The pilot’s watch is one of those pieces of gear which has always conjured up sentimental and historical imagery of a bygone era. The era of flyboys, fighter pilots, and bomber jackets; the smell of leather, the rattle of gears, the look of the instrument panels, and the roar of piston engines. Things don’t look and feel that way anymore, which is why it is quite nice when a modern pilot-style watch can stir up those sentiments. Such is the case with the Longines Spirit Automatic, a simple, legible, and well-sized watch with a few little nuances that are best appreciated in the metal.
This watch was announced earlier this year, and in typical fashion, I was not sure about it from the press photos. It looked straightforward enough – large Arabic numerals, black dial, steel case, leather strap – but I would be lying if I said it did anything for me at the time, on the basis of just photos. When I finally had it in the hand, I saw a watch that I think represents tremendous value for the price, which is always a welcome combination.
The first thing that I noticed when I saw this piece was the dial and the multi-faceted aspects which make up the design. At first blush, this is a standard black dial. In some lights, it has a gloss effect. In reality, the dial is really quite matte, and in direct sunlight, the matte dial effect is accentuated, appearing almost grey from some angles. The flat effect of the matte dial is a big draw for this watch, at least to me. It adds to the vintage-leaning design and is honestly just more enjoyable to look at than a standard black dial would be.
This watch also features large, bold, applied white Arabic numerals, in a typeface that brings to mind the dial design of the Dirty Dozen watches, in some ways, but in other ways, is also sufficiently modern. Getting into the typographical weeds a bit, the flat four jumps out to me as the most vintage looking number of the bunch. There is also a subtle serif on the seven and five which are quite reminiscent of an older style of watch design. Moving outward, the minute track also sports a slew of interesting, vintage-inspired numerals. Again, you have the appearance of a flat four, but also a very cool open six. The minute track is one of those aspects of the watch that could easily be missed at first blush, but to my mind, it ties the whole dial design together.
Staying on the topic of typefaces, the date window on this watch features a font choice which is consistent with the other design elements of the watch. Sometimes, this is where a watch loses its focus, where the choice of numerals inside the date window breaks from the overall consistency of the design. Here, it bolsters the overall vintage effect of the watch. Moreover, the text on the matching black background allows the dial to – at least in some way – maintain a level of symmetry. It is, of course, not symmetrical since the number three is missing, but I forgive this because I honestly think a watch like this works better with a date complication. If I had one gripe about the date window, it would be that the numerals appear to have something of a faux-patina look to them, whereas white would have been more consistent.
Generally speaking, in the modern context, pilot’s watches have been on the larger side – i.e. 42mm and up. In recent years, and for many brands, that approach has softened a bit. In fact, I think specifically of the IWC Mark XVIII, or even the newer Spitfire Automatic, which are both in the 39-40mm range. As I was handling this watch, I felt that it shared a lot of similarities with those watches. They seem cut from the same cloth, sporting a size that is entirely of today and not rooted in any particular vintage example (though there are other obvious vintage features). The Longines Spirit gives off a bit more of a modern vibe than those other watches as well, and I think that has to do with the applied numerals. Whereas the matte dial is a decidedly vintage aesthetic, the applied numerals are almost the opposite.
The dial is split up into effectively two parts, separated by a metallic ring. Inside that ring is where we find the Arabic numerals, Longines logo, the handset, and date window. We also have – just above six o’clock – a set of five applied stars and the word chronometer, but more on that later. Overlaid on the metallic ring are white, diamond-shaped markers which are aligned with the Arabics. They are small, but they provide added contrast against the matte black dial surface and are filled with lume – a small but nice additional detail.
Moving to the second portion of the dial, on the other side of the metallic ring, we find the aforementioned minute track with minutes marked off in five-minute intervals, with long hash marks delineating the remaining minutes. There is a series of tiny hash marks between each minute hash mark as well. All of these dial features are housed inside of the 40mm case, which is mostly brushed, with a stepped polished bezel. The case has that retro tool watch look and nice curvature, which fits with the dial design quite well.
The hour and minute hands are long, narrow arrows with a sandblasted finish. The seconds hand is actually one of the most captivating aspects of this watch’s design. The outer end of the seconds hand is painted a bright red, which has an almost lacquered appearance to it. This hand reaches the outermost section of the minute track, but it is the diamond toward the end of the seconds hand that I want to mention. This diamond is the same size as the applied diamond-shaped markers referenced earlier. As the hand sweeps across the dial, the seconds hand diamond appears in the same position overtop the metallic ring as the applied markers. This is a small detail, but evidence of a watch with a design which can reveal unsuspected thoughtfulness over time.
For a watch that is 40mm in diameter, the signed crown is quite large. It is shaped in a pseudo-onion style, which in some angles is more obvious than others. I will admit, I did not notice the size of the crown relative to the size of the watch at first. But as I wore the piece a bit more, that aspect came to become more and more obvious, to the point where I almost could not un-see it. The way it tapers down, there are times when looking at it, that I was not sure if I had screwed the crown down all the way. I would not necessarily call this a deal-breaker, but just something worth noting. While it adds to the vintage ideal that this watch seems to be going for, to my mind, a more conventional crown design at a smaller size would not have taken away from the overall look of this piece.
I really like that Longines utilized a closed caseback with this watch because it works with its overall tool watch air. The caseback design features a globe engraving with the brand’s logo, as well as the wordmark below. There is also a set of six screws present around the caseback plate which appear to keep it securely affixed to the watch. One of the biggest value features of the watch is behind the caseback – beating away inside the Longines Spirit is the Longines caliber L888.4, an ETA-based design (ETA A31.L11, in turn based on the 2892-A2) featuring 64 hours of power reserve and a silicon balance spring. But what makes things more interesting is the fact that the movement has been COSC certified. For a watch priced just above $2,000, that is a pretty solid deal.
The luminescence on this watch is quite good, and of course, that is aided by the thick, applied white numerals (filled with Super-LumiNova). Generally, with pilot, or pilot-adjacent watches, the lume is either nothing to write home about, or only certain markers are given the lume treatment. Here, every numeral, every marker, and every hand are treated with lume, so you can get equal enjoyment out of the dial in both bright or lowlight environments.
I really enjoyed the 40mm sizing of this watch on the wrist. The lugs are quite long, so it does drape the entire surface area of the wrist, but not in any sort of meaningful way that would render the watch unwearable. The watch manages to give off the gravitas of a larger pilot’s watch while maintaining an eminently classic case size. Case thickness was not an issue either, and I think this watch could be worn in a whole host of situations. Aside from the leather strap option I was able to handle, this watch also comes on a steel bracelet.
The sapphire crystal features what the brand says are “several layers of anti-reflective coating on both sides.” My experience with AR coating is that, while it cuts down on reflections, it also creates an almost purple sheen on the watch when it interacts with the light. That is certainly the case here. Aside from the crown and date window, this was the only other area of the design that somewhat got in the way of my overall enjoyment of the watch. Maybe a few layers less than several would do the trick.
The Longines Spirit 40mm is a smartly executed vintage-inspired watch that is not an homage to any older model in particular. As such, it isn’t tied to any existing design. The end result is a watch that is able to give off a ton of modern flair while not taking away from the flight jacket aesthetic or old school charm. Even though the early days of flight are behind us – the romantic, wistful, and sense stirring aspects of that time but a memory – pieces like this are able to serve as vessels of a time gone by, and that’s precisely what watches should do.
The Longines Spirit 40mm Ref. L3.810.4.53.0 is a 100-meter water resistant watch. The Spirit is 40mm in diameter, featuring a screw-down crown and closed caseback. Leather strap with signed buckle. Automatic caliber L888.4 movement with a frequency of 25,200 vibrations per hour, and a power reserve of 64 hours. Matte black dial with applied markers and Super-LumiNova on hands and markers.
Earlier this week, we brought you the three-hand version of Longines’ new Spirit pilot’s watch and mentioned that the new line also included a chronograph version. Well, here it is. Carrying largely identical styling to that of its siblings, the Longines Spirit Automatic Chronometer Chronograph sticks to the same format while providing a column-wheel-equipped movement wrapped in a 42mm steel case.
As with the other models in this new collection, the styling for the for Spirit Chronograph is inoffensive and derivative of many other pilot’s watches in the market (again, think Breitling and Bremont). With a date display squeezed in at 4:30 and the appearance of both “Chronometer” and the Spirit line’s unified use of a five star design on the dial, the chronograph packs a lot into its dial layout. For those wondering, the star logo has been used by Longines in the past and, according to the brand, it signifies “an improvement of the quality and reliability of the brand’s movements.” Much like with Uber, five stars is the top rating.
Speaking of the movement, Longines has fitted their L688.4 automatic chronograph movement. Based on the ETA A08.L11, this movement offers a 12-hour chronograph with a column-wheel and a silicon hairspring. Ticking at 4 Hz with COSC certification and 64 hours of power reserve, the L688.4 is a strong value for the segment and a solid alternative to the more garden variety 7750s.
Available with a blue, black, or silver dial, the Spirit Chrono has red accents for the chronograph measure, 100-meters water resistance, and both the main crown and the date corrector crown (at 10) are of a screw-down type. Buyers get the choice of either a leather strap or a steel bracelet for the same price, and the Spirit Chronograph’s case has 22mm lugs.
For around $500 more than the lovely BigEye chronograph, the Spirit offers a more modern design and a current-gen movement that should appeal to a lot of buyers. With an MSRP of $3,100, while I am not at all a fan of the date window, the Longines Spirit 42mm Chronometer Chronograph is a nicely sized and sporty chronograph with a well-spec’d movement and a handsome design (especially with the silver dial).