Today Longines launches the first of what promises to be an exciting year of launches in the brand’s Spirit Collection. Following hard upon the success of their Pilot Majetek–a reissue of sorts from the watchmaker’s back catalogue–Longines again reach backward, but this time not for design inspiration. The Longines Spirit Flyback instead unearths the brand’s heritage as a manufacture of fine calibres. Taking off, as it were, from the platform it popularized with the Spirit, the Spirit Heritage, and the Spirit Zulu Time, Longines introduces its first “flyback” chronograph since 1968.
At a recent novelties event in New York City, I had the opportunity to sit down with Xavier Ligero, Vice President of Sales International at Longines, to discuss the importance of the Spirit Flyback in how the watchmaker envisions itself moving forward. At the heart of that discussion–and at the heart of the watch, itself–was the Calibre 791. “In the past we have been shy to talk about these exclusive movements. But now we only want to talk about these in-house, Longines-exclusive movements,” says Ligero.
There was a time when few aficionados paid much attention to the provenance of watch movements. The Rolex Daytona, for example, used Zenith movements well in the 1990s. Breitling, Omega, and IWC commonly employed ETA calibres during the same period. And, yes, the likes of Audemars Piguet and Jaeger LeCoultre also looked elsewhere than their own back yards to power certain watches.
This, however, has changed–for better or for worse–of late. And the debate over “in house,” “proprietary,” and “third party” has come to dominate the enthusiast sphere. For its part, Longines was considered as a true manufature–that is, a maker of its own in-house movements–for the majority of its history, up until its purchase by the Swatch Group in the mid-80s. Since the celebration of its 190th birthday last year, however, the brand has been after reattaining that status.
“Today, I would say that most of our calibres are in house movements,” says Ligero. “In St Imier, it is really something special. We are 600 people working together. Four hundred from Longines and 200 from ETA under the same roof.”
Brands like Tudor and Breitling–who founded and partnered with the likes of movement producer Kenissi–make similar arguments.
But no matter where you draw the “in-house” line, the importance here is that Longines played a pivotal role the development of the Calibre 791–as it did with previous movements like the L888.4, which is also used in the Spirit Collection–and that’s reason to celebrate. So is the Longines Spirit Flyback.
The Calibre 791 is a column wheel chronograph movement, as evidenced by its smooth pusher action, with a 4Hz beat rate and a 68-hour power reserve. It has a silicon balance spring (alongside numerous other anti-magnetic parts) and is COSC-certified with a central chronograph hand and two sub-dials: a running seconds and a 30-minute register. However, its most exclusive function is the “flyback.” This enables the user to restart the timer while the chronograph is running and without first stopping and then resetting the chronograph hand. This allows for split-second timing accuracy.
The movement is question is housed in a beautifully finished stainless steel case. The silhouette is borrowed from last year’s Zulu Time and is a mix of brushed planes and polished chamfers. It measures 42mm in diameter and 49mm lug to lug. However, the case thickness–due to the chronograph movement inside–is a much beefier 17mm. The watch also has 22mm lugs and comes on a a bracelet, a leather band, a sailcloth strap, or a fabric NATO.
Each has a screw down crown and case back with a display window where the automatic movement can be seen through a pane of sapphire glass. Longines have opted for vintage-styled pump pushers which fit the elevated aesthetic well. The ceramic, bidirectional countdown bezel, and seamless, curved sapphire crystal complete the look.
The sunray dial, too, is a classy number employing gilt highlights on the pencil-styled hands, circling the sub-registers, and edging the interior of the minute track. There are diamond-shaped markers and bold, applied Arabics on the hours, which mirror the layout and fonts found in both the original Spirit and Zulu Time, and a fine azurage in the sub-dials. We also find the same individually applied five stars above the integrated date window at 6 o’clock. Though it isn’t advertised on the dial, the watch offers a robust 100m of water resistance. The hands and markers have also been treated with Super-LumiNova
Like other timepieces in the Spirit collection, the bracelet comes with a double-safety folding clasp and push-button mechanism, while the strap option has an ingenious deployant clasp with on-the-fly micro-adjust. The blue and black colourways are also available on a NATO.
|Case||316L Stainless Steel or Titanium|
49mm Lug to Lug
22mm Lug Width
Screw Down Display Case Back
100m Water Resistance
|Dial & Crystal||Sapphire Crystal|
/w Double-Coated AR
Central Chrono /w Flyback, Running Seconds &
68-Hour Power Reserve
|Strap||Stainless Steel Bracelet,|
Leather Band, Sailcloth Strap, or
Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph
The return of the Flyback is of particular importance to Longines as the brand was the first ever to develop the function in a watch. In fact, Longines has a long line of firsts in automatic timing. In 1913, for instance, it issued the first ever chronograph wristwatch. Inside that timepiece was the now legendary 13.33Z. Most examples of that watch were coaxial mono-pushers. This was the norm; however, a small number produced in 1929 had two pushers and flyback functionality. They also had something known as an instantaneous minute recorder. Longines did not apply for a patent on this development until 1935–which was granted to them a year later and commercialized as the 13ZN. The function was initially adopted by pilots. Amelia Earhart wore a 13.33Z in 1932 when she crossed the Atlantic, for example. But it was military pilot’s during WWII that appreciated the precise timing mechanism most. And later, of course, it would be adopted into the high speed world of motor racing.
At 42mm in diameter and 17mm thick, some will find the Flyback is too much watch for their wrists. The saving grace here is a lug to lug of approximately 49mm, which does help. When it comes to the bracelet, I would also prefer to see screwed links over push pins.
Like all watches in the Spirit Collection, the Flyback Chronograph is a lovely meld of old and new. It reflects the refined aesthetics of its brethren without betraying its tool watch roots. The flyback functionality and open caseback certainly bring something upscale to the table, and this is reflected in the price; however, the Flyback is far more than the sum of its function. The two sub-register dial is a really well-balanced configuration. Legibility is excellent. The lume is sharp. Longines know that they have a winning combination in the Spirit aesthetic, and now they have added technological innovation to the deal. The investment is certain to pay off. But perhaps the most exciting element here is the brand motivation to celebrate past successes with forward-thinking design. Surely we are just scratching the surface of what the Spirit Collection will eventually yield.
The Longines Spirit Flyback retails for $4450USD. For more information, please visit the brand website.
About the author
Brent Robillard is a writer, educator, craftsman, and watch enthusiast. He is the author of four novels. You can follow him on Instagram.
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6 thoughts on “Off the Cuff: Longines Spirit Flyback”
Just a quick note here Robi… Price point at $4450. Not $450 🙌🏽 Damn typos‼️… Past that I love Longines and this is just a beautiful watch but the 42mm is more daunting then I feel I can do… If I had a contact to try the Watch for a week or two… I might feel more comfortable to make the leap. I just finished with NOMOS Neomatik and I’m going to pass… But I have full faith in Longines… So, if you know who I might contact, please let me know. Thanks
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The Longines Flyback looks great until you spot that 17mm thickness. That’s crazy!
Definitely not for the small (and faint!) wristed.
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Didn’t I say I love Longines??!! This is another great one, I’d love to see one in person. Great article brotha
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