Borrowed Time: Reviewing the Longines Spirit Chronograph 42mm


Longines introduced its Spirit collection last year, drawing its main inspiration from the timepieces that it produced in the early 20th century for pilots and explorers; Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, and Paul-Emile Victor were among the brand’s most famous wearers, along with Charles Lindbergh, who famously co-designed the Hour Angle, Longines’ most emblematic and enduring pilots’ watch. The Spirit models are not “pilots’ watches” in the strictest sense of the word, but rather can be described as “Pilot Style” timepieces, with a host of elements drawn from the past along with features that are definitively modern.

Longines Spirit Chronograph 42mm (Ref. L3.820.4.93.0)

A while back, I had the opportunity to review the three-hand date model in steel and more recently I finally got my eager hands on the model that most caught my eye when the series was launched back in Spring 2020 — the Spirit Chronograph in a steel case with a sunburst blue dial. In just about every respect, the timepiece proved to be worth the wait.

The watch’s 42-mm case sits large but not intimidatingly so on the wrist, and at a fairly thick 15 mm in profile, definitely makes its presence felt. Like its three-handed brethren in the Spirit collection, it sports a thin, dramatically angled bezel framing the dial, giving said dial an impressively wide presence. The sharply angled, faceted lugs are satin-brushed on their largest surfaces, and polished on their angled facets. The bezel ring has a shiny polish on its sloped sides and a brushed finish on its top surface; together the elements, along with the dramatically sunburst-finished dial, create gleaming effects under bright light — obviously, not what a pilot would necessarily want in a cockpit, but appealing in a dress watch.

The dial has a sunburst finish; the subdials are snailed for contrast.

The screw-down crown is sharply fluted and shaped in the “diamond” style of those on older pilots’ watches (though on those vintage models, it would have likely been much larger). The pump-style chronograph pushers surrounding it are also historically derived and a tactile pleasure to operate. On the opposite side of the case is a bonus, and one not found on very many pilot or pilot-style watches I’ve encountered; a push-button for a quick advancement of the date (in a window at 4:30), secured from accidental usage by a screw-locking ring. I confess that I wasn’t expecting this feature, and the materials I had initially read from Longines don’t really emphasize it — my first reaction was that it might be a helium release valve, which would have made little sense on a watch for a pilot — but it is an incredibly user-friendly feature that makes it that much easier to quickly set the correct date after the watch has been idle for a few days.

The chronograph elements all feature a touch of contrasting red.

The dial is in a classically designed, three-register style. It’s bordered by a white-printed railroad-style minute ring, whose slightly matte finish contrasts nicely with the main dial. The hour numerals are applied and executed in a large and legible Arabic font, with silvery outlines framing luminous-treated interiors. Each numeral — as well as the subdials that supplant the “3,” “6,” and “9” — is accompanied by a diamond index, with its own luminous center and aligned with the 10-minute marks on the outer track, presumably to ensure easier reading of the chronograph seconds. The pointed baton/sword hands are also luminous; in classical chronograph style, the minutes hand is substantially larger, so there’s no mistaking hours for minutes even at a glance.

Longines Spirit Chronograph - side
The large fluted crown and pump-style pushers evoke vintage models.

The subdials are slightly indented, silver-framed like the hour numerals, and bear a subtle snailed texture that offers contrast with the shiny surface of the main dial on which they’re staged. The 30-minute chronograph counter is at 3 o’clock, the 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock, and the running seconds at 9 o’clock. These subdials’ functions are subtly but emphatically differentiated by the use of red-tipped, diamond-ended hands for the two chronograph readouts and a simple white stick hand for the seconds. The central chronograph seconds hand is designed in the same manner as the stopwatch subdial hands, albeit longer. The use of red not only ties the chronograph elements together in an aesthetically pleasing way; it also adds a splash of contrasting color to the blue-white-silver totality of the watch. The three subdials form a “V” shape that frames the stacked elements at the top: a classic Longines logo, the brand’s winged hourglass emblem, a white-printed “CHRONOMETER” notation, and the row of five applied stars that are a hallmark of the Spirit collection, used by Longines historically to denote the “five-star” quality of the watch’s movement.

That movement is hidden inside the Spirit Chronograph, behind a steel caseback that is solid, slightly convex, affixed with six sunken screws, and decorated with an engraving of the Longines winged hourglass over a globe and an etched ring with various stats about the watch. To be totally honest, I would have preferred a sapphire caseback that displayed the movement, but Longines’ reasons for employing this type of more traditional caseback are valid, both to keep the price down as well as to call back those early 20th century aviators’ watches that inspired this modern collection.

The movement beats behind a solid engraved caseback.

The Longines Caliber L688.4 (based on the ETA A08.L01, and modified specially for Longines) thus does its job efficiently behind the scenes. As is indicated on the dial, this version of the self-winding movement boasts a COSC chronometer certification, ensuring its reliability and accuracy; a column-wheel architecture for the smooth operation of its integrated chronograph functions; and a 60-hour power reserve, which enables the wearer to pick up the watch after a weekend on the dresser and resume wearing it without winding it up. Also contributing to the timekeeping accuracy and long-tern stability is an antimagnetic silicon balance spring.

The Longines Spirit Chronograph that I had the pleasure of wearing and reviewing is mounted on a soft calfksin leather strap, in a shade of blue that complements the dial, enhanced with white contrast stitching. In this element again, we find a harmonious marriage of vintage and modern: an early 20th-century pilot would almost certainly have worn his (or her; props to Ms. Earhart) watch on this type of sturdy, stitched leather strap, but the use of blue rather than traditional brown or black makes its distinctly contemporary and dressy. The watch is also available on a steel link bracelet for an even more elegant overall look. It’s priced on the strap at a very tempting $3,100, so you don’t even need to dig too deep to soar to the pinnacle (in my view) of this high-flying collection.

Manufacturer:Longines Watch Co., Francillon Ltd., Les Longines, CH-2610 Saint-Imier, Switzerland
Reference number:L3.820.4.93.0
Functions:Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, chronograph with subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock
Movement:Longines Caliber L688.4 (based on the ETA A08.L01), automatic, 60-hour power reserve, 28,800-vph frequency, column wheel chronograph function, quick date adjustment, silicon balance spring, COSC chronometer certification.
Case:Stainless-steel case with solid caseback, screw-down crown, pump chronograph pushers, date adjustment button with locking ring, water resistant to 100 meters
Bracelet and cla­­sp:Blue calfskin leather strap with white contrast stitching, steel pin buckle
Dimensions:Diameter = 42 mm, height = 15 mm
Price:$3,100
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