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Though perhaps now best known for its association with horse racing, Longines has been a staple of the Swiss watchmaking industry since the mid 19th century, and has gained a reputation for the masterfulness of its designs.
The entity now known as Longines (or long meadows in French) started as a trader of fine timepieces. In those days, watchmaking in Switzerland was a cottage industry—literally, as the craft was taught at home, with each household making a particular component of the watch its speciality. The individual parts would then be sent to another household for assembly, and then sent back to a trading office or comptoir (literally, counter) for sale and distribution.
Longines (then known as Raiguel Juene & Cie) was one of those comptoirs. But after the founding partners—Auguste Agassiz, Henri Raiguel, and Florian Morel—left the business in the 1870s, the nephew of Agassiz took control and made sweeping reformations. Ernest Francillon modernized the business, relocating it to a meadow south of St. Imier known as les longines—which would become its official name in 1867—where he would build a facility for manufacturing watches.
Francillon was eager to embrace the ideals and innovations of the Industrial Revolution. He sent emissaries to Philadelphia in 1876 for the Worlds Fair. Witnessing firsthand how American watchmakers had revolutionized the industry, manufacturing watches in a factory rather than in individual households, Francillon implemented a similar system at Longines.
By the 1880s production had moved entirely in-house, and Longines continued that spirit of industry throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, gaining notoriety for their chronographs in particular.
But Longines also made inroads in the development of automatic movements. Though the earliest examples of automatic (or self-winding) watch movements were produced in the 18th Century, the concept was not perfected until the 1920s, when John Harwood filed his patent for an automatic wristwatch movement with an oscillating weight. Movement manufacturer A. Schild S.A. produced 10,000 of these movements for Fortis, Blancpain, and others.
Rolex and Eterna were two brands that embraced Harwood’s innovation and began producing automatic wristwatches in the 1920s and 1930s. Their innovative designs (like Rolex’s addition of weights to the movement, or ball bearings to Eterna’s) illustrated the technical feats watchmakers were now capable of. However, Longines and Omega held out until the 1940s—interestingly enough, Omega’s CEO Paul-Emile Brandt (in)famously remarked, “If our clients are too lazy to wind their watch everyday, then we should stop producing watches!”
However, even the iron will of Brandt bent to the idea of an automatic movement, and Omega produced its first in 1942, the Caliber 30.10mm. Longines didn’t release its first automatic caliber until 1946—the Caliber 22A. Research and development began in 1944, with six prototypes being given to employees for testing, until the project was finalized in 1945.
The Caliber 22A was driven by a patented bi-directional winding system that incorporated a screw near the pivots, to correct the excessive wear and overwinding that plagued many early automatic movements, particularly Omega’s.
Though Longines would go on to improve and develop new automatic movements (like the hi-beat caliber 461 found in their UltraChron model), those containing the 22A and notable for their understated elegance. The watch that we have here is a handsome variant with sub-seconds at 6 o’clock. With a sturdy 35mm stepped case with beveled lugs, this lovely example has touches of elegance in the Breguet hour markers and the gorgeous, creamy dial.
Stainless steel case is approximately 35mm (excluding crown). Longines Self-Winding Caliber 22A. Circa 1950s.
Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall with superficial signs of use and wear throughout. Dial has patinated to a fine even patina over time, with some light tool marks, particularly near the hands, 2 o'clock, and between 4 and 5 o'clock. Unsigned crown. Case back shows some tool marks.
Includes one 18mm dark brown leather strap.