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20th Anniversary
Longines - Walter Von Känel

Longines Walter Von Känel

Honorary chairman*

Walter Von Känel has earned many nicknames, including ‘the Hussar’, ‘the Colonel’, and ‘Old Faithful’: most are a direct tribute to the fact that he has been both a serviceman and the boss of an exceptionally long-lived Swatch Group brand. ‘Von K.’ was born in Germany in 1941 to a Bernese family, then emigrated as a child to the canton of Neuchâtel. He joined Longines in 1969 and took over as CEO in 1988, remaining there until his retirement in 2020. His 50-year career at Longines saw its fair share of challenges.

Walter Von Känel

Walter Von Känel © Longines

The first was the catastrophic drop in sales in the 1980s, for reasons entirely beyond his control. The second was the gradual integration of Longines as one of the entities that was to become the Swatch Group; he was able to turn this into an opportunity. The third was the change in the brand’s essential nature, as it ceased to be an independent Manufacture and instead became an eminent member of a brand portfolio, backed by an industrial facility in which it played an essential role: this brought Von Känel into the limelight. Under his leadership, Longines increased its sales more than fivefold, once again becoming a global leader, hovering between third and fifth position worldwide. The brand recovered its landmark positioning, too, characterised by the breadth of its range, the depth of its history, as well as its compelling value for money.

Von Känel has always been involved in politics: serving as a local councillor in his adoptive home town, a member of the centre-right Free Democratic Party of Switzerland (PRD) and various local bodies, and on the town council in St-Imier, where Longines is the biggest employer. Bon vivant, former athlete, personable manager and indefatigable salesman: the Colonel is very much a larger-than-life character.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

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Based in St. Imier since 1832, Longines has a long tradition in watchmaking, characterised by the elegance of its watches. Using expertise gained as the company has evolved, Longines has gradually forged ties with the world of sport, where it demonstrates its excellence in precision timekeeping. Today, Longines is the oldest brand still in business, unchanged, in the international registers held by the World Intellectual Property Organization...

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