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Review: Longines Heritage Military

This little Longines Heritage Military may be inconspicuous, may seem like just a watch—but it’s not. It’s part of the biggest controversy to ever face watchmaking. Face … or should I say dial?

Background

To understand this long-waged war that rages over watches like this Longines Heritage Military, first we need to understand a bit about its past. Back in the 1940s, during the second great war, there were twelve brands supplying the British Ministry of Defence with watches. The brands that make up that so-called “Dirty Dozen” are IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, Grana, Cyma, Buren, Lemania, Eterna, Timor, Vertex, Record and of course Longines.

One of the watches Longines supplied to the Royal Air Force was the 6B/159 Reference 4830, which it did for over two decades. It was a simply built, high-quality three-hander, incredibly reliable and made distinct by its ornate, blued hands, cream dial and oversized winding crown—perfect for winding with gloves on.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Is this one of those watches, one of those original Reference 4830s?” but no, no it’s not. I can see why you’d think that, however, because look closely at the dial and you’ll see that it’s not new—or at least it doesn’t look very new.

Watches that are quickly approaching their centenary, as you can imagine, aren’t necessarily in immaculate, as-new condition. Materials, particularly delicate ones like the paint on a dial, tend to age, forming organic patterns and even failing completely and degrading into dust.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For collectors of old RAF watches, a little sprinkling of patina only brings more value to the piece, demonstrating that it is indeed of another era. So long as the integrity is sound and the watch still functional, a little bit of aging, like a good piece of stilton, makes the experience ever more improved.

Here’s where some of us will part ways—because this desirability for vintage patina has not ended with just the vintage. This watch dial doesn’t look new not because it isn’t new, but because it has been deliberately decorated to look old, to mimic its siblings of decades before. Perhaps you’ve heard of shabby chic, the trend for making new furniture look used: well, here it is for watches.

Now, deep inside you would’ve felt a reaction, a moment of subconscious decision-making that would have immediately let you know how you feel about this. For some, it’ll be a calm sense of quiet indifference, like, who cares; for others, a warm feeling of pleasing attraction—and for the final group, abject disgust. What’s your gut reaction? Before we continue, tell me in the comments below.

Review

Some of you might be wondering what exactly all the fuss is about. It’s the same as that luminous paint some watchmakers add a bit of a creamy colouration to, so it looks older, but turned up to eleven. If that faux-aged luminous paint is an accessory to the crime, this dial is the criminal mastermind itself. It’s the horological equivalent of dipping a handwritten letter in tea and tearing up the edges a bit.

Some might say, well, if the end result looks good, what’s not to like? If that vintage patina is a desirable thing to have, is copying it on a new watch so bad? Perhaps you’ve heard of the “rat look” where owners decorate their semi-classic vehicles to look neglected, paint peeling and rust bubbling. It’s not for everyone, but I assume they enjoy it or else they wouldn’t do it.

But others would insist it’s passing the watch off as something it isn’t. You know, a lie. They would say Longines has taken a perfectly decent watch and used it as a canvas to paint on a decrepit motif, thereby ruining it forever. And hey, it’s not like this isn’t a good watch, one nobody would’ve missed anyway. The original’s 32mm case has been upsized to a still-authentic-feeling 38.5mm, just on the right side of minimal. The blued hands remain as bright as ever and so too does the satisfyingly large crown. It’s not too thick at 11.7mm, the nicely domed crystal leaving the case looking well-proportioned.

Longines has even gone to the effort of furnishing this watch with a movement that ticks at a slower 25,200bph for that authentic feel, whilst still retaining a decent 64 hours of power reserve—and more importantly has resisted breaking up that clean expanse of dial with a date window.

Would it have been better with a dial free of detritus? There’s no right or wrong answer there because it’s really a matter of taste. I don’t think anyone who cares is going to be fooled into thinking this watch is genuinely from the last century, and I’d rather see this kind of experimentation than Longines sticking to making steel, black-dialled divers like everyone else. After all, you don’t have to buy it if you don’t like it.

Perhaps Longines should have offered two versions, one with the patina and one without. I don’t know how the aging effect is applied—I’d like to think there’s someone on the factory floor whose job it is to flick the end of a wet paintbrush at it—but I assume it’s a step quite easily skipped for half the batch. I mean, at least the—air quotes—aging on every one is unique. I think it would have been a push too far if the pattern were identical across every watch.

What do I think about it? To be honest, I haven’t quite decided. In a broader sense, it’s something to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes this kind of vintage affectation looks good, sometimes it looks try-hard. It depends. In the very specific case of the dial on this Longines Heritage Military, I think I’m cool with it. Overall, the Longines Heritage line offers a fantastic array of gorgeous pieces that are priced very reasonably—this Heritage Military set at £1,750—and I like to see the company pushing the boundaries with it. Least of all, it gives us something to talk about.

It occurs to me whilst contemplating the Longines Heritage Military how lucky we are in this age of watchmaking. There’s so much to choose from between the genuinely old and fresh-out-the-factory modern, classically styled and cutting-edge futuristic, that it’s given Longines, a brand nearly two centuries old, the confidence to try something like this. It was only a couple of decades ago that rose gold was considered wacky, and here we are today wondering what incredible watches we’ll be seeing next. So, whilst the Longines Heritage Military may not be to everyone’s taste, I think we can all agree it’s a good thing it exists.

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