On a drab, wintry November evening in Beijing, Longines threw a grand party in Taimiao, or Imperial Ancestral Temple, situated next to the Forbidden City. Presiding over the event was Walter von Känel, the septuagenarian chief executive of Longines who has just marked his 48th year with the company.
The occasion was both a celebration and an ode to the world’s most populous country, given the watchmaker’s deep ties with China, with its first invoice to a Chinese dated 1867. Today, China plays an outsized role in Longines’ success – by some estimates, Longines has become the top seller by revenue in the country amongst Swiss brands.
The relationship between Longines and China was further evinced over the course of the celebratory evening. Once reserved exclusively for the imperial family to worship their ancestors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the vast walled complex of Taimiao was transformed with a massive transparent tent at its centre.
The first order of business was the announcement of a new ambassador, Chinese actress Zhao Liying. Having ranked fourth in Forbes’ 2017 Top 100 Chinese Celebrities, she joins Longines’s all-star case of brand ambassadors chosen for their star power in North Asia – Hong Kong, China and Macau – putting her alongside Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok as well as Taiwanese film stars Chi Ling Lin and Eddie Peng.
But it’s more than just famous faces that underpin Longines’ success. Beyond having an early presence in China in the 1980s, Longines’ watches are earnest value for money. The brand makes no pretence of being a manufacture, relying on movements customised by ETA that are exclusive to Longines. And it prudently keeps the majority of its watches priced between US$1000 to US$4000, a robust segment that has been unaffected by the anti-corruption crackdown initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2012.
Fittingly for the occasion – and of greater interest to watch nerds – Longines also unveiled Longines Through Time, a book written by its in-house historian Ms Stéphanie Lachat. The 280-page tome traces the evolution of Longines from its founding in 1832 to the Quartz Crisis and its modern day renaissance – all while delivering an insightful account of the brand’s storied past as a a true manufacture that spanned every aspect of watchmaking.
That rich history was also on display in tangible form with the Longines 185th Anniversary Exhibition, set up just for the event. The expansive exhibition included a curation of vintage timepieces from the company museum, as well as highlights from Longines’ current line-up.
The star of the show was a masterpiece from the museum: an early 20th century gold pocket watch with a minute repeater, perpetual calendar and chronograph function created for China.
No self respecting Longines showcase would be complete without its 20th century wristwatch chronographs. The anniversary exhibition delivered a display of the brand’s landmark chronograph calibers including the 13.33Z, the first ever Longines wristwatch chronograph calibre, as well as the most famous duo of them all, the legendary 13ZN and its successor, the 30CH.
All of these fine and historically important watches did not exist in isolation, the walls of the exhibition illustrated their historical background. They were covered in literature explaining Longines’ achievements and collaborations in different fields, including the relationships the company had with pioneering aviators Charles Lindbergh, which gave birth to the Hour Angle Watch, and Philip van Horn Weems, who devised the Weems Second-Setting Watch.
The 185th anniversary party was not just nostalgia-ridden, it also offered a glimpse into the future with the launch of the Longines Record, a line of watches powered by COSC-certified movements that boast silicon hairsprings, making the technology more affordable than ever before. The watch is available in myriad dial variations and sizes, with prices starting from SFr1,875.
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