A couple of weekends ago, I had the privilege of attending the 2012 French Open (aka Rolland Garros) in Paris, France. The French Open is arguably one of the top two or three professional tennis tournaments in the world (behind Wimbledon and alongside the US Open) and brings the game's top players to the heart of Paris for a yearly event which dates as far back as 1891. Compagnie des Montres Longines Francillon SA, better and more simply known as Longines Watches, have been the official timekeeper and partner of the French Open since 2007, and claims to have found a strong synergy between their brand and the world of tennis. When you consider Longines' products, their ambassadors, and their partnerships, it becomes very clear as to why the French Open is an ideal venue for what is the largest yearly event in Longines' social calendar as they dedicate a lot of their resources to embracing the sport of tennis.
Longines is part of the Swatch Group which makes them a sibling to a series of other Swiss brands like Omega, Hamilton and even Blancplain. Longines produces both quartz and mechanical watches and are best known for the Lindbergh series and more recently, the Column Wheel Chronograph. Their strength lies in more dressy designs that are practical enough for everyday use while still offering a wide range of complications. According to their CEO the best selling Longines pieces are three hand automatic and chronograph models. Thanks to their close ties with ETA (also owned by Swatch), Longines is able to build exclusive movements for their flagship models (seen above) like the L688 (used in the Column Wheel Chronograph, seen below) and the L707 (used in the Master Collection Retrograde Moonphase, more photos below). Longines is able to take advantage of their close relationship with the ubiquitous movement maker to offer what are effectively in-house movements at a price point that few other brands can match.
Take a quick look at their watches and it's easy to see why Longines has been able to foster a long-standing relationship with the world of professional tennis. With an old world elegance the designs are an excellent fit for the tone of the sport - as a spectator. I'm generally not one who has much interest in brand ambassadors but Longines takes their ambassador roles very seriously with the job given to the likes of 2010 French Open Champion Francesca Schiavone, as well as tennis legends and notable philanthropists Stefanie Graf and Andre Agassi. Even with only a casual understanding of modern tennis, it is easy to understand why ambassadors like these can be extremely valuable to a brand like Longines.
In addition, Longines sponsors a yearly tournament that brings the 16 best tennis players under the age of 13 from around the world (annual alternation between boys and girls). This two-day tournament, the Longines Future Tennis Aces 2012, saw a final victory go to Destanee Aiava of Australia (seen above). The two finalists had the opportunity to play an exhibition game with Stefanie Graf and Sabine Lisickiwill and will also receive further sponsorship from Longines until their 16th birthday. While Rolland Garros is the largest annual event for Longines, their sport sponsorships do not stop with tennis as they are also involved with archery, gymnastics, alpine skiing, and even equestrian sports like the Prix de Diane which we showed you last year. This is a carefully selected group of sports which echo the same principals that Longines wishes to convey for themselves such as elegance and tradition.
What does any of this have to do with watches? Consider the Longines Master Collection L27394713 Retrograde Moonphase, a dressy 44 mm timepiece sporting multiple functions, a lovely bright white "barleycorn" dial, and the exclusive-to-Longines caliber L707.2 automatic movement. This watch looks fantastic in their photos but is truly a knockout in person. The 44mm sizing overpowers some of its more dressy conventions and makes the Retrograde Moonphase a rather versatile and easy to wear timepiece. Boasting standard time, day, moonphase, day/night indication, and retrograde displays for date, sub-seconds, and a second timezone, the Longines Retrograde Moonphase does not leave much to be desired from a complication stand point (probably because there isn't room for anything else). All of these functions are managed by the L707.2 movement which is made exclusively for Longines by ETA. The base of the movement is the ETA A07.L31 which offers a 48 hour power reserve, 25 jewels and automatic winding.
The L27394713 Retrograde Moonphase wears nicely on-wrist, not too tall nor, at least on the included alligator strap, too flashy. The dial is full of fine details and for a dive-watch-junkie like myself, the multitude of hands took a few glances to get accustomed to. Once acclimated, the Retrograde Moonphase is capable of showing you a lot of information at once without seeming too busy or complicated. Were it not for the 44mm sizing, I would have no problem categorizing this watch as traditional and classic. If you like the idea of a dressy multi-complication but want something in excess of 42mm, this Longines would fit the bill nicely. I especially like the patterning on the dial, the use of Roman numerals and the triptych of retrograde displays. There is enough visual interest in this Longines that you will be smiling long before you even realize you haven't bothered to actually read the time. [Ed. Note - sounds like someone has a crush on that watch].
Longines has outfitted the Retrograde Moonphase with sapphire crystals for both the front and the display back as well as push-button butterfly clasps for the 22mm wide alligator strap. This is a similar watch to the L27394713 Retrograde Ariel reviewed sometime ago and you can consider the L27394713 an upgrade over the L27174716, offering the day/night indicator and the moonphase for some additional flare. With a list price of $3600 USD, the Retrograde Moonphase offers a lovely and detailed timepiece with an interesting movement at a very competitive price point.
With 180 years in the business, it's safe to say that Longines takes watchmaking rather seriously. They are actually still based at their original location in Saint-Imier in western Switzerland and have announced a line commemorating their history and connection with their roots. The new line, dubbed the Saint-Imier collection (seen above, right), offers a range of men's and women's watches that all share a similar hand set but span both three-handers and chronographs in a variety of dials and case sizes. While we will have more on the Saint-Imier line in the coming weeks, Longines history actually dates back to 1832 when a small company called Agassiz & compagnie setup a watch making business being run mostly out of employee's homes. This company progressed and eventually setup a factory in the Saint-Imier valley in an area called Les Longines. By 1867, they had produced their first movement from within the factory walls and Longines has been pushing forward ever since. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Longines holds the longest standing trademark still in use today. That is a history to be proud of and Longines promotes their product and their history through famous ambassadors like Kate Winslet, Aishwarya Rai, or Simon Baker and events like the French Open.
Longines offers a wide range of watches but it is clear that their brand focus lies more in dressy designs and classically-styled chronographs (like the L27764213 Mono-pusher Chronograph seen above right). Their brand strategy seems to be working as Longines is now measured in the top five watchmaking brands in the world. Longines has seen massive success in Asia and is well situated to expand into the void created as Omega began to implement manufacture movements that demand higher price points.
The finale of my weekend in Paris was the opportunity to attend the Men's Finals. Held in the Philippe Chatrier Court, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic squared off for the the French Open title in spectacular fashion. I was astonished to find out that the Philippe Chatrier court seats nearly 15,000 spectators as, compared to other sporting events I have attended, it felt much more personal and the match was much more viewable than that number would suggest. Very much a gentleman's sport, I was surprised as the crowd turned on any player that lost his cool or allowed his temper to flare up. At one point, Djokovic smashed his racket into a bench and the crowd immediately booed at this display of aggression and poor sportsmanship.
Growing up in Canada, I knew to cheer when a hockey player acts aggressively or starts a fight, so this disapproval was foreign to me. While the match was eventually delayed due to rain, we were able to take in three hours of tennis and the game, when played at such a high level, seemed similar to a boxing match. A testament to who can keep playing through the pain as they attempt to strategically tear down their opponent. Even though I was flying home when Nadal won the following day, I immensely enjoyed the sets that I was able to see.
Tennis is a natural fit for a brand like Longines as the sport prides itself on tradition, prestige, and competition. While no "pop- up" store was present at the French Open, the grounds of Rolland Garros were graced with a Longines booth that allowed tennis fans the opportunity to measure the speed of their serve and various clocks around the park had been designed to look like Longines watches.
These endeavors are largely aligned with Longines whom, in addition to their their focus on elegance, tradition, and performance, can safely speak to the incredible task of keeping a brand alive for 180 yrs. Longines seems to really understand their core skill and competencies and their current President Walter Von Kanel has been working with Longines since 1963 and has held his current role since 1988. Do you need to like tennis to understand and appreciate Longines? No, I don't think so. Prior to attending the French Open, my understanding of tennis was roughly equal to my functional grasp of the French language, that is, little to none. Longines is a very traditional Swiss watch brand and their watches may not appeal to all buyers but their product is solid and they have a very firm grasp on who they are and what they do well. I had the opportunity to see a number of very nice models from Longines and the brand uses its ambassadors and events like the French Open to promote their values and connect their product with something that they appreciate and can support.