When Longines invited me to attend the Kentucky Derby, the crown jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, as a guest of the brand, I was very intrigued. When it agreed to let me wear and review one of its new timepieces during the event — namely, the Longines Conquest Classic Moonphase, the same watch awarded to the Derby-winning jockey by Longines, sponsor and official timekeeper of all three Triple Crown races — let’s just say that wild horses couldn’t keep me away from Churchill Downs. In this new installment of our “Borrowed Time” series of watch review articles, I offer my take on the watch and the experience.
Watch brands as official timers of sporting events — especially racing events — is certainly a common occurrence in this day and age, but Longines boasts legitimate historical cred when it comes to equestrian sports. The brand — founded in Saint-Imier, Switzerland in 1832 — created its first racing-themed chronograph watch, with an engraved jockey and his mount, in 1878, and Longines chronograph watches (those of the pocket variety, of course) were seen on horse racing tracks as early as 1881, becoming popular among both jockeys and racing judges. In 1912, Longines began an association with a show jumping competition — a partnership that kicked off the brand’s century-long involvement with equestrian sports.
In the modern day, Longines has more or less cornered the market on equestrian-sports partnerships, having become the Official Partner and Official Watch of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), the umbrella organization for the various “flat’ horse racing disciplines. In this role, Longines awards an annual “World’s Best Jockey” and “World’s Best Racehorse” award, and also takes part in an array of competitions worldwide, including the Dubai World Cup, Royal Ascot, Breeder’s Cup World Championships, Melbourne Cup, and, of course, America’s prestigious Triple Crown events, which includes the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Longines is also the Title Partner of the Longines Kentucky Oaks race, run on the eve of the Derby since 1875 and famous for its “ladies’ day” theme of encouraging patrons to wear pink.
The winning owner, trainer and jockey of the Oaks race, like those of the Derby race, are presented with a Longines watch; this year, the timepiece in question is the newest complication in the brand’s historically inspired Conquest collection — the Conquest Classic Moonphase (we covered this watch during its launch at this year’s Baselworld watch fair). Fortunately, I did not have to guide a three-year-old filly to a 9-furlong victory to acquire the watch as my companion for Derby weekend — just to survive the wee-hours, two-leg flight from New York to Washington, DC, to Louisville. (Of course, unlike the winners, I had to eventually send mine back.)
Longines’s marketing tagline is “Elegance is an attitude,” and the silvered-dial, all-steel bracelet version of the Longines Conquest Classic Moonphase (the watch is also available in 18k rose gold with leather strap, two-tone steel-and-gold, and with black dial) does indeed project elegance. It’s a tad heavy on the wrist at first, but you quickly get used to it. The 42-mm case, along with the understated use of alternating brushed and polished surfaces on both the case and bracelet, is just right for the type of dressy look that one is expected to rock in stylish circles like the Kentucky Derby and its attendant events (including a Longines-sponsored ladies’ fashion show in which the best-dressed entrant, as chosen by a celebrity judging panel including gold-medal-winning skier and Longines ambassador Mikaela Shiffrin, receives a ladies’ Conquest watch).
The watch takes its name from its lunar complication (in a subdial at 6 o’clock), but there’s lots more going on in this timepiece, as a detailed glance at the dial will reveal. Like any watch built to time races, it has a chronograph function, with a central seconds hand, 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock (sharing that subdial with the moon-phase indicator), and 30-minute counter at 12 o’clock (sharing a subdial with a twin-aperture day and month display). The subdial at 9 o’clock also serves a dual purpose, displaying the time on a 24-hour scale as well as the running seconds. In addition, another center-mounted hand with a crescent-moon tip indicates the date on a numbered scale on the dial’s periphery. One would expect that with so many functions spread out across three subdials, the dial would appear rather busy, and it does — though never in an intimidating, eye-straining way. A few seconds’ glance is all it takes to glean most of the pertinent information; only the small seconds, squeezed into the interior of the subdial and indicated with a tiny hand, get slightly short shrift here, though in the context of this watch’s historical inspiration, the chronograph seconds are obviously more important, especially to those timing the races and counting down to post time.
Also on the subject of dial legibility, it was something of a pleasant surprise that the very monotone look of the silvered dial — topped off as it is by silvered hands and indices and sporting silvered subdials — was actually quite readable even in the bright sunshine I encountered all throughout Derby weekend. This is probably owing to the judicious and clever use of contrasting finishes — a vertical line pattern on the main dial and sunburst patterns on the subdials that reflected the sunlight nicely. Starting, stopping, and restarting the chronograph requires a reasonably firm push on the round buttons at 2 and 4 o’clock. The Longines winged hourglass logo appears as an appliqué on the dial as well as a relief engraving on the grooved crown. The bracelet opens and closes by means of a triple-folding safety clasp that snaps elegantly and securely into place.
The Longines Conquest Classic Moonphase is powered by Longines Caliber L678, a proprietary automatic movement supplied to Longines by its sister company in the Swatch Group, the movement-making specialist ETA (The base caliber is an ETA Valjoux 7751). The movement is visible through a clear sapphire caseback, offering a view of (among other highlights) its winding rotor, adorned with a historical Longines logo and a côtes de Genève pattern. Caliber L678 runs at a frequency of 28,800 vph and claims a power reserve of 48 hours — which seems about right, although, to be honest, I was probably never separated from the watch long enough for its mainspring to wind down significantly).
The only task I asked of the Longines Conquest Classic Moonphase that it couldn’t quite perform ideally was to act as my good luck charm for winning big on the Derby weekend races. My less-than-scientific handicapping strategy of picking horses that had a thematic connection to the watch turned out to be less than successful: I picked two runners with “Conquest” in their names, neither of which were capable of placing, much less winning, and another with “Moon” in its name, which I seem to recall finished near dead last. The only notable victory was on Friday evening, Derby Eve, in the Kentucky Oaks race, in which my “Place” bet on a 30-to-1 shot named “Shook Up” (you guessed it, a reference to the watch’s automatic movement) came in second to first-place finisher Lovely Maria, essentially providing me the disposable cash to wager away the next day. And since the Kentucky Oaks was the only race with Longines’s name in its title, perhaps the watch imparted some good mojo after all.
After American Pharoah galloped to an impressive victory in the Derby race, a group of Longines guests and I wrapped up our experience in grand style at the Winner’s Party held at the Kentucky Derby Museum, in which Longines VP Charles Villoz and Longines U.S. brand president Jennifer Judkins presented winning jockey Victor Espinoza, winning trainer Bob Baffert, and American Pharoah’s owners, Ahmed and Joanne Zavat, with their Longines timepieces.
The best news is that one does not have to be as affluent as any of these racing luminaries to own this year’s official Kentucky Derby winner’s circle watch. The Longines Conquest Classic Moonphase (according to our information from Baselworld 2015) retails for just $3,900 (for the steel with silvered or black dials) to $5,750 (for the two-tone version).If you’re seeking a thoroughbred for the wrist at an approachable price, you need look no further.