but it’s not a big volume and that’s the truth.
“We are the king in our pricing segment. We dominate it. That’s my territory. We can control our market share and we can exactly measure it because the statistics are based on consumer by price segment. With the big brands like Rolex, Omega, Longines, Tissot, the change is not what you think. Look at what we’ve introduced here in Basel, this Master collection is 344,000 pieces per year which is not a peanuts business. We introduced two annual calendars and retailers get crazy on it.
“There is no factory boss stupid enough to kill winners. If you have very good stuff, why should you kill them? We introduce new things here and there like the Conquest VHP, which is big volume here, very big volume. We keep the diving watch with aluminium turning bezel but we now add a ceramic insert, but it’s not what you think in my company, and we’re number three in this industry.”
“WE’RE NOT A BRAND BUILDING HERITAGE WITHOUT HERI TAGE .”