Longines: Ernest Francillon & Co.Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2018 all rights reserved.
Longines is Swiss-French and therefore the "g" is pronounced like the "j" in jeans and the "s" is silent: "Lon-jean".
Longines is one of the most important companies in Swiss watch manufacturing. From its foundation it produced high quality watches using the latest methods of the day. From 1876 Longines watches were imported into Britain by Baume & Company, and quickly gained a reputation for high quality. In 1877 Jacques David, technical director of Longines, brought news of the threat posed by mass produced American watches, and almost single handedly persuaded the Swiss watch industry to modernise and address the threat. Longines watches scored highly in observatory tests in Switzerland, France, America, and in Britain in the watch trials run at Kew and later at Teddington.
The most important date in the origins of Longines is 1867, when a new factory was built and the name Longines adopted from its location. However, the watchmaking roots of Longines, if not the name, can be traced back much further.
In 1782 Jonas Raiguel of Saint-Imier, Switzerland, began trading in watches. In 1832 his son Henri Raiguel offered Auguste Agassiz a partnership in his "comptoir" (watch making workshop and dealership) "Raiguel Jeune & Company". Auguste was one of four children born to Pastor Louis-Rodolphe Agassiz and his wife Rose (nee Mayor): Louis, a famous naturalist, Auguste, Cecile and Olympe. The history of Longines is often traced back to the point where Agassiz joined Raiguel because Agassiz created the business that under the control of his nephew, and with his financial support, became Longines.
When he joined Raiguel's comptoir Agassiz was made an associate along with Florian Morel. In 1838 Raiguel left the company and Agassiz and Morel acquired the buildings of the old company. The firm was renamed Agassiz & Co. In January 1847 Morel left and Agassiz became the sole owner, renaming the company Auguste Agassiz. Family contacts in the United States meant that a lot of the watches were exported there.
The comptoir manufactured watches by the établissage method. Materials, blanks or rough parts were delivered to people working in their homes or small workshops, and finished parts later collected. The parts were then assembled into complete watches in the watchmaker's workshop or établissement hence the name of the process. The person controlling the whole operation was called the établisseur.
A nephew of Agassiz, the first son of his sister Olympe, Ernest Francillon joined the company in 1852. He was a qualified economist. By this time Agassiz was suffering with his health and his involvement with the factory tailed off to the point at which he seldom went to Saint-Imier. Ernest Francillon took over the helm of the comptoir on 1 July 1862, although Agassiz remained a sleeping partner and provided capital to the business.
Export of watches to America was an important part of the business. In New York Auguste Mayor, Charles Fornachon and J. A. Abry successively acted as representatives for Agassiz. During the civil war of 1861 to 1865 Swiss exports to America declined. This was in spite of a boom in sales of watches to the soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The Swiss didn't know it at the time, but the slowdown in their exports was not due to the war but to the mass production of watches by the new American watch companies that had just got into their stride, led by the American Watch Company of Waltham, Massachusetts. Aaron Dennison had designed a new cheap "soldier's watch" before he left the Waltham company in 1862. It was the development of this watch, which Royal E. Robbins who owned the company considered unnecessary, that resulted in Dennison being dismissed. Ironically the new watch was a great success as the "William Ellery" model and sold in great numbers during the civil war, accounting for 45 per cent of sales by 1865.
In December 1865 the New York agency of Longines was taken over by J. Eugene Robert, formerly an employee of Abry and originally from the Neuchâtel Jura. Robert married a Swiss woman named Wittnauer. Her brothers, Albert and Louis, followed and began work for Robert's company. Albert Wittnauer eventually took over the business of his brother-in-law and renamed it A. Wittnauer & Co.
Robert would have been aware of the dramatic increase in output of watches by American watch factories. The first American factory had only been founded in 1850, and many problems had been encountered in mass producing watch parts, but by the time of the civil war several rival factories had been established and good quality watches were being mass produced at cheap prices. Robert would have discussed this, and the impact it was having on Swiss imports, with Francillon. What was needed were high quality Swiss watches with lever escapements and at prices that were lower than American made watches.
In 1865 Ernest Francillon told his uncle Auguste Agassiz that he wanted to set up a factory to manufacture watches with extensive use of machinery like in the American factories. Agassiz approved of the idea, but pointed out that traditional watchmakers had no experience of mass producing parts by machines. An engineer was needed and Jacques David, a relative of Agassiz and Francillon was recruited to the post.
Foundation of Longines
Longines Factory and the River Suze
In March 1866 Ernest Francillon bought two plots of land and an old mill on the right bank of the river Suze in St-Imier at a place called "Les Longines", meaning "the long meadows". The riverside location was important because there was no electrical grid at the time, and there was no railway to St-Imier to bring coal for a steam engine, so hydraulic power was needed to drive machinery. The land bought by Francillon included an ancient water mill, the river Suze had been diverted from its natural channel to create a fall to dive the mill wheel.
A new factory was built. The building was finished in spring 1867 and a ten horsepower water wheel with horizontal shaft to drive machinery in the factory was installed. All of the workers making watch parts were brought together under one roof. Initially the watchmakers used traditional techniques and hand tools as the necessary machinery, which could not be bought because it did not exist, was created by Francillon and David and a new recruit, Edouard Chatelain; an old watchmaker who understood machines but was a difficult character to work with.
The Longines watch brand was born. The Longines headquarters and museum are still there today, in a beautiful location just outside the town of St-Imier amongst rolling countryside and wooded hills. The image shows part of the current Longines building with hills in the background and the river Suze in the foreground.
The river Suze looks too small to provide a serious amount of power, but by using the fall that had been created for the mill wheel, later supplemented by a dam that allowed water to accumulate while the factory was not at work, enough power was generated to drive the machinery. In 1874 St-Imier was connected to the Swiss rail network which meant that coal could be transported cheaply and steam power was introduced.
From the outset Francillon was determined to create high quality stem wound watches with lever escapements. The vast majority of watches made in Switzerland at the time had cylinder escapements, but Francillon knew that the American factories had never made cylinder movements. They were turning out large numbers of movements with jewelled lever escapements, and he was determined to compete with them on technology, quality and price.
The first Longines movement, produced in 1867, was the 20 ligne calibre 20A with lever escapement and stem winding and setting. This was probably a development of a calibre produced by the Comptoir, but it was the first to have stem winding and setting. It was given an award at the Universal Exposition in Paris in the same year. Although Francillon wanted to concentrate on stem wound and set watches, Longines also continued to make key wound and set movements for a number of years.
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Longines became one of the most important Swiss watch manufacturers, pioneering the use of automatic machines to mass produce interchangeable parts. Manufacturing tolerances, the absolute accuracy to which each part could be made by machine, meant that these parts were not fully interchangeable, but the use of gauges to sort parts into batches of similar size, and selective assembly of parts that would fit together with no further work, meant that finishing parts by hand was reduced or completely eliminated in many operations.
In 1876 Jacques David, technical director of of Longines, attended the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and also visited the main watch factories, the American Watch Company at Waltham and the Elgin National Watch Company. These were producing cheap but good quality jewelled lever watches using machinery to mass-produce interchangeable parts. David and was shocked by the high level of mechanisation and automation that had been achieved by the American manufacturers. On his return he wrote two reports that triggered a wide-ranging debate within the Swiss watch industry.
David's first report was a detailed description of the current state of American watchmaking, a summary of the state of Swiss watchmaking and recommendations of changes he thought necessary to counter the threat to Swiss watchmaking from America. This confidential report was presented to the Intercantonal Society in January 1877. The report was not well received by other Swiss makers who were, like British watch makers, comfortable with doing things the way they had always done them. Less than two months later David presented a second report vigorously complaining about a lack of action in response to his first report and predicting the end of watchmaking in Switzerland if action was not taken.
The Swiss manufacturers eventually reacted by increasing the level of automatic machinery they used. But they did not bring all the separate functions of watch production into large factories as the Americans had done. Instead they retained a high degree of separation that allowed them to produce many different styles of watch in response to changes in taste and fashion. Within a few years they had overtaken the Americans and once again dominated the world watch market until the "quartz crisis" of the 1970s.
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Longines in 1885
Letter in Horological Journal 1885. To read the letter in full click on the picture or here
A letter was published in the Horological Journal of July 1885 that gives an interesting insight into the Longines factory at the time. The beginning of the letter is shown in the image here, clicking on the image or the link will take you to a transcript of the full letter.
The letter says the factory at Longines was founded in 1866 for the production of watches by machinery on the "gauged and interchangeable" principle. This is interesting because it gives an insight into how mass production was organised before full interchangeability was achieved.
The fundamental problem with making mass produced items is making the parts to such accuracy that any part will fit where it is intended to go without any further work. This gets more difficult as the parts get smaller and the allowable errors in the dimensions, called tolerances, get tighter. Automatic machines can be created to machine hundreds or thousands of parts that are ostensibly identical, but as the cutting tools wear the dimensions of the parts will vary. This is less of a problem today because tools are made from steel alloys or carbides that are very wear resistant, but in the nineteenth century tools were made from hardened carbon steel and wear was a severe problem.
In a watch the most demanding point of fitting is the pivots of the train wheel arbors in their bearings. The difference between a good fit and a poor one is measured in hundredths or even thousandths of a millimetre. When watches were made by hand, the fit was established by trial rather than measurement, the worker would turn down the pivot until it would nearly enter the hole, and then would remove small amounts until it went in and "felt right". But this was not possible when machines were used to make parts automatically that needed to fit without any extra work.
To overcome the problem of tool wear producing batches of parts with differing sizes, accurate gauges were used to sort the parts into batches of the same nominal size. The parts could then be matched to the other items they were meant to fit. For instance, a machine would be set up to machine pivots of a certain size. As the tool wore the parts would be measured until a limit was reached when the machine would be stopped and re-set. The parts that were produced would be gauged and divided into, say, small, medium and large. These would then be matched with plates that had pivot holes drilled in them, and as the drill wore the holes had gone from the initial largest diameter through medium to the smallest allowed before the drill was changed for a fresh one.
One of the consequences of this was that the serial numbers of the movements became important when spares were needed. Details of the movement were recorded, such as that it had been large pivots. When an order came in for a replacement part, the serial number was checked and the records consulted, so that a part from the correct size range could be set out. This was not full interchangeability, it is called "selective assembly", but it was fully automatic production.
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Geneva Exhibition 1896
Geneva Exhibition 1896
Longines exhibited at the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva 1896. This was reported in the trade paper under the heading shown here. The phrase "Hors concours" translates literally as "out of the competition", which means that the company was excluded from competing for a prize because it was without equal or unrivalled. The implication is that if Longines had been allowed to compete, no other manufacturer would have been awarded a prize because there would have been none left!
The report continued:
The establishment of Longines, founded in 1866, the first in Switzerland to combine the complete manufacture of the watch under one roof, is currently the most important by the number of workers and employees : more than four hundred and fifty people are this day busy in the factory. Tools of incomparable perfection, created and built entirely by the technical service and the mechanics of the house, mechanically produce the movement and its case. The precision of the work was pushed far enough to allow to remove any prior assembly, parts of the movement, wheels, escapement, winding, meeting only at the time of final reassembly. This result is particularly remarkable in the quality of traditional watchmaking in Longines. The annual production is 60,000 watches, with an average value of about 35 francs. They are essentially broken down into stem wind lever escapements from 11 to 21 lignes, in metal, steel, silver and gold cases, universally known as "Longines". As specialities, the house manufactures chronograph-counters, the centre seconds, precision watches (chronometer-lever), with in-house or observatory certificates. It has developed lately a lot of watches in the field of 11 lines with rich decorations, enamels and jewellery.
The exhibition of Messrs. Francillon & Co presents:
32 lever movements from 11 to 21 lignes in various calibres and qualities, time setting by pin set, lever and pendant:
2 movements 21 lignes lever stopwatches, regulated by Longines, with 30-45 day in-house certificates:
6 steel watches 11, 14 and 17 lines, lépines and savonnettes, matt oxide and luxury gloss finishes:
19 silver watches 11 to 21 lines, plain, guilloché, engraved and niello:
1 watch 13 lines open face, centre seconds:
2 watches 21 lignes open face, centre seconds, chronometer movement:
60 gold watches 11 to 21 ligne, plain, guilloché, engraved, enamelled and other rich decorations:
40 watches 11 lignes lépine and savonnette with varied decorations of the latest fashion, richly engraved, jewelled, coloured enamel with pearls, roses and brilliants, forming a superb collection:
3 watches 21 lignes lépine and savonnette with chronometer movements, similar to those already mentioned.
All the exhibited items are part of the usual production of the Longines factory.
It must have been quite a sight.
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Longines Logo, the winged hour glass
Longines' trademark of a "winged hourglass" dates back to 1867 and was registered in 1874 when a system of registration was introduced in Switzerland. It is one of the oldest registered trademarks for a watchmaker still in existence. Two versions of this are shown here, an early form from 1886 at the top and a modern version at the bottom. The older version shows the wings more clearly, the modern version at the bottom has abstracted them the point where it is difficult to see them as wings unless you know that is what they are supposed to be. The modern version perhaps shows the hourglass more clearly, with two horizontal lines showing the levels of sand in the top and bottom parts.
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Longines exported watches to agents in many countries, they were a watch manufacturer first and foremost and let agents who knew the country, its language, social conventions and requirements do the selling wholesale to retailers. Agents didn't sell direct to the public.
|United Kingdom||Baume & Company - Trademark B&Co. with three stars. For more about Baume see the separate page Baume & Co.|
|USA||A. Wittnauer & Co.|
|Sweden||Grosjean Freres - Mark G•F in an oval|
|Ottoman Empire and Turkey||Nacib K. Djezvedjian & Fils in Constantinople / Istanbul. Djezvedjian was a well known distributor of high end Swiss watches, including Longines and Vacheron Constantin, and official watch supplier to His Majesty Sultan Mehmed V.|
|India||West End Watch Co., Bombay|
There are no agents listed here for Australia, Canada or New Zealand. Longines watches for these countries passed through Baume & Co. in London.
Longines watches are seen "with Henry Birks & Sons Limited" on the dial, London Assay Office import hallmarks in the case, and Baume's sponsor mark. Henry Birks was a Canadian, born to parents who had emigrated from Yorkshire, England before his conception. Henry Birks opened a jewellery shop in 1879 in Montreal. In 1893 he took his three sons into partnership. Birks & Sons became a chain of high-end Canadian watch and jewellery stores.
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Early Longines Pocket Watch
The pocket watch shown in the images here is an early Longines watch. The serial number is 94,237 which, according to the table at the foot of this page, puts its date of manufacture at around 1875.
The watch has a key wound and set 15 jewel Longines calibre 19B movement, with right angle lever escapement and club tooth escape wheel. This calibre was first produced by Longines in 1872 as one of three closely related versions of a 19''' movement, referred to as 19B, 19M and 19V. Although Francillon wanted to abandon key winding, problems with stem winding, possibly in producing sufficient quantities of the keyless work components to keep up with production, meant that the 19B and 19M were key wound. The 19V was stem wound.
When I got the watch the bow, the ring at the top of the pendant, was made of brass. This was a replacement for the original sterling silver bow that was worn though by the swivel clip used to attach it to the owner's Albert chain, which itself was attached to a waistcoat button hole for safety. Many pocket watches of this age have had their bows replaced because of wear from the swivel clip.
How do I know that the original bow was sterling silver? Because the Assay Office would not hallmark the case without the bow, and they would not hallmark unless all parts were made of sterling silver, including the inner case, which is not shown here but is hallmarked. The bow would have had a "part hallmark", the sponsor's mark and the lion passant of sterling silver. I have made a new bow in sterling silver, which has been hallmarked with my sponsor's mark and the English lion passant standard mark, just like the original would have been.
The inside case back has London Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver with the date letter "B" for the hallmarking year 1877 to 1878. Hallmark date letters span two calendar years because the punches were changed when new wardens were elected. At the London Assay Office after the restoration this took place on 29 May, the birthday of King Charles II, and also the day that he returned to London in 1660. So this watch was hallmarked at Goldsmiths' Hall in London between 29 May 1877 and 28 May 1878.
The sponsor's mark AB in curly letters in cameo within an oval surround was entered by Arthur Baume at the London Assay Office on 18 November 1876. The hallmarks show that this Longines watch was imported into Britain within one or two years of Baume first entering his punch mark in 1876, the same year that Baume & Co. became sole agents for Longines in the UK.
Baume & Co. had been importing Swiss watches into Britain since 1844. At that time, imported gold or silver watch cases were not hallmarked in Switzerland — Swiss hallmarking of gold and silver watch cases started in 1880 — or in Britain. In 1874 some importers started to get small numbers of Swiss gold and silver watch cases hallmarked in British assay offices. Initially Baume & Co. did not do this, continuing to import Swiss watches without hallmarks.
In 1876 Célestin Baume became the sole representative of Longines for Great Britain and the whole of the British Empire. Soon after this Célestin was succeeded as head of the company by his nephew Arthur Baume. Longines watches were high quality and it appears that Baume decided that British hallmarks in their cases would be a useful endorsement of this, which is most likely why he registered his details and a punch mark at the London Assay Office in November 1876, shortly after the agency agreement was made with Longines.
The practice of getting Swiss watches cases hallmarked in British assay offices was effectively stopped from 1 January 1888 by the Merchandise Marks Act. During the period from 1874 to 1887 when it did happen, only a minority of imported Swiss watches, of high quality where the extra expense was worthwhile, were hallmarked in this way, so it is quite unusual to find a nineteenth century Swiss watch with British hallmarks. British hallmarking of all imported gold and silver watch cases became compulsory from 1 June 1907. See Foreign Watches with British Hallmarks for more details about this.
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Longines Wristwatch Movements
Over the many years of its history, Logines produced many different movement calibres. Patrick Linder's book (Ref. 2) lists many of them. It is a monumental book, weighting in at over 4kg, which makes it physically quite difficult to read, as well as being a bit dry in the subject matter. I am not going to even think about showing examples of every Longines movement in this section, I intend to highlight just a few that are encountered in the watches I am most interested in, early wristwatches with 13 ligne movements.
Until about 1930, Longines movements were identified by their size in lignes and then a unique number. For example, the number 13.34 identifies a 13 ligne movement calibre that was first introduced in 1910. The 13 before the decimal point is the line size, the 34 after the line size is the unique number and doesn't mean any else. The 13.34 calibre is a savonnette layout, ideal for small hunter pocket watches or wristwatches. At the same time as the 13.34 a Léine version was introduced, the 13.33. Most of the parts of the 13.34 and 13.33 calibres are identical and interchangeable.
Longines movements for the British market are usually "frosted and gilded". Frosting is a fine matt finish given to the brass plates, bridges and cocks, which are then gilded or gold plated. They also usually have blued screws. This was to make them look more like traditional English watches and so more acceptable to British customers. For the same reason the winding wheels, the crown and ratchet wheel, are usually concealed below the barrel bridge, and the movements are often unsigned, a requirement of British retailers until the 1920s.
Longines movements for other markets usually have a more conventional appearance; the brass parts are nickel plated, the winding wheels are visible, the screws are polished but not blued, and they carry the Longines name.
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Longines Calibre 13.34
Introduced in 1910, the Longines 13.34 savonnette movement was used in many wristwatches during the Great War. The number 13.34 shows that is a 13 ligne movement, the unique number 34 after the decimal place identifies the savonnette layout. At the same time a Lépine version was also introduced, the calibre 13.33.
Often they do not carry the name Longines visibly, but the movements are quite easy to identify. The calibre number 13.34 is stamped on the top of the bottom plate and is visible next to the escape wheel. If you click on either of the pictures here and get an enlarged view you should be able to see the 13.34, just inside the case screw next to a copper coloured dot that is the end of a dial foot.
You should also be able to make out on the 18 jewel movement the "B & Co." mark of Baume & Co. who were Longines agent in the UK for many years.
The shape of the plates and bridges is very distinctive. The 18 jewel movement has the top plate that is most often seen, with individual cocks for the third, fourth and escape wheels.
The 13.34 ZZ movement is a variation on the basic design with the same barrel bridge shape but the three individual cocks of the third, fourth and escape wheels fused into a single bridge. This movement does not carry the Longines name, as required by many British retailers. This watch was sold by Mappin & Webb and carries their own "Mappin Campaign" name on the dial. The name is fired into the enamel and Longines told me that the requirement for this dial is recorded in their archives.
There is a third variant, the 13.34 AS, with all the train bearings in a single three quarter plate, only the balance has its own cock. This is a very "English" layout and I am sure that this calibre was created for the British market.
All variations of the Longines 13.34 movement operate at 18,000 vibrations per hour (vph) giving five ticks per second. They have a straight line Swiss lever escapement, a cut bimetallic temperature compensation balance with gold timing screws, and a blued carbon steel balance spring with a Breguet overcoil. All parts apart from the visible bridges and cocks are interchangeable between all three variants.
The lowest grade 13.34 movements imported by Baume had 15 jewels. The 13.34 ZZ movement shown here has this jewel count. The 13.34, which dates to 1913, has an extra three jewels, taking the jewel count to 18. The three extra jewels are a jewel bearing for the centre wheel top pivot, and two cap jewels for the escape wheel; the polished steel setting for the top escape wheel cap jewel stands out in the picture. The visible train jewels are set in "chatons", metal settings that are fixed in place with small screws.
When jewels were first used in the eighteenth century it was found difficult to make the jewel an exact size on its outer diameter with the hole exactly in the centre, so pierced jewels were set into metal settings called that could then be turned so that their outside was the desired diameter and concentric with the hole. Early jewels were often made from small pieces of gem stone that had been cut from a larger stone in the process of shaping and polishing it. These small pieces were called "kittens" by the gem cutters, or in French "chatons", which is how these settings came to be called by this name. By the time this movement was made the techniques of jewel grinding had advanced and the metal settings were no longer necessary, but they look good and so "top of the range" movements such as the Longines movement in the picture were fitted with them. They were an expensive piece of window dressing that had no effect on the going of the watch, which is why they are only fitted to the visible top holes, the ones the customer sees; the jewels in the bottom holes were rubbed in as usual.
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Longines Calibre 13.67 movement
This is an earlier 13 ligne movement, a calibre 13.67.
The calibre 13.67 was the only new design added to the Longines range in 1894, which was unusual because the company usually added a significant number of new designs to its range each year.
The 13.67 was a Lépine calibre intended for use in open face fob watches with the pendant and crown at 12 o'clock and small seconds at six o'clock. If this calibre was used in a wristwatch its layout would have put the small seconds next the 9 o'clock, so in a wristwatch the small seconds sub-dial was omitted.
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Longines Calibre 12.92
The Longines 12.92 movement was first made in 1903. It is a 12¼ lignes savonnette measuring 27.80mm x 4.10mm. The savonnette layout was used in hunter cased pocket watches, and for wristwatches. A Lépine version, the 12.91, was first made later, in 1906.
Often movements imported into Britain before the mid to late 1920s do not carry the name manufacturer's name visibly, this was not allowed by British retailers. Longines movements are usually quite easy to identify. The calibre number is usually stamped on the bottom plate and is visible next to the escape wheel. If you click on the picture here and get an enlarged view you should be able to see the 12.92, just inside the case screw near to a copper coloured dot that is the end of a dial foot.
You should also be able to make out on the bottom plate next to the foot of the balance cock part of a "B & Co." mark followed by three small stars, a trademark of Baume Company who were Longines agent in the UK for many years. Be aware that not all movements stamped with this trademark are Longines, Baume also imported watch from other makers.
The Longines 12.92 movement works at 18,000 vibrations per hour (vph) giving five ticks per second. It has a straight line Swiss lever escapement, a cut bimetallic temperature compensation balance with gold timing screws, and a blued carbon steel balance spring. The balance spring is flat, without an overcoil.
Longines movements imported into Britain were customised to suit British tastes. In addition to the absence of a maker's name, the plates are gilded and the screws blued to a purplish colour favoured by Longines. These finishes were traditionally used by the best English watchmakers and added to the cost. They were not used in other markets, for which Longines used the standard Swiss finish of nickel plating and polished screws.
As far as I can make out, all Longines movements imported into Britain were fully jewelled with 15 or more jewels, for other markets sometimes fewer jewels, e.g. 7 jewels, were used.
All these features, cut bimetallic temperature compensation balance with gold timing screws, gilded plates, blued screws, full jewelling and an overall high level of finish, show that Longines was making watches intended for the top end of the British market. In nineteenth century Britain, English watches were regarded as the best in the world and Swiss watches had a reputation as being basic and cheap. Longines were countering this by making watches of a quality that anyone would be proud to show off to their friends.
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Longines Calibre 13.56 movement
This is the movement from a Longines wristwatch with a Borgel case. The case has London Assay Office import hallmarks for sterling silver, the date letter "p" for the year to 1910 to 1911, remember that date letters span two calendar years. The sponsor's mark is the AB in cameo within a rectangular surround of Baume & Co. Longines informed me that the watch was invoiced to Baume on 17 February 1911. Even though the watch is well over 100 years old you can see what an excellent job the Borgel case has done in protecting the movement.
Interestingly there is no indication of the manufacturer visible. The only markings are Swiss Made, 18 Jewels, Fast Slow, and 13.56, the Longines calibre reference. This watch was imported at a time when British retailers did not allow manufacturers, with very few exceptions, to make their name visible. The movement has also been customised for the British market, with concealed winding wheels, frosted and gilded plates and bridges, and blued screws.
For an extra bit of "eye candy" the top jewel bearings for the centre, third and fourth wheels are set in gold chatons that are held in place by small screws. This is purely for visual effect, the corresponding jewels in the bottom plate are rubbed in, as was usual at the time, which you can see from the image of the bottom plate. For more about jewel bearings in watches, see Jewel Bearings.
The calibre 13.56 was first manufactured in 1891. It was made in at least two forms, one with a single bridge for the third, fourth and escape wheels, the other with three separate cocks as in the example here. This movement has a jewelled straight line Swiss lever escapement, cut bimetallic compensation balance with gold timing screws, and a steel balance spring with a Breguet overcoil.
This movement is jewelled to the centre wheel, with end or cap stones for the escape wheel. The top end stone for the escape wheel is held in the polished steel setting screwed to the end of the escape wheel cock. Both the top and bottom pivots of the escape wheel have end stones, only the top bearing of the centre wheel is jewelled. This gives of a jewel count three greater than the usual "fully jewelled" 15, making a total of 18 jewels, as engraved on the top plate.
Only top bearing of the centre wheel is jewelled, the use of a single jewel bearing rather than two is is for practical reasons rather than for economy. The top bearing of the centre wheel takes a greater radial thrust from the mainspring barrel than the bottom bearing, because the centre pinion is closer to the top plate than the bottom plate. This usually causes the bearing in the top plate to wear more than the bearing in the bottom plate, so a jewel for the top bearing extends the life of the watch. A jewel bearing in the bottom plate would not add much life because that bearing wears little, but would make it extremely difficult to remove the cannon pinion without breaking the jewel. In a watch with a jewelled top centre bearing, it is important to support the centre arbor when refitting the cannon pinion to avoid breaking the jewel.
The watch is stem wound and set. The keyless work uses a rocking bar to change between winding and setting. In the image the rocking bar is in the normal winding position. A pinion riding on the stem engages with a central wheel, the top and bottom teeth of which are visible in the image. The central wheel turns two wheels on opposite ends of the bar, the one to the left engages with the barrel to wind the mainspring, the one to the right engages with the minute wheel of the motion work to set the hands. The rocking bar mechanism is normally held in the winding position by the spring, and is moved into the hand setting position by a push piece, with a pin set in an olivette on the case near to the crown.
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Longines Calibre 13.81
This is a Longines calibre 13.81 movement from a wristwatch. The serial number 2,799,551 suggests a production date in 1912. The case is nickel, so not hallmarked, but the dial has skeleton hand and numerals for luminous paint, so it is most likely from the time of the Great War.
The 13.81 is a Lépine calibre which was first manufactured in 1903. Because it is a Lépine movement, when used in a wristwatch the small seconds would be at 9 o'clock, so in this wristwatch the small seconds have been omitted. A sibling movement of the 13.81, the 13.82 has a savonnette layout which is more suitable for use in wristwatches.
The 13.81 was made with at least four variations of the top plate. The first version had a barrel bridge that partially exposed the winding wheels, a long centre bridge, and cocks for the fourth and escape wheel pivots. Soon after the 13.81 was introduced three variations were produced, F, ZZ and A. The meaning of these designatory letters, and the purpose of the variations in appearance, is not known. They did not affect any other aspect of the calibre, i.e. all parts apart the top plates remained the same and were interchangeable between the different versions.
The 13.81 F has a plate that covers the winding wheels completely, and has a bearing for the centre wheel. Three cocks carry the bearings for the third, fourth and escape wheels. The 13.81 A has a three quarter top plate that completely covers the winding wheels and has all the bearings except for the balance. The variation shown in the images here is a 13.81 ZZ, which has a main plate the same as the 13.81 F, but the three separate cocks for the third, fourth and escape wheels combined into one plate.
If this 13.81 movement was made in 1912 as the serial number suggests, then that presents a bit of a puzzle. The calibre 13.34 had been introduced in 1910 and went on to become one of the most successful movements produced by Longines. Both calibres are 13 ligne, shown by the two leading digits of their calibre reference. It is difficult to understand why the 13.81 was still being made in the years after the introduction of the 13.34. And also the logic behind the choice of designatory suffix numbers, with 34 following after 81, is a mystery.
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"Mappin Campaign" Fired onto Dial
The first "Campaign" wristwatches sold by by the British jewellers Mappin & Webb were fob watches in leather wristlets. Adverts by Mappin & Webb during the Great War state that their "Campaign" watch was first used in great numbers at Omdurman. The battle of Omdurman was fought on 2 September 1898 when a British army commanded by General Sir Herbert Kitchener defeated the army of Abdullah al-Taashi as part of British efforts to re-conquer the Sudan.
Mappin continued to use the Campaign name for many years. During the Great War many Mappin Campaign wristwatches were fitted with Longines movements and had the legend Mappin „Campaign” on the dial. The use of the low left double quotation mark is a sign that this legend was not put on in the UK.
The dial shown here is from a wristwatch with a Longines 13.34ZZ movement. This dial has been through an ultrasonic clean, which is interesting because the name words Mappin and Campaign have not been affected. This is because the words are vitreous enamel fired into the enamel of the dial, the same as the tracks and numerals, not painted on later with enamel paint as is usually the case with British retailer's names. This shows that the name was put on in Switzerland by the dial maker as the dial was being made. Longines told me that the requirement for this dial is recorded in their archives showing that the watch left the St Imier factory in 1916 with this branding on the dial.
Longines watches supplied to other countries often had Longines fired onto the dial. From about the mid-1920s this began to be accepted in Britain.
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Longines Serial Numbers and Production Dates
Many of the tables of Longines serial numbers published on the internet appear to be seriously in error. The table below is compiled from data in Ref. 1 and is broadly in accord with the dates of watches seen. The achievement of each million movements made must have been a notable milestone worth recording.
A complete watch leaving the Longines’ factory up to the serial number 15,000,000 had the same serial number on the case and on the movement. After that the case and movement number were not necessarily the same. Today, only the case bears the serial number, not the movement. However, Longines also sold uncased movements with dials and hands, for example to the US agent (Longines Wittnauer) when the case was produced locally. When that happened the factory serial number is on the movement only, the case bearing a local reference number which is different.
Over the period covered by this table were two world wars and several economic slowdowns. The serial number gives the date when the movement was manufactured, not when it was actually sent out from the factory. In times of slowdown a watch could remain in stock for several years and the dates of manufacture and dispatch be far apart.
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- Longines, Daria Marozzi, Gianluigi Toselli, Edizioni Giada s.r.l., Bologna 1990.
- At the Heart of an Industrial Vocation - Longines Watch Movements (1832 - 2009), Patrick Linder, Editions des Longines, 2009.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2018 all rights reserved. This page updated August 2018. W3CMVS.