The world is a very different place than it was in 1832. Railroads and the telegraph, for example, were the hottest technologies of the day, and immeasurable technological advancements have since taken place. One thing, however, remains unchanged: Longines is still producing timepieces in the same place it has been for more than 200 years, in Saint-Imier, Switzerland. But now, it’s making watches for the modern era.
Overseeing all of this is Matthias Breschan, a three-decade industry veteran charged with preserving Longines’s legacy while pushing the brand into the future. We sat down with Breschan to discuss the brand’s history of watchmaking and the value of a Swiss mechanical watch in 2021.
How did you get into the watch industry?
My first watch that I remember was when I was 20, and my father offered me a Swatch watch. It was one year after Swatch started, and for many years, I collected Swatch watches. I found my way into the watch industry because I was working in telecommunications in the mid-1990s, and Swatch was trying to diversify its brand. They were trying to make cars in cooperation with Mercedes and telecommunications products in a joint venture with Siemens. We actually had pagers and GSM mobile phones that were integrated into the watch! After that, it was very easy to develop a passion for watches. Now, more than 20 years later, I’m still in the Swatch group. I’ve been the CEO of Rado and Hamilton, and now Longines.
What is Longines’s greatest strength?
The rich heritage we have. We have the luxury to pick from the best developments and innovations that Longines has made in the past and bring them into the present. That is something very unique, because many brands need to make up their history, but at Longines, the history is so rich that we can’t tell everything.
How long does the connection to St-Imier go back?
Since the very beginning, our offices have been in St-Imier, which is about half an hour’s drive from Neuchâtel and Les Chauxde-Fonds in the Jura Mountains. The offices have been in the same location since 1867. For every single watch that has left this building, [we’ve kept] detailed records of the serial number, the date it was manufactured, to whom it was sold, and all the components that are in the watch. It’s really very good, because when people bring us old watches, we can restore them from our stock of original components.
What role does aviation play in Longines’s history?
When we launched the Spirit collection last year, many people’s first reaction was, “Another watch brand making pilot watches.” But when you look at the history of Longines in aviation, it’s one of the richest in the industry. It started after 1913, when Longines developed the first wrist chronograph. More and more pioneers exploring sky, land, and sea were approaching Longines to get reliable timepieces for their explorations. In the 1920s, many of these aviators — starting with Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Howard Hughes — counted on Longines’s timing instruments. Also, very few people know that Longines was the inventor of the flyback chronograph and the GMT movement, both of which were huge breakthroughs for the world of aviation. Of course, today, when you buy an aviation watch, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go fly your own helicopter. You’re buying a world of emotion.
As someone who has been in the watch industry since Swatch made pagers, how have things changed?
I think today we can all agree that nobody buys a Swiss mechanical watch to read the time. You buy it because, in many professions, men are obligated to wear a strict dress code — whether it’s a dark suit or a doctor’s uniform — and we have very limited possibilities to say something about our personalities. A watch is the perfect accessory to do it. I think this is the biggest change, and it’s the reason why the Swiss watch industry is so strong. These watches allow you to wear your affinities in a very elegant way.
All images courtesy of Longines.