One of the world’s most storied Swiss watch brands wants to make Indians more aware of its rich past
By MW Desk
Matthias Breschan took over as Longines CEO in July 2020, in the middle of the raging pandemic. While others would have thought of it as a bad start, the watch industry veteran calls the timing ‘perfect’. The month after he came on board, the company achieved record sales despite most of its stores being shut around the world. “It shows the strength of the brand,” says Breschan, who worked with marques such as Rado and Hamilton previously, besides sitting on the Extended Group Management Board at the Swatch group. He spoke to MW in an exclusive interview at the company headquarters in Saint-Imier, Switzerland. Excerpts:
Can you take us through the two key Longines launches for 2023, the Majetek and the Flyback?
What makes us so dierent from all the other brands in our price segment is our very rich heritage and history. After Breguet, Longines has the finest, nicest and best history and heritage of all the Swiss watch brands. It is important to highlight this to the public because many people don’t know about it. We launched Spirit Zulu Time last year to tell the world that it was Longines that invented the GMT movement. We launched Ultra-Chron to talk about Longines’ work in developing high frequency technology in timekeeping. We were the brand that, in 1914, enabled the accurate measurement of sports timing to 1/10th of a second and 1/100th of a second in 2016. This was why Longines was solicited for sport events around the world for a long time.
Majetek, our new launch this year, recalls the historical fact that Longines invented the turning bezel. In the early days, Longines used the turning bezel in navigation instruments in airplanes, and then it was introduced on wrist watches. Longines was granted the patent for the turning bezel in. So, contrary to conventional wisdom, the turning bezel does not come from the world of diving, but from the world of aviation. It was only much later that it was used in diving watches. It was during the development of the modern Majetek that we realised how dicult it would have been to make the original version. And we figured out the reason why the 1930s watch was not waterproof; the technological challenges involved were immense and it is not surprising that no one else attempted to make it. It is a complicated watch with a bottom case which must be fitted with a ring to make it waterproof, which must also turn with the flight indicator. On top of it comes the top case, which also needs a waterproof ring. The bezel is placed above this, and it turns the ring of the top and the bottom case along with the flight indicator inside the watch. So, it’s a super-complicated construction. And additionally, we made it magnetic resistant. It’s a state-of-the-art piece, which was originally developed for pilots of the Czechoslovakian army. ‘Majetek’ in Czech means ‘property of’. Many of these had the name of the Czech pilots engraved on them. The watch was used by many Czech pilots when they flew their bombers for the British Royal Airforce to help free their country from the occupying Germans in World War II — the Czech still attach a lot of emotional value to this watch.
What is the story behind the Flyback?
The flyback mechanism is one of the most beautiful functions in a watch. Longines invented this mechanism, though some other brands claim that they have had watches with the flyback function since the 1920s. But they never commercialised it, and Longines has the patent for it. The flyback movement served a very important function for pilots in the early days of aviation because it enabled them to keep accurately to a flight path where a deviation of even a few seconds can lead the pilot astray by a several nautical miles, which could delay the flight. The flyback function prevented this o-course deviation because with just the press of the crown the second hand was immediately reset to the starting position. It was part of a whole series of watches that Longines developed for aviation legends like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. The new Flyback recalls an extremely rich and unique heritage of the brand and its connection with the world of aviation.
Some of world’s leading watch brands have now started certifying and reselling pre-owned watches. Will Longines be doing the same?
First, we have a very beautiful situation in Longines where every single watch since 1867 is equipped with a serial number through which we can trace exactly when the watch was produced, to whom we sold it and most importantly, the exact list of components that is inside. And we have a huge stock of old components here with which we can still restore a lot of these old watches and issue them certificates of authenticity that people love. This is getting to be very popular now, with more and more people wanting to lay their hands on vintage watches. In fact, we have a very popular collector’s corner at our store in Geneva, a concept which is now being copied by a lot of other brands. When we launch a watch like the GMT or the Ultra-Chron or the Flyback, we try to find original versions of these, restore them and then resell them in the store. These watches fetch huge prices between 50,000 and 250,000 dollars. The watches sell within a few days of going up on sale. It shows how interested collectors are in the Longines heritage. But we don’t think of it as a business. If a third party is interested in doing it, that’s fine with us. But we do not want to get into it. We will surely certify the watches, as we are doing now. We do it in two ways. Some people send us just the serial number of the watch, we then issue them a certificate after checking our old records; saying that the watch with the mentioned serial number was produced by us on a particular date, with the name of the person we sold it to, with a picture of the original watch. But that does not prove that the parts inside the watch are authentic. For that, the watch owner has to send us the watch, we will then check it and if all the parts are authentic, we will issue a certificate of authenticity.
You took over as CEO in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. It was probably the worst time for someone to join a company. How did you manage?
Let’s say it was a perfect time, because I joined one of the finest watch brands in the Swiss watch industry. The day I joined, almost all our stores around the world were closed and I was sitting alone here in the oce. That was not very encouraging. So, it was a complicated start, but it got better very quickly. And it shows that when a brand is strong, even in a dicult environment, it doesn’t get hurt very much. Just one month later in August we had a turnover that was higher than what we did in August 2019, and 2019 was a record year. So, we were able to go through this whole pandemic period in a very strong way, because the brand was extremely strong and still is.
How do you see the Indian market?
For me, India is a market with one of the biggest potentials in the coming years, because you have a very knowledgeable consumer. More knowledgeable the consumer, the better for Longines. This is why we want our heritage and history to be better known in the country. This will give Longines a huge advantage over our competitors. Secondly, the market is so big! With more than 1.4 billion people there will be millions of Indians who will be able to aord a Longines watch in the coming years as the country prospers. It is an opportunity that can really boost the brand for the next 20 years.
Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com