I doubt I was alone in my surprise earlier this year when I learned of Longines’s investment in a new series of quartz movements with greater accuracy than standard ETA offerings. Sure, from a heritage angle, this makes a certain amount of sense. Longines was there during pivotal moments when electronic timing took off, and they pioneered a range of highly accurate quartz watches back in the ’80s. But I’d come to view quartz as more or less stagnant tech. For a few years now, the trend has been to delve deeper into affordable mechanical movements with upgraded specs. Longines’s own recent collections offer more than a few great examples of this.
And it bears mentioning that Longines’ track record of offering mechanical timepieces with much-appreciated upgrades and bonuses continues with the new Record line of all-COSC-rated models. This is the kind of stuff that many HODINKEE readers get excited about.
According to Longines vice president Juan-Carlos Cappelli, who was in New York recently to talk about the newly launched Conquest VHP range, quartz still accounts for a sizeable portion of his company’s annual turnover, and continues to be an important product category for investment and innovation.
Though the proprietary quartz technology found in the Conquest VHP is currently developed and manufactured at Swatch Group-owned ETA (Swatch also owns Longines), it’s part of a long tradition of advances in quartz chronometry. These stretch all the way back to the 1950s and the Longines Chronocinégines (a mouthful, I know), which were portable quartz timing devices, debuted in 1954 , used to time sporting events (including land speed record pioneer Donald Campbell’s runs in his Bluebird gas-turbine car at Lake Eyre in Australia in 1964). The latest Longines Conquest VHP watches are billed as accurate to within ± 5 seconds per year, placing them in rare company that includes the likes of Citizen’s Chronomaster (also accurate to ± 5 seconds annually), Seiko’s 9F quartz calibers (which go to ± 10 seconds per annum), and a handful of others, including Breitling’s SuperQuartz, (also accurate to within ± 10 seconds a year). Jack did a great job of contextualizing highly accurate quartz movements of yesterday and today when he introduced the Longines Conquest VHP around Baselworld time earlier this year.
Longines vice president Juan-Carlos Capelli was in New York for a Conquest VHP launch event earlier this month, and I took the opportunity to find out why his company continues to invest in quartz when mechanicals clearly have the most appeal with enthusiasts.
It seems like for some time now, the trend has been for makers of accessibly priced watches to focus on growing their mechanical offerings. Why did Longines debut new quartz technology in 2017?
The fact is an important part of our sales are still quartz. It’s true that for the past few years mechanical watches have been increasing, but quartz is still a big part of our business worldwide. This year, as our company celebrates 185 years, we decided to create two new movements, thanks to the help of ETA, the movement manufacturing company within the group. They developed two exclusive movements for us. One is the VHP (Very High Precision), which you mentioned. We asked for a modern quartz movement without any possible constraints. On the other hand, we have the Record, which uses a new automatic movement, the most accurate mechanical movement currently offered by Longines. This movement comes with a silicon spiral and is certified by COSC as a chronometer, which for Longines is something very new. With Conquest VHP, we have a sporty watch with a perpetual calendar. We are sure that for the quality and the price, we will have a lots of interest in this collection.
How do quartz sales currently stack up against mechanicals at Longines, and is that changing or staying the same?
Nowadays we’re about one-third quartz and two-thirds mechanicals. For about five to 10 years, that’s been pretty stable. It was the opposite 20 years ago.
From a technical standpoint, how is VHP technology different from quartz technology that has existed from the 1980s onward? And how long has VHP been in development?
It took us a few years to develop this technology. We tried to have a watch that you can wear for long time without thinking about what you have to do for the watch. There’s no need to recharge your watch every 12 hours. We have a very long battery life of five years, and the perpetual calendar is programed to run without human intervention until 2100, meaning that a few generations can wear this watch. And of course there is the accuracy. We tried to put the best of everything we could in the Conquest VHP.
You mentioned price earlier. How will the Conquest VHP be priced against more conventional quartz and against mechanicals? Are you targeting the same customers with each?
We are targeting the quartz customer. The price here starts at about $1,000, which we think is very competitive for the brand and for the technology inside the watch.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing your brand and the watch industry today?
That’s a good question. To be honest, things are going quite well for us at the moment, and I see more opportunities than challenges. I would say that we have to continue to make watches with both precision and elegance.
Check out the Longines Conquest VHP at Longines.com.