Throughout the brand’s history, Longines has shared a close relationship with various military organizations. During WWII, their timepieces served as indispensable tools for military forces. They most notably supplied watches to the British Royal Air Force and the British Army. Today, Longines continues to honor their military heritage in the watches they produce. Let’s look at the impact of their military past and its continued influence on their design approach.
Longines and the Military Prior to WWII
Before the onset of WWII, Longines pioneered a watch component that would be critical for pilots. They’re credited with developing the first incarnation of the rotating bezel in the mid-1920’s. Charles Lindbergh first used this innovative rotating inner dial to help with navigation. It proved to be a useful too on his historic flight across the Atlantic in 1927.
Soon after in 1929, Captain Philip Van Horn Weems of the U.S. Naval Academy helped build on this technology. Together with Longines, they manufactured the Longines Weems Second Setting watch. The model allowed the pilot to synchronize the watch with a precise source of time, typically a radio signal. With the rotating bezel technology or a central subdial, the pilot had a 60-second scale for the synchronization process. The Longines Weems Second Setting watch measured a whopping 48mm for maximum legibility during flight. Allied pilots received most of the models created during WWII. However, a very small number ended up with the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.
Around the onset of WWII, Longines partnered with Lindbergh once again. They continued to evolve the technology of Weems’ model. The result was the Hour Angle. This watch was even more technical. It allowed pilots to determine longitude based on Greenwich Mean Time.
Longines continued to play a key role in producing watches throughout WWII. The British Ministry of Defense commissioned them and eleven others to design and manufacture watches for British soldiers. This group was later nicknamed the “Dirty Dozen.”
The MOD developed strict guidelines for each brand. They stipulated that the watches be stainless steel in their entirety. They also needed to feature scratchproof glass, a black dial, and luminous hands and hour markers. Finally, they required that the watches be waterproof, shockproof, durable, and accurate.
During the war, Longines produced an estimated 5000-8000 watches for British forces. One of the most notable models is the Greenlander. Many believe the name is actually a mistake. Initial records showed soldiers on the British North Greenland Expedition received the model. However, some historians assert that the model was never issued for that expedition. Either way, the name has stuck.
Longines models like the Greenlander featured larger cases than any other produced by the Dirty Dozen. The Greenlander measures 38mm, a relatively modest size today. It also features the letters WWW on the caseback, which stands for watch, wrist, waterproof. Additionally, it showcases the Broad Arrow head on the dial, inner case, as well as the caseback.
The Heritage Collection
The Longines Weems Second Setting watch, Hour Angle, and Greenlander were each initially made exclusively for military use. Today, these original models from the era are incredibly rare and highly collectible. However, the brand has produced modern editions of each iconic model as part of their Heritage collection.
One of the brand’s latest military-inspired watches debuted at Baselworld in 2018. The model has a simple name: the Longines Military watch. It echoes the design of the early 1940’s watches supplied to RAF pilots during the war. Longines has taken the utmost care in attention to detail with this model. It’s hard to distinguish it from a vintage piece until you look under the hood. Inside the watch is the modern L888 automatic caliber, which offers a 65-hour power reserve. Even if you’re a vintage enthusiast, this model is a worthy alternative to an authentic vintage piece.