Longines Watch Company: Madrid’s Oldest Mark
The original trademark, which still appears on the back of Longines watches.
Never modified, continually used, the winged hourglass logo of the Longines watch-making company is the oldest valid trademark in the International Registry at WIPO. Originally registered in Switzerland in 1889, the Longines trademark was filed under the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks in 1893. Then in its infancy, the Madrid Agreement counted only six member States: Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. The Longines trademark was the fourteenth application filed in the Registry, but the preceding thirteen marks have lapsed in the intervening years.
The company adopted the name Longines in 1867 when Mr. Ernest Francillon brought his family’s watch-making skills together under one roof in a new factory in Les Longines, Switzerland. From then on, the Longines winged hourglass was engraved on all timepieces made by the company to ensure brand recognition. Today each Longines watch bears the original trademark on the back, and an updated version on the face.
The Longines story, however, is about more than its trademark. It is about brand building by continually innovating and creating unique designs; and about business acumen in using the intellectual property system to protect and market the product. Longines is an instructive case study in the successful exploitation of multiple forms of intellectual property – patents for invention, design, trademarks and geographical indications.
Ticking off the innovations
The company reports some 160 patents for new watch movements and technical innovations in Switzerland. Longines also figures among users of the of the WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system, which simplifies patent applications in multiple countries.
From the start, Longines placed a premium on innovation. Watches used to be wound by means of a key. Longines invented the now ubiquitous, integrated crown mechanism for winding and setting the time when the company produced its first watch at Les Longines. Mr. Francillon presented the watch, already bearing the hourglass trademark, at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris, where he received a bronze medal for the invention.
When watches went from waistcoats to wrists, Longines was the first to produce a wristwatch mechanically in 1905. In 1979 the Longines "Feuille d'Or" model became the world's thinnest watch, measuring only 1.98 mm. The secret: a quartz movement totally integrated into the case. In 1984, the company claimed another innovation with the VHP (Very High Precision) movement – a system of thermo-compensation, five to ten times more precise than quartz watches.
Technical innovations went hand in hand with changes to the aesthetic appearance of the watches. This led to a string of design awards over the years.
During the 1920s and 30s, Longines produced a new generation of watches inspired by the synthesis of organic form and structural geometry in the Art Deco style. Four Diamond Academy (New York) Oscars followed for Longines designs during the sixties. In 1980, the creation of a tiny watch movement for a ladies model presented the design department with a new challenge, resulting in a silver medal at the Bijhorca in Paris. Longines added the prestigious Swiss Watch of the Year award to its collection in 2001.
Longines’ marketing campaigns over the years have also reflected this interplay of stylish design, technical innovation and strong brand image, as for example in their 1953 campaign entitled Science and Elegance. Long before life-style advertising campaigns became commonplace in the 1980s and 90s, Longines used cinema icons, such as Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, as Ambassadors of Elegance to promote the desired brand image. Longines coined – and registered - the phrase “elegance is an attitude” for the publicity featuring Bogart and Hepburn.
Longines is now part of the Swatch Group, which is the biggest user of the WIPO-administered Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs.
Longines watches carry the geographical indication, “Swiss made”. Strict laws, dating from 1971, regulate the use of the Swiss indication on watches, which has come to embody a concept of quality recognized the world over. According to the Fédération de l’industrie horlogère suisse this includes “the technical quality of watches (accuracy, reliability, water-resistance and shock-resistance), as well as their aesthetic quality (elegance and originality in design).” Longines has taken advantage of the Swiss made indication to convey a further quality guarantee to customers.
From horse races to gymnastics, from downhill skiing to world record sprints, Longines further built its brand reputation by linking its name to the precision timing demanded in sport events. Longines was the official timekeeper for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Longines timed the first non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris by Charles A. Lindbergh in 1927, and the first Tour de France in 1951. In 1912 Longines introduced the principle of an electric wire which, at the start and finish of a race, activated and stopped the timing mechanism. Thus it clinched the position of official timekeeper for many international sports events for years to come.
The Swiss watch industry, which was threatened by inexpensive Japanese exports flooding the market in the 1970s, saw exports grow by 10.9 percent in 2003.1 Vintage watches, such as Longines’ prize-winning models, are also now selling at premium prices in auction houses. Marketing savvy and the intellectual property system have enabled the Swiss watch industry to compete successfully. Longines’ complementary use of patents, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications created an image, which appeals to its target market and retains brand loyalty.
1. "What makes them tick?" by Sarah Raper Larenaudie, TIME Style&Design Winter 2004 Supplement.