Lonville is one of the older watch brands you are unlikely to have heard of. This is quite simply due to the fact that they have been in hibernation for the last 50 years.
The brand traces its roots to the second half of 1800s, Solothurn area of Switzerland and the Kottman family. In 1873, Johann Kottman established an ebauche (generic) watch movement company in the village of Langendorf. It is about this time the story of this noteworthy brand truly starts.
Following a period of turbulence in the years preceding 1880, Mr Kottman instigated a number of initiatives in order to lay the foundation for future growth. The fruition of these initiatives culminated at the tail end of the 1800s, when the Langendorf Watch Company became one of the largest watch & clock factories in the world with some 800-1000 workers.
Under the leadership of, then technical director, Lucien Tieche, in the 1880s, alongside the original movement manufacture, the Langendorf Watch Company started producing Langendorf and Lonville branded watches.
Lonville is the French name of Langendorf and was used to give a different image and air to the German-sounding Langendorf.
Whilst Lonville was most famous for its uncomplicated pocket watches, its early movement service kits show the shared calibres between the different Langendorf brands.
After 1900 more decorated cases were introduced, complemented by more elaborate dial decorations and cases in silver, rolled-gold and gold. The increasingly detailed embellishments extended to movements. Lonville watches of this era show both varieties in decoration, as well as recognisable characteristics in both dial decoration and classic simple elegance.
During these times, Langendorf was running a full manufacture of both movements and cases, eliminating reliance on external suppliers.
From pocket to wrist
Lonville were particularly successful in the United States due to the active backing and promotional activities of importer Harry Rodman.
The watches were advertised as ‘the best watch money can buy’, due to reliability and durability, and for being manufactured entirely under ‘one roof’ in Swizterland.
During the mid-1900s (1930–1950s), the range expanded from functional (dust/water/shock proof) to more elegant dress watches. Advertisements and rare examples from that era serve as testimony to these styles. These exclusive watches were manufactured in limited volumes and very much targeted at more glamorous owners.
Curious wonders from the golden era of Lonville such as this stunning 14K Rose Gold Diamond & Ruby bracelet watch can still be found through specialist dealers the likes of the Olde Towne Jewelers, however, they are becoming very much a rarity.
End of an era
The post-war Swiss watch industry decline and the 1960/70s introduction of quartz movements contributed to the Langendorf Watch company decline. The company was sold and subsequently closed in the early 1970s.
A new beginning
The ‘discovery’ of the brand in 2007 by a Dutch entrepreneur, Joost Vreeswijk and his small team gave this historic brand a new lease of life.
Eight years of steep learning curve, driven by passion, patience, and persistence and no doubt considerable investment, brought back this brand after over 50 years of hibernation.
The mantra is to produce small series (18 pieces of each Virage model), with exceptional movement, and no compromises in quality and finish.
We had the unique pleasure of personal experience and a chance to examine the current range at Salon QP (watch event in London) a couple of weeks ago – witnessing the result of the revival that are truly remarkable pieces.
The conversation with Matt Faoro (doing most of the talking) and Joost Vreeswijk, whilst closely examining the pieces on display with my LED-lit loupe was an invigorating experience.
Under the loupe, the lines looked laser-sharp, the detail and the combination of layered textured surfaces, is captivating. There is detail behind the detail – behind the detail… This kind of attention does not stop at the parts one can see – the approach is continued on the inside especially when it comes to how the surfaces are combined and held together.
The electric excitement, passion bordering on obsession with the product is remarkable. Stringent quality control spiced with personal pride and drive to produce something that is worth bringing a brand back to life for. The result is a distinct product that certainly deserves a second look and a serious consideration of ownership if looking for a bespoke timepiece born out of a desire to create something quite outstanding.
The watches are made specifically for the future owners, with their name and watch number engraved inside the watch during the final assembly stages. True to Lonville and current owners – very personal and very unique as each is a limited edition of 18 or 24.
The ‘All Swiss’ code of conduct introduced by the current owners goes beyond the requirements of ‘Swiss Made’ which usually allows many non-Swiss parts and components to be used. Lonville are extremely proud of their inherited Swiss watchmaking heritage and truly respect century old traditions as well as the world-famous Swiss precision, machinery and highly skilled workforce.
The deliberate absence of a retail network ensures that Lonville will remain a rare sight and quite exclusive. Owners can enjoy the personal attention of owning a bespoke product that has been largely lost in today’s mass production society.
Further information: www.lonville.com
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