While many watch brands purport to have some kind of link to aviation, the number that have actually served real pilots in real cockpits are few and far between. Longines is one of those brands, having existed way before the invention of the first aeroplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903, and being the choice of many of aviation’s early pioneers who wanted reliable, accurate and functional timepieces to accompany them on their flights.
The latest addition from the brand, the Spirit Flyback Chronograph, reasserts its position as a legacy brand with significant contributions to the watchmaking industry and aviation as a whole.
A Legacy Revisited
The facts of how the flyback chronograph function came to be is well-established but what led to the initiative to develop it remains unclear. The possibility is that as aviation developed, aviators required a way to take quick sequential measurement of elapsed time, necessary when navigating in correspondence with visible landmarks against waypoints on the map. In situations where pilots encounter poor weather conditions that hinder the pilot’s view of landmarks or light buoys at sea, a measurement of precise elapsed time from the last known waypoint, along with other tools such as a sextant and compass would help to determine position and distance from the next waypoint on the flight plan.
A flyback chronograph would essentially meet this requirement, an invention that took the basic chronograph and upgraded it with a flyback function, allowing the watch to instantaneously begin a new measurement without the usual start, stop and reset sequence. Instead of stopping after starting, a quick push of the lower pusher allows the chronograph seconds hand to instantaneously return to zero and begin measuring elapsed time again.
Being a supplier to pilots, it is no surprise that Longines would be the brand to come up with this complication, either through anticipation of this specific need, or in response to a request from the pilots who were already using Longines timepieces in their flights. In fact, it was Longines who supplied famous aviators such as Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to do a solo flight across the Atlantic, and Admiral Charles Byrd, the first pilot to fly over the South Pole. Even Charles Lindbergh, the first man who flew solo across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 1927, sought the help of Longines’ to develop the Hour Angle watch in 1931, a tool that would enable easier navigation over long distances.
In any case, history records that the earliest mention of a wristwatch chronograph with flyback function comes from the Longines archives dated to 1925, making the brand the inventor of this complication. It was a calibre 13.33Z chronograph modified with flyback mechanism and not mass produced. Longines filed a patent for the flyback chronograph in 1935. The parent was awarded in 1936.
In the Spirit of Reinvention
The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph is a modern interpretation of the brand’s historical pilot watches, with important functional elements that pay tribute to the spirit of the pioneers of aviation and their achievements, remade and dressed in contemporary materials and styling.
The large Arabic numeral hour markers and hands are coated with Super-Luminova, ensuring that the time is easy to read and oriented to in the dark. Continuing on this theme as well is the 60 minute scale bi-directional bezel with ceramic inlay also coming with Super-Luminova coating – fairly uncommon still nowadays in the watch industry – which ensures that it also remains functional in the dark.
Being a chronograph, the dial is of a bi-compax design, with running seconds at 9 o’clock and a 30-minute chronograph minutes counter at 3 o’clock. The bronze hands and peripheral rings, and the sunk-in diamond-shaped relief for each hour are nice and subtle details, adding a hint of vintage feel to the watch.
In a contemporary size of 42mm, the case is brushed and polished at the chamfer. To avoid making the watch any bigger than necessary, the lugs are well-proportioned and so are the pushers, which don’t protrude too much due to provision on the case for pushers’ travel distance.
Produced exclusively for Longines by ETA, the Longines Spirit Flyback chronograph runs a calibre L791.4, which is a column-wheel actuated chronograph movement with 68 hours of power reserve, silicon hairspring and flyback function. The COSC-certified automatic movement with the globe and “Longines Flyback” proudly etched on the rotor, can be viewed through the sapphire exhibition caseback set in place by 6 screws. The watch comes in two dial variations – Sunray Blue and Sunray Black.
A watch with a story to tell
The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph may sit tall on the wrist at 17mm but this number has to be considered in context since part of the height is due to the use of a domed crystal as you look at the watch from the side. On the wrist, it wears like any typical 42mm wide chronograph and will tuck nicely under a shirt cuff that isn’t unreasonably tight. In any case, it is suitable as an everyday watch since it is formal or casual depending on how you dress it up, and best of all it is a watch with a plenty of aviation related stories to tell. The versatility of this watch is demonstrated through the availability of various band options, including matching leather straps to the two dial variations or on a stainless steel bracelet. The one I find most pleasing however, is the beige NATO strap that comes as an option with the black dial variant.
As part of the Spirit collection, the most distinguishing feature of the Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph is how it embodies the long-standing relationship between watchmaking and men’s quest to take flight. Furthermore, wearing a watch like this allows us to honour and remember the brave men and women who took to the skies more than a hundred years ago, into the development of aviation that we enjoy today.
As there are more watch brands than complications, wearing this watch on the wrist does feel a little more special since it made by the brand that invented the complication it carries. In a way, its like wearing a tourbillon watch from Breguet. The extra special dimension of owning such a watch is that Abraham Louis Breguet the watchmaker, was the man who invented the tourbillon. While flyback chronographs can be acquired from many other brands, none have as great a legitimacy for the complication than Longines.
Model No.: L3.8188.8.131.52/6/9 L3.8184.108.40.206/6
Water Resistance: 10 bar (100 m / 330 ft) with screwed crown
Weight: 178.3 g
Case Shape: Round
Width (mm): 42
Average Thickness (mm): 17
Lugs width (mm): 22
Case Material: Stainless Steel & Ceramic Bezel Transparent case back with 6 screws
Crystal: Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, with layers of anti-reflective coating on both sides
Dial Colours: Sunray Blue or Sunray Black
Indexes: Applied Arabic numeral with Super-LumiNova®
Hands: PVD Bronze color baton hands filled with Super-LumiNova®
Power Reserve: 68 hours
Movement: Longines self-winding column-wheel movement, L791.4 COSC certified With silicon balance-spring and magnetic resistant 13¼ lines, 28 jewels, 28’800 vibrations per hours
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds at 9 o’clock Flyback function Chronograph Central 60-second hand 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock
Strap Details: Longines interchangeable system
Strap Colour: Stainless Steel Bracelet / Brown Leather/ Blue Synthetic strap / NATO synthetic strap
Buckle: Double security folding clasp with micro adjustment system