"Watchmaking has always fascinated me,” says Longines president Walter von Känel. This doesn’t come as a surprise from a man who spent his entire childhood at the top of the Saint- Imier Valley in the Bernese Jura canton, the heart of Swiss watchmaking.
“When I was a boy, the great Longines company in the foothills of Saint-Imier, where most of the people of our region worked, always impressed me,” he says.
“I was convinced that one day, I would work there. Already at the time, watchmaking was the thriving force of our region, and I knew that it would enable me to discover the world.”
In 1969, von Känel joined Longines as a sales executive, and shortly thereafter he was sent to New York for a training course with the then Longines Wittnauer Watch Company. But it was his passion for watchmaking, his talent as a negotiator, and his strong personality that helped him climb the ladder quickly and saw him become Longines CEO in 1988.
With the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Longines’ Flagship a buzz at Baselworld 2017, it’s fitting that von Känel is in a particularly reminiscent mood. The first Flagship, sold in 1957, was a big success.
The classic men’s watch, something you’re likely to see wrapped around Don Draper’s wrist, is simply emblematic of the Mad Men era. This period marked great commercial achievement for the Longines brand, something it is, no doubt, looking to emulate 60 years later. The original silver opaline dial, thin (almost nonexistent) bezel, and fine lugs blend artistic refinery with technical triumph thanks to the hand-wound calibre 30L. Like a flagship, the one ship carrying the naval commander, the Longines watch carrying this name is top of the range and the most advanced piece of horology in this watchmaker’s collection.
To indicate the importance of the Flagship, the caseback has been stamped with the relief of a caravel, the distinctive small, fast and admirable ship that was used to traverse the seas to the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries. To mark Longines’ momentous anniversary, the company has reissued a limited heritage edition of the Flagship timepiece in steel, yellow, and rose (not plated) gold. Much to the true collector’s delight, the caravel motif on the caseback returns too.
The Flagship is no longer powered by a manual calibre, however, but by a modified ETA 2892, which has been made exclusively for Longines. The yellow- and rose-gold editions have been limited to just 60 pieces each, while 1 957 steel versions are available, as a nod to the model’s birth year. A brown leather strap completes this elegant reissue, one that current Longines ambassador Kate Winslet has claimed as a personal favourite, which, of course reminds us that this throwback now successfully exists in a modern era, where women favour men’s watches too.
When questioned on both the brand and his own personal success, von Känel mentions reliability as the company’s main driving force. “Since I’ve been in charge, I’ve made it my goal to ensure that we have a consistency and a continuation policy.
I also think that it’s important to stay in our own league, to focus on what we do, and to do it well,” he says. “That’s why I’m now on my 29th passport. I’m always travelling to see what’s going on in the field.”