Bert E. Casal
October 26, 2016     |    

Remembering the Romance of The Railway

Swiss watchmaking brand Longines pays tribute to the early days of the tracks.

Trains are probably the most versatile and economic means of transport. They move people and goods from one place to another. There are no traffic lights, no humps, no intersections, and definitely, no counter-flowing traffic. In North America, trains are a major means of transportation, running above and below ground. They transport goods and products across several states.

Aside from transporting people and goods, trains are an alternative means of transportation for tourists, especially in Europe. This gives them a better look at Europe’s lush and beautiful countryside, not to mention the fact that it sometimes costs less than a plane ride.

Original Longines Railroad

The Japanese are well known for the Shinkansen, or the bullet train. Its speed and efficiency is legendary: It runs anywhere between 240-300 km/h and has the distinct honor of always arriving and leaving train stations on time.

But in the early days, trains were not always this efficient. To begin with, there were portions of the track which served trains going on both directions. Obviously, those sections of the track need to be monitored to avoid a head on collision. This was done by timed departures from stations. Knowing what time a train leaves a station will determine when it will be rolling along that one set of tracks and when it will exit it, leaving it free for another train going the other direction.

The engraving on the case back was a decoration used in 1920s pocket watches.

In order to do this, a reliable watch was needed, synchronized between stations and train engineers. If their watches were not accurate and synchronized, accidents may happen. And it did. In 1891, an engineer’s watch stopped for a few minutes then began running again. The engineer thought that he had enough time to reach a point in the tracks where the trains can pass each other safely. A collision resulted. Lives were lost.

The railway system needed a more reliable watch. Guidelines were set as to the requirements of what a railroad watch should have. Everyone had their own preferred specifications, most of them agreed that the watch should have at least 17 jewels in the movement. Other requirements include watch adjustments of at least three positions, legible Arabic numerals and outer minute divisions, and a watch size of 16-18. As further development in locomotives came into play, the need for anti-magnetism also came into the list. But one requirement was universal to all: that the watch have a maximum variation of 30 seconds per week.

Swiss watchmaker Longines was one of the brands that designed watches specifically for the railways. One of their most popular models was a piece from the 1960s. The most distinct feature of this watch was the huge Arabic numbers on the face with a “0” taking the place of the number 12 on the top of the dial. Beneath it are the numbers that indicate the military time. Towards the bottom of the dial is the inscription “RR 280” referring to Rail Road and the calibre number 280.

This year, Longines pays tribute to the adventurers of early rail road men with the release of the Longines RailRoad, a “clone” of the original 1960s model. The only visible difference is that the “RR 280 has been modified to read “RR 888” referencing this new iteration’s calibre. The highly reliable L888.2 automatic winding calibre (based on ETA A31.L01) is produced exclusively for Longines. It has 21 jewels, 25,500 alternations per hour, and a 64-hour power reserve.

The steel case measures 40 mm in diameter. The screwed back contains an engraving of the original decorations found on pocket watches designed for railway companies in the 1920s. The Longines RailRoad watch is water resistant to 30 meters.

The watchmaking expertise of Longines quickly gained momentum and popularity among railway companies in the 1900s. They were worn by the employees in Romania, Serbia, Persia, Italy, Chile, the United States, Turkey, and even China. The brand with the winged hourglass gives us the opportunity today to wear one of the most trusted brands in railroad watches. So if it’s legibility and reliability you’re after, the Longines RailRoad may be suitable for you.