Both Longines and Rolex are world-famous watch brands. And, given that they have existed for a combined 248 years (Longines 132 and Rolex 116), it's no surprise. The winged logo of Longines and the coronet (or more commonly labeled “crown” of Rolex) are two of the widest-known and best-loved symbols of quality in the luxury market.
However, while both brands make watches and both brands' products can be considered very much among life's luxuries, they are not in the same league at all. And while that might sound somewhat damming for the lower tier brand, neither brand has any intention of competing with one another. These brands are pitched toward very different market segments and do different kinds of things very well.
There is no simple answer to the question, “what is the best watch in the world?” It depends entirely on the tastes and desires of the person asking the question, of course. It also depends on the questioner's means. As the possibility of ownership is the first hurdle to consider, let’s begin comparing these two popular brands there.
Longines watches start in the three-figure range, while Rolex watches now start at around $6,000 (with pre-owned versions in the $4,000 range). That difference is enormous. In fact, there are very few Longines that come anywhere near the cost of entry for Rolex. As such, the two cannot really be considered direct “rivals”. However, it would not be surprising or unusual to find both brands represented in the same collector’s collection. But why?
In the world of watchmaking, prestige matters. There is more than one way to build prestige around a brand, but none is more effective than a long history of excellence. Rolex, unlike many brands (including Longines), never suffered a serious dip in market perception. Throughout the quartz crisis of the 1970s, when battery-powered quartz-regulated movements threatened to overtake their mechanical forerunners, Rolex stayed strong and continued producing desirable models that stayed high in the public consciousness. This is thanks to a long track record of innovative firsts and impeccable marketing and communication.
While Longines did flounder, ending up eventually being acquired by what is now the Swatch Group, it never left the watchmaking scene. Its popularity has steadily grown in the decades since mechanical watchmaking’s recovery began. This is thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and its huge investment in its presence in the far east markets, backed by its powerful conglomerate. Longines is now one of the most recognizable brands worldwide, and its' production volume eclipses Rolex’s significantly.
Given the broader range of watch styles available in the Longines catalog, with many still powered by quartz movements, this is hardly surprising. However, with that production volume also comes increased presence. The fact Longines watches reside on so many wrists that themselves reside in all corners of the globe is significant. There are few more desirable brands for travelers from the far east coming to Europe or America looking to take advantage of favorable VAT breaks and to take home a bargain to their friends and family (or maybe just for their own collection). And perhaps the most obvious reason why this sales strategy works so well for Longines is that the watches are available. Although it sounds like a crazily simple thing, it is something extremely important that Longines has over Rolex.
Why do people buy luxury watches?
There are many reasons why anyone buys a luxury watch, but for them to even buy a watch in the first place, the watch has to be available to buy. Rolex is famous for its “managed scarcity.” This drives up the brand’s cachet and, ultimately, the second-hand and gray market prices of the brand’s most popular models. While the (generally unpopular) strategy seems to be working very nicely for Rolex, it does not sit well with those looking to make an impulse buy.
While it may seem crazy (even insulting) to suggest watches with four-figure price tags (and more) are ever impulse buys, the reality is that for some people, they just are. Just visiting a Rolex boutique nowadays will reveal just how few of the desirable models (mostly the professional series like the Submariner or GMT-Master II) are available to buy on the spot (basically zero worldwide).
Airport stores that were once an excellent spot to pick up the latest model are now almost empty, with the odd window display adorned with one or two uncommercial models a retailer likely regards itself as “lucky” for having the chance to sell at all. Here, Longines wins the battle, hands down. If you want a Longines, you can have a Longines. While that seems like a bit of a half-hearted compliment, it is a serious thing to consider when the realities of securing ownership become clear.
A watchmaking club
The sheer number of Longines fans worldwide means that you will instantly become part of a massive group if you buy into the brand. The same is true of Rolex, but, again, you can’t join “the club” without a watch, and so many would-be Rolex buyers are left out in the cold.
None of that means Longines is better than Rolex. The brands are simply different. As I said, it isn’t uncommon to find both brands in the same collection. However, aside from the true collectors that value Longines history and enjoy its far more classical aesthetic (in general), the disparity between potential Rolex and Longines customers couldn’t be further.
There is better, and then there is better.
This means that just because Rolex watches may be materially better, or more sought after, or rarer, that doesn’t mean in the slightest that they are better for everyone. You have to decide for yourself what you like. If you like Longines, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go for it. You should never feel as if the existence of another type of excellence invalidates your preference. Some people will believe wholeheartedly in the Rolex brand, while others will fight tooth and nail defending Longines. Ultimately, though, it comes down to you and you alone.
Do your research, enjoy the ride, and pick your poison. Your bank account likely won’t be too happy with you either way. Therefore, follow your heart before you follow the Instagram trends that tell us we need an Explorer II to be happy. You won’t regret it.