Even in the modern age of perfectly accurate clocks in everything from cell phones to televisions, the art of mechanical watchmaking is still largely an ongoing pursuit of precision. Longines is a textbook example of this race for more accurate, better-performing movements, particularly with the proliferation of its all-chronometer Spirit series over the past few years. For its latest release, however, Longines raises the bar dramatically with an extremely high-performance reimagining of its classic 1968 Ultra-Chron diver. With its ruggedly handsome midcentury styling, excellent finishing, and accuracy above and beyond the coveted chronometer standard, the new Longines Ultra-Chron firmly establishes Longines as a major player in the hotly contested sub-$5000 vintage-inspired diver segment.
Although it measures in on the larger side at 43mm-wide and 13.6mm-thick, the Longines Ultra-Chron’s stainless steel case wears impressively well on the wrist. Much of this comes down to the ‘60s-style cushion case shape, particularly its broad, flowing mirror-polished chamfers. Rather than forming an accent line to delineate the case top from the case side, Longines flares out this polished surface dramatically to encompass the entire upper surfaces of the lugs. Beyond masking the overall width of the case, this helps to visually shorten the already diminutive cutout lugs on the wrist, mitigating any sense of potential lug overhang. The polishing itself is stellar, with an even, brilliantly reflective sheen and a razor-sharp transition to the cleanly executed brushing of the case sides and upper case. Like many cushion case designs of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Ultra-Chron abandons traditional crown guards in favor of a shallow case side notch for the prominent signed pillbox crown, allowing for easy operation and a cleaner look.
Where this case really stands out, however, is with its bezel. The original 1968 Ultra-Chron sported a bakelite bezel insert, and the new model echoes that material’s visual depth with a luxuriously modern new twist. The insert itself is clear sapphire over a black base, with a full dive scale in fiery red accented by lumed Arabic numerals and a classic triangular 12 o’clock marker. These elements appear to float above the black layer on the wrist, even casting shadows, while the entire surface acts like a mirror under changing light. The end result is an attractive departure from the classic matte black dive bezel that adds a bold reflective flash to the design on the wrist. The coin edge bezel’s action is light and smooth, but our sample model did show slight of back-play after turning. Longines finishes the Ultra-Chron’s case with a solid engraved caseback design carried over directly from the ‘60s original, including the Ultra-Chron’s original stylized waveform logo. The brand rates this diver design for a hefty 300 meters of water resistance.
The Longines Ultra-Chron’s dial blends bold color with a clean layout and sharp ‘60s-style graphic design. The matte black dial surface uses the same faux-aged grainy effect as many of Longines’ other vintage-inspired models, but here the effect is subtler and more reserved, with a deep black base hue and a finely grained texture. This more restrained base layer allows the crimson baton minute hand to stand out starkly from its surroundings, making this crucial timekeeping element instantly legible at a glance. Although this is a slight departure from the signal orange hand of the original model, the red hue ties the dial in with the bezel insert for a more unified feel overall. The broad, blunt polished hour hand and needle seconds hand are direct translations from the original design, however, and maintain that model’s funky late ‘60s charm. This period charm also extends to the dial text and hour markers. The mix of typefaces and applied logos on this model’s dial is carried over directly from the 1968 original, but with added modern production value, particularly on the newly faceted Ultra-Chron waveform emblem at 6 o’clock. The hours indices complete this period-correct layout, with slim beveled applied indices at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock echoed through clever use of negative space for the other printed hour markers. Longines wisely opts for a no-date treatment on this dial, allowing the layout to remain handsomely symmetrical. This negative-space approach to dial markers does heavily impact low-light performance, however, as the small luminous plots offer markedly poor illumination when matched against comparable dive watch designs.
Longines powers the Ultra-Chron with the new L836.6 automatic movement. The brand claims the L836.6 is an in-house powerplant, although the level of involvement from parent company Swatch Group’s ETA movement division is unclear. In terms of performance, however, the L836.6 is nothing less than stellar. Longines has worked with independent Geneva-based testing laboratory TIMELAB to certify the movement as an “ultra-chronometer,” with specifications far beyond the usual COSC chronometer standard for accuracy. The rigorous testing regimen includes 15 days of testing the assembled watch across five positions and three temperatures (8 degrees Celsius, 23 degrees Celsius, and 38 degrees Celsius). The results speak for themselves, as our own independent accuracy testing over the course of the review period confirmed a deviation of only +1.1 seconds per day. In keeping with the ‘60s styling, Longines achieves the L836.6’s immense accuracy the old-school way – with a high-frequency 36,000 bph beat rate. Despite this fast, torque-hungry oscillation rate, the L836.6 maintains a solid 53 hour power reserve. Although the engineering concepts behind the movement are decidedly mid-20th century, the L836.6 is not wholly without modern innovations, including a high-tech silicon balance spring.
Our Longines Ultra-Chron sample arrived with a deep coffee brown leather strap. With a moderate amount of padding and color-matched accent stitching, this is a solid match for the bold, gently patinated look of the rest of the design, but this strap’s thickness and stiffness out of the box may cause some discomfort. For those looking for a more dive-ready strap option, Longines also offers the Ultra-Chron with a multi-link stainless steel bracelet. The brand also offers an exclusive black and red NATO strap made from recycled materials, available only to those who purchase the Ultra-Chron as part of a boxed set with a display box and strap changing tool.
With an attractively sporty late ‘60s diver look, handsome finishing, and a genuinely impressive new movement, the new Longines Ultra-Chron is both a bold statement from the brand and a compelling dark horse in one of the most competitive dive watch segments in the industry. The Longines Ultra-Chron is available now through authorized dealers exclusively in box set form, with non-box set examples becoming available in September 2022. MSRP for the Longines Ultra-Chron begins at $3,200 for non-box set models on leather, with non-boxed bracelet models retailing for $3,450 and box set models with leather straps and bracelets priced at $3,500 and $3,700, respectively. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Price: $3,500 for boxed set on leather, $3,700 for boxed set with bracelet, $3,200 for watch on leather, $3,450 for watch on bracelet
>Size: 43mm-wide, 13.6mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a daily-wear dive watch, or as a stylish vacation piece.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: ‘70s diver fans, accuracy buffs looking for something beyond usual chronometer specifications.
>Best characteristic of watch: Incredible movement accuracy and performance, striking bakelite-effect sapphire bezel insert, solid finishing.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Stiff, uncomfortable strap, poor lume performance.