Longines Heritage 1918: Who is it for?

The slightly smaller Ladies Heritage 1918 with diamond bezel. Image courtesy of Kristian Haagen.

The slightly smaller Ladies Heritage 1918 with diamond bezel. Image courtesy of Kristian Haagen.

This article originally was published at 8past10.com, the social media site for watch geeks. 

I don't know who most of the Longines Heritage pieces are for and I'm sure Longines do either.

Back in my retail days the jewelers I worked at stocked Longines and we were lucky enough to receive a branded area at the back of shop which effectively tripled our stock and entitled us to get more unique pieces from the Heritage collection. These pieces are steep in history, usually based off a selection of watches from a period or a specific reference that Longines is proud. They usually chose watches that have served some professional purpose over the past hundred years from aiding in transatlantic flight, being worn by military units or simply keeping the trains on time however these pieces would gather dust whilst moonphase chronograph after moonphase chronograph would leave our store in the little blue Longines bag. To the general public the Longines Heritage Collection is identical to the Master Collection which aims to produce classic and traditional watches with usually no singular reference as a point of comparison as to the untrained or uncaring eye the blued steel hands, the ol' timey numbers and the general look of most of the Master collection can look more heritage than most of the Heritage collection.

One of the latest pieces to come out from Longines this Baselworld is the Heritage 1918, a watch inspired by the early days of wristwatch manufacturing when most were converted pocket watches. The design proudly shouts it's almost century long roots; the pivoting looped lugs balancing right at the tips of the case, the white lacquer dial that contrasts nicely with the honey colored catherdral hands and numerals and the grooved mini-pilot's crown standing proud and alone without guards. The lack of familiar winged hourglass logo (The oldest copyrighted logo still in use) and the use of Longines in italicised script evokes a time when watchmaking was an individual business, when the movement beneath the dial was made by the name written on it.

It's such an interesting watch and it's a shame that no-one is going to buy it. Not for the lack of trying by any Longines salespeople mind. Believe me when I say that talking about Longines to clients was always a lot of fun as I'd actually get to talk about vintage watches, the historical reasoning behind the design choices and why each certain model is significant in their own way. Yet despite their apparent interest clients would wander back to the display and pick something a little more modern that would tease it's vintage roots without being out of place on a contemporary wrist. This is not to say that these isn't a general market for vintage inspired watches as otherwise Longines would be out of business and the Tudor Black Bay wouldn't have been the huge success it was but it's the "classics" that get the most attention. The time-only Conquests that don't take too many chances, the mid-century chronographs that remind men of their fathers' watches and give them a distraction in meetings. No-one comes in desperately searching for a Weems Second-Setting or a Lindbergh Hour Angle.

Now to watch geeks like us, we should be the market for the 1918 as we're the ones who'll appreciate and understand why those lugs look like that, why there isn't a logo however we're just as happy to go searching for a vintage Longines instead even if it takes us months or even years. One of the first search engine results for 'Longines Heritage 1918' is a watchuseek forum post bemoaning the inclusion of a date window, the apparent cardinal sin when it comes to reissues of old watches. Looking further through the post one commenter goes into detail about how the date window is there to hide the fact that the movement is too small for the 41mm citing the high placement of the sub-dial compared to watches from the period. Even a cursory browse on ebay shows a multitude of trench watches with large dateless sub-dials that are all available for less than a new Heritage 1918. 

Forgetting the fact that Longines put an automatic movement in a watch from a period where the first paper automatic watch was over a decade away and also forgetting that it's an ETA movement, which in some circles is just as much of a mortal sin as date windows, then you've got yourself a really interesting, attractive watch. However what Longines doesn't understand is that the clients who'll buy their weird pocket watch style wristwatch are the very people who care so much about period correct details and are the same people who will happily pay a slight premium for a manual wind movement without a date window. You can't worry about losing the business of Joe Schmoe because Joe Schmoe was never going to buy this watch in the first place.

Perhaps Longines makes these watches for their own satisfaction and private appreciation of their own history and if that's the case then I salute their horological pigheadedness. I wish Longines every success but when the next design meeting comes around, perhaps remember who is actually going to buy your watches?