I have gravitated towards very traditional chronographs since my earliest days collecting watches. I’ll never forget walking into an Omega boutique and seeing my first Speedy Pro. That watch has been something that’s stuck around in my orbit in one form or another for years. What I love about chronographs is the interaction with the timepiece; popping the top pusher just as you pour the boiling water into your Chemex, and then snapping all the hands back to zero after you inevitably forget to stop the movement when your coffee is ready. Longines is no stranger to chronograph watches with many examples spread across their lineup over the years and in 2017 at Baselworld, they introduced a modern interpretation of an unusual model from their history. The Longines Avigation BigEye Chronograph (ref. L2.8220.127.116.11) is a vintage military-styled watch that Longines wasn’t aware they had produced. They were shown a vintage example by a collector, previous to which no examples of the BigEye existed in the Longines Museum. The BigEye went on to win the “Revival” Prize at 2017’s GPHG Awards and has seen great success in the market since.
The Longines Avigation BigEye comes in a 41mm steel case that at first glance might strike you as simple. However, there are subtle polished elements that catch your eye and hold your attention. Longines has applied a nice brushed finish to most of the surfaces on the case, with the exception of the thin steel bezel that is polished to a mirror finish. This element, I think, catches the light in really unexpected ways giving the watch a sort of “rough-jewel-like” quality.
The BigEye measures in at a nice 48.5mm lug to lug. This paired with the case size fits my 7.25” wrist very well. The lugs themselves are pretty thick and beefy, dropping downward dramatically from the case. Being an automatic chronograph, there’s an expected thickness present at about 14.3mm including the domed sapphire. The watch wears trimly for that size, however, and I haven’t found it overly prone to jumping out and grabbing doorjambs and the like.
The oversized crown and pushers are some of my favorite elements of the watch. Big and nearly exaggerated, the signed crown measures in at approximately 7.5mm alone; and the pushers extend delicately from the case. It may be the overall right-hand weightiness of the watch itself or the focus on asymmetry, but I find the case and pusher/crown combo to be unbalanced. However, when you look at them, something clicks between the two.
Lastly, the signed caseback features the silhouette of a plane and the particulars written across the circumference. This is a very direct nod to the classic aeronautical stylings presents here.
At first glance, the dial makes it apparent how the Avigation BigEye received its name. Looking a little like a quizzical emoji, it’s composed of three subdials with the rightmost being the oversized minute counter. It’s interesting when comparing this watch to the closest “peer” in my collection, the Speedmaster Professional. The Speedmaster has a sense of balance to it that’s, in my humble opinion, done very well. Whereas the Longines has taken that balance and turned it on its head with a dynamically asymmetric layout.
Spending more time with the Longines will continue to unearth some of the unusual aspects of the dial. The large sub-dial that gives the watch its name is also divided into ten segments every three minutes, likely to time a specific application that the original watch was conceived for. This took some getting used to, but after having it on my wrist for a few days, I’m used to it. It’s handy timing steaks on the grill too.
The rest of the dial should feel comfortable and familiar to most pilot-watch-loving folks with large painted/lumed numerals, a deep matte black dial, and contrasting silvery white lumed hands. The one other interesting thing to point out here is the delicate chronograph hand adorned with a teardrop-shaped counterweight. That aesthetic is carried over to the minute and hour counter hands that have little diamond adornments. This sets them apart from the ticking-seconds as it’s a simple, straight hand. I can’t help but think this was meant to group hands together with functions visually.
One last comment on the lume of the watch: the whole dial has lumed elements from the hands to the painted numerals. The hands, however, have a much brighter application, and the contrast is noticeable when you walk indoors from standing in the bright sun. Regardless, it’s effective and does offer an attractive dial when charged up.
The provided Longines strap is a simple brown, full stitch leather strap with a signed buckle. It’s comfortable and effective, but largely unremarkable. The watch, however, is an absolute strap monster and looks great on most strap combinations. The Avigation BigEye is equally at home on leather as it would be on canvas or a NATO. Changing the strap will also change the “feel” of the watch dramatically. Going from the brown OEM strap to a nice shiny black strap would dress it up significantly, whereas going to a “Bond” NATO would make this look adventure-ready.
One of the things that attracted me to the BigEye in the first place was that Longines chose to skip over the expected Valjoux chronograph movements and instead opted for the L688.2 Column-Wheel Chronograph movement. Developed by ETA under the moniker ETA A08.L01, this movement sports a 54-hour power reserve and beats at 28,800 bph. My experience with the movement thus far has been excellent. The L688.2 has kept excellent time, and the chronograph pushers have a pleasantly tactile click to their operation, with the hands responding very well.
Ultimately, the Longines Avigation BigEye is another step down the road of vintage reissues from major Swiss brands. How you feel about that will be an individual determination. I, for one, enjoy seeing these brands mine their past for things that they can bring to the table. It allows me to experience some of the vintage aesthetic, while also having a reliable watch that will not need servicing and will be water-tight (in as much as a pilot’s chrono is expected to be). I also think that the asymmetric dial is very interesting in a landscape of chronographs that have very similar sub-dial layouts. If I had to guess, the success of the BigEye has to do with the quirkiness of the design. This would be a great watch for someone that wants to add a chronograph to their collection but would like something unique, or someone looking for a funky, vintage daily wearer without the headache that can occasionally be associated with vintage pieces. The Longines Avigation Big Eye is available for $2,625. longines.com
>Model: Avigation BigEye Chronograph
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes, and I frequently do.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone with a taste for pilots watches or chronographs.
>Best characteristic of watch: The asymmetric dial, no doubt.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The stock strap.