Until recently, Longines were more casually affiliated with the equestrian than the airborne, with plenty of adverts of beautiful people stroking even more beautiful horses. That was until the Spirit, the low-key best pilots watch of 2020 – even among some seriously stiff competition.
With it, the Swatch Group watchmaker turned the spotlight on the aviation history that, until then, had only really been nodded to in their historical reproductions. And while I’m the first to wax lyrical about the Longines Heritage collection, the Spirit was the first time in recent memory that Longines’ aviation roots were made mainstream.
Last year Longines expanded the Spirit collection with an incredibly cool titanium version. What they didn’t do though was expand its functionality, which is a shame as the Spirit was crying out for a traveller’s complication. I’d have loved a Worldtimer (my own Master Collection Longines Worldtime is the cleanest and clearest I’ve come across) but there’s no doubt a GMT would have been an instant success. The stripped back aviation aesthetics of the Spirit were crying out for it.
Now, those cries have been heard, and the Longines Spirit Zulu Time is everything I hoped it would be.
Zulu Time is not, as it sounds, the time around Christmas that the family gathers round to watch a Michael Caine classic; it’s simply an anachronistic alternative to GMT. The name comes from the ‘zero hours’ of Greenwich Mean Time, with the Z being replaced with the NATO phonetic stand-in, Zulu.
While over the years the term’s slipped out of modern parlance, it still crops up in military circles. Though in the case of Longines, the specific reference is to a 1925 dual time-zone timepiece. To put that into context, that’s before Patek Philippe and a solid 30 years before Rolex.
In fact, Longines’ heritage in the field goes back even further. Before their DTZ wristwatch, Longines built a pocket watch equivalent in 1908, made to convert between Turkish and Western time for the Ottoman Empire. They built cockpit clocks, the Weems with two sets of independently adjustable hands and were a favourite of aviation pioneers across the world. If all that comes as a surprise you’re not alone – the lack of recognition is an unfortunate reality.
It’s also one that Longines are doing their best to counteract, and the Spirit Zulu Time is a solid step on the road to historical recognition. Granted, aside from the name and complication it has very little to do with the original 1925 model; that was a staunchly square number with a funky dial. The Spirit has neither of those things, instead opting for a more timeless (sorry) look.
Honestly, if you like the Spirits of the last couple of years, you’ll like this. Aesthetically, there’s very little difference. There are vintage nods of course – the five stars across the dial taken from an Admiral model from the 1960s and the famous winged hourglass logo – but incorporated into a distinctly modern layout. This isn’t the Heritage collection, faithfully re-creating past models, but a modern riff on the aviation theme.
That idea’s hammered home with the 42mm case, a touch large to be considered retro but that perfectly wearable contemporary sweet spot that means most wrists can get away with it. And Comfortably, too, with the new micro-adjustment bracelet.
What’s perhaps more important however is that the new piece uses a ‘True’ GMT. I won’t go into too much detail on the subject but suffice it to say that it’s the more mechanically impressive take on the second timezone functionality.
Add on top of that a silicon balance spring, three days of power reserve and chronometer certification and the L844.4 calibre (a modified ETA, as you’d expect from sub-Omega Swatch Group) shows its multitudinous merits. It’s incredibly reliable, does everything you’d want from a GMT movement and pushes the Longines Spirit Zulu Time into serious value territory.
Colourwise, Longines have played it relatively safe here. There’s a standard black dial and bezel version that’s easy to appreciate but hard to get excited about. Then, there’s a blue on blue version that, with a couple of orange highlights, is a stunner. Finally, we have our cover star for this issue, the Kermit-adjacent combination of black dial and green bezel.
This is by far the coolest of the lot, though not entirely due to the green and black combo. It’s the only one with gold numerals and hands which, with beige lume, has that whole vintage gilt look. It’s not going to stop me wanting the new Tudor GMT S&G any time soon, but it’s a close-run thing – and might just be the cooler, more under-the-radar alternative.
It certainly offers the same level of value for money. A true GMT with chronometer certification is a serious proposal, and one this well-built could easily stray into the £3,000 plus mark with nary a raised eyebrow. But this is Longines and Longines knows where their strength lies; being able to offer the Spirit Zulu Time for £2,400 on a strap, and just £80 more for the bracelet version.
Sure, the Longines Spirit Zulu Time works perfectly well as an introduction into Longines’ often-ignored aviation heritage and by extension their world-class archive of superb vintage models. But more importantly, it may just be one of the finest GMTs in (or even slightly above) its price point. Now, where’s my Worldtimer?
Price & Specs:
- Model: Longines Spirit Zulu Time
- Reference: L3.822.214.171.124 (matte black dial, brown leather strap)
L3.8126.96.36.199 (matte black dial, stainless steel bracelet)
L3.8188.8.131.52 (matte black dial, green bezel, beige leather strap)
L3.8184.108.40.206 (matte black dial, green ceramic bezel, stainless steel bracelet)
L3.8220.127.116.11 (sunray blue dial, blue leather strap)
L3.818.104.22.168 (sunray blue dial, stainless steel bracelet)
- Case/dial: 42mm diameter x 13.90mm height, stainless steel case, black matte or sunray blue dial
- Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
- Movement: Calibre L844.4 (base: ETA A31.L411), automatic, 21 jewels
- Frequency: 25,200 vph (3.5 Hz)
- Power reserve: 72h
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, GMT hand
- Strap: Brown, beige or blue strap or stainless steel bracelet
- Price/availability: £2,400 (versions with a strap, £2,480 (versions with a stainless steel bracelet)
More details at Longines.