The historical Longines Column-Wheel Single Push-Piece Chronograph
Watch collectors know Longines’ extraordinary history very well and they value reinterpretations both for their aesthetics and for the fact that they represent particularly well the brand’s rich watchmaking legacy. Furthermore, in the case of Longines, the reinterpretations highlight the maison’s long tradition of innovation and first-class creations.
The first timepiece specially developed for pilots to wear during their aeronautical adventures appeared in 1913 when the nicknamed “Sky Fighters” or “Faucheurs de marguerites” flied their first aircraft. At the dawning of the Great War, very few watchmaking brands had really tried to take into account the needs of modern men, be it car drivers, aircraft pilots or skippers.
At that time, most Swiss, French, American and British brands (which constituted some 99% of the world’s watch production)focused on pocket watches. One had to be a sort of visionary to anticipate the needs of the young generation and that was exactly the case of Longines. Indeed, the brand with the winged hourglass as a logo appropriately focused its eager commercial eye on those crazy pilots who made women in crinoline faint when they hedgehopped over the terrace of Bagatelle in Neuilly. This was the then epicenter of aeronautical activities (Le Bourget would later become another one).
In 1913, airplanes were constructed with cloth and wood and had no real groundbreaking instruments on board. Thus, pilots had to fly like sailors navigated: with a chronometer and a compass for bearing measurement. With the creation of what was surely one of the first chronograph wristwatches, Longines anticipated the 20th Century. Historians linked the event with World War I. In those somber times, Longines was one of the world’s elite watchmakers.
This sublime chronograph was visually identical to the 40-mm steel version that had been presented that same year. It gave momentum to watchmaking and paved the way for the transition that took place during the 1920s and the 1930s. Indeed, wristwatches ended up gaining ground over pocket watches and by 1935, they already represented 50% of Swiss watch production.
A historical icon
The 2014 steel chronograph with its well-rounded case includes, like the original, a single push-piece integrated in the winding crown. This is an obvious ode to the brand’s past. It is a true time machine – an achievement for a watch – and, by merely looking at it, we are systematically propelled back to 1913. This is due to the “olive”, moving lugs that were in vogue at a time when brands had not really assimilated the idea of revolutionizing case middles and resorted to only placing the lugs on the case of small pocket watches. In the past, the case was reasonably smaller, with a manual winding caliber without the date on display.
Today – and even if the watch is a token of the brand’s glorious past – the challenge was to avoid cloning the original timepiece and to succeed in transcending its values; in other words, being creative without destroying the spirit while adapting it to the contemporary world.
In this case, Longines decided to design a chronograph in a contemporary, 40-mm format and to replace the legendary and outstanding 13.33Z caliber the brand developed specially for this type of case. Instead, the piece is equipped with none less than the famous L788 caliber (ETA A08.L11, 13 ¼ lines, 27 rubies and 28, 800 vibrations per hour) that ETA exclusively developed for the brand. The 2014 caliber is a top-notch movement equipped with a self-winding system and, as had the original, a column-wheel for the selection of functions via use of the push-piece placed on the crown.
A literary spirit
This timepiece is available in two versions. On the one hand, the reference that is closest to the historical one presents a daring steel case and moving lugs (L2.7126.96.36.199). On the other hand, there is a more classic case with straight lugs, which comes in pink gold or steel, closer to the chronographs from the 1920s and 1930s.
In both cases, the instruments are equipped with a lacquered enamel white dial. Their distinctive feature is the red Arabic 12, a typical mark of the 1915-1920 timepieces and more precisely of those worn by soldiers during World War l. This is an essentially atypical piece whose aesthetics is favored by experts who wish to distinguish themselves from the rest. These models come with a brown alligator strap with a pin buckle, just like those of the heroic days.