A year headlined by tragedy and uplifted by triumph, 1968 will forever bear the battle scars of progress. While the United States was busy pushing the boundaries of global and not-so-global travel, introducing the first 747 and orbiting the moon, down on Earth, a Swiss icon was forging its own unique path. Buried deep in its Saint-Imier workshop, heritage watchmaker Longines was putting the finishing touches on a groundbreaking new release, one that threatened to disrupt a category still floundering in its infancy. A dive watch with the heart of a Chronometer, the original Longines Ultra-Chron was truly ahead of its time, and it paid the price.
“When Longines introduced the original Ultra-Chron in 1968, the watch community really wasn’t ready for it,” Sydney watchmaker Tyler Hailwood of Hailwood Peters Watches says. “It was the first dive watch to be fitted with a high-frequency movement, which was something that simply wasn’t done at the time.”
The product of meticulous progress, the Ultra-Chron took the lessons learned from Longines’ 1914 5Hz high-frequency stopwatch and subsequent 1957 professional high-beat and split-second chronograph to new depths. The 1968 model was water-resistant to 200 metres and adorned with a striking red minute hand to match its bold ethos.
A shock to traditionalists, the pioneering dive watch rejected the notion of complacency, however, only in the decades that have passed have watch-lovers begun to appreciate the Ultra-Chron’s genius.
Now, there’s a whole new reason to.
2022 Longines Ultra-Chron
Inspired by that very timepiece that flung the high-frequency dive watch door open, Longines has revived the Ultra-Chron for the modern era. The new 43mm iteration perfectly toes the line between modern and vintage, with a familiar aesthetic masking an all-new high-frequency movement, but it’s far from a mere recreation. According to Hailwood, Longines has continued its legacy of innovation, equipping the 2022 Longines Ultra-Chron with a host of new features, designed to elevate the high-frequency parameters.
“High-frequency refers to how fast the watch runs – with mechanical watches, they have a balance wheel that bounces back and forth,” Hailwood says. “The latest Longines Ultra-Chron oscillates at 5Hz, which translates to 36,000 BPH, meaning it ticks 10 times per second. It’s so fast, you can’t actually see it with the naked eye, it’s imperceptible.”
That performance comes by way of the new calibre L836.6, a high-frequency in-house movement developed with accuracy in mind. Where the original guaranteed accuracy of one minute per month, the modern interpretation arrives with enhanced precision and greater resistance to shocks, scratches and pressure, but don’t just take Longines’ word for it. The new Longines Ultra-Chron has been chronometer-certified by a third-party independent testing organisation, TIMELAB, based in Geneva.
“They test the watch fully cased-up, so it’s not just the movement,” Hailwood explains. “They’re testing the watch with the dial on, with the hands on, in the case – so it’s getting tested in that factory as it is when it’s on your wrist.”
“The watch also has a 52-hour power reserve. It is an automatic watch so it’s self-winding, it will wind itself on your wrist, but if you do take it off, it will run for 52 hours, which is quite amazing for a high-beat watch.
Despite the reinvention, at its heart, the new Longines Ultra-Chron is still an iconic dive watch and you need only take a look at it to understand why. The stunning 43mm stainless steel cushion case looks like it’s been pulled directly from a ‘60s design book, however, there are a few modern adaptations thrown in. Like its 1968 predecessor, the latest iteration boasts a unidirectional rotating bezel, but this time, Longines has further elevated the timepiece with a screwed-in sapphire caseback and crown. The black grain dial is flawlessly contrasted by the white minute track with alternating Super-LumiNova coated batons and rhodium-plated appliques – a stark contrast to past releases.
“The Super-LumiNova allows the watch to remain legible in low-light, which is a major upgrade from the original model,” Hailwood says. “Super-LumiNova is a relatively new addition to the watchmaking world. Early dive watches had index marks that were painted with radium, meaning they were radioactive. That eventually led to the use of tritium, which was popular in the 1960s, but now we have Super-LumiNova, which when charged, is far brighter.”
The deeper you dive into the 2022 Longines Ultra-Chron, the more you notice the subtle throwbacks and nods to the past. From the original Ultra-Chron logo, which appears on the dial and embossed on the caseback, to the striking red minute hand, it’s evident Longines isn’t denying its heritage, nor is it trying to recreate it. The Swiss Maison has simply evolved.
So, just how long will the new Longines Ultra-Chron last? According to Hailwood, far longer than you may originally expect.
“On the durability front, there have been massive improvements. It’s just all modern materials,” he says. “This is a seriously durable watch. It’s got a solid stainless-steel caseback, solid stainless steel case middle, sapphire crystal, sapphire bezel. This watch will outlast us all.”
The 2022 Longines Ultra-Chron is available now from Longines boutiques and online. It arrives with two strap options, a brown leather with buckle priced at AUD$5,275 and a stainless steel bracelet with triple safety folding clasp and push-piece opening mechanism for AUD$5,600. Both variations arrive in a special presentation box, complete with a black NATO strap crafted from recycled materials.
For a premiere dive watch with a movement capable of measuring 1/10th or 1/100th of a second, the latest release represents outstanding value for money. But then again, what price can you really put on innovation?