Published on July 17, 2007
In the scriptures of 175-year-old clockmaker Longines, "Elegance is an attitude." If the Omega story is the official wristwatch of the astronauts (and James Bond), Cartier's is that it produced the first practical watch, the Santos, in 1904.
However, Longines' story reaches back much further, to 1832, when it earned its fame with the Aviator watch and a parade of technical breakthroughs, like the first winding crown and the first high-precision quartz calibre.
It's said that Albert Einstein used a Longines pocket watch, and to be sure the lesser lights who've timed their celebrity by the brand include Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Amelia Earhart, Aishwarya Rai and, most recently, the brand's ambassador in Thailand, Sara Malakul Lane.
The latest move for Longines is the Sport Collection, introduced in May as the official timepieces of tennis' French Open.
Opening a new chapter in the brand's remarkable history takes courage, but president Walter Von K'nel has a winning outlook: "Why not?" he says.
"Nobody's saying we're going to stop selling our elegant watches - we're just adding one more collection. And in doing so, we only support those sports that are elegant, like gymnastics, horse jumping, tennis. These sports match our global policy."
In terms of marketing, Von K'nel notes, there is a growing appeal in sports, especially in Asia, with the Beijing Olympics approaching.
And in any event, Longines has been partnered with sport for more than 125 years and was, after all, a participant in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.
The brand has developed numerous innovations of assistance to athletes, such as the "broken wire" automatic timing system first utilised at the 1912 world gymnastics championships. Its Photogines became in 1952 the first mechanism coupling control image and measured time.
Last year Longines was the official timekeeper of the Federation Internationale de Ski Alpine World Cup, and this year it is everywhere you look in tennis and short-track speed skating.
The firm is hoping its new Hydro Conquest line becomes the preferred watch for divers and other enthusiasts of the open sea. The watches, water-resistant to 300 metres, come in a stainless-steel case with screw-down caseback and screw-in crown, as well as a unidirectional turning bezel. They are available in either eloxed aluminium, studded steel for improved grip or steel with embossed numbers.
The GrandeVitesse series stands out for its automatic-winding chronograph movements, aerodynamic design and a dial with a "big 12", evoking speed records and motor sports, especially in Formula 1, that Longines has timed.
The Sport Legends series pays homage to the legendary figures and exploits associated with Longines. It includes the Diver Legend, a re-issue of a 1960 diving watch, revisited with the pioneering spirit of depth records in mind.
It's joined by the Longines Weems Second-Setting Watch, commemorating the inventiveness of Captain Weems, and by the Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch, designed by the famous aviator in the wake of transatlantic crossing in 1927.
These days Sara Malakul Lane tends to forego jewellery, confident that her wristwatch is all the glamour she needs.
"To me, the Longines watch remains the classic beauty, just like Audrey Hepburn. Her beauty is timeless."
Favoured customer Vinyu Nana has been a Longines fan for more than 20 years, and in fact is still wearing the first Longines watch she bought.
"I love that the design is simple but classic. They may be launching a new sporty collection, but I still see Longines as the home of elegance."
Bhakdi Jirasatirakul admires Longines for its ageless value and says it matches his style. Its models never go out of fashion, he points out.