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INTRODUCING: Longines Spirit Flyback, with a new in-house chronograph

The Longines Spirit Flyback chronograph in stainless steel with calf leather strap.

Longines celebrates an important historical milestone with a new movement inspired by the iconic calibre 13ZN.

Note: A fuller version of this story is in Issue 1, 2023 of CROWN (Singapore). Get it on the App Store here.

Across some of the most important chronograph watches in history, you’ll see the same names pop up over and over: Angelus. Lemania. Valjoux. Longines. If you go back to 150 years or so ago, there were only a handful of movement makers capable of developing the sort of mechanical timers used to time sports events. Longines was one of these, producing one of the first 1/100th of a second chronographs over 100 years ago.

The Longines 13.33Z was a robust chronograph for military use, with a telemeter scale on enamel dials, in gold or steel cases.
The Longines 13.33Z was a robust chronograph for military use, with a telemeter scale on enamel dials, in gold or steel cases.

Quick background

There are several important chronographs in Longines’ watchmaking history but none more so than the 13.33Z and the 13ZN. The former is the first chronograph specifically designed for use in wristwatches. It had a horizontally-coupled chronograph gear train with column wheel control, and a large 2.5Hz escapement. Designed for military use, it was highly rugged, and the watch dial featured two telemeter scales for calculating distances in the hundreds and thousands of metres.

In 1935, Longines unveiled and patented a new chronograph design specific to a new civilian activity that was emerging: aviation. In order to calculate their exact route, pilots needed to be able to know how far they travelled using the chronograph to measure elapsed time multiplied by their speed of travel. However, standard chronographs have to be stopped and reset before restarting. This was three presses on chronograph pushers, in gloved hands. Mishaps invariably led to pilots not knowing where they were, and where they could land and refuel.

The Longines 13ZN is the first serially produced flyback chronograph in the world.
The Longines 13ZN is the first serially produced flyback chronograph in the world.

The flyback chronograph was designed by Longines to solve this aviation need. Essentially, a flyback has a different design on its reset-to-zero hammer, so that the chronograph can be reset without stopping. Now this produces a lot of stress on the movement, so a chronograph with this design has to be incredibly robust.

The calibre 13ZN was the first flyback chronograph and it’s worth noting that no other watchmaker successfully created one until a decade later. It’s a revered movement among vintage watch collectors, but since Longines ceased production of the calibre, it’s not created a new flyback chronograph until today.

The Longines Spirit Flyback, a modern flyback chronograph in steel with a steel bracelet.
The Longines Spirit Flyback, a modern flyback chronograph in steel with a steel bracelet.

The Longines Spirit Flyback

After introducing the Spirit collection three years ago, Longines has been building up the collection and tying it back to the brand’s aviation association. First came the Zulu Time, a GMT model that references the brand’s invention of the GMT complication well ahead of others.

The Spirit Flyback celebrates Longines’ invention with a brand new in-house flyback chronograph, the first in over 50 years for the brand. The calibre 791.4 is a highly precise chronograph with vertical coupling and column wheel control. Certified by the COSC as a chronometer, it’s also shock resistant and amagnetic, thanks to the silicon balance spring of the movement. It has a power reserve of 68 hours, using twin barrels, and has an oscillating rotor with the globe emblem of the Spirit collection, along with the words ‘Longines Flyback’ engraved on it.

The sapphire caseback of the Longines Spirit Flyback reveals the L791.4 COSC-certified chronograph movement.
The sapphire caseback of the Longines Spirit Flyback reveals the L791.4 COSC-certified chronograph movement.

The 42mm stainless steel watch has a round case middle with a brushed surface and polished angles, tapering into the lugs. Two pump pushers control the chronograph operation, with a grooved screw-down crown in between. Longines’ logo and the five stars representing its chronometer status are represented on the dial. Bronzed Arabic hour markers with SuperLumiNova coating are applied on the dial with an outer minute track.

The bezel is where Longines has added a new design aesthetic to the Spirit collection. Here, the polished ceramic insert presents a minute track, but with punched-in grooves to indicate the minutes, except for the decimal numerals and arrow marker which are coated with luminous material.

The Longines Spirit Flyback.
The Longines Spirit Flyback.

The Longines Spirit Flyback comes in a soft black or blue sunray-brushed dial. A variety of strap options are available, from the classic steel bracelet to a brown or blue calf leather strap with contrast stitching, as well as a beige NATO strap. The folding clasps on the straps incorporate a micro adjustment solution, allowing you to change the fit of the watch by up to 5mm conveniently.

The watches will be available at authorized retailers and Longines boutiques this week. We’re sure the Spirit Flyback is a line that will be expanded on in the future, but it marks an important moment in Longines’ present that it’s bringing back a modern version of the 13ZN today.

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Editor

Darren has been writing about, and admiring the craft of watchmaking for over a dozen years. He considers himself lucky to live in a golden age of horology, and firmly believes that the most difficult watches to design are the simplest and the most intriguing to discover.


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