The vintage watch market is both a fantastic pathway to rare timepieces and, as any seasoned vintage watch collector can probably attest to, a potential monetary minefield. Lack of authenticity papers, unspecified modifications, and unknown service history can turn what would seem like a bargain into a financial nightmare in the blink of an eye. In recent years, some brands have taken notice of the rising market demand for vintage watches, and have thus released updated versions of long-forgotten models. The Heritage Collection by Longines is a prime example of vintage done right. Today we’re taking a closer look at one of the most iconic models of the Heritage line, the Longines Heritage Military.
The basic specifications of the watch are as follows:
- Full reference number: L2.8126.96.36.199
- Case material: Stainless Steel
- Case diameter: 38.5 mm
- Lug width: 19 mm
- Lug-to-lug length: 48 mm
- Thickness: 12 mm
- Water resistance: 3 bar
- Movement: Longines L888
- Frequency: 25,200 bph (3.5 Hz)
- Jewels: 21
- Power reserve: 64 h
A tool for war
The year is 1940. World War II is in full swing on the Western Front. The British Ministry of Defence has asked reputable watch manufacturers to provide a significant number of timepieces for its armed forces. The Royal Air Force in particular needs a robust yet legible wristwatch. Longines and other eleven brands answer the call and deliver what would become one of the most archetypical watch designs of the ‘40s: a large (for the time) 32 mm white dial, big Arabic numerals encircled by a railroad track chapter ring, a central seconds hand, and a brushed, sturdy, stainless steel case.
After the war, watches used in combat gradually began trickling into the civilian lifestyle. However, most of them had already started showing the marks of lengthy, brutal struggle in air, land, and water: white dials had turned cream; crowns, stems, and crystals had been replaced; aluminum lugs had shattered. As time went by, the few watches that were either spared from international conflict or taken really good care of in the first place became the object of a newly found interest in vintage pieces, commanding high prices in the market but offering no assurance in terms of lasting reliability.
Enter the Longines Heritage Military, inspired on the original RAF-issued Longines pilot’s watch of the ‘40s, but upgraded for the 21st century with slightly modernized aesthetics and newer technology in mind.
If I were forced to describe the Military’s case using only a single word, I would probably say “utilitarian”. Mostly made out of brushed stainless steel, the case is sober to the extreme and lets the dial take center stage, something that RAF pilots were probably grateful for, as the inside of a cockpit under heavy enemy fire is no place to admire the subtleties of a watch. That being said, taking a closer look reveals the beauty behind the simplicity: the handsome lugs are neither too short nor too long, the narrow strip of polished steel that surrounds the crystal creates a pleasant contrast with the rest of the case, and the shape of the caseback distorts and reflects any incoming light in a very distinct manner.
Speaking of the caseback, I absolutely love the typeface chosen by Longines to display the name of the watch (by the way, I can’t quite remember any other watches that show their full name on the caseback—please feel free to sound off in the comments below how wrong I probably am). At the bottom of the caseback, two tiny icons provide information about the water resistance rating and the antireflective nature of the sapphire crystal. To be honest, I would discard them if it were up to me, as they make the caseback look a little bit overcrowded.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Longines has enlarged the case diameter from the original 32 mm to 38.5 mm, which is a sensible update perfectly in tune with modern tastes. Massive kudos to Longines for avoiding going overboard with the size, as anything above 40 mm would probably look silly and at odds with such a timeless design.
A crown this huge needs its own section. Without exaggeration, I think this is the most enjoyable crown I’ve ever operated, probably because of the increased torque it delivers compared to normal-sized crowns.
The tactile feedback is amazing, and one has to wonder whether a manual movement instead of an automatic one would be better suited to this piece, if only to get to enjoy this wonderful feeling every day.
This is the real star of the show. Designed with the same no-nonsense approach as the case, it displays just the right amount of information at a glance. The absence of a date window, which normally would make me terribly sad, creates a clean, minimalist experience that emphasizes the inexorable passing of time (“tempus fugit”, Virgil would say).
The sans-serif Arabic numerals echo the typeface used for the name on the caseback, while the railroad track around the numerals provides an accurate guide for reading the minutes and seconds. The blued steel hands contrast beautifully with the cream hue of the dial, and their gorgeous individual shapes come together to imbue the watch face with a hint of dynamism. The most controversial element, though, are the tiny little spots sprayed throughout the dial. The spots are supposed to resemble mold growth in order to make the watch intentionally look much older than it is, as though it truly were a relic of the 1940s. Online debates about faux details such as this are never-ending and rather nonproductive, though admittedly quite fun. I have to concede I like what Longines did here, especially since every single Heritage Military is individually sprayed, ensuring no two watches are identical.
As is expected of modern watches, the Heritage Military comes with a sapphire crystal, which grants a high level of protection against scratches, but eschews the traditional acrylic crystal of the original model. The age-old dilemma of form versus functionality is at full display here, and I’m sure Longines thought long and hard about the choice of crystal. I would have preferred the warmth of acrylic, but I understand and applaud the technical upgrade. As an additional bonus, the domed sapphire crystal is treated with antireflective coating on the underside, greatly enhancing legibility in direct sunlight.
The strap is made from high quality leather, which feels really nice to the touch. In its website, Longines states it’s green, but to my eyes it’s more of a greenish shade of brown.
At any rate, it perfectly complements the case and feels very dependable on the wrist. The buckle is tastefully adorned with the modern winged hourglass Longines logo, which the brand wisely excluded from the dial.
The Heritage Military is rated to 3 bar only, so no diving. This watch was made for flying.
No lume here. Radium-based lume would later come into play in WW2 with the commissioning of the Dirty Dozen watches in 1942.
The L.888 movement is yet another upgrade from the original model. The set-and-forget automatic movement releases the owner from the clutches of having to hand-wind the watch every single day.
As I said before, though, I wouldn’t mind being required to turn the majestic, oversized crown every day. By the way, there is thankfully no “ghost” first position in which to adjust a non-existent date complication, which I must admit was fully expecting to find here given the fact that some other watches powered by the L888 caliber display a date window. Lastly, perhaps owing to its relatively slow 3.5 Hz frequency, the movement offers a generous 64-hour power reserve, making it possible to switch watches for a day every once in a while. Not that you’d ever want to take this watch off your wrist, mind you.
Longines has masterfully updated a classic model using just the right amount of technology while preserving the essence of a revered, battle-hardened timepiece. It’s refreshing to see a brand take a look at its portfolio and bring iconic models back to life with some slight but much needed upgrades. In the upcoming weeks I will be having a blast dissecting the finer details of a couple other watches from the Heritage Collection, and of course, I will be posting my thoughts here. Spoiler alert though, I think Longines has knocked it out of the park with those, too. Stay tuned.
To have a look at Longines’ entire line of watches you can visit their official website here.