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Review: Longines Avigation Type A-7 USA

Since its first appearance strapped to the loose end of an arm in 1868, we’ve all become pretty well accustomed to what has been very unimaginatively titled the wristwatch. Even in today’s age of superfast mega technology, we still choose to strap our time-telling devices to the part of us most convenient to bring close to our faces. The handsfree device is so familiar that’s it practically branded in our minds—and here’s why the Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 USA is one of the weirder ones.

The Angle

It’s as plain as the watch on your wrist that this Longines is at a slant. You don’t need to adjust your monitor—it’s supposed to look like that. In fact, you don’t even need to adjust your head, because that’s kind of the whole point of this watch. It’s a pilot’s watch, one that draws its inspiration from an almost identical Longines from the 1930s, also called the Type A-7. “A” for aviation, no doubt, “7” because—well, I guess there were six earlier attempts.

But why was Longines even making pilot’s watches? It’s less well-known than it should be, but Longines is an old, old brand, one of the oldest. Never mind the 1930s, Longines has been keeping people on time since the 1830s, so by the time aviation came along, the eyes there may have been old, but they were keen with experience. Longines knew that travelling by aviation, or “avelling” was going to be a pretty big hit, and so it was decided that a Longines watch should be the one to help pilots navigate during aviation, or “Avigation”.

Longines was founded by Auguste Agassiz in 1832, St-Imier, Switzerland

Longines was founded by Auguste Agassiz in 1832, St-Imier, Switzerland

No point leaving it to chance; the watchmaker leveraged what you might now call celebrity endorsement and paid a flying man to wear a Longines watch as he flew. You might have heard of him: his name was Charles Lindbergh, and he flew a pretty little kite called the Spirit of St. Louis as he avigated his way across the Atlantic for the first time ever, all the while wearing a Longines on his wrist as he avelled.

So why the wonky dial? Well, you don’t survive a century in the watchmaking game without trying out a few ideas, and Longines had the particularly bright one of cantering the display around forty degrees so the pilot wouldn’t have to abandon his controls simply to see if he was to be late for tea and biscuits. As an idea, it’s simply arvellous.

The Chronograph

If you’re the kind of person who knows their Daytonas from their Datejusts, then you’ll also be pretty confident in stating that this watch, this pilot’s watch, is also a chronograph. We know from Breitling that a chronograph on a pilot’s watch is a good idea, a useful aid in the calculation of many things that occur whilst traversing the sky. There was no autopilot, no digital readouts, no fly-by-wire—a pilot was as much a mathematician and engineer as they were the custodian of the flight controls.

Don’t be fooled by the wonky dial or the vertically stacked arrangement of the sub-dials—make no mistake, this is for sure a chronograph. In fact, a little bit of mental acrobatics will reveal how this thing was quite simply devised, by rotating the movement anti-clockwise a little bit to move the crown somewhere between where the one and two would usually reside. Were the dial printed as you’d expect, the twelve would be where the nine is now.

Longines is part of the Swatch Group

Longines is part of the Swatch Group

But there’s still an unanswered question, and that’s: if this is a chronograph, where are the chronograph pushers? There’s usually one for start and stop, and one for reset. Short answer: on the end of the crown. But if that’s start and stop, where’s reset? Shorter answer: it’s also reset. Kind of like a stopwatch—and when you look at the shape of the case, that’s because it—well, the original—was based on a stopwatch.

It wasn’t until 1934, a couple of years after the A-7, until a certain Mr. Willy Breitling thought a watch might benefit from separating the functions out over two pushers, finally giving us the arrangement we all know and love today.

The Date

The next and final quirk of this watch takes a little bit of thinking, and is more notable for its absence than it is for its presence. Until as late as 1945, it was a feature only found in conjunction with many other much more complicated functionality, but now its inclusion is virtually a given on any watch to be found in a jeweller’s window. I am, of course, talking about the date.

It’s a hot button topic, a seemingly never-ending discussion surrounding the pros and cons of the little window so often seen cut out of an otherwise flush dial. The benefit is obvious: a watch serves primarily to relay information, and the more information it can clearly impart, the better. Rolex’s 1945 Datejust was the first to do so exclusively with the monthly vivisection; so proud is the organisation of this feature that it quite literally puts it under the microscope.

Longines has a record of every watch sold since 1867

Longines has a record of every watch sold since 1867

But prior to 1945, when many of the classic designs that defined the shape of the wristwatch as we know it today came to be, the date was unheard of—and that includes the A-7. Previous versions of the modern A-7 reissue have indeed included a date window at six—this watch’s six, I mean—and that, and many other reissues like it, have come under fire for making that decision.

It’s a lose-lose situation for the manufacturer: keep the date and incur the wrath of the enthusiast community; lose the date and deter a public that’s become quite used to having one, thank you very much. For this USA edition of the A-7, Longines has chosen the latter, alongside a design that is the closest representation of the original yet. It’s an unusual decision at the expense of practicality, but one I think many would agree suits the watch to a T.

The idiosyncrasies of the Longines Avigation Type A-7 offer a view to the inquisitive into a past before such things as chronographs, dates and even the wristwatch itself was part of common parlance. The many ages of discovery that have evolved this watch into being each tell a story of invention that leaves a person with a certain curious nostalgia: what would it have been like to adapt a business to the coming of flight, or experience the revolution of the twin-pusher chronograph for the first time? And, perhaps more importantly, what is there that we are amazed by today that in years to come will be looked back upon with that same quaint yearning?

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