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Review: 3 Reasons To Get A Longines

There are watches cheaper, and there are watches far more expensive, but right now Longines occupies a sweet spot between quality and affordability that is quite likely the best positioned in the market. Here are three reasons why.

Longines Heritage Military L2.819.4.93.2

It’s a bit of an enigma, the brand Longines. You think Omega’s brand equity got hit hard by the quartz crisis, toppling from mid-market king to Rolex runner-up; Longines had it worse. It’s a brand that’s been around since 1832, longer than both Omega and Rolex, establishing many of the modern principles for in-house manufacture and even responsible for making the first ever chronograph movement for a wristwatch.

It was such an influential and popular watchmaker back in its heyday, earning accreditation as timekeepers for global events like the Olympics, that the Saint-Imier brand became the first watchmaker to register its trademark to combat the fake market. That’s right, fake watches are no new thing; this was way back in the 1800s, and even then there were companies knocking out cheap imitations of the most popular brands.

Things are a little different now. Who would’ve thought that new kid Rolex would be dominating and the old guard Longines would be scratching around at the more affordable end of the market? Don’t shed a tear just yet, however, because this presents a very lucrative opportunity for the eager enthusiast who’s not got the budgets for Rolex and Omega.

With an enormous back catalogue to plunder, Longines is not short of material to work with from every decade of its near-two century existence. From the start of its wristwatch-making era comes this, the Longines Heritage Military. Amongst its many customers, Longines supplied watches to the British Royal Air Force throughout World War II, and this Heritage Military is based on one of them.

Here’s the tricky bit: Longines obviously wants to be faithful to the original watch, but also acknowledges that certain aspects of the original just won’t fly today. The case size, for example, was originally 32mm; at 38.5mm, the reissue still feels appropriately small without being too much so. It’s more like a rose-tinted memory than reality.

Speaking of tinting, another decision Longines has chosen to make is the inclusion of aging on the dial. Controversial, eh? You might like it, you might not. Representative of the decaying process of the paint used almost a hundred years ago, the speckles randomly applied to the dial are certainly a bold choice. Whether you like it or not, the blued cathedral hands, big crown and domed sapphire are all so satisfyingly proportioned that perhaps it can be forgiven.

A nice little touch is the inclusion of the calibre L888. This comes from group manufacturer ETA, and is based on the commonplace 2892, however it’s been down tuned from 28,800bph to 25,600bph; not only does this extend power reserve to sixty-five hours, it also more closely approximates the slower beat the original would have had.

At £1,650 and considering the levels of fit and finish on offer, the Longines Heritage Military sets a standard for the brand that gives it such underground appeal. Sure, you’re average Joe on the street won’t have heard of this historical legend—but that’s their loss, not yours.

Longines Heritage 1945 L2.813.4.66.0

We shuffle on to the end of the Second World War for our next dive into the annals of Longines’ history. Salmon dials may have been the big thing of 2019, but Longines were making it happen way back in 1945—as the efficiently named Heritage 1945 demonstrates.

It’s a testament to the brand’s respect for itself—especially given its current market position—that this watch even exists at all. You have to imagine just how prolific a brand like Longines was back when it was in its prime; there are a lot of models and references that have simply escaped the records, and this is one of them.

It all started when fellow watch editorialists and Leica fans Hodinkee posted a picture of a vintage Longines watch from, you guessed it, 1945. It was one that had slipped by the Longines heritage department, and thus it caught their eager attention. So the watch made its way back home after seventy years for further study. The result? This Heritage 1945, of course!

Once again, it’s an incredibly faithful reissue that does the original justice both in the way it looks and the way it’s been put together. At £1,500, there’s only so much that can be expected of a watch’s quality, and the Longines Heritage 1945 does an excellent job of exceeding that. It’s all in the details: from the gently brushed salmon dial; to the deeply blued hands capped off with, well a nice, polished cap; and even the jewel-like hour markers sitting at every other interval. There’s a lot to appreciate.

The way you can really tell how much Longines actually cares about its watches as much as it does its sales is in the strap. You know what brands are usually like at this level; they make a pretty decent watch and then slap on a stiff, plastic strap that smells a bit like glue and something else industrial you just can’t quite place. Not so here; a lovely, soft, simple distressed suede number comes as standard with the Heritage 1945, exactly the strap you’d buy having ditched what would ordinarily be the sorry excuse for an original.

It’s a distinctly enthusiastic thing this, paying attention to the details that only a really small group of people actually care about, and that’s what makes Longines such a great contender—and perhaps the only contender at this price point—because it has that connection with the people who really care. As business models go, it remains to be seen, but it’s worth taking advantage of whilst you can.

Where else do you see this kind of dedication to the anorak-wearing enthusiast at such an approachable segment of the market? Want a retro re-release camera to relive the glory days of photography? Expensive. A vintage-inspired hi-fi from a legend of music? Really expensive. A resto-mod car on a limited run from the original brand? Evisceratingly expensive. You get the idea.

Longines Heritage Legend Diver L3.674.4.56.3

It’s to the swinging sixties we take our journey through time to next, to the advent of the dive watch. Talk about falling dominoes; in the early fifties, dive watches, proper dive watches, were few and far between. A decade later and the market was flooded. So lucrative was the dive industry that even the most die-hard, traditional watchmakers in the business had to succumb, and Longines was one of them.

Developing a dive watch is a very expensive business, however, especially back then when the technology was in its nascence. We take for granted things like high tolerance screw threads, rubber gaskets and big water resistance, but in the fifties and sixties it was all very much experimental.

And I mean experimental as in trying it out and seeing if it works. Watches were leaking, seals were failing, crystals were popping out. It was virgin territory, and success—or failure—could make or break a business. In the case of Longines and this Heritage Legend Diver, it was the business of case supplier Ervin Piquerez that really took off. In 1956, when Piquerez patented its Super Compressor water resistant case, little did it know that its client list would grow to include Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Bulova, Hamilton, Fortis, Universal Genève, Vulcain—and of course Longines.

It really is telling of the blank page nature of the burgeoning technology that the Super Compressor case existed at all. We think of the classic Submariner as the dive watch blueprint, with many of its features recorded by the International Organisation for Standardisation as the de facto foundation of its type, but the Longines Heritage Legend Diver and all the other Super Compressor watches demonstrate just how different that could have been.

It’s a bit like Formula 1—in the earlier years of the sport, when technology wasn’t as refined, regulations allowed the incredible and downright bizarre to exist. Think of the sixed-wheeled Tyrrell, Williams’ game-changing hydraulic suspension and the utterly bonkers Brabham fan car. There’s a certain charm to the over-engineering of these racers, and indeed the Longines, which takes the very simple solution of the turning bezel and then adds so many more layers of thought than it ever really needed.

This is the biggest watch of the three at 42mm, making room for what Longines calls the “internal turning diving flange” without the dial being too small—although smaller versions are available. Once again, it’s a testament to Longines’ respect for its past, the quality far higher than it probably needed to be for the £1,650 price. I mean that most sincerely; they could have cut corners here and there—use a matte finish on the dial instead of gloss, not bothered to cross-hatch the crowns, leave the diver motif off the case back—but they didn’t, and the watch is all the more a bargain for it.

If you were on the fence about Longines, or you were looking for your next affordable luxury watch, these three slices of history demonstrate that you don’t need Rolex money to buy into a brand that’s not just affordable, but desirable as well. Longines’ impact on the industry is so downplayed in today’s market, and in one respect that’s a shame—in the other, though, it means we get great watches like these for prices that don’t break the bank.

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