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Vintage Ebay Watch Find: Longines Nonius Valjoux 72 Vernier Seconds Hand

by Jonathan Ho on August 10, 2016

Evolving from spring-driven clocks in 15th century Europe, watchmaking is a 500 year old industry and with such tenure, the brands which promagulate and persist become defined by their brand provenance. In terms of consumer psychology: it’s not easy to trust a new brand. But with Longines, the St. Imier brand finds a bulwark in its rich history even when its new watch collections are positioned in the value segment of the market. Implicitly, it follows that specific references become highly sought after symbols of brand milestones and in the eyes of aficionados, they’re “grails”.

Vintage Ebay Watch Find: Longines Nonius Valjoux 72 Vernier Seconds Hand

ebay vintage watch find - Longines Nonius Valjoux 72 Vernier Seconds Hand 2

The Nonius hand on this Longines chronograph is notable for use of the Vernier scale on the seconds hand which made it immensely practical for 1/10th of a second reading. Image: Time Titans

In watchmaking, brands accrue provenance by virtue of tenure like Vacheron Constantin (longest continually operating watch brand in the industry), technical genius (e.g. Urwerk) or creative revolution (e.g. MB&F); for a brand like Longines, provenance comes from exploring the depths of its heritage archives; this in turn means producing new heritage collection re-issues which remind the consumer and draw upon nostalgia of its glorious heyday.

Thus, it becomes fun (and rewarding on some occasions) to spot these horological treasures in the form of vintage ebay watches and watch (no pun intended) as an ebay bargain accrues value simply with the brand announcing a heritage re-make. Other times, the vintage watch find in question is already possessed of a highly sought after movement or aesthetic signature which makes its ownership highly desirable.

ebay vintage watch find - Longines Nonius Valjoux 72 Vernier Seconds Hand 1

It was released in both steel and gold models. But given that it was released at the height of the quartz crisis, it wasn’t very popular like the other chronographs of the era (e.g. the Daytona). Image: Time Titans

World’s first practical fractions of a second display on a wristwatch

The Longines Nonius Ref. 8273-1 was a chronograph from the late 1960s and the first to use the vernier scale to read 1/10th of a second. Uncommon though originally launched in 18K gold, the 39.3mm by 37.8mm chronograph featured a high contrast orange vernier central seconds hand which made it immensely practical to read fractions of a second.

To use technically precise terminology, Longines refers to the patented seconds hand (formally patented in 1971 as no. DE1673822) as “Nonius” second hand which allows accurate 1/10th second timing intervals through use of the Vernier principle. The Vernier scale (which you might find familiar from your middle or high school days) is where Vernier Calipers takes its name and is simply a device which allows the user to measure increments more precisely than could be possible when reading a uniformly divided ruler because it can measure between two indexes on a scale. As such, the Verniers scale is common in scientific tools like navigational sextants and laboratory micrometers.

Birth of the Nonius hand

You might have noticed that we called the Longines Nonius Ref. 8273-1  with modified Valjoux 72 (Longines calibre 332) as the world’s first wristwatch with practical fractions of a second display but originally, the idea for fractions of a second timing was actually conceptualised for a Longines pocket watch specifically for the Helsinki Olympic games (which sadly was cancelled with the onset of the World War II).

Longines ref 262 chronograph pocket watch launched in 1966. Image: Longines.

Longines ref 262 chronograph pocket watch launched in 1966. Image: Longines.

When the flyback chronograph ref. 260 first appeared in 1957, the dial carried 600 separate divisions to time an interval of 1/10th of a second and obviously, this wasn’t ideal from a user friendliness standpoint, more importantly, a 36,000 vph in the 1950s was a heck of a complicated watch, so much so that third party repairs and servicing were suspended for technical and practical reasons. So, Frank Vaucher, a precision timer at Longines decided that he had a two part problem to solve – readability and engineering.

In terms of engineering, Vaucher simply used a different coupling system and a 60-seconds driving wheel rather than a 30-seconds driving wheel found in the calibre 260. In terms of user friendliness, Vaucher discovered that using a seconds hand with a comb of nine “teeth” rather than the traditional arrow pointer meant that when the flyback hand was paused, one of the “teeth” (with corresponding numeral) would stop exactly with one of the second markers around the dial, this made reading tenths of a second easier and it was widely implemented to other Longines chronometers.

Concluding thoughts

At the last Christies auction (lot 574) in 2015, the 18k gold Longines Nonius Ref. 8273-1 with Vernier seconds hand sold for USD5,900. Today, the most commonly transacted price for an 18k gold Nonius Ref. 8273 (when you can find it on ebay or chrono24 in similar good condition) is north of USD6,100.

That said, the watch was part of the 1970 collection and so, it faced lacklustre demand at the time (context: the Rolex Daytona wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves either) and as this Longines Nonius was an 18K gold piece, the price point was high and did not yield much sales, hence it was discontinued. Currently there are no plans to reintroduce it.

Disclaimer: Deployant makes no guarantees as to the authenticity or provenance of any online watch auctions. What is provided is merely an editorial position on the rich heritage and history of the timepiece.

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