It’s not hard to find vintage-inspired military watches as the market is now flooded with them. If you want something affordable and authentic, Hamilton has you covered. Want to go high-end, IWC and Panerai have a lot to offer, among many others. Longines even has a wide variety in its Heritage collection. Most are excellent examples of a given time period and fine watches on their own, but few have truly unique personalities. The Longines Avigation BigEye bucks the trend with an atypical chronograph that hits a lot of the right notes, but its provenance is a bit of a mystery. It’s also not the first modern big eye chronograph with pieces like the Breguet Type XX having a similar dial. It’s arguably the best vintage-inspired Longines since the Legend Diver, however, and won the Best Revival award at last year’s Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). That’s an eye-opening achievement, so let’s take a closer look.
The history behind the Avigation BigEye Chronograph is anything but clear. It’s based on a Longines chronograph from the 1930’s that a collector presented to the Longines museum, but the company didn’t have a record of the piece in its archives. Is it a prototype? What’s the exact year? No one knows for sure. What we do know is Longines liked the watch enough to create a modern reproduction and the new Avigation BigEye Chronograph was born. During the 1950’s through the 1970’s, big eye chronographs were popular and produced by various companies, including Longines, so there’s a lot out there to draw inspiration from.
Specific provenance aside, Longines is no stranger to the vintage-inspired trend and many watches in its Heritage collection are a testament to that. Look no further than the Heritage 1945, Lindbergh Hour Angle and Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935, for example. In addition, with a history going back to 1832, Longines is considered to be the oldest registered watch company in the world.
CASE AND DESIGN
Longines showed restraint with the stainless steel case by keeping its proportions mainstream. The diameter is 41mm with an unlisted height of approximately 14.5mm, allowing for a good fit on most wrists. I wouldn’t call this a small watch (a Breguet Type XX is only 38mm), but it’s very wearable for a modern chronograph. The front and sides of the case have a brushed, satin finish with a slim polished bezel around the sapphire crystal. That crystal is domed and quite tall with an anti-reflective coating (multiple layers on the underside) and really contributes to the overall height. The two pushers are oversized in length and extend unusually far from the case, but add some unique character to an otherwise standard chronograph setup. I appreciate quirks like this and it reminds me of the oversized onion-style crowns from Chronoswiss.
The back of the case is polished with an engraved screw-down steel caseback. A aeroplane is outlined in the centre with LONGINES spanning the wings, while a sunray pattern extends outwards. The solid back fits in with the vintage aesthetic, but an exhibition caseback would’ve been appealing given the decorated automatic movement (more on that later). The signed crown doesn’t screw down and the case is only water-resistant to 30m, so I’d avoid anything more than splashes and rain.
DIAL AND HANDS
The watch is called the Avigation BigEye for a reason. The “big eye” sub-dial at 3 o’clock is oversized and really stands out among the other two, and along with the large pushers give the watch a unique personality. The dial is matte black with large Arabic numerals around the perimeter (minus 3, 6 and 9 for the sub-dials), providing excellent legibility as expected for a military watch. The numerals are filled with a light green Super-LumiNova and a chronograph seconds scale with five-minute markers spans the outermost perimeter. The matte silver hour and minute hands are also filled with light green Super-LumiNova.
The big eye sub-dial at 3 o’clock is a 30-minute counter with bold hash marks every three minutes, which is likely a specialized arrangement for pilots. The original from the 1930’s has the same unconventional three-minute marks (five-minute marks are more common). The 9 o’clock sub-dial houses the seconds hand with numerals at 60, 20 and 40, and a 12-hour counter sits at 6 o’clock with numerals every hour. All three sub-dials match the original’s layout and have a subtle, snailed finish. The sub-dial seconds hand is a simple stick, differing from the more elaborate sub-dial hands at 3 and 6, which contributes to the unique character of the dial. I’m guessing this design decision was originally to help distinguish the dials at a glance.
LONGINES and AUTOMATIC are printed small below 12 o’clock with SWISS MADE barely visible at the bottom edge. Just about everything is faithful to the 1930’s piece that inspired it, but there are a couple of appreciated modern touches. I’m glad they went with a standard lume instead of an aged aesthetic and the modern sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating is definitely preferable to acrylic (or something without a coating).
A final thing to note is the absence of a date window. One of my favourite Longines chronographs is a HydroConquest Chronograph Black Dial, but the date window crammed into the 4:30 position at an angle looks somewhat forced and out of place. I’m glad Longines remained faithful to the BigEye’s original design.
The beating heart of the Avigation BigEye is the Longines automatic L688.2 calibre, based on the ETA A08.L01. It’s a column wheel movement, so the pusher action is very smooth, and you definitely won’t have trouble finding those oversized pushers. It has 27 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz), has a Nivachoc shock protection system and 54-hour power reserve.
Functions include hours, minutes, chronograph central seconds, 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock and small seconds (hacking) at 9 o’clock. This movement is found in several other Longines chronographs and is a reliable workhorse. It averaged only seven seconds fast during my week of comparing it to a Seiko quartz. My only complaint would be the noticeable action of the rotor. You can really feel it bouncing around – and there you can feel the 7750 architecture behind this modernized movement.
There’s a date function present within the movement and although the crown doesn’t have a phantom setting, you can hear it click as the date advances every 24 hours. The movement is also decorated but unfortunately, hidden under the steel caseback. That again maintains the proper vintage aesthetic, but I personally would have liked an exhibition window.
A medium brown leather strap with off-white stitching (20mm) comes with the Avigation BigEye and fits the design well. The 1930’s original had a black strap when it was presented to Longines (at least in the official picture), but it’s certainly not original to the piece. Whether or not the original had a black strap back in the day is unknown. The BigEye strap is supple out of the box and comfortably hugged my wrist, and comes with a stainless steel buckle with the Longines logo stamped on the end. I’m somewhat of a strap snob and often replace the ones that brands provide, but I applaud Longines for this one and wouldn’t change it.
Chronographs can be a bit off-putting to some as the dials are “needlessly complicated.” And in my experience (on the other end of the scale), many chronograph owners rarely, if ever, take advantage of the chronograph functions, simply enjoying the look of the piece. I fall somewhere in the middle, gravitating towards well-executed chronographs that offer some unique characteristics while ignoring most standard, by-the-numbers chronographs in favour of other designs. I’ll even use the timer on occasion.
The Longines Avigation BigEye has definitely captured my attention, simultaneously being eccentric and conservative. The oversized pushers and big eye sub-dial are immediately apparent, but the different sub-dial seconds hand and tight, snailed sub-dial patterns add even more personality. The reserved size doesn’t overwhelm my wrist like many chronographs and the surprisingly fair price isn’t competing with a new Triumph Bonneville, either. The watch is definitely among the best in the vintage-inspired Longines collection and is admirably faithful to the 1930’s original.
The Longines Avigation BigEye sells for EUR 2,530 or USD 2,625 and is a relative bargain considering the brand, column wheel movement and unique design. There’s a lot of competition in the sub-3,000 market, but I think the BigEye’s combination of unique styling, function and wearable size helps it stand out in the crowd.
If you’re looking for such a vintage-inspired chronograph, the Breguet Type XX is three times more expensive (with different quality standards, of course). Other watches such as the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph IW377724 or the Zenith Cronometro Tipo CP-2 are priced over EUR 5,000. The Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph doesn’t offer more (standard Valjoux-based movement) but retails at EUR 3,990. Only the Hanhart Pioneer Monocontrol or the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Chronograph (both around EUR 3,000) could compete – yet without the same package or the same aura.
Altogether, Longines hit the sweet spot with a well-designed, well-manufactured and well-priced watch. More details on www.longines.com.