In a previous article, we announced the launch of the new Longines Spirit collection, a range of luxury timepieces that are not only a testimony to their heritage and their pioneering spirit but embody the spirit of exceptional adventurers of the past who have left their mark on history. The Longines Spirit collection helps to bring this rich heritage into the modern-day, linking history with innovation combining traditional features from pilot’s watches with contemporary lines and codes. In this article, we explore some of the profiles and the history of the extraordinary figures that have inspired the brand.
In the 1920s it was thought only men could achieve such exploits, before Amelia Earhart came along.
Born in 1897 in Kansas, she dared to do the things women at the time simply did not do. In 1921, at the age of 24, she bought her first airplane. A year later she propelled the open two-seater with merely 60 horsepower up to14,000ft(4,267m), setting the women’s altitude record.
In 1928 Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, just one year after Charles Lindbergh’s record flight. She flew from Newfoundland in Canada to Wales in the UK – it lasted 20 hours and was fraught with harsh weather conditions.
Four years later in 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic. In just 41 hours and 56 minutes, battling strong Canadian winds, icy conditions, and mechanical problems she landed in Northern Ireland. On both of her Atlantic crossings, she was wearing a Longines Chronograph. At the time, watches were the only navigation instrument available and was a crucial part of her expeditions.
Some months later the young woman from Long Island (New York) caused yet more furore, when she flew under all four bridges in New York. She was the first and only pilot to ever accomplish this feat. And all because a male acquaintance, who tried and failed said she couldn’t.
After battling exhaustion, cold, turbulence, and equipment problems, Elinor Smith broke the women’s solo endurance record, flying an open-cockpit–plane for 13 hours and 16 minutes on 30th January 1929: at that time the wonder child of aviation was just 17.
After she was voted Woman Pilot of the Year in 1930, she flew higher than anyone else and set a record of 27,418 ft (8,357 m).
In 1931, Smith soared even higher to 32,576 ft (9,929 m), setting a new women’s world record, though she nearly died during the first attempt. At 26,000 ft (7,900 m) the engine stopped, she lost consciousness and the plane started plummeting towards the ground. Time was running out, but Smith woke up at about 6,000 ft (1,800 m) and managed to land in Long Island.
Elinor Smith refused to be constrained by her youth or her gender, pushing boundaries as far as she could to show other young women 12 what was possible
In 1938, the fastest man in the air took just 3 days, 19 hours, and 14 minutes to circumnavigate the world in his Lockheed Super Electra: Howard Hughes broke the previous record by almost four days. Hughes arrived in New York, after flying a distance of 14,800 miles (23,818 km) around the Northern Hemisphere.
The watches in Hughes’ Lockheed were essential tools. Invented in 1938 to facilitate navigation in fast-moving aviation, the Longines Siderograph did not display usual civilian time, but rather sidereal time in hour angles, minutes, and minute arcs.
In 1935, Hughes set the landplane airspeed record of 352 mph (566 km/h) in his sleek H-1-Racer in California. This was the last time in history that the world record for airspeed was set in an aircraft built by a private individual – his own company Hughes Aircrafts. In 1937, Hughes set a new transcontinental airspeed record by flying non-stop from Los Angeles to Newark in 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds. His average ground speed during the flight was an impressive 322 mph (518 km/h).
Hughes inherited his father’s company, an oil industry drill company and in the following years, managed to multiply the family fortune with his ventures and investments: as a film producer and aviation entrepreneur, manufacturing, and real estate. One of the wealthiest men of his time, he donated much of his fortune to philanthropic causes in health care and medical research.
Paul Emile Victor
Paul-Émile Victor had no limits – geographical borders did not stop him in his quest to discover more and go further. He joined the navy and obtained his pilot’s licence, making land, sea, and air all within his reach.
During World War II, he was a pilot and paratrooper in the U.S. Air Force. When peace was restored, he returned to France and founded the French Polar Expeditions. Over almost 30 years, Paul-Émile Victor led 150 expeditions searching for information to uncover the mystery of the poles. During this time, he trusted in the reliability and precision of Longines watches and instruments as they were resistant to the most extreme weather conditions.
Longines chronometers were synchronised with an hourly radio signal and used to calculate astronomical points, which were essential to determine positions and routes. Members of the expeditions wore Longines wristwatches, including a model (ref. 5483) which was reissued in 2010.
Gaston Rouillon, deputy director, appreciated their perfect regularity and high level of accuracy, while assistant physicist, Jean-Claude Heuberger, was surprised that the watches could even withstand seawater. Marcel Ichac, a filmmaker who went with them, pointed out that even at temperatures of –40° C for two months, the movement continued to work. Geologist Jean Ravier simply said: “I was delighted!”