Amongst some of the most collectible Longines watches are those known as the Serbians, or Serbos as the Italian collectors refer to them. There are two known batches of these watches, and both versions of these watches were given as gifts on behalf of the Serbian king to graduate officers of the military academy or vojna akademija. We can assume that they were on special order by the retailer Milan T Stefanovich to Longines. Stefanovich was the most prominent royal retailer in Belgrade in the early 20th century, selling both jewellery and watches. We believe that they had eight shops in the region and during the 1930s, Stefanovich supplied watches to the military on behalf of the monarchy.
The first batch of watches, with white dials and a large caseback engraving, were given to the 62nd class of the military academy and were all invoiced in September 1937. The second batch, all of which had black dials and a smaller caseback engraving, were given to the 64th class and were all invoiced in September 1939. Both watches have snap-on backs and three-part cases. Materially, the main difference between the two versions are the caseback engravings, the dials and that the watches have different reference numbers (or cliché numbers as they are known at Longines). The early white versions have the reference 3494, with order number 19477.
According to the Longines archives regarding this first batch: “The caseback must be engraved with the Serbian coat of arms for officers, grade and year 1937. The dial must be white with the name Stefanovich and Belgrade in Cyrillic and the coat of arms.” The year 1937 would have been when the officer graduated from the academy. At the top, it says “Protect Yugoslavia”. At the bottom, it says “class 62”. These details from the archives regarding the casebacks lead me to believe that the caseback engraving was most likely done in-house by Longines rather than at the retailer Stefanovich. Both versions have fixed lug bars.
The later, second batch, black versions have the reference 2326. Longines’ archives states: “I can confirm the order number 20652. The name of Stefanovich and the emblem are on the black dial (in Cyrillic). There also is the engraving on the caseback of a ‘military coat of arms’. At the bottom, ‘class 64’.” As stated, the caseback has the symbol of Yugoslavia, a coat of arms first used by the Royal House of Karađorđević, which Serbia, along with Croatia and Slovenia, were part of during the period.
For some context, here is a brief history of the region prior to the existence of these wristwatches. The Kingdom of Serbia went through quite a few changes during the early period of the 20th century. Most notably, at the end of World War I (November 1918), Serbia united with Vojvodina and the Kingdom of Montenegro. Then a month later, Serbia merged with the newly created state of Slovenes and Croats, which in turn eventually became known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.
Fast forward to 1939 and the arrival of World War II. Yugoslavia was surrounded by countries that had become allies with the Nazis. Prince Paul, who was temporary King Regent, decided to enter into a non-aggression pact with Germany. This did not bode well with the people of Serbia or the future King Peter II. As a result, there were riots and, eventually, a coup supported by the British. Following these events, King Peter II was proclaimed of age, and Prince Paul’s regency was ended. There was a deep sense of pride and national unity in Serbia at the time, but they were forced to surrender to the Nazis on April 17, 1941.
On the dial, the coat of arms, the Saint Lazarus emblem and retailer signature “Milan T. Stefanovich Beograd” are placed directly under the Longines font in Cyrillic, hence the nickname “The Serbian” or “Serbo”. Both the black and white dials were made by dial maker Flückiger & Fils for Longines. Both were located in Saint-Imier, and Flückiger & Fils was one of the most prominent dial makers along with Stern Frères in Geneva. The typography on both the white and black dials was also used in other time-only Longines pieces from the period.
As previously stated, these watches were gifts awarded to the lieutenants who finished the military academy top of the class. The second batch with black dials have a serial range of 5,7xx,xxx, with case size 37.5mm. The white dial versions, the first batch, have a serial range of 3,3xx,xxx, with case size 38mm. The earlier white dial version also has a faceted bezel as opposed to the flat bezel on the later black version. A combination of a large case at 37.5mm, coin edge flat bezel, military connection, a very distinctive dial with the coat of arms and retailer signature, along with the caseback engraving, makes the Serbo a very desirable and interesting watch for collectors. Interestingly, most of the examples that have appeared seem to have aged in a similar fashion. Most have an almost puffy-looking patina, as can be seen in the various pictures of the watch in this article. This is probably due to the process of how these galvanised dials were originally made and in turn have aged and, in my view, adds to the charm of the watch.
The calibre 15.26 was first produced in 1911, it’s a 15½ ligne movement with a “hunter lever winding mechanism”, more or less it used the same ébauche as the calibres 15.25, 14.25, 17.26 and 21.25. Many have suggested that this was in order to retain the production costs and this was a goal regarding production of the movements in the early 20th century. But it should be emphasised that by 1937, these “old” calibres represented just 10 percent of production and were generally used mainly for special order watches, as the costs of finishing the movements were higher than that of making the new calibres. The 15.26 proved to be a sturdy calibre and, as a result, was used in other military Longines from the period, most notably the “Tartaruga” (ref. 3582). The movement proved reliable. It was gilt-finished, 34.7mm in diameter and 5.65mm in height, with a bi- metallic balance and steel Breguet overcoil.
I was lucky enough to find a wonderful example of a second batch watch with black galvanic dial, coat of arms on the dial and Yugoslavian crest on the caseback. The caseback engraving is very clear and shows no sign of previously being polished (often, the case with some of these watches is that the engraving would be faded or polished off completely). It didn’t have the correct crown when I found it, but I was very lucky to get one straight out of Longines’ drawers on a recent trip to Saint-Imier.
Here is the official information from the Longines archives on the watch: “The original serial number 5,778,665 identifies a wristwatch in stainless steel bearing the reference 2326 (this is also known as the cliché). It is fitted with a Longines manually wound mechanical movement, calibre 15.26, and was invoiced on 15 Sep 1939 to the company Stefanovich Milan T, which was at that time our agent in Belgrade. Also from the archives, I can confirm the order number 20652. The name of Stefanovich and the emblem are on the black dial (in Cyrillic). There also is the engraving on the caseback of a ‘military coat of arms’.”
In recent years, a number of other examples of Stefanovich retailer stamped watches have come to light, and not just Longines, although the Longines versions are undoubtedly among the most collectible. We have also seen pieces from some other brands as well, including Rolex, Leonidas, Pavel Bure, Marvin, Laco, Silvana and earlier railroad pocket watches. Many of these watches have the coat of arms on the dials, casebacks, inner case and, sometimes, even stamped on the movements. My passion is Longines, however, and I am fascinated by the details of these very rare and interesting military watches, and I hope you are now too!
Credits and thanks
I would like to thank all of my friends who have helped me with the research for this watch especially:
• Jennifer Bochud, friend and Longines Museum curator;
• Srdjan, friend and top collector and authority on Stefanovich watches based in Belgrade;
• Oliver Hartmann, friend and great collector of Stefanovich watches, based in Colonge Germany;
• Big thanks to my dear friend Roberto Randazzo supplying the majority of the images.