Longines’s Master Collection Retrograde has an exclusive movement with no less than four retrograde functions. How does it hold up under WatchTime’s exacting scrutiny? Find out in this watch test feature by “Watch Insider” Alexander Linz and photographer Nik Schölzel, presented in WatchTime’s June 2009 issue.
In 2007, Longines commemorated its 175th anniversary with the introduction of its classically styled Master Collection. When the company made the decision to add to this line a complicated watch with multiple retrograde displays, it considered several options for where it would get that watch’s movement. The brand, a member of the Swatch Group, covers the mid-range price niche, bridging the gap between lower-priced Tissot and Hamilton and higher-priced Omega, and its budget for movement-making is accordingly limited. Thus, the simplest option would have been to use an existing base movement from ETA — the movement supplier that is Longines’s sister company in the Swatch Group — and add a module from a specialist such as Dubois Dépraz. However, Longines CEO Walter Van Känel wanted an all-new movement for the Master Collection Retrograde — one that would be exclusive to Longines — and directed the specialists at ETA to create one.
For its part, ETA welcomed the challenge, using as its canvas the Valgranges line of calibers, descendants of the classic Valjoux 7750, which are known for their large size and reliable rate performance. The results were not one but two reliable, user-friendly and, above all, high-performance calibers, each of which uses the traditional cam-and-rack construction. Version A07L21 (designated Caliber L698.2 by Longines) has four retrograde displays; version A07L11 (Longines Caliber L697.2) has three.
Caliber L698.2 has retrograde displays for the date, the day of the week, the time in a second time zone and the continually running seconds hand at 6 o’clock; Caliber L697.2 leaves out the seconds hand and replaces it with a power-reserve display at the same position. The Master Collection Retrograde watch in our test contains Caliber L698.2. (Photos can be enlarged with a click.)
Close scrutiny of the movement reveals some unexpected attributes. The first surprise comes when you extract the crown to its middle position to set the time: the hand on the seconds display continues to run, but the hands on the three other retrograde displays abandon their previous positions and move clockwise into a sort of waiting position. A Teflon-coated guide ring ensures that the racks fall onto the cams and thus disengage simultaneously. When they’re in this position, the hour hand can be set in hourly increments without stopping the seconds hand or influencing the position of the minute hand. If you need to reset the minute hand, pull the crown out all the way and turn it. In this position, the seconds hand stays stopped where it was when the crown was fully extracted. There is no return-to-zero mechanism for the seconds hand; the movement’s developers decided not to include one because it would have made the watch significantly more expensive.
After the time has been set and the crown pressed back into place, the retrograde displays all return to their original positions. To set the day-of-the-week display, press the button at 2 o’clock to advance the display in single-day increments. The button at 4 o’clock is used to set the date display. So far, so good, and eminently simple, too. This watch has no 24-hour indicator for the hour hand, so the wearer must determine whether the hour shown on the dial is a.m. or p.m. Failure to take this detail into account may cause the date and weekday displays to advance at noon rather than at midnight. The simplest solution is to turn the hour hand through one full circle by extracting the crown halfway and then advancing the hand in a dozen single-hour increments. After the crown is pressed back in and the retrograde displays have returned to their positions, you can see if the hour has progressed past midnight, causing the date and day-of-the-week displays to move to their next positions. If you’ve inadvertently jumped to tomorrow’s date and day, simply turn the hour hand 12 hours back and the calendar displays will follow suit.
The threaded button at 10 o’clock repositions the retrograde display for the time in a second time zone. Following the motto, “better safe than sorry,” Longines put threading on this push-piece to prevent its being inadvertently pressed when the wearer bends his wrist. The time in a second zone can be set so that it’s independent of, and uninfluenced by, the ordinary hour hand. If you wish, you can set this display to show the time in a city outside your home zone (say you live in New York but want to keep track of the hour in London or Los Angeles) or you can use this display to keep track of the time back home while you’re on the road. The display of the hour in your home zone remains unaffected, even if you turn the ordinary hour hand forward or backward.
The watch’s case is large, measuring 44 mm from rim to rim. This means that the dial and all its displays are also big and easy to read, despite the fact that the sapphire crystal has nonreflective treatment only on the inside. Unlike the lack of a return-to-zero function, however, this was a decision made not for cost reasons but for aesthetic ones: the company claims that treating the upper surface with nonreflective coating would have left it more susceptible to tiny, superficial scratches. In keeping with the classical look of the Master Collection, this model has no luminous substance on its dial, which means the dial is not legible in the dark. However, the watch scores some points for its thermally blued hands, which contrast well with the silvery background of the dial.
If you flip the watch over, you’ll be able to view its movement through the snap-on sapphire caseback. When you do, you will notice that this caliber was not designed with aesthetic considerations foremost in mind. The rotor and the bridge for the self-winding mechanism conceal much of the movement underneath. The surfaces are uniformly decorated with circular graining, and a striped pattern adorns the rotor. Longines orders these movements in ETA’s “élaboré” quality grade and finely adjusts each one according to that company’s “Super II-A” standard. The balance spring is a Nivarox-2 “Etastable,” the fine- adjustment system for these movements is the usual Etachron and the mainspring is a Nivaflex NO. These features make it clear that this is not a chronometer-quality version, and the rate results were expectedly average. Our Witschi timing machine measured “plus” performance in all positions, with the greatest deviation of rate being nine seconds. The daily gain was about five or six seconds on the wrist: not a poor performance, but certainly one that leaves room for improvement.
Ultimately, any corners cut in the design and manufacturing of this watch and its exclusive movement can be chalked up to the cost-benefit ratio: elaborate surface decorations and superlative fine adjustment would have necessitated a higher price. The version we tested, with Longines Caliber L698.2 — or, if you prefer, Valgranges caliber A07 L21 — sells for $4,750 — a very fair price, considering how much wristwatch you get in return.
+ Movement exclusive to Longines
+ Very user-friendly
+ Easy-to-read displays thanks to large size
+ Excellent cost-benefit ratio
- Average rate results
- Dial is not legible in the dark
- Lugs can scratch wrist
Manufacturer: Compagnie des Montres Longines Francillon SA, CH 2610 Saint-Imier
Reference number: L2.717.4.78.x
Functions: Hours; minutes; small, retrograde seconds; retrograde date and day-of-the-week displays; retrograde display for the time in a second time zone
Movement: L698.2 (based on ETA/Valgranges A07 L21); diameter = 161⁄2 lignes (36.3 mm); height = 9 mm; 25 jewels; Swiss lever escapement; gold-plated nickel balance; Nivarox-2 “Etastable” balance spring; 28,800 vph; fine adjustment via Etachron index system; rotor winds mainspring in one direction of rotation; one barrel; power reserve = 46 hours (± 5%); stop-seconds function
Case: Massive, tripartite steel case; pressure-fit sapphire exhibition caseback; three buttons to reset displays; sapphire crystal with nonreflective treatment on inside; water-resistant to 30 meters
Strap and clasp: Brown reptile-skin strap with doubly folding stainless-steel clasp
Rate results (Deviation in seconds per 24 hours):
Dial up +6
Dial down +3
Crown up +5
Crown down +4
Crown left +0
Crown right +9
Greatest deviation of rate: 9
Average deviation: +5
Flat positions: 312°
Hanging positions: 297°
Dimensions: Diameter = 44 mm; height = 15.4 mm; weight = 127 g
Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): The upholstered strap is made of reptile leather with a uniformly patterned texture; a doubly folding clasp secures the strap to the wrist. 9
Operation (5): Very simple and logical: a large crown and three buttons make it easy to set all the displays. 5
Case (10): Very beautifully crafted, polished steel case with no sharp edges; pressure-fit sapphire back with engravings 8
Design (15): The signature look of the Master Collection, with thermally blued hands and a barleycorn pattern on the silver-plated dial 14
Legibility (5): The sapphire crystal has nonreflective treatment on only one surface, but readability is still good thanks to the high contrast between the hands and the dial. However, the absence of Super-LumiNova on the dial keeps this watch dark when the lights go out. 3
Wearing comfort (10): Crown and lugs scratch the wrist when the watch is put on. Rubber lining of the strap keeps watch from slipping. The case is heavy but fits well on the wrist thanks to low-slung lugs. 9
Movement (20): ETA/Valgranges A07 L21, a cleverly constructed caliber manufactured exclusively for Longines and featuring four retrograde displays; made in “élaboré” quality with a Nivarox-2 balance spring and Nivaflex- NO mainspring. 15
Rate results (10): Acceptable rate results considering the quality class; a tendency to gain in all positions, but the greatest deviation value of nine seconds was too large. 6
Overall value (15): This watch is a bargain at the price. Its buyer gets solid horological technology, high practicality for everyday use, and very good quality. 14
TOTAL: 83 POINTS
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