Retro-style watches today abound, and most of them represent just that: a style. They'll recall or recreate a vintage aesthetic, but it's far rarer you'll find them highlighting the technology inside.
Longines's new Ultra-Chron, however is notable for not only resurrecting a cool vintage dive watch, but also the type of high-frequency automatic movement that made it stand out back in the 1960s.
We love a well-done neo-vintage watch — but the Longines Ultra-Chron ups the value and interest with its technical chops. We had the chance to check one out ahead of its announcement today; here's what we learned.
At a Glance: The 2022 Longines Ultra-Chron
Case Diameter: 43mm
Case Depth: 13.6mm
Water Resistance: 300m
Movement: Longines (ETA) L836.6 automatic
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
What is a high-frequency watch, and is it actually desirable?
Mechanical watches keep time with an oscillating wheel, and the majority of modern ones beat at 4Hz. That means if you hold it up to your ear you can hear it ticking eight times per second. This works pretty well for most mechanical watches — but those that beat at 5Hz, or ten times per second, have a bit of an exotic appeal.
Why would you want a watch that ticks faster? The simple answer is: accuracy. This is the reason such watches were developed. Longines produced its first such movement in 1914 in the form of a handheld stopwatch; and it was later, in 1959, that it became the first watch company to fit a high-frequency movement into a wristwatch.
High-frequency watches had a moment in the 1960s (before they were eclipsed by quartz), being produced by a number of brands, and they indeed demonstrably performed to impressively high standards in observatory trials. Longines's Ultra-Chron was among them, and for its resurrection in 2022 it's got a similar focus on accuracy.
The sample I received came with a copy of a certificate from Timelab, the Genevan company that individually tests and certifies each Ultra-Chron watch that goes out. It performed to well within the acceptable deviation of +4/-6 seconds per day that would be sufficient for the COSC chronometer certification proudly displayed on premium offerings from many Swiss watchmakers. The exact model I received, in fact, was shown to be within three (often within two) seconds per day across its 15 days of testing.
Okay, it's more accurate. So why wouldn't everyone just make a 5Hz watch? Well, a number of companies do, most notably Zenith and Seiko — but they're still relatively uncommon and expensive.
There are a number of elements that can influence accuracy (for instance, Longines uses a silicon hairspring which has all kinds of benefits including resistance to accuracy-killing magnetic fields), and many mechanical watches today can do well enough without the extra effort, cost and compromises. Moreover, all that ticking adds up to more friction, which is an enemy of mechanical clockwork, and it also uses more energy. (That said, the Ultra-Chron has a respectable power reserve of 52 hours.)
How does the Longines Ultra-Chron wear on the wrist?
The Ultra-Chron wasn't a single watch, but rather referred to the highly accurate, high-beat movement inside: actual Ultra-Chron watches in the '60s came in a multitude of shapes and styles. For this reissue, the brand looked to a dive watch from 1968. In other words, in addition to having an interesting chronometer-certified movement, you've got a watch that's water resistant to a dive-ready 300m. It also has an emphasized minute hand in bright orange, used in coordination with the rotating bezel for the likes of timing decompression stops when diving.
The bezel itself has a clear sapphire crystal insert, so the markers on top give it a cool three-dimensional effect when viewed up close. With the level of refinement you expect from the brand (if you know Longines), the case is solidly built with contrasting brushed and polished sections to lend it an elevated feel. The old Ultra-Chron logo is a fun touch, and it appears on the dial and again, larger, on the caseback.
Assuring that water resistance is a chunky, serious-looking 43mm-wide case with a screw-down crown. It sounds big, but proves wearable even on my slender (6.5-inch) wrist thanks to its short lugs and ergonomic shape. A very comfortable bracelet with fully articulating links tops it off (there are also strap options).
In the Ultra-Chron, you've got a cool-looking dive watch with state-of-the-art mechanical tech that references its interesting history. On top of all that, it's one of the most affordable high-beat watches available today, with options from the likes of Seiko and Zenith typically costing thousands of dollars more.
The Longines Ultra-Chron comes in a set for $3,500 with a leather strap or $3,700 on the steel bracelet. Both include a box and extra NATO-style strap and are available from Longines retailers in June. They'll be available online starting in September.