Longines wristwatch for J W Benson, 1933

Last Updated on July 13, 2024 by Jason

In my recent searches for a nice Art Deco style wristwatch, I came across the following offering from The Vintage Wrist Watch Company, a Longines cushion-cased wristwatch for J W Benson dating from 1933. Although, not the typical rectangular-curvex Art Deco design I was looking for, the battered dial has appeal, much like a well-loved childhood toy that has seen better days. The watch has a 15-jewel Longines 12.68Z hand-winding movement which is keeping good time. The movement is signed Longines and also has the mark for Baume & Co, importers of Longines to the UK and the Commonwealth. The movement is marked with a serial number dating back to 1933.

Cushion-cased Longines wristwatch for J W Benson, 1933.
Cushion-cased Longines wristwatch for J W Benson, 1933.

Longines

Longines traces its origins to 1832 when Auguste Agassiz co-founded a watchmaking business in Saint-Imier with Henri Raiguel and Florian Morel. Initially known as Raiguel Jeune & Cie. Operating as a comptoir, it gathered watch components from specialised craftsmen and assembled them into watches, following the “établissage” system. This changed when Longines established its own factory, transitioning to an independent manufacturing model.

Agassiz’s connections in America allowed the company to expand into that market, where the watches gained popularity. After Raiguel and Morel departed, Agassiz’s nephew, Ernest Francillon, took control in 1852. Under Francillon’s leadership, Longines underwent significant modernization, including acquiring land and constructing a factory in an area known as “les longines,” which inspired the company’s modern name. Francillon’s tenure marked the company’s shift towards industrial watch production and the development of a distinctive identity.

By the early 20th century, Longines had established itself as a premier provider of timing equipment for international sporting events, including the Olympics, and equestrian competitions. This association with sports significantly enhanced Longines’ prestige and global standing. Throughout the mid-20th century, the brand continued its tradition of innovation, introducing collections such as the Longines Conquest and Flagship.

Longines 12.68Z

ThisLongines calibre 12.68Z is a manually wound movement, with a lever escapement, 15 jewels and a bi-metallic compensation balance. There is some debate about when the 12.68Z was launched, some sources indicate 1938, but others suggest it was as early as 1929. I have seen a number of examples, like this watch, where the serial number dates before 1938. I suspect the earlier date of 1929 is closer to the truth. It was a very successful movement that was in production for decades until the late 1950s. The 12”’ lignes (27mm) movement did evolve over time and later models included 17 jewels and Incabloc shock protection. The 12.68Z movement had a power reserve of 41 hours.

Longines 12.68Z movement.
Longines 12.68Z movement.

The surface finish on the 12.68Z movement plates varied from fine gilt plating with no surface decoration to fully decorated rhodium plating with gilt lettering. All the screws were highly polished and well-made. The bridges have chamfered edges and a clean-cut design. The ratchet and crown wheels had a fine finish. The 12.68Z is widely recognised as one of the best hand-wound movements of the era. Most notably, the Longines 12.68z was used in British military watches during World War II. This movement in particular was used in Longines’ version of the Dirty Dozen military watches issued by the British Army.

J W Benson

J W Benson was founded in 1847, by the brothers, James William Benson and Samuel Suckley Benson. They were regarded as one of Victorian London’s leading retail jewellers. They also sold their own line of watches. In 1892 J W Benson became a limited company and moved to a new ‘steam’ factory at 38 Belle Sauvage Yard. It is not clear if Benson was manufacturing movements or merely assembling and finishing movements supplied by other watchmakers. Either way, the company flourished and boasted a client base including British and European royalty.  J W Benson was awarded a Royal Warrant to supply watches to Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales.

In the early 1900s, Benson began using Swiss movements, such as Revue and Cyma. It is likely that Benson’s found the Swiss movements more financially viable than using British movements. From a collector’s point of view, both the British and Swiss-made J W Benson movements are desirable and comparable in quality. As with many watchmakers, J W Benson embraced the newly introduced wristwatch during the First World War. It was never truly clear if Benson ever really manufactured watches or just styled themselves as a watchmaker. Either way, their factory was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. After World War II J W Benson continued as a high street retailer for many years until they were acquired by Garrads in 1973 and then Mappin and Webb in the 1990s. The brand has since disappeared into obscurity.

Cushion case

The watch case measures 30mm in width excluding the winding crown and 30mm high excluding the fixed wire lugs. The case is stainless steel and is in good condition with just general light surface marks, which is considered acceptable for a watch of this age. The marks are from normal daily use and would not be considered damage. In most cases, this sort of patina is considered desirable by collectors. The inside of the case back has the same reference number as the movement. The steel cushion form case has fixed bar lugs and a snap-on case back and bezel.

J W Benson cushion case.
J W Benson cushion case.

The plain winding crown is a later replacement, which does detract from the originality. However, an original winding crown on a manual wind watch of this age is a rarity. The crown on a manual wind watch is one of the most likely components requiring replacement as it is in use daily. It is much more common to find an original crown on an automatic watch.

A cushion case is a watch case with a square or rectangular shape with softly rounded corners that resembles a pillow. Cushion case designs have been employed in watchmaking since the early twentieth century, and they have a classic and timeless appearance that is still popular today. Cushion cases are typically constructed of metal, such as stainless steel or gold, and can be found in a wide range of finishes. These cushion cases were prevalent during the Art Deco period, but were somewhat overshadowed by the more common straight-angled rectangular cases of the time.

Dial

The enamel dial is signed Longines just above the sub-seconds dial, and also J W Benson, the original retailer of the watch. The dial is in its original finish with original hands (they would probably have had infill originally but this has been removed over the years). There is some marking and discolouration to the dial but this gives the watch character. The watch has been worn and has the scars to prove it. The acrylic crystal lens is in good condition for its age. A new leather strap has been fitted and the watch comes in a new presentation box.

Summary

This Longines wristwatch for J W Benson dating to 1933 is an eye-catching timepiece. It is battered, it is bruised and its dial shows the age-related spots that indicate a hard life. However, this vintage watch has character and could be worn with pride. It has an Art Deco feel with its cushion-cased design and would be suitable for casual or formal wear.

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