Style / World of Watches (WOW)

The Longines Spirit — A Pioneer Generation

Longines introduces the entirely new Spirit collection in time for the new year, which is a significant milestone for the 188th birthday of the company

Jan 11, 2021 | By Ashok Soman

When humans lived in a mechanised transport at 1,800 metres above the ground, technology was not our only assurance. In this pioneering era of the early 20th century, you needed a measure of faith and lots of courage. And yes, pilots virtually lived on their planes because it used to take days to cross the Pacific Ocean, for example. Even the Atlantic crossing of horological icon Charles Lindbergh in 1927 took 33 hours. Speaking of which, this story requires clarity. This is not about the Avigation watches nor the Lindbergh and Weems models. Indeed, it is not about historic aviation and pilot’s watches at all.

That is not to say there are not threads connecting the Spirit watches with Longines’ existing aviation models. However, the Spirit collection is entirely new and something extraordinary like this needs a bit of space to breathe. In itself, this requires an explanation but when we heard that there would be a totally new collection from Longines this year, we knew we had to have it for the cover, and get some comments from the top brass at the company. Back in issue #48, we wrote that Longines is at the forefront of vintage renaissance, and had been since the Legend Diver of 2007. Certainly, no Swiss brand has demonstrated command over its own history quite as Longines has done. Arguably, the Swatch Group-owned brand defined the reissue watch, and the new-vintage trend that has come to dominate watchmaking, counterbalancing the triumph of the sports watch.

The Spirit collection is peak new vintage because it is novel for 2020, and does not exist in the Longines assortment. There was a collection bearing the name Spirit but it is unrelated. That means the Spirit is an entirely new family of watches from a 188-year-old Swiss watchmaker. Take a moment to let that sink in, while bearing in mind the evidence of the depth of the brand’s archive. So, while we will return to the subject of pioneers such as Lindbergh, we will open this lengthy missive by being upfront that links to the past here are entirely spiritual.

This is particularly striking to us at WOW, because there are so many brands without heritage, history or legitimacy that stake bold claims with even bolder watches. As is our practice in our cover stories, there is no need to compare brands, but the heritage releases from Longines usually bring smiles to our faces when it comes time to decide on watches to cover. There is always something real to discuss, and meat to sink our journalistic musings into.

To some extent, no aviator needed to be associated with Longines directly because the watchmaker was the official supplier to the International Aeronautical Federation more than 100 years ago, in 1919.

Tethered to Tradition

With such strong collections as the Master, HydroConquest and Heritage, to list only three, the first question with the Spirit collection would be this: what does it add to an already diverse assortment? The short answer is that it delivers a contemporary vision for Longines watches that is still tethered to the brand’s traditions, without being shackled to them.

To be sure, just looking at the watches does not tell the whole story. As we reported last issue, we did manage to get a feel of the watches directly and we can say it does help make the case for the Spirit. This story does one thing the watches do not: relate the watches back to what animates Longines’ aviation timepieces.

Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her autogiro after setting a new altitude record for women in planes of this type. She failed, however, to break Elinor Smith’s record of 27,418 feet in a non-windmill type plane.

There are three main variants in the Spirit collection, stratified by a combination of form and function. All are united by what we call pencil-style hands (by the standards
of our house rules set in issue #45 but Longines addresses the hands as baton-style) and applied Arabic numerals, plus five stars and the word chronometer, because the models are COSC-certifed as such. The central second hand and the chronograph second hand are also in the same style, with a diamond shape on the tip. All hands and numerals use liberal amounts of SuperLuminova. All watches use new movements, produced exclusively for Longines by ETA. All are water-resistant to 100 metres, and cased in stainless steel. All have five-year warranties.

With regards to those five stars, Longines says this is a reflection of the best quality that it could offer, and is a reference to something the brand had done in the past. Basically, it is a five-star rating, as you might find in other trades relating to quality standards. There is some indication that these five stars featured on the dial of historical pieces, and many Swiss manufactures in the past produced three levels of quality, at three distinct price points. Five stars typically indicated that a given watch was of the best quality.

The above is all that clearly unites the Spirit collection, but of course the wrist-presence is what matters. For that, we do need to reference the past a bit, especially aviators and explorers. One standout is French ethnologist and explorer Paul-Emile Victor. The other great names cited by Longines are all aviation pioneers, but Victor was different. He is known today for organising post-WW2 French expeditions to both poles, but he had already done pioneering work in Greenland in 1934. While Victor had served in the US Air Force during the war, this is not what links him with Amelia Earhart, Elinor Smith and Howard Hughes.

True to Form

To get to the emotional crux of the matter, which is perfect because of the collection’s name, we went directly to Longines for answers. Newly minted CEO Matthias Breschan spared more than a few words for us. “Each watch in our Heritage segment — such as The Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch or the Longines Weems Second-Setting Watch – is the reinterpretation of a specific Longines’ historical model,” said Breschan.

“The concept behind the creation of Longines Spirit is different, this line being rather a testimony to the pioneer spirit. Therefore, the collection takes different aesthetical elements from Longines vintage pilot’s watches – such as the oversized crown, the flange, the pronounced step around the crystal, the font of the dial, the diamond shape indexes or the large, luminous ‘baton’ hands – and combines them with contemporary lines and codes.”

Breschan, formerly CEO of Rado, answered all sorts of questions for us on this occasion. You can hear directly from him in the second part of this article in this issue. It was very kind of the new CEO to speak with us on this subject, given that he was only appointed to his current position this year. Indeed, if you are one of our regulars then you know we featured him as the CEO of Rado in our Spring issue (#56) this year. As has been noted by plenty of other publications over the years, Longines does not produce watches that are the vision of any one person, and the Spirit collection is definitely representative of the DNA of the brand, as Breschan noted. Given the name of the collection, this observation is very much on-point.

Once again, this is why we like the link forged here with polar explorer Victor. It resonates with Longines’ own description of the Spirit collection from its brochure: “Inspired by timeless pioneers, explorers on a mission to enter uncharted territories. Men and women who have put their lives at stake to conquer the skies, land and seas. This is the true essence of the pioneer spirit: despite adversity and failures, pioneers never give up.” Perhaps we are reading too much into this but it seems the Spirit is just the right collection for our current moment in history.

Three Hands and the Date

Looking to the watches themselves, we will spend a little time with the three-hander and the chronograph. For more details on the chronograph in particular, please look to our cover watch section, as usual. As for the three-hander, we covered it in our last issue.

This brings us to a small correction: while we do think the entire Spirit collection, and the three-hander in particular, feels like a time-travelling watch, we missed the mark last issue. Here is a better description: the watch performs the very neat trick of travelling through time, from the present to the past and back again, to recommend itself for your wrist. That is genuinely what it feels like, from looking at it to wearing it. This applies to all versions of the watch, 40mm and 42mm. Sticklers will want to pay attention to the date display as this will be the main divisive factor. We are on-record that the 40mm version without the number 3 is the most fetching. Anyway, all three-handers use the automatic calibre L888.4 with 64 hours of power reserve and a silicon balance spring.

“Linking history with innovation, the new models take traditional features from pilots’ watches and combine them with contemporary lines and codes”

For dial colours, there are a number including matt black, grained silver and sunray blue. These are offered across the 40mm and 42mm three-handers, as well as the chronograph. The chronograph has three pushers and different configurations and set-ups for the date than the three-handers. The pusher at 10 o’clock controls the date, and is screwed down to prevent accidental changes. The chronograph is powered by the automatic calibre L688.4 (see cover watch for details).

In terms of wearability, we had no issues with fit, and yes we prefer it with the bracelet. Having said that, the NATO strap is also a great option. We did not find any sharp edges to the case or the bracelet to complain about, which is not uncommon. In terms of thickness, the three-handers are 11mm and the chronograph is 15mm, so none are exactly ideal to fit under the sleeve but you can just about manage it with the 11mm watches. Finally, there is a Prestige edition that includes a steel bracelet, leather strap and NATO strap. This Prestige option is available for the 40mm and 42mm three-handers, but not the chronograph.

We leave the final word to Breschan, who discusses some of the particularities of the Spirit collection, and answers our questions on the watches.

Congratulations on the new role! How has the journey been so far, notwithstanding our shared present global circumstances?

Thank you! It is a real pleasure, and an honour, for me to have joined the Longines family. The watch universe is the only sector I know which builds on its traditions to go further and innovate. In watchmaking, perpetuating a tradition is what makes us alive. This is particularly true for Longines: a brand with a deep historic dimension, launching technically (high-performance) products. Since my arrival, I have been absorbing the brand’s DNA and together with the teams, I will make sure we will continue developing Longines’ universe. And despite the present circumstances, I am really confident!

On that note, what is the role of a watchmaker in a
situation like this?

Nowadays, nobody buys a watch only to check the time anymore. Watches have become an accessory that allows people to express their values. It is particularly true for our brand. Owning a Longines timepiece is more than having a practical object. It is rather considered as a symbol for a personal statement, telling people who you are, what are your tastes and affinities. Today more than ever, people want to invest in a brand they trust, while matching their personality. And this is where we come into play. Wearing a Longines timepiece gives a clear message: my watch has a story to tell, and so do I.

We are confident that our products and values will allow us to hold our course. We are delighted to point out that despite the fact most of our stores and points of sales were closed for several months, we see a positive trend since June. Indeed, in August we had almost 30% growth and over the last three months, we achieved a better cumulated result than over the same period in 2019. We are convinced that this trend will continue.

“Wearing a Longines timepiece gives a clear message: my watch has a story to tell, and so do I.” — Longines CEO Matthias Breschan

You have remarked on the power of living traditions at Longines. How can these traditions be continuously updated to always surprise and delight collectors, while staying true to its roots?

Honouring tradition is what allows (watchmaking) to stay alive and Longines in particular enjoys an impressively rich history. Longines will soon celebrate its 190 years of existence through three centuries. Based in Saint-Imier since its inception, our brand’s heritage is a true treasure we intend to cherish. Of course it is not a question of confining ourselves to our history, but of using it as a springboard to ensure the pursuit of innovation, both technical and aesthetic, which has always been the driving force of the brand.

How does Longines stay fresh for new generations of watch lovers?

Today, Longines is known and recognised throughout the world. This is the result of our brand’s loyalty to its origins and values. We are offering high quality products featuring refined aesthetics, accuracy and reliability with outstanding value for money. We are confident that new generations of watch lovers appreciate these assets and also highly value our constant quest for innovation while making the most of our rich Heritage. In this regard, our Heritage segment and our new Longines Spirit collection are meeting great success. We think this is a sign that, for many people, and especially for younger ones, watchmaking and tradition cannot be set apart. With a Longines Heritage or a Spirit model on your wrist, you are not only wearing a watch, you are part of history.

American industrialist, aviator, and film producer Howard Hughes (1905 – 1976) climbs into the cockpit of his Northrop Gamma aircraft in preparation for breaking his own speed record for transcontinental US flight, Burbank, California, January 18, 1937. He landed in Newark, New Jersey, 7 hours, 28 minutes, and 25 seconds later, besting his 1936 record time by almost 2 hours.

Last time we spoke, we did not get the chance to cover your passion for skiing. Happily, Longines has a tradition here. Are you excited about two of your longtime passions meeting?

I would even say that this is a dream come true. Longines is proud to be the Official Partner of the International Ski Federation (FIS) and to make its expertise in sports timekeeping available to the great White Circus during the FIS World Cup and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, which will be held next year in Cortina, Italy. I look forward to these events and also to witness the performances of our Ambassador of Elegance Mikaela Shiffrin as well as our Longines Family members Mélanie and Loïc Méillard.

Please tell us about the origins of the Spirit collection.

With the new Longines Spirit, our brand reaffirms its belief in its legacy. During the first half of the 20th century, Longines watches and instruments received the complete trust of many pioneers of exploration and aviation, both men and women. Today, the Longines Spirit collection brings this rich heritage back to life. Linking history with innovation, the new models take traditional features from pilots’ watches and combine them with contemporary lines and codes. They are also at the cutting edge of current watchmaking technology to echo the reliability and accuracy of the historical Longines’ tool watches they draw their inspiration from.

Longines Spirit is a glowing tribute to exceptional men and women who, by a record, an exploit or a display of courage, have left their mark on history — encouraging new generations to push the boundaries.

Who is the ideal customer for the Spirit range? Someone who knows the brand’s history well or someone who might need an introduction to the abovementioned cult classics? Or perhaps an untapped demographic?

The Longines Spirit Collection is made for modern pioneers: active men and women for whom style and performance go hand-in-hand. People who are not afraid of failing and always want to go ahead. This watch is associated with values and with a strong conviction encapsulated in its slogan: The Pioneer Spirit Lives On!

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