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Reflections on time

Zhuan Lee
Zhuan Lee • 9 min read
Reflections on time
Longines CEO Matthias Breschan discusses the brand's evolution and prospects as a historic Swiss watchmaker at their recent 2024 novelties presentation in Bangkok
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Few watch brands boast as authentic and storied a legacy as the Swiss watchmaker Longines. Established in 1832 by Auguste Agassiz in the village of Saint-Imier, Switzerland, and later led by his nephew, Ernest Francillon, the brand’s winged hourglass logo, registered in 1889, remains the world’s oldest trademark. 

Longines swiftly gained acclaim for its timekeeping accuracy, earning numerous awards at prestigious events such as the Universal Exhibition in Paris as early as 1867.

Alongside its achievements in timekeeping, Longines has been pivotal in shaping the evolution of watchmaking technology. It led the way with groundbreaking innovations like the first high-frequency pocket chronograph in 1929, the inaugural wristwatch with a rotating bezel in 1931, and the pioneering flyback chronograph in 1936. Additionally, Longines was among the first Swiss watchmakers to introduce quartz wristwatches in 1969.

The watchmaker has served as the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games and prestigious equestrian events. Additionally, Longines is closely tied to military and aviation history, having supplied watches to the Czech Air Force in the 1930s and the British Army in the 1940s.

The brand has also collaborated with American aviator Charles Lindbergh and US Naval officer Philip Van Horn Weems, who jointly created the Hour Angle watch in 1931, marking a significant milestone in aviation history. While rare, an original piece from the 1930s has secured its place in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. 

Watch enthusiasts and history fans will delight knowing that much of this rich history has been meticulously documented and preserved in the Longines Museum, situated within the brand’s headquarters at Saint-Imier. The museum showcases a wealth of historical watches, navigation and timekeeping instruments, photographs, awards, films, and archival records significant to the brand and watchmaking history. Open to the public, visitors can register their visit through the Longines website.

See also: Watches and Wonders 2024: A fair for all

Options recently attended Longines’ 2024 novelties presentation in Bangkok and had the opportunity to sit down with CEO Matthias Breschan to discuss the brand’s recent developments and his vision for Longines.

“My ultimate dream,” he says, “is for the brand to maintain the same strength over the next 20 years as it has for the past 20 years. More new and exciting models will be unveiled throughout the rest of this year, so I look forward to them in future editions of Options.” 

See also: Balancing tradition and innovation

From left, Yannick Jenni, Longines vice president of sales, Thai celebrities and Friends of Brand, Mario Maurer and Supassra “Kao” Thanachat, Longines CEO Matthias Breschan and Giuseppe Miccio, Longines head of product, graced the brand’s 2024 Novelties Presentation in Bangkok on March 6

As you reach your fourth year as CEO of Longines, how do you view the brand’s journey since your first day? Have you met the goals you set before taking on this role?

The most important aspect when a new CEO joins a brand, especially a formidable one like Longines, is for the CEO to adapt to the brand, not the other way around. My challenge was to uncover Longines’ strengths over the past 20 years and bolster them to ensure enduring success for the next two decades.

For me, Longines’ primary strengths that set us apart lie in three areas. Firstly, we excel in both men’s and women’s watches. Secondly, we strike a fine balance between classic and sports timepieces. Thirdly, our extensive history and heritage significantly attract consumers, especially younger ones, amidst the rising interest in vintage watches. This ‘vintage’ trend is exploding, and it is a great thing for us because Longines’s history and heritage are authentic, yet many people still do not know about it.

Even as the brand’s CEO, I barely knew much about Longines when I first joined — I did not know that we invented the flyback mechanism and the GMT movement. Neither was I aware that we pioneered the turning bezel nor that Longines had a headstart in high-frequency technology, as we were the first brand to be able to measure sports events accurately to 1/10th of a second in 1914 and later 100th of a second in the 1960s. If I, as CEO, had been unaware of these four years ago, many consumers would likely have been as well. 

We are currently in the process of developing a series of new and exclusive in-house movements, leveraging state-of-the-art technology such as silicon balance springs and components produced using LIGA (the German acronym for Lithographie, Galvanoformung, Abformung — an extremely precise fabrication technique that enables the creation of high aspect-ratio microstructures). These advancements ensure that our watches are entirely antimagnetic, and I believe this aligns perfectly with our goal of bringing our products closer to the consumer. As for my goal, I aim to surpass a turnover of CHF2 billion ($2.9 billion) by 2025.


"My ultimate dream, is for the brand to maintain the same strength over the next 20 years as it has for the past 20 years."  -Matthias Breschan, Longines CEO

For more lifestyle, arts and fashion trends, click here for Options Section

From a personal and professional perspective, what are some of your biggest takeaways since you assumed the CEO role?

When I began in July 2020 amid the pandemic, most of our global sales points were closed, posing a significant challenge. However, by August, as some countries emerged from the crisis earlier, we surpassed 2019 turnover. Despite a challenging first half, Longines performed well in 2020, showcasing resilience. Similarly, in 2023, despite industry-wide difficulties, Longines demonstrated exceptional growth in Swiss francs, overcoming currency exchange rate challenges.

Some others in the watch industry were also surprised by the growth of their businesses during the pandemic.

Yes. However, I also think a lot of that ‘growth’ had something to do with speculations, and I would say that things are gradually returning to normal. Longines, though, I believe, is not likely to be involved in such ‘speculation hypes’ because our watches are positioned at between 1,000 to 5,000 Swiss Francs. Therefore, our growth was authentic, and despite making a loss of about CHF130 million Swiss Francs in exchange rate differences in 2023 (with a loss of CHF15 million in December of that year), we still managed to see a big growth in Swiss Francs, and this shows that even in a complicated environment, our brand is still able to perform very well.  

What’s your take on established brands facing contrasting outcomes lately? Some have gone quiet, possibly due to marketing strategies, while others received backlash for sudden price hikes. How do you ensure effective marketing without distancing consumers?

Repositioning a brand is always possible. However, it involves more than just adjusting prices; updating the substance and internal components of the product is essential. Failure to do so would be akin to cheating the consumer, eventually causing the brand to struggle, encounter issues, and face penalties. Within the Swatch Group, each brand follows a disciplined approach. Longines’ watches are positioned in the CHF1,000 to CHF5,000 tier without deviating because other brands already occupy the other tiers.

Our objective is to incorporate state-of-the-art watchmaking technology within our designated price range. This posed a significant challenge, considering Longines hadn’t produced a flyback movement since 1973, as the industry hadn’t been able to develop such movements within the price range of under CHF5,000. The same applied to high-frequency and high-end GMT movements. However, with technological advancements and innovations, we can now introduce these movements within the Longines price bracket. While these watches fall into a higher-priced brand segment, they remain within our price range.

This year’s HydroConquest GMT models blend performance and elegance, catering to adventurous spirits. The 43mm watch houses the Longines GMT calibre L844.5, featuring a silicon balance spring and non-magnetic components. Its resistance to magnetic fields exceeds the ISO 764 standard tenfold, ensuring extreme precision and a 72-hour power reserve. The watches are presented with stainless steel bracelets or rubber straps

How do you balance preserving the brand’s rich heritage with staying relevant today and appealing to future generations?

One major challenge for us is bridging the gap between our brand’s history and heritage and consumer awareness. Many consumers are unaware of it, highlighting the need for conferences, training, and knowledgeable staff who can effectively convey the brand’s history and explain technical aspects such as movements.

For example, distinguishing between high and low-end GMT movements requires expertise. Media plays a crucial role in educating consumers, as demonstrated by showcasing intricate details like video clips of how enamel is hand-painted on some of our gold pieces.

If we, as a brand, do not communicate what goes into our watchmaking, consumers will remain uninformed. Therefore, this collaborative effort is essential to ensure they are even more aware and engaged with our brand’s heritage and offerings.

Celebrating the Conquest collection’s 70th anniversary (1954-2024), Longines introduces the Conquest Heritage Central Power Reserve model. Featuring a distinctive power reserve indicator with rotating discs, complemented by applied yellow gold-coloured hour markers and SuperLumiNova®-coated hands, powered by the Longines L896.5 calibre. Besides the champagne dial, it is also offered with a warm grey dial or a black dial (below)

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Longines Conquest collection, which is undoubtedly one of the year’s highlights for you. What significance does the Conquest collection hold for the brand?

The Conquest has always been a very important part of our entire collection. It was the first collection to receive its name (because before this, no brand had any official names for their product families). Secondly, the Conquest Heritage pieces have been a bestseller for many years because of their unique design, including the hands, the indexes, and the 18-karat gold medallion on the back case. The circular design across the Conquest family also adds to its appeal.

Secondly, the Conquest series is a perfect product to showcase Longines’ DNA. It’s equally strong for men and women, blending classic and sporty elements. We call it ‘sport chic.’ And, of course, it’s linked to heritage — like the piece we launched at the end of January, the Conquest Heritage Central Power Reserve, which is a Longines innovation featuring a silicon balance spring in addition to other latest technologies while retaining Longines’ heritage as the inventor of the central power reserve.

Nobody else on the market currently has a timepiece like this because it comprises a complicated construction with three moving parts that make up the dial. This is the beauty of the brand, and nonetheless, we need knowledgeable people to convey these details to the consumer, who is, in turn, becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the history and heritage behind watchmaking.  

The 2024 Conquest Heritage Central Power Reserve model was inspired by the Longines Conquest Automatic Ref. 9028 from 1959 (above). It was the first watch to display its power reserve indicator at the centre of the dial on rotating discs; also seen in the brand's advertisement for the Mexican market from its archives (below)

 

 

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