I’ve gone on the record many times, perhaps to the chagrin of some, about my mixed feelings on so-called “vintage reissue” watches. For almost as long as I’ve been interested in watches, brands of all types have been looting their archives for inspiration and drawing up “new” designs that look an awful lot like the old ones, but maybe 3-4mm larger in diameter. My preference has always been for, well, the real thing – an actual vintage watch, without the upsizing or modern manufacturing techniques that render it somehow less balanced or soulful. I also gravitate toward genuinely new and interesting designs, watches that are totally contemporary in look and feel. While they might allude to the past in some way, my favorite modern watches tend to offer something genuinely modern.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and here I am, discovering them in real time as I open up packages of watches to review. On paper, the Longines Heritage Classic “Sector” (heretofore referred to simply as the Sector) shouldn’t be a watch that I’d gravitate to. It’s a modern rendition of an old thing, after all, and I tend to much prefer modern renditions of modern things, or, simply, old things. But after spending some time with the Sector, it won me over in a way that a vintage inspired hasn’t in quite some time, and it has everything to do with that aptly named, extremely well executed, sector dial.
Review: Longines Heritage “Sector”
Dial + Hands
The dial is the clear star of the show here. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that other elements of the watch have been almost intentionally diminished or subdued to accentuate the dial. Before jumping into what makes the dial of this particular Longines so attractive, it’s worth taking a beat to think through sector dials more generally.
The key, for me, in understanding the appeal of the sector dial is in one of the myriad of other names a dial like this may have been called over the years: a “scientific” dial. These dials, which have their origins in the 1930s and 40s, are split into easily readable sections for the purpose of taking precise measurements, and you can imagine them being used as tools by physicians, scientists, or academic types who might have a need for keeping accurate time and recognizing the passing of it at a glance.It’s utilitarian in a very practical, old fashioned way, and less about accomplishing a specific task (like a modern dive watch, for example) than it is about being consistently ready to perform very generally.
Another way to think of it, is that a watch like this, in the 1940s, would have been something of a tool watch for nerds. That a watch like this would have been worn by the intellectually curious for use in their own pursuits is endlessly appealing to me, a nerd in so many ways who identifies with this type of tool watch much more strongly than the type that’s designed to be submerged under 300 meters of ocean water.
There are many ways that a sector dial can be executed, but they pretty much all involve the use of concentric circles to divide the minutes, hours, and seconds. These watches really take off, in my opinion, when different finishes are used across each sector, which helps you see the time more clearly at a glance and also can be a showcase for excellent finishing (or, the opposite: a finishing weak spot, marred by sloppy transitions).
The Longines Sector is fairly simple as these dials go. The outermost sector is actually a blank white border that frames the rest of the dial. Directly inside of that we have a gray ring with an attractive brushed finish that features long hash marks that run the entire width of the ring to denote the hours and shorter markings to indicate the minutes. A large white section in the middle contains the Longines signature and a small seconds register, which itself is sectored in a way that mirrors the outer dial. A cross-hair divides the watch into quadrants, but is really only visible on the top half of the dial due to the positioning of the small seconds scale.
The hands are long, thin batons that have been blued, and come alive when the light hits them just right. Each hand is just the right length – the hour hand crosses into the gray time telling sector by mere microns, and the minute hand overlaps just slightly with the minute markers as it sweeps across the dial. Longines could have gone in a number of different directions with the handset here, including something much more ornate, but simplicity, with an eye toward legibility, was the right choice.
When I saw this watch in photos for the first time when it was announced last year, I was immediately jarred by what seemed like an odd choice in how the Arabic numerals at the cardinal positions were implemented, particularly the “12,” with its digits pushed together past the point that looks natural, at least to my eye. Having seen the watch in person, however, I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and adds to the retro charm of the piece. I actually quite like the font that was chosen for the numerals. I’m equally nonplussed by the “6” being cut off by the small seconds register. While I recognize this is a deal breaker for some, this is a design choice that has never bothered me on a watch. While it doesn’t exactly excite me, it’s also not something that would prevent me from enjoying the piece, and it certainly doesn’t inhibit time telling in any meaningful way. You can put me squarely in the “neutral” camp when it comes to cut off numerals, for the most part.
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that the dial on a watch whose name is derived from the layout of said dial is outstanding, but there you go. The Sector’s scientific dial is precise, pleasingly symmetrical, and hold up to scrutiny under a loupe to a degree that might surprise you for a watch at this price point. The finishing on the gray hours and minutes track is a highlight, and the circular brushing is easily visible with the naked eye in most lighting conditions, and the graining in the sub seconds scale is a nice Easter egg for those who choose to inspect the watch even more closely. The complementing colors (alternating white and gray, blue hands and black text) work exceedingly well too.
The Sector’s case can best be described as pleasantly nondescript. At 38.5mm in diameter, it wears comfortably and looks appropriate as a simple, everyday, casual watch on my 7.5 inch wrist. With a dial design so dependent on concentric circles, I don’t think I’d want this watch to be any larger – my gut feeling is that the circular shapes extending all the way to the edge of the dial (truly an “all dial” look) makes this watch wear a bit bigger than it otherwise might. I think this watch would be just as successful if it were one or two millimeters smaller, but might start to get a little silly if it were upsized by the same amount.
It’s helpful, too, that the lugs are a narrow 19mm rather than 20mm, which would have been easy enough to do on a case of this size. This narrowing of the watch at north and south helps it feel sleek and discreet on wrist, and reduces the overall footprint of the Sector. It likely has more of an impact visually than in terms of the actual physical wearing experience, but it’s notable nonetheless.
The case is brushed all around, which is an interesting choice. Without a bevel or any other notable case work, the very basic finishing asks us to accept this watch on its simplest terms. The brushing, in my opinion, reinforces the pseudo-tool watch roots of the Sector. This, in other words, isn’t a watch to show off. It’s not meant to be extravagant in any way. It’s a pre-war version of something that people who really needed to know the time would use to see it at a glance, and I like that.
I also quite enjoy the box shaped sapphire crystal that has been fitted to the sector. It’s the right choice for this piece, a somewhat obvious vintage cue, but well executed here. The bezel holding the crystal in place is thin and almost invisible on the Sector, and sits a step below the visible portion of the sapphire. The watch’s height, then, of about 12mm is a little misleading. It wears a bit thinner than that given the elevated crystal.
The Sector is powered by the L893 movement, which is based on the ETA A31.501, and it’s hidden behind a solid case back, which is completely appropriate for a watch seeking to evoke the 1940s. This is a solid and modern automatic movement with a 64 hour power reserve and a silicon hairspring, making it resistant to magnetic fields. Longines benefits here from being part of the Swatch group, which allows for access to a movement like this with anti-mag properties that can be used in a watch priced around $2,000. It wasn’t that long ago materials like silicon in watch movements were reserved for the highest of high end.
The trickling down of this type of technology is one of the great benefits of the large luxury groups. As much as we all love the idea of brands remaining independent (and I personally celebrate and cherish those that have remained outside the big luxury conglomerates), the fact that these groups exist is one of the key reasons lower priced watches are being fitted with this type of tech.
Straps & Wearability
My Sector test unit came mounted to a simple leather strap that matched the dial and case perfectly. It was stiff and not the most comfortable strap I’ve ever worn, but I’d expect it to soften up given enough wear. The neutral tones of the dial should make this watch quite versatile, and I can imagine it working really well with a dark brown strap. I’d love to see it on a strap with some texture (this watch is begging for suede), and Longines sells it on both black and blue leather. To put it simply, this watch will likely reward strap experimentation.
While I think a case can be made, as I’ve done above, that the Sector is something of an old-timey tool watch, it should be noted that it’s definitely not a tool watch in the modern sense of the term. The Sector has only 30 meters of water resistance and a push/pull crown. While it’s not delicate (it actually feels plenty robust in the hand and on the wrist) I wouldn’t recommend using this in the water or while being particularly active.
New watches seem to want to be placed into distinct or hyper specific categories, and the Sector, as a throwback to the 1930s and 40s, resists easy labels. It’s definitely casual with it’s brushed case and expansive dial, but it’s classy and could easily be dressed up if necessary. After spending some time with it I’ve come to see the Sector as an old school, all-purpose, everyday watch. It’s the type of watch that if you only had one watch and weren’t a watch obsessive, you could be very happy with in almost every situation, save the gym.
The Sector is a really impressive watch, and is easily my favorite recent piece in the Longines Heritage collection. It’s unpretentious, fun, and has a really rewarding and well executed dial. As a watch nerd, I appreciate that the sector pays tribute to a time period in watchmaking that has been given short shrift in recent years. Just think about how many vintage inspired pieces we’ve seen with designs derived from watches of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The 30s and 40s, for a whole bunch of reasons, are a less palatable period to draw from, but Longines has done a great job of finding a design that works just as well in 2020 as it did 80 years ago.