Feature The Story Of Longines and Equestrian; And How It Goes Back Over 140 Years

Longines has been associated with equestrian sports since 1878. We reflect on this history, the innovation Longines has brought to the sport and how it has been a committed partner and friend to the equine world.

by Amish Behl

The art of watchmaking and equestrianism both have their roots in solving human problems in times when there was little industrialisation or technology. Longines has been uniting the two forms for 140 years now, from the time it produced its first chronograph movement. By relentlessly pursuing innovation in the field of sports timekeeping ever since, they have gone on to associate themselves with pretty much every prestigious equestrian event across the globe you can think of. All this, while making remarkably elegant wristwatches with a rare consistency. Watches that speak calmly, but with confidence and character.

Longines’ passion for sport and precision

There’s no better way to demonstrate a watch brand’s sporting history and credentials than it having been the official timekeeper at the very first modern Olympics. A Longines stopwatch was used to time events at the Athens games in 1896. The winged hourglass brand hasn’t looked back since.

Chronocinégines – Longines’ sport timing instrument was introduced in 1954.

From the early 20th century, Longines was involving itself substantially in partnering with, and timing, sports events, from skiing to athletics. It put all its weight behind pioneering chronograph advancements, as sports timing and chronographs are, naturally, inextricably linked. The results of this work were one of the first wristwatch chronographs in 1913, and the first chronograph with a flyback function in 1936 — the iconic 13ZN movement, which is today a collectors’ favourite. 

In the midst of all this, one partnership that hasn’t wavered is one Longines forged with the world of equestrian. There were three distinct points in history that grew and cemented this relationship:

  • 1880s: Longines produced a pocket watch chronograph in 1878, engraved with a jockey and horse, that gained popularity in the USA with the equestrian community and was seen at racetracks with judges and jockeys alike.
  • 1912: Longines partnered for the first time with a horse competition in Lisbon, Portugal.
  • 1926: Longines was the official timekeeper for a prestigious show jumping event in Geneva.

Recreation of Longines’ 1878 pocket watch chronograph, that went on to become a popular equestrian timer.

The Longines-FEI partnership is unprecedented in the world of equestrian

In 2013, Longines and Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), world governing body for horse sport, announced a ten year partnership, with a level of commitment and involvement unparalleled in the sport so far. Equestrian is fairly niche, but that has not deterred Longines from further investing in a discipline it has supported since its early days.

As with any fast-paced sport, in equestrian too, a number of timing and scoring parameters are required to be measured simultaneously, to provide information to judges and viewers in real-time.

Under the agreement, Longines and FEI jointly develop technologies for timekeeping and data handling, specifically for equestrian sport. These will be used in multimedia applications, viewer screens, scoreboards, and for broadcasters of FEI events around the world.

Innovation in equestrian timing has always been a Longines stronghold

Longines was responsible for developing technologies in the 1950s that coupled high-precision timers, down to 1/100th of a second, with a camera. Called the Chronocinégines, this mechanism provided a film strip that helped judge who the winner was in a photo finish (and that’s where the phrase comes from!).

Longines in the 1950s. On the left, we can see the Chronocinégines in action, helping determine winners of a ‘photo finish’. On the right, a 90 year commemoration advertisement reinforcing Longines’ ties with the world of equestrian.

Furthering the same streak of innovation, Longines continues to steadfastly work on the cutting-edge even today. It has created a proprietary technology called the Longines Positioning System (LPS). The USP of this technology is provision of instant data on the exact position of horses during a race, their ranking, the distance between horses and their speed, with accuracy down to 5 cm and up to 1000 measurements per second.

To put this in context, a thoroughbred horse can run at 50 kmph for more than a kilometre, with a burst of speed at 70 kmph. At this speed, 1/100th of a second means a distance of 20 cm. Those are the kind of tight timekeeping tolerances they are playing with.

And that’s not all. In June this year, they debuted another technology called the Longines Tracking System, that provides accurate, real-time data similar to the LPS, but relies completely on satellites, without needing any permanent installation on the racecourse.

Overview of the Longines Tracking System, developed specifically for the timing needs of equestrian sports.

It’s really quite amazing to see how Longines just hasn’t sat still at any point in its history and has continually gone on to chase the next frontier. The general image they have of making conservatively designed watches that veer towards the formal, betrays the innovative powerhouse they actually are.

Longines watches related to equestrian sports

The large clocks at Longines sponsored equestrian events are shaped like Master Collection wristwatches. That refined design with its quiet show of muscle, feels quite at home at the races.

Master Collection clocks are often spotted at equestrian events Longines is involved with.

Beyond the competitive aspects in equestrian games, it’s the bond between the rider and their horse that’s very interesting. Horses themselves are associated with flair and confidence, and you can really see this come alive in dressage. You see formally-dressed riders and well-groomed horses performing carefully practised, graceful movements, which can perhaps only be summed up in one word—elegance.

This is where Longines’ association with the equestrian world feels like such a natural fit. Its strength has always been in making watches that are classic and timeless, with a strong sense of respect for heritage and tradition. They also have a brand ambassador in Swiss horse rider Jane Richard, who was Swiss show-jumping’s ‘Rookie of the year’ in 2007.

Longines Equestrian collection for ladies. Lugs of the watch pictured take inspiration from stirrups.

Longines have an Equestrian collection of ladies watches, that derive their inspiration from different elements of horse riding equipment. There are watches from their other collections that are inspired by the sport too, such as the Conquest 1/100th Horse Racing. This has a chronograph function which, as the name suggests, can record time with a precision of 0.01 seconds.

The Conquest 1/100th has a micro-controller with flash memory that allows the watch to be reset instantly for recording intermediary times. It has a modern design through and through, seen in the bold 12 marker on the dial in a 41 mm case. Chronograph hands are coloured red, with the central red hand indicating 1/100th second intervals once the chronograph is disengaged. The design element that is really appealing on the case is the integration of the chronograph pushers  with the crown guard, making it seem like the winged hourglass itself — a great touch.

The 41mm Longines Conquest 1/100th Horse Racing

Another watch featured prominently with equestrian by Longines is the Conquest VHP. VHP signifies Very High Precision quartz movements developed by Longines that are accurate to within 5 seconds per year. These easily come within the highest precision watches made by any renowned brand today.

This pursuit of extreme accuracy in timekeeping explains Longines’ choice to associate the Conquest VHP with equestrian sports. Notwithstanding the simple time and date display on the dial, the watch is a perpetual calendar, configured right up till the year 2400 and requires battery changes only at 5 year intervals. The dial has a radial pattern, giving it a rather nice texture, while red accents bring out its sporty character.

But where Longines hits home runs time and again, in my opinion, is its Heritage collection. This is no surprise for a brand that treasures where it came from and has a past design catalogue that would be the envy of watch designers. Even more so today when vintage-inspired watches are so heavily in vogue. Many Heritage collection chronographs are reminiscent of their beautiful 1940s watches that housed the legendary 13ZN movement — a throwback to times when Longines was making chronographs with an aim to make timing equestrian and other sports events easy and accurate.

‘Tuxedo’ chronograph from Longines’ Heritage collection (2020)

Longines celebrated its 185th anniversary in 2017, but doesn’t seem to be one to rest on its laurels. It is a watch brand with impressive and rich history, and continues to push horological boundaries.

This article was first published on The Watch Guide by Ethos. 

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