In the past few years, Longines has been quite successful in re-editing some of its most glorious vintage watches. This includes, of course, the Legend Diver, but also the recently launched Skin Diver, the Avigation Big Eye or the Lindbergh watches. Altogether, these create a solid, coherent “Heritage” collection. One of the latest additions is pushing the concept even further… Vintage-inspired and faux-ageing to the max is what you’ll get with the Longines Heritage Military, a re-edition of the RAF-issued 6B/159 watch.
Background, the RAF 6B/159 watch
Longines is a brand with an important military background and delivered watches to numerous armed forces around the globe. There were pilot’s watches, of course, but also field pieces – more relevant in the present context. Longines was, in fact, part of the twelve brands that manufactured watches for the British Ministry of Defense. Essentially, the Dirty Dozen is a set of military watches – known as WWW’s (Watch, Wrist, Waterproof) – that were created for the British Military under the auspices of the MoD, during World War II. This wasn’t, however, the only watch made for British forces.
Another watch made by Longines for British Royal Air Force Pilots (RAF) was the Longines 6B/159 Ref. 4830. Produced from 1938 until the 1960s, this simple 3-hand watch was presented in a 32mm steel or chromed case with a typical 1940s design (so-called Calatrava case) and soldered spring bars. Some similarly designed watches can be found at Omega. The RAF-issued Longines 6B/159 was equipped with the hand-wound calibre 12.68N and featured a white/cream dial with black Arabic numerals and a railroad minute track. Time was indicated by blued steel hands.
Altogether a simple, reliable and highly legible piece that represented a perfect example of WWII military pieces. The particularity of this model was that it came with an original light-coloured dial – most military watches had black dials with radium-painted markers. Surprisingly for a pilot’s watch, the Longines 6B/159 didn’t feature luminescence.
The new Longines Heritage Military
What Longines has done with its recent Heritage Military isn’t just a vintage-inspired watch or a modern piece that features some of the design elements of the RAF-issued 6B/159… it is a true copy of the old model, with updated proportions (and of course, modern mechanics and materials). We can’t talk about resemblance anymore, it goes beyond that. When researching this article and trying to find images of the old model, I kept having to ask myself… Was it the original RAF watch I was looking at or was it the new model? Really, this Longines Heritage Military is impressively realistic – maybe a bit too much, but more on that later.
As you would expect, this new-old watch doesn’t retain the small diameter of the original piece anymore – a 32mm diameter would certainly be historically relevant, but unfortunately almost impossible commercially speaking. Still, the Longines Heritage Military relies on reasonable proportions, with a case that measures “only” 38.5mm across – which would have been an oversized watch in 1940 but today is considered a rather small piece. Thickness is also reasonable, at 11.7mm, resulting in well-balanced proportions.
The shape of the case is also extremely close to what was used in the RAF-issued watch, a shape that is typical to 1930s -1940s military timepieces, or what was also known as a Calatrava case, in reference to the design introduced by Patek in the early 1930s, which made it to numerous watches later, including utilitarian field-issue pieces. This shape is characterised by a three-part case with a central part that includes the lugs and a flat bezel on top. The Longines Heritage Military retains this design, with a brushed central “container” with short, solid lugs with rather sharp angles. The caseback, engraved with multiple indications, is solid steel. The large crown has a light diamond design and is easy to operate.
Unlike the vintage RAF-issued 6B/159, the Longines Heritage Military is equipped with a modern automatic movement – and not a hand-wound calibre anymore. This certainly is, along with the sapphire crystal and the increased diameter, the major concession to modernity here. I would have loved to see Longines digging in ETA’s catalogue and using a 2801 or a 7001, two of the hand-wound movements easily accessible within the Swatch Group. It’s not really an issue though because the Calibre L619/888, based on the ETA A31.L01 that equips the Heritage Military, is a very decent engine, with a comfortable power reserve of 64 hours and a frequency of 25,200 vibrations per hours. It isn’t visible through an irrelevant sapphire caseback – good point – and it only displays the hours, minutes and seconds – even better point, as there’s no date!
The main talking point of the Heritage Military resides in its dial and hands. This is where Longines was truly inspired by the historical model, to the point of recreating some “faux-ageing points” on the dial. The base is a silvery-cream colour with a slightly greenish tone. The railroad minute track, the large Arabic numerals, and a simple brand name – no logo – are all printed on the dial. All of that is historically relevant. Same goes for the hands, which are shaped like the original and made of blued steel. Altogether, an attractive dial.
We’ve seen the use of faux patina on indexes and hands – now a pretty standard practice on vintage-reissued watches – to mimic the ageing process on tritium or radium. Well, the main problem on the RAF-issued Longines is that the original watch did not feature luminescent material… How was Longines going to give this watch a vintage feel? The idea was to recreate the ageing process that occurs on the dial by spraying some black paint. As a result, the dial is sprinkled with black dots. I must say, it is pretty convincing and does look like an old watch. Note that each watch is different, as this spraying process is done by hand.
On the wrist, the watch is well balanced and really desirable. It has some presence despite its small diameter and the overall look is pretty cool. The Longines Heritage Military is worn on a green distressed leather strap, which then again adds to the antique look of the watch – for once, I must applaud the effort made by the brand to offer a really good-looking and coherent strap.
What conclusions can we reach about the Longines Heritage Military? First and foremost, this piece isn’t a case study in design innovation… It is indeed very, very close to the original watch. So close that this is the very reason why it has such incredible charm.
When it was first presented a year ago, I was very sceptical about this sprinkled dial, thinking that the “faux-ageing process” had gone too far. But once it’s strapped on the wrist, it really works! Yes, some will think that it sums up the lack of creativity recently seen in the watch industry; but others will simply love this watch. All in all, it is a convincing piece – for what it is: a vintage-inspired watch. And such watches have their pros and cons.
Price and availability
The Longines Heritage Military (ref. L2.8126.96.36.199) is now available at retailers and is a non-limited edition watch. It is priced according to Longines’ policy, meaning a rather accessible price of EUR 1,860.