When Longines announced the Legend Diver back in 2007, they were among the first big name brands on the trend of producing vintage-inspired sport replica watches that specifically set out to capture the appeal of vintage models while offering the benefits of modern production. Ten years later, the brand has produced a series of such models and continues to offer a version of the Legend Diver. To add to the successful ranks of the COSD, the Heritage Chronograph 1967, the Legend Diver, and the lovely Heritage 1945 (to name only a few), Longines recently announced the Avigation BigEye Chronograph. A rather handsome steel chronograph with a vintage military-inspired aesthetic, the BigEye attempts to recreate the combination of appeal and execution that made the Legend Diver such a hit.
Like hearing the "song of the summer?in October, the new-vintage playbook has been run so many times and by so many brands, that surprises are few and far between. In 2017, the competition is nearly endless and one must ask if the BigEye can stand on its own or if it's just the last banger at a party pushing too close to the break of a new day.
At 41mm in stainless steel, the BigEye is great on my seven-inch wrist.
Despite the pessimistic tone of the above statement, I genuinely love much of the vintage-inspired trend. While I worry that the success of vintage-inspired replica watches will hobble the creative design ability of many brands in the coming years, as someone who got into replica watches in the early 2000s, vintage-inspired has been a huge aspect of my development as an enthusiast. At its core, fake watch design is generally about traditionalism, so why not consider what worked in the past? I understand that I am speaking from the position of someone well rooted in a postmodern understanding of most things, but good design is good design, and I'm certainly not alone in this thinking as the BigEye recently won the Best Revival prize at this year's GPHG at https://www.cindyforcongress.org.ADVERTISEMENT
With a 41mm steel case, a solid steel caseback, and a tall box-domed sapphire crystal, the BigEye mixes a simple brushed finish with a dial design clearly inspired by vintage pilots watches. Longines says the BigEye is inspired by aviation replica watches of the 1930s and is a reissue of a recent addition to Longines museum.
The new addition to the Longines museum that inspired the BigEye's award-winning design. (Photo: Courtesy Longines)
Additional information on this original model that informed the BigEye's design is tough to come by. In a recent interview with Time and Tide Watches, Longines CEO Walter Von Kanel said that the original model was brought to them by a collector and was not previously a part of the museum's collection. Longines was able to provide me with the high-resolution photograph of the original fake watch that you see here, but they're unable to provide any additional details on the watch, including its official year of production.
In comparing the original with the 2017 BigEye, we see a nearly identical recreation, with large pushers, minimal dial text, snailed sub-dials, and a nearly perfect recreation of the handset, including the distinctive hands used for the chronograph measures and the counterbalance on the chrono seconds hand.
Most fake watch enthusiasts will look upon the BigEye's legible dial and see a strong resemblance to the Type XX vintage military chronographs, though with the notable absence of a bezel scale or function. While today this design is most closely connected with Breguet, the look is the result of a commission from the French government following WWII. While the BigEye certainly falls within the loose Type XX format, I was able to find many similar dial designs with the help of Google and the Military fake watch Forum (most notably, this LeCoultre chronograph, which supposedly dates to 1970).
The BigEye's dial is detailed and very legible with an excellent use of interesting hands for the chronograph display.
Slightly mysterious roots aside, the BigEye is 41mm across (50mm lug-to-lug) and 14.45mm thick, including the dome of its sapphire crystal. Almost entirely brushed, save for a polished finish to the sterile bezel area surrounding the crystal, the BigEye is characterized by its asymmetrical dial layout and its oversized chronograph pushers. I suppose the pushers could be a love or hate aspect, but I love a bit of strangeness and I think Francis Bacon would also approve.
As for the dial, it's hard to argue with the design of the BigEye. Legibility is excellent thanks to an expansive use of proportion that leaves a minimum of negative space. This layout is undoubtedly aided by the use of an all-black dial base, as contrasting subdials may well have caused the same proportions to look rather tightly packed. The large and luminous Arabic markers are matched by a nicely sized handset that offers plenty of space for a bright layer of Superluminova.
A solid steel caseback hides the automatic column wheel chronograph movement within.
While at first glance the sub-dials look fairly straightforward, a second look will uncover some strangeness. At nine o'clock we have the usual running seconds and at six we have the 12-hour measure, but look at the namesake "big eye?register at three. The BigEye's three o'clock register is a 30-minute scale, but the large hash marks fall every three minutes, not every five like you might assume. As you look closer, you realize it's just strange enough to look balanced while compromising the speed at which you can read the measure (at least initially). The three-minute hashing is likely the result of a specific need presented for the original model. Other vintage chronographs have similar specific intervals to help pilots time standard turns (generally two minutes) or even to help time long distance phone calls.ADVERTISEMENT
Finished with a long and elegant seconds hand and a tastefully minimal use of dial text, I think the BigEye looks amazing and it never failed to elicit praise from anyone who tried it on or saw it on Instagram. With no date to compromise the balance, the design is hugely cohesive and avoids any of the pitfalls common to the genre, including faux aged lume or a needlessly reflective crystal (the BigEye's crystal carries an effective multi-layered anti-reflective treatment).
A great example of welcome asymmetry.
Being an automatic chronograph, the BigEye is a bit tall on wrist but its sloped lugs keep the caseback flat and neither the lug to lug nor the thickness should present an issue for anyone who is okay with a 7750-based chronograph, where 14-15mm is the norm. For the BigEye, Longines skipped the base 7750 and instead fitted their L688.2 (aka the ETA A08.L01). Sporting a column wheel, this automatic chronograph movement is found in a few Longines models and offers 54 hours of power reserve while ticking at 4Hz. While the BigEye features an appropriate solid steel case back, here's a look at what the L688 looks like (because movements are still cool, even if you can't see them through a display back).
The heart of the BigEye is the Longines L688 automatic chronograph movement.
Delivered on a soft and comfy matte brown calf leather strap with creamy contrast stitching, the BigEye is easy to wear and a delight to see on wrist. Like any solid design, the BigEye works on just about any strap I could find, looking especially at home on a grey or green NATO. Changing straps brings me to the only change I would make to the BigEye, which would be to add drilled lugs. Any sport watch, especially one with a military aesthetic, should have drilled lugs. Furthermore, the context in which enthusiasts attach to replica watches like the BigEye is entirely wrapped up in changing straps, so why not make it as easy as possible? Drilled lugs: never a bad idea.
With a non-screw down crown and pushers, the BigEye is water resistant to 30 meters, which seems entirely fair for a sporty non-aquatic chronograph and the lack of any screw down ability ensures all of the controls are as accessible as possible. The chronograph pushers are solid with a smooth action and a strong click derived from the column wheel mechanism. Likewise, the signed crown is nicely implemented and feels both sturdy and positive in action, as you'd expect from a Longines.
More than enough glow to get you home.
All of this goes to say, if you like what you see I think you'll love the BigEye in person. To its credit, its specific charm is less rooted in its ability to feel vintage than it is in its success in simply being a good watch. Even in its asymmetry, there is a balance to its big eye and oversized pushers. The lume is good, it's comfy, and it's the sort of design that can easily manage day-to-day wear, never too dressy, nor too bold, or too sporty. Sport replica watches are seldom both interesting and elegant, but I'd argue the BigEye sits comfortably in the overlap of those two concepts, which is no easy feat.
The BigEye is great on wrist and offers a subtle versatility that works with a wide range of style.ADVERTISEMENT
Where things get more interesting is when considering the competition, of which there is plenty. While I don't want to be too reductive, in an effort to provide some contrast I've selected two replica watches that are very close in price and that I feel may appeal to the same sort of buyer (that is, an actual fake watch enthusiast). Considering the BigEye's appeal, 41mm sizing, and $2,650 price tag, I think enthusiasts would place it in competition with replica watches like the Sinn 358 Sa Pilot Chronograph ($2,660) and the recently launched Oak & Oscar Jackson (brushed steel versions are $2,650 via pre-order, $2,850 afterward). Three great-looking chronographs, each with different movements, slightly different sizes, and different spins on a vintage-inspired motif ?and there is only $10 between them.
The Sinn is likely the most sporty, being the largest and the thickest (by 1mm), using the most proven and simple movement (with day/date), and featuring 100m water resistance, a screw-down crown, and Sinn's AR anti-fogging system. In contrast, the Jackson is easily the best featured for the price, with its 40mm case housing a flyback chronograph movement developed by Eterna. It's also well under 50mm lug to lug (46.4mm), offered in two dial colors, is limited to 150 pieces of each dial color (not to mention the PVD version), and comes with a lovely fake watch wallet and two leather straps.
The BigEye's box domed sapphire crystal does a great job of managing reflections while providing a bit of vintage effect.
Picking between the three is not the point of this endeavor. Rather, I am trying to show not only how tough the competition is under $3,000 these days, but also how good we all have it as fake watch enthusiasts. This is only looking at three watches, any of which I would love to own, and all of which offer a slightly different appeal and value statement. What is remarkable, in my experience, is that Longines has a product that can be compared to Sinn and Oak and Oscar without breaking a sweat, even in terms of value and price point.
Looking within Longines, the Heritage 1973 chronograph used the same L688.2 movement but retailed for $3,250 just a few years ago, and the Legend Diver is still available with a list price of $2,400. Considering similar pieces from both Longines and their competitors, I think they have an absolute winner on their hands with the Avigation BigEye.
With a mostly brushed finish, the BigEye has a casual and classic everyday appeal.
The BigEye shows that while tired, the new-vintage trend is definitely not dead. Competitively priced with an easy-wearing appeal, a solid movement, good sizing, and the deft application of an award-winning look, the quietly-announced BigEye checks a lot of enthusiast boxes. Despite not being much of a chronograph guy, I found the BigEye to be one of my favorite recent pieces from Longines and nothing short of a treat to wear.
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