Longines History: Elegance, Tradition and Performance

Based at Saint-Imier in Switzerland since 1832, Longines’s watchmaking expertise reflects a strong devotion to tradition, elegance and performance. With many years of experience as a timekeeper for world championships in sport or as a partner of international sports federations, Longines – famous for the elegance of its timepieces – is a member of the Swatch Group Ltd, the world’s leading manufacturer of horological products. The brand, known by its winged hourglass logo, now has outlets in over 140 countries.

In 1832 Auguste Agassiz entered the world of horology when he joined a trading office established in Saint-Imier. He soon rose to become the manager and the company took on the name Agassiz & Co. At the time, he was producing timepieces under the “etablissage” system, whereby watchmakers worked at home and supplied their products to the trading offices. Auguste built up a network of commercial contacts, which enabled him to sell his watches on other continents, in particular North America. During the 1850s Auguste’s nephew Ernest Francillon took over the running of the office.

When Ernest took on this responsibility, he considered ways of perfecting the manufacturing methods used in watchmaking in the area. He concluded that it would be advantageous to try to bring together the different stages that go towards making a watch under one roof. Ernest’s intention was to set up a factory where he could assemble and finish each watch, introducing a degree of mechanisation. In order to achieve this, he bought two adjoining pieces of land in 1866 on the right bank of the River Suze, which runs through the Saint-Imier valley. The site was known locally as Les Longines and he adopted this name for the factory he built there in 1867.

Ernest took on Jacques David, a young engineer who was also related to him, to help develop the machines needed for perfecting the manufacture of timepieces. During the 1870s, Ernest’s choice of industrial options proved sound and the factory continually expanded until the first third of the 20th Century. In 1911 the Longines factory employed over 1,100 workers and sold its products all over the world. The technical research carried out at Longines was rewarded by various prizes, which gradually gave the company its reputation of winning the most awards in international and world exhibitions until the 1929 exhibition in Barcelona, by which time Longines had won no fewer than 10 Grand Prix.

In 1889, Ernest patented a trademark comprising the name Longines and the now famous winged hourglass. Today, Longines is the oldest trademark or logo still in use in its original form, registered with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). As early as 1867, Longines was using the winged hourglass symbol and the tradename “Longines” as a guarantee of quality, in order to combat counterfeit products aimed at taking advantage of the reputation already established by the company.

Walter Von Känel, president of Longines. A keen fan of the Saint-Imier watchmakers.
“Watchmaking has always fascinated me,” says Walter von Känel, who spent his childhood, from 1945, at the top of the Saint-Imier Valley in the Bernois Jura, the heart of Swiss watchmaking. “When I was a boy, the great Longines Company in the foothills of Saint-Imier, where most of the people of our region worked, always impressed me and I was convinced one day I was going to work there. Already at that time, watchmaking was the thriving force of our region, and I knew that one day it would enable me to discover the world.”

Walter’s professional career started with the Swiss customs, where he worked as a technical officer. In 1963, he joined Jean Singer Ltd a watch dial manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In 1969 he joined the Longines Watch Company Francillon Ltd as a sales executive. Shortly after, he was sent to the US for a training course with Longines’ American agent, LONGINES – WITTNAUER WATCH Co. LTD in New York. His passion for watchmaking, his abilities, his talent as a negotiator and his strong personality are all qualities that enabled him to climb the ladder quickly.

In 1988, after having worked as a sales executive and then as a commercial executive (sales and marketing), he was entrusted with Longines General Management. In 1991, Nicolas G. Hayek Chairman of The Swatch Group Ltd. Requeted him to join the Group’s enlarged management. The many years that Walter von Känel served in the Swiss Army as an officer in the militia have enabled this former colonel, commanding an Infantry Regiment, to acquire ground expertise in the fields of human resources management and general organisation. Walter is also actively involved in local and regional politics, and is a member of the “Conseil du Jura Bernois.”

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