It is a big trend in watchmaking to reissue or reinterpret classic timepieces from a brand’s back catalogue. This movement is so popular, in fact, that there is a whole category at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve (the Oscars of horology) devoted to vintage-inspired watches.
At the GPHG awards in November, the winner of Revival Watch category was the Longines Avigation BigEye — a pilot’s watch based on a chronograph from the 1930s. The reasons that the Avigation BigEye is deserving of such accolades is not that it is retro but rather that the original and the update are both forward thinking.
The Swiss watchmakers Longines have been in business since 1832, which explains why they were one of the first companies to get into the vintage reissue game (they offer an entire collection named “Heritage” to pay tribute to their past). But even though the new Avigation BigEye is based on a military pilot chronograph from the 1930s, the round case and easy-to-read display could easily fit in during any decade between the 2010s and today.
Pilot watches in general work well in a modern milieu: “Big-Eye” chronographs, named for their oversized counters, were designed to be easy-to-read in a dark cockpit. The Avigation BigEye also has big pushers—a plus for early flyboys who needed to operate their chronographs while wearing gloves in unheated planes. Still, these jumbo features are appealing to today’s customer because they also provided a lot of wrist presence.
The Avigation BigEye has a few other updates designed to suit today’s tastes. At 41mm, the round, brushed stainless steel case is much bigger than its 1930s inspiration. And instead of opting for an aged-patina look with lume paint on the hands and Arabic numbers, this watch uses a fresher, green-toned Super-LumiNova for better low-light readability.
What keeps the Avigation BigEye footed in the moment is its focus on function. For example, to keep the watch’s glossy black dial looking clean, there is no date window.
Another neat trick is the layout of the sub-dials: a 30-minute counter at the three o’clock register, a 12-hour counter at six; and a running seconds at the nine. The chronograph seconds are shown by a central seconds hand. To keep the big counters looking balanced, the sub dials each have a distinct style markings display and the two chronograph registers have a different set of hands.
And finally, the domed sapphire crystal and a brown calfskin watch strap reference the 1930s-era aesthetic while still having an of-the-moment, minimalist feel.
Behind the Avigation BigEye’s three-register layout beats a newfangled, modified self-winding L6 movement produced exclusively for Longines. This high-frequency (28,800 vibrations per hour), 27 jewel caliber also provides 54 hours of power reserve.
And even though it is made for flight, it’s also practical on land and sea, with a water resistance to 3 bar (30 meters).
The Longines Avigation BigEye is priced at $2,625 and is available at select boutiques. Visit longines.com to find a retailer.