Longines No. 94,237Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved.
The pocket watch shown in the images here is an early Longines. The serial number is 94,237 which, according to published tables of Longines serial numbers, would put its date of manufacture at around 1875. But this is not accurate, Longines records show that the watch was made during the summer of 1877 and invoiced to Baume & Company in London on 11 August.
This watch won a competition run by Longines in 2017 to find the oldest Longines watch in the UK, which you can read about further down on this page. A short description of the watch appears on the page about Longines, but this page adds more details and, if you are not a Longines collector, you might not have seen the watch before.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.
The watch is a Lépine or open face, key wound and set, pocket watch with a sterling silver case. The case is just over 49 millimetre diameter and 16½ millimetre deep. The dial is white vitreous enamel with black Roman numeral hour marks and a small seconds dial at 6 o'clock. The hands are blued steel, the style in Swiss / French is called aiguilles poire anglaises (English pear hands), which in English is usually called spade, both names referring to the shape of the end of the hour hand.
The case has a two backs, an outer back which is opened to wind the mainspring and set the hands, and inner back, also called a cuvette, which has two holes that allow a key to be applied to the mainspring barrel arbor and set hands squares but otherwise covers and protects the movement. The backs open from the middle part of the case on joints, the casemaker's term for hinges, so this is called a “jointed case”. Because the hands are set from the back there is no need to open the front bezel, the metal ring that carries the crystal that protects the hands and dial, so it is a snap fit onto the middle part of the case.
One thing that people find puzzling, and which makes life difficult for the collector, is that there is no name on the dial or movement. So how is this watch identified as a Longines? Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries British retailers allowed only their own names on the dial. The concept of a brand being applied to watches was unknown, and the names of foreign manufacturers were simply not allowed by British retailers who, if there was to be any name on the dial, wanted it to be their own.
To identify this watch as a Longines, the first clue is the sponsor's mark in the hallmarked silver case. An item being sent to a British assay office to be hallmarked must first be marked with a registered sponsor's mark, which identifies the responsible person. In this case, the sponsor's mark is the AB entered by Arthur Baume for Baume & Company, who were the British agents for Longines watches. However, Baume also imported watches of other makes, so this is not definitive. To be sure that this is a Longines watch, the movement must be compared to a reference such as At the Heart of an Industrial Vocation: Longines Watch Movements 1832-2007 by Patrick Linder.
The watch has a key wound and set 15 jewel Longines calibre 19B movement. This calibre was first produced by Longines in 1872 as one of three closely related 19''' (19 ligne, about 43 millimetre diameter) versions, referred to as 19B, 19M and 19V.
Although Ernest Francillon wanted to avoid key winding altogether, difficulties with stem winding, possibly in producing sufficient quantities of the keyless mechanism components to keep up with production, meant that the 19B and 19M were key wound and only the 19V was stem wound.
As far as this watch is concerned, key winding is not a bad thing. Stem wind watches often suffer from wear in the keyless mechanism, especially at the Stem Bearings, which can often be terminal. It can be impossible to repair a keyless mechanism if parts are not available. Key winding is much simpler and therefore tends to last longer, and is much easier to rectify wear if it occurs. And if a key wound watch was seen as old fashioned, then it got to sleep in a drawer for years instead of being used, which also helps its preservation. Apart from a bit of dirt and a few scratches, this watch is in remarkably good condition considering that is now over 140 years old, and it still works perfectly.
The movement has a right angle lever escapement and club tooth escape wheel. The lever has a circular tail which acts as a counter balance so that the lever is poised about the pallet staff. The pallet staff is the arbor which is the pivot for the lever and pallets. The right angle layout means that the upper bearing of the pallet staff is not under the balance as it would be in a straight line lever. The cock near to the rim of the balance carries the top jewel bearing of the pallet staff. The straight cock next to it carries the top jewel bearing of the escape wheel, which is visible in polished steel.
The fish-tail cock carries the top jewel bearings of the fourth and third wheels, which are gold plated. The barrel bridge carries the top bearing for the centre wheel, and also the hand set square, to which a key is applied to set the hands. This means that the arbor of the centre wheel is drilled right through from front to back and a centre post with the hand set square on one end passes through it, with the minute hand mounted on the dial end. Also visible on the barrel bridge is the ratchet wheel mounted on the barrel arbor, to the square end of which a key is applied to wind the mainspring.
The balance appears to be a bimetallic compensation balance, the rim being composed of a white steel inner layer and yellow brass outer layer. There are two cuts, but as can be seen in the image they do not go all the way through the rim, so the balance rim cannot expand and contract as the temperature changes. The bimetallic composition is therefore purely for show. The blue steel balance spring is flat.
The plates are frosted and gilded, a gold plated matt finish that was familiar to British customers, and the screw heads blued. This was not the usual finish of Longines movements at the time, which was nickel plated plates and polished but not blued screw heads. The finish on this movement was specially designed to appeal to British customers.
The silver case is unusual for a Swiss watch of the time, in that it is all made from sterling silver, including the inner cover or cuvette.
Swiss hallmarking of watches was introduced in 1880, and this watch was made before then. When this watch was made in 1877, Swiss silver watches were usually stamped ‘Fine Silver’ without a fineness, which was could be anything but might have been either ·800 or ·875. These are the two standards for silver that were made legal for Swiss hallmarking in 1880. The inner cuvette of Swiss watches was usually made of base metal and silver plated. These are stamped “metal”, or “cuivre” for copper, so that it is clear that they are not solid silver. Which makes the all sterling silver case of this watch unusual.
The watch case is one of the small number of Swiss cases that were made between 1874 and 1887 that were hallmarked in a British assay office. This meant that silver of sterling standard, which is ·925, had to be used, and that the inner cover also had to be made of the same grade of silver. If the whole case was not of sterling standard, it would not be hallmarked.
The inside case back has London Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver with the date letter "B" for the hallmarking year 1877 to 1878. Hallmark date letters span two calendar years because the punches were changed when new wardens were elected. At the London Assay Office after the restoration this took place on 29 May, the birthday of King Charles II, and also the day that he returned to London in 1660. So this watch was hallmarked at Goldsmiths' Hall in London between 29 May 1877 and 28 May 1878.
The sponsor's mark AB in curly letters in cameo within an oval surround was entered by Arthur Baume at the London Assay Office on 18 November 1876. The hallmarks show that this Longines watch was imported into Britain within one or two years of Baume first entering his punch mark in 1876, the same year that Baume & Co. became sole agents for Longines in the UK.
Baume & Co. had been importing Swiss watches into Britain since 1844. At that time, imported gold or silver watch cases were not hallmarked in Switzerland – Swiss hallmarking of gold and silver watch cases started in 1880 – or in Britain. In 1874 some importers started to get small numbers of Swiss gold and silver watch cases hallmarked in British assay offices. Initially Baume & Co. did not do this, continuing to import Swiss watches without hallmarks.
In 1876 Célestin Baume became the sole representative of Longines for Great Britain and the whole of the British Empire. Soon after this Célestin was succeeded as head of the company by his nephew Arthur Baume. Longines watches were high quality and it appears that Baume decided that British hallmarks in their cases would be a useful endorsement of this, which is most likely why he registered his details and a punch mark at the London Assay Office in November 1876, shortly after the agency agreement was made with Longines.
The practice of getting Swiss watches cases hallmarked in British assay offices was effectively stopped from 1 January 1888 by the Merchandise Marks Act. During the period from 1874 to 1887 when it did happen, only a minority of imported Swiss watches, of high quality where the extra expense was worthwhile, were hallmarked in this way, so it is quite unusual to find a nineteenth century Swiss watch with British hallmarks. British hallmarking of all imported gold and silver watch cases became compulsory from 1 June 1907. See Foreign Watches with British Hallmarks for more details about this.
When I got the watch the bow, the ring at the top of the pendant, was made of brass. This was a replacement for the original sterling silver bow that was worn though by the clip used to attach it to the owner's Albert chain, which itself was attached to a waistcoat button hole for safety. Many pocket watches of this age have had their bows replaced because of wear from the clip.
How do I know that the brass bow was a replacement and that the original bow was sterling silver? Because the a British assay office would not hallmark the case without the bow, and they would not hallmark at all unless every part of the case was made of sterling silver, including the inner case back, which is not shown here but is also hallmarked. The original bow would have had a part mark, the sponsor's mark and the lion passant of sterling silver. I made a new bow in sterling silver, which has been hallmarked with my sponsor's mark and the English lion passant standard mark, just like the original would have been.
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Oldest Longines UK Winner: Click Image to Enlarge.
HISTORY OF THE WATCH
0.925 silver open face pocket watch. It is fitted with a Longines manually wound mechanical movement, calibre 19B. It was invoiced on 11 August 1877 to the company Baume & Co., which was at that time our agent for the UK.
From 6 March to 28 May 2017 Longines held a competition to find the oldest Longines watch in the United Kingdom and I entered this watch. At the end of March 2018 I was notified that my watch had been shortlisted, and that an event was be held on Friday 18 May at the Longines Boutique in central London for the winner to be announced. All the owners of watches on the shortlist were invited to a champagne reception at the Boutique for the announcement, followed by a slap up lunch at a posh Mayfair restaurant.
My watch won the competition! There were some great entries, but none came even close to my watch in age, the next oldest was dated 1907, a cool 30 years later than mine. (But you might not have heard about the competition and have an earlier Longines in the UK; if you do, please let me know – but it's too late to win the competition sorry!)
When I had previously inquired about this watch, Longines were unable to tell me exactly when it was shipped to Baume in the UK, but due to the competition they had another wider search in their archives and found the relevant entry; the watch was invoiced to Baume on 11 August 1877.
The main photograph shows the watch in a display case at the Longines London Boutique on Oxford St in Mayfair, London, on 18 May 2018. It's now safely back in Cheshire with me so unfortunately you won't be able to pop in and see it.
Part of the prize was a trip to Ascot Racecourse for the Royal Ascot meeting in June 2018. The smaller image here shows me explaining some details of the watch to two other Longines guests and fellow watch enthusiasts who were on the same table for lunch. It's a tough job being a Longines watch collector, but somebody's got to do it.
Another part of the prize was a trip to Switzerland for a full day visit the Longines watch factory in St. Imier. This was a great day for me, I was shown around the production areas and museum by members of the Longines team. You can read an account of my visit on the page about Longines at A Visit to the Longines Watch Factory.
The Factory Records
When I was at the Longines factory I was able to go into the room in the museum where the hand written ledgers recording details of every Longines movement produced between 1867 and 1969 are housed. I was not only able to simply go into the room, I was allowed to take down the ledger containing the manufacturing details of my watch.
The room contains floor to ceiling shelves on three walls. The ledgers contain an entry against its movement serial number for every Longines watch manufactured between 1867 and 1969, that is over 15,000,000 watches. As you can imagine, there are a lot of ledgers. The image here shows the shelf with the ledger containing the details of watch number 94237, indicated with the red arrow. Starting on the left with the very first book from 1867, it's the fifth book in the series.
The other image here shows watch 94,237 resting on the page of the ledger that records its production in 1877 as the fifth of a batch of six numbered 94,233 to 94,238. This is the line directly beneath the watch.
The date in the left hand column is 10 Août, that is 10 August. That is the date when the watch was complete. It was invoiced to Baume on 11 August, so they didn't let it hang about.
There is a corresponding right hand page (which I haven't included because it's not very interesting visually) that records the progress of the watch through to Atelier (workshop) and another facility, whose name I can't read but is the testing phase, during July. Two dates are recorded against the workshop, 13 and 16 July, and three dates for testing, 16, 20 and 31 July. The final phase of testing was for 10 days from 31 July to 10 August.
If you look at the wording in the two boxes directly beneath the watch in the photograph, these contain details of the order from Baume, the left box contains “19B Baume”. In the right box, the top line contains the word sterling, the next line sans secrets, the third line guild ½ ... and the bottom line ... anglaises. I don't know what the sans secrets (without secrets) means. Hunter cases have a secret spring which opens the lid, so it might be the way of recording that this case was to be an open face rather than hunter case, but that would usually simply be recorded as Lépine. The other details are pretty clearly a specification of sterling silver case and gilt half plate movement in the English style, which was quite different from what Longines was producing for other markets at the time.
If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved. This page updated November 2021. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.