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In 1832, Auguste Agassiz decided to go into the watchmaking business and founded the "Agassiz & Compagnie" firm. Thanks to its oversea contacts which allowed the sale of watches in other markets, especially the U.S., the company grew steadily during the 19th century. Its structure was however typical of old school Swiss watch manufacturing industry. A "business unit" similar in principle to a production manager, the "comptoir", allocated the different production steps to artisans who would work from home on the various watch components. This system, called "établissage", was used until the mid-19th century, when Ernest Francillon, Agassiz's nephew who took over the comptoir and decided to innovate the production methodology. In 1862 he named the company "Ancienne Maison Auguste Assiz, Ernest Francillon, successeur" and, starting from 1867, Francillon tried to modernize and reunite production and manufacturing processes under one roof. This effort, which took several decades to complete, began when Francillon bought some real estate on the bank of the Suze river, in a location known as "Les Longines".
Aided by engineer Jacques David, Francillon developed many machines that would assist the watchmakers in their job, and effectively physically brought into the workshop many operations that were before literally scattered throughout the valley. The modernization process brought the results management was hoping for, and by the end of the century Longines had effectively become a horological factory. In 1900 the name of the company was changed to "Fabrique des Longines, Francillon et Cie".
Even after nearly half a century of attempting to internalize the various processes, at the beginning of the century Longines employed 853 workers in the workshop, but also 956 artisans working from home. During the last part of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th century, Longines achieved numerous international awards, denoting that the at least partial rationalization of the manufacturing steps had indeed yielded the expected results.
In 1915 Longines became a joint-stock company, and during the war and the Great depression tried to diversify its offer as a countermeasure against the adverse conjuncture. Many workers were let go, and the early '30s were difficult years for Longines, but the economic upswing that followed the recession was well exploited by management, and the company gradually returned to profitability. During World War II, Longines was relatively immune to the war context, watches and chronometers still being in high demand, and soon after the war Longines' factory was further expanded and they actually started to develop a number of devices for timing sport activities. At the end of the 1960s there were the first experiments with quartz movements.
The second half of the past century had Longines protagonist or participant of a number of industrial mergings and acquisitions that in the end brought it to be part of the Swatch Group. As the high end representative of the Group, Longines is now focusing on its heritage of sport, elegance and watchmaking tradition.
In 1911 Longines introduced six new calibres. Five of them were based on the same design model, while the sixth went back to construction principles used for movements produced between 1902 and 1908. This new calibre, however, offered substantial modifications, such as employing one large central bridge which is the fusion of the two smaller ones used in older calibres, which aimed to streamline the manufacturing process, thus cutting costs and the risk of human mistakes. The new movement was called 15.26: a 15 ligne "hunter lever winding mechanism", 5.65 mm high calibre. It is now considered one of the most appreciated calibres made by Longines.
Longines developed a chronograph movement, calibre 13.33Z, as far back as 1913. By the 1930s it however became apparent that there was a need to reduce production costs for this kind of watches. In 1936 development of the new movement began: new machineries were created at the factory with the goal of producing a cost efficient chronograph movement with semi-instantaneous minute counter. The result of these efforts is the celebrated 13ZN calibre, one of the vintage movements kept in highest regards by scholars and collectors alike. With a 29.8 mm diameter, it was made in two versions: one with one pusher, the other with two chronograph pushers. Once the model was in production, and its technical qualities were "proved on the field", Longines worked to better exploit the new product, for example by fitting it in a water-resistant case. It was also used, without the chronograph module, for chronometer watches. Another version of this movement, developed during World War II, sported a dragging hour counter at 3. It distinguished itself from other chronographs of the time with hour counter because it had only two subsidiary dials instead of three, the minute indication being displayed by a central hand. This amazing movement remained in production until the end of the war, when Longines started to develop a new calibre which would further abate production costs.