While 2020 is a year that will see fewer people flying than almost ever before, Longines hopes to capture the spirit of aviation – if not the currently-grounded reality – with its new Spirit collection.
This line, which straddles dressy and sporty and heritage, shows a lot of potential for a powerhouse brand known for its smart mix of value and quality.
The inspiration for the Longines Spirit comes from the brand's past – after all, if you've been in business since 1832 you'll pick up a few stories along the way. And the tale the Spirit is spinning is one of adventure and exploration.
Take, for example, Amelia Earhart. In 1932 she wore a Longines chronograph for her 14 hour and 56 minute non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic. Howard Hughes, who in 1938 set a round-the-world flight record of three days, 19 hours and 14 minutes, used Longines for timekeeping and navigation.
These two are just a handful of the adventurers, explorers and aviators who have used Longines over the years – and it is these names from history that Longines is evoking in the Spirit.
As far as marketing moves go, it's an established play, leveraging famous historical figures to add a gloss of old-world prestige to a new watch.
For Longines, though, it's a somewhat unexpected move, as the brand has long held dear to its mantra of 'elegance is an attitude', a tagline often accompanied with cinematic black and white portraits of ambassadors such as Simon Baker and Kate Winslet. The Spirit it different in its premise: sportier, fresher.
Longines' Vice-President of Marketing, Matthieu Baumgartner explains: "For this specific collection, of course, it has elegance in it, but we found that maybe it was not only about elegance and that what was behind this collection and this era was the pioneering spirit."
"And this claim that the pioneer spirit lives on. It's part of our history, it's part of the history and the early days of aviation and exploration. But we are also convinced that the pioneering spirit still resonates today for young people. Of course, it is different than what it used to be in the 1920s or the 1930s."
It makes sense then, that while the Spirit watches are inspired by the past they're resolutely modern.
Longines has started this new collection with three core models – time-and-date models in 40 and 42mm case diameters (from $3,100), and a bold 42mm chronograph model ($4,500).
There are white, black and blue dials available in every version, and the expected range of leather straps or a rather well-done steel bracelet.
Regardless of the model, you can expect 100m water resistance, an accurate chronometer-certified automatic movement with a decent 60 hours of power reserve, and other standard luxury watch features like ultra-tough sapphire crystals
The chronograph has an additional design feature, a screw-down pusher at the 10 o'clock position, which is, somewhat unusually, a quick adjustment for the date display. Useful if you haven't worn it in a few weeks, but mostly it serves to add some visual balance to the case.
What all Spirit models have in common is sophisticated dial design. The Arabic hour markers are applied and sit high on the dial, the main section of which is slightly recessed compared to the outer minute track.
There are also neat details like the inset diamond-like lozenges nestled behind the hours, and the applied Longines winged hourglass and the 5-star chronometer marking at six.
All this translates to a dial that is rich in detail and punches well above its retail price. The lovely, finely grained white dial offering is my pick of the bunch.
The Longines Spirit is off to a flying start with these initial releases. They're attractive watches that offer plenty of value and wrist-appeal.
To my mind, the best thing about this watch is the fact that it's not a heritage reissue. Longines does that and does it well.
They also do straight-up sports watches, such as the Hydroconquest, well. But combining retro style and sporty practicality was a significant move, according to Baumgartner. "The Spirit is not really an interpretation of a specific model from our museum or our archive … it's not part of the heritage segment."
"You look at all the different aesthetic and technical elements of this watch, and they're inspired by multiple watches. This is really important and why the Spirit is genuinely a new collection."
I would go one further – not only is it a new collection, but it's an exciting new collection which holds out the promise of great things for the years to come.