Longines Avigation BigEye Chronograph Review

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It was some day around the chaos of Baselworld 2017 that on Instagram, on some account we can’t quite recall, we spotted a Longines chronograph that we had never seen before and one that hadn’t been shown at Basel. It was a military chronograph with what looked like an intriguing asymmetrical dial design and a modestly sized case. But we couldn’t find anything else about it, and then it was gone. Then in September of last year, Longines officially announced the Avigation BigEye Chronograph, and it was an immediate hit.

Clearly a vintage-inspired design, the Avigation BigEye has all the trappings of a classic military watch—big numerals on a black dial, a focus on legibility, and simple hands. What it also has is a personality thanks to the eponymous feature of an oversized sub-dial. It’s a rare detail on watches—watches both modern and vintage—and the emphasis of the minutes counter changes the dynamic of the watch greatly, making it stand out from other similar watches.

Part of their heritage line, the Longines Avigation BigEye Chronograph has a curious history. Well, it actually doesn’t have much of a history at all, and the story is a bit murky. A collector brought the watch to Longines, which is to say it wasn’t in their archives. They loved the design, made a modern interpretation, and voilá, here we are today. But what of that original watch?

There is conflicting information out there, placing the production of that watch anywhere from the 1930s to the ’70s. Visually, it seems to be somewhere in the middle, having some elements of early-20th century designs and some from the mid. One simple thing to consider is that other big eye chronographs, such as the Type-20s by Breguet and JLC, the Uni-Compax by Universal Genève, and even watches from Longines themselves date from at least the ’50s and go as late as the ’70s.

So, what is this watch? Well, who knows, but I like it regardless. That’s sort of a cop out, I know, but the reality is, provenance or not, the new Avigation BigEye is a gorgeous watch that is appealing on its own design merits. Even if it simply was a modern watch with historical inspirations, it’s done well and is clearly a standout of the brand’s current line up. Beyond design, the watch comes packing Longines’ L688.2 movement, which is an automatic, column-wheel chronograph based on the 7750. It’s a great movement that usually commands a bit of a premium, but in this instance the watch has been priced at $2,625 (MSRP), marking a new entry point for the caliber and giving the package a solid overall value.

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$2625

Longines Avigation BigEye Chronograph Review

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
ETA L688.2
Dial
Black
Lume
Yes
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Leather
Water Resistance
30M
Dimensions
41 x 48.7mm
Thickness
14.7mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Push-pull
Warranty
Yes
Price
$2625

Case

The Avigation BigEye’s case mixes early 20th-century style and military design with clever proportions. Coming in at 41 x 48.77 x 14.7mm, it’s a stocky watch, but it’s not oversized. The 14.7mm height is to be expected from the automatic movement inside, and while tall, it’s balanced out with some of that height coming from the tall boxed crystal. From above, the design is clean and classic with a stepped bezel and strong tapering lugs.

On the right side, you’ll find the pushers and crown. A very clever detail of the design is the oversizing of the pushers. These things are massive, which has a couple of effects. First, the pushers make the watch look smaller, almost as if it’s 38 or 36mm (off the wrist, that is) as the proportions suggest it. Second, they just feel great under your thumb. That much surface area just beckons to be pushed.

From the side, the case appears more early-20th century. The sides are slabs with even horizontal brushing. The lugs then sort of flow out of the sides in a way that speaks to a time of simpler machining. I relate this detail to the early-20th century as it’s very similar to what you’ll find on Hanharts based on their original 1930s design. There’s an appealing matter-of-factness to the lugs. They aren’t aestheticized, because this watch, being of military origins, was very much function-first.

Flipping the watch over you’ll find a solid case back with a simple, but not unappealing etching of a silhouette of a plane with beams bursting out from behind it and various details around the edge. A solid case back makes the most sense on a military-themed watch, though the L688.2 is a nicely decorated movement, with various graining and heat-blued elements (check it out in the 1973 Conquest), so I wouldn’t have been opposed to seeing it here.

Dial

The dial is the star of the show on the Avigation BigEye, mixing classic military looks with a signature quirk. The dial consists of a primary surface in near matte black with a tried and true index of large, Arabic numerals accented with pale-green lume. Around the edge of the dial is a minute/chronograph seconds with large blocks at the hour and small, white lines in-between. All-in-all, it’s nice and well-executed, but nothing new or unique.

The sub-dials are where the magic happens. At nine is the active seconds, at six is the 12-hour counter and at three is the oversized 30-minute counter. The simple act of enlarging the minute sub-dial makes all the difference, pulling the watch out of being a nice-but-generic military chronograph and into the overnight, award-winning success the Avigation BigEye is. Of course, the idea here is not only aesthetic. Minutes are the most important function here, so it makes sense to emphasize them. In terms of design, the sub-dial at nine and six feature a mix of numerals and lines in a classic arrangement, while the minute counter features long, bold lines and no numerals. All are slightly sunken and have crisp concentric graining.

Additionally, you’ll find “Longines” and “Automatic” in a relatively small type just below 12. Something you won’t find, and it’s significant in its omission, is a date window. We’ve seen other Longines chronographs get the unwanted date treatment (see the 1973) and it’s great to see that they left it out here. It wouldn’t have fit in naturally and could have taken away from the big eye effect. Typically, for the L688 you would find a pusher for setting the date at ten on the case. Since the date is not set by the crown there is no phantom stop, but you can still hear and feel the date flip over at midnight.

The hour and minute hands are index style with pale, matte metal surrounds and green lume fill. These work with the dial and theme, though they feel a bit more mid-century than early-century to me (unlike, say, cathedral hands which were typical on ’30s military watches). The chronograph seconds hand is then a thin stick with a tear drop counter. It’s also in matte steel. On the sub-dials you’ll find a stick for the seconds and then a modified alpha for the chronograph functions that are a bit more baroque than the other hands. It’s sort of an odd/franken mix, but it works.

Overall, this is just one of those dials that works. The history might be a bit off, but the look is just so good. Big eye chronographs, of which there are so few, have an undeniable charm. A charm that comes from looking into the history books and finding a time when watches took more visual risks and were a bit more daring. Sure, the idea here is functional, but the resulting aesthetic is quirky, which is not something we typically say about pilot’s watches.

Movement

Inside of the Avigation Bigeye is the L688.2 (ETA A08.L01) caliber. This automatic chronograph has 27 jewels, hacking seconds, a frequency of 28,800bph, and a 54-hour power reserve. Most notably, however, is that it features a column-wheel mechanism rather than the more standard cam-type. Based on the Valjoux 7750/3, the L688.2 has been heavily reworked to feature this oft-considered higher-end feature and it’s a great value-add to the watch, particularly considering the price point. Being that it’s built on the workhorse 7750, you also know that it’s a solid, reliable movement.

Straps and Wearability

The BigEye comes mounted to a 20mm leather strap in a taupe-brown. It’s a nice looking strap with a subtly grained leather, a slight taper, rolled edges and heavy stitching in off white that plays well with the brown of the leather. It’s a match for the watch, playing off of the rugged, vintage aesthetic. Naturally, a black strap would look great as well.

On the wrist, the Avigation BigEye is striking. Sure, its looks are military and therefore not meant to pop, but this watch has presence to spare. The dial is bold and legible, with that oversized counter at three really standing out. The pushers add some attitude to the case itself, giving the watch an overall masculine look.

In terms of fit, it’s not a small watch, but it’s not too big, either. The diameter and lug-to-lug are perfectly tolerable and tempered by the pusher proportions. The height is a bit more cumbersome, but it’s in line with other automatic chronographs, so it’s an unfortunate, but also an unavoidable detail. That said, this is a rugged watch so it doesn’t look off. Overall, I found it comfortable on my seven-inch wrist.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see that Longines has a winner with the Avigation BigEye Chronograph. Heck, it’s already won the 2017 “Revival” Prize at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève. It just hits many of the notes people are looking for in a heritage-style watch; it’s well-made and finished and it’s fun, attractive and unique, too. That’s not to overlook the value as well. At $2,625, it’s very well-priced for the brand and for a Swiss-made column-wheel chronograph. And that’s the MSRP, so the likely street price and second-hand will be a bit less. The history of it is a bit suspicious, but that doesn’t impact one’s ability to enjoy the watch. So if you’ve had an itch for a military chronograph, but were waiting for something with a bit more personality, this is definitely one to consider.


For more information: Longines Avigation BigEye Chronograph

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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