Chronographs have been dominating the vintage watch market for quite some time now, and with collector’s tastes becoming increasingly more refined, more attention has shifted towards the earlier offerings of Longines. Though their modern chronographs may not be able to hold a candle to that of brands like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and A. Lange & Söhne, this was not always the case, as their back-catalogue is ridden with several of the greatest chronograph calibers of all time. Today, let’s focus on Longines’ legendary Cal. 30CH, along with a few of the alluring pieces in which it can be found.
To fully appreciate and understand the mechanical work of art that is the Cal. 30CH, one must first familiarize themselves with its predecessor, the revered Cal. 13ZN. Introduced in the mid 1930s, this chronograph ushered in a new era of movement design, characterized by the use of advanced complications and arguably perfect mechanical architecture. This caliber also marked another first for Longines in watchmaking history, as many believe it to be the first flyback chronograph, allowing for the timing of events in rapid succession. This of course followed the very first chronograph wristwatch movement — the Cal. 13.33Z. In the eyes of seasoned collectors, the 13ZN is undoubtedly a benchmark of chronograph caliber design, and upon opening the caseback of a 13ZN-equipped timepiece, it’s easy to see why.
The 30CH would see its introduction towards the end of the 1940s, as the result of Longines’ desire to produce an equally impressive chronograph, but at a slightly lower production cost. Much like the 13ZN, some examples of the 17-jewel 30CH too featured a flyback complication, along with the exact same dimensions of its predecessor, to allow for a seamless integration into the brand’s product lines. This notion is surely supported by the step-cased Ref. 6474 of the early 1950s, which can easily be mistaken for earlier references bearing the 13ZN, to the untrained eye.
Just as the traditionally styled 13ZN-equipped pieces reflected the time in which they were manufactured, so did the timepieces bearing the great 30CH. While you might have found 13ZN’s in ornately shaped cases with roman numeral-clad dials, the 30CH was commonly found at the heart of more youthful designs, produced with divers, sportsmen, and drivers in mind. Of particular interest to many is the Ref. 8225 “Nonius,” which incorporated the traditionally styled and crafted movement into a genuinely avant-garde, sports-focused design. Even more refined offerings like the earlier, steel-cased Ref. 7413 reflected a new direction for the brand, thanks to the use of brightly coloured scales and modern typefaces.
Ultimately, the 30CH would meet its fate at the hands of ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG), the once largest Swiss watch conglomerate, who acquired the brand in 1971. Movement production ended, and would then be outsourced to Ebauches SA. Later, ETA would assume the role of Longines’ movement manufacturer, during the 1983 conglomerate merger that would birth the Swatch Group. With this in mind, it could be said that 30CH-equipped chronographs represent the last of the watchmaker’s offerings to truly be worthy of such an important name like Longines. It’s calibers like these that elevate mere wristwatches to mechanical marvels of taste and distinction.
Isaac Wingold is a vintage watch specialist and collector from Toronto, Canada. His horological insights can also be found on the webpages of Wound For Life, Petrolicious, Chrono24, and Christie’s.