As part of our More Than theme, we want to share with you this iconic, rare watch and it’s great provenance. The Longines Sommatore is one of the most exceptional chronographs ever made and is revered by collectors old and new. Many would argue is the most beautiful case design ever, but what is for sure – people love them, as do we here at Bulang and Sons. But today the Sommatore we are discussing does in fact have a fascinating history. The owner was an Air Force pilot, Police Chief, dare devil and inventor. Let us share with you Lt Colonel TL Schmidt’s Longines Sommatore. Truly More Then just a watch…
A Life Well Lived
Thur Schmidt was a man who liked to keep busy. Born in 1916, he lived life to the fullest. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves and also flew planes recreationally. His piloting skills were so good that he could fly acrobatically as part of a display team. This was very daring for the time and on at least one occasion he crash landed his plane – surviving one such incident when his plane landed upside down. He wasn’t put off though and repaired the plane and carried on! He was also a Police Chief in the City of Elkhart. By trade, Schmidt was a mechanical engineer and owned a company that manufactured aircraft parts and was a pioneer in the field of aluminium fabrication. However, one of his most important achievements was as an inventor. He invented the retractable car aerial or antennae that would become a feature of many commercially sold cars over the years. And of course, he had superb taste in watches.
The Schmidt Sommatore has an archive extract that confirms the watch was invoiced to Longines-Wittnauer in 1952. Wittnauer were Longine’s distributor in the USA at the time. The extract confirms the case back engraving which includes Schmidt’s rank (LT COL) and also his service number – AO 527332.
What is incredible is the outstanding condition in which the watch remains. One of the most interesting elements of the accompanying documentation is a photograph of Thur Schmidt sitting on the steps of an aeroplane wearing the watch. It is incredible stories like these that we love so much. The emotion of a watch is often so much more than the watch’s actual importance in the market. This is a watch that accompanied an important man on many important journeys in his life time – board meetings at his company, flying his acrobatic or military planes and even when designing his antennae. And now we are offering it to you all for the next installment of its journey.
The 13ZN Driven Chrono
The Longines reference 5699, known as the Sommatore, is a waterproof steel-cased chronograph. Featuring a large size 39.5mm case the watch features four central hands – minutes and hours plus centre minutes (red) and 1/5th seconds chronograph hands. The dial has two sub dials – a running seconds on the left and chronograph hours counter on the right side. The case is waterproof thanks to the ‘6 tacche’ screw down case back. The dial features painted luminous Arabic numeral hour markers and matching lume-filled central hour and minute hands. But aside from the technical marvels of the watch – it is just such a fantastic watch to wear. We have, for a long time, loved steel waterproof chronos (read a previous article here) and this watch is perfect in many ways. The most obvious aspect is the case size. Similar in size to a modern sapphire Daytona, at 39.5mm the Sommatore wears big, due to the depth of the case and the caseback. Two register chronos have a great aesthetic balance, which is evident on the 5699. And the four hands are an unusual added element that lifts the watch beyond a ‘regular’ vintage chrono.
The term Sommatore is actually the Italian nickname for the Longines 13ZN 12 movement, although it is also referred to as the doppia lancetta. It is a unique calibre due to the central chronograph minutes hand – which meant the watches had four central hands. The movements were fitted in steel, yellow gold and pink gold cases and were manufactured between 1945 and 1947. Longines scholars believe there to have been only approximately 250 pieces in steel in two versions. One with round pushers and screw down caseback, like our example, and another with a snap case back and square pushers.
Of course, we can’t resist curating some cool style for all you watch lovers. It’s a watch that seems to literally work on any strap, but here are some of our favourites. What a great watch – check it out for sale in our shop here.
With thanks to Longines expert George Pakkos for his invaluable insight for this piece.