If you’re like most people I’ve met who’ve had a chance to see the Longines Spirit Zulu Time, the first thing you probably thought is “Wow, that’s pretty sharp,” then followed it up with a question: “What the bloody hell is Zulu Time, anyway?”
As those with a background in either the armed forces or aviation (or both) likely know, “Zulu” is the radio transmission articulation for the letter “Z” (like “Alpha” for A, “Tango” for T, etc.) and the letter “Z” is used in military jargon to denote time based on the prime meridian in Greenwich, England, the longitudinal line that separates the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Essentially, Zulu Time means the same thing as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) or the more modern term, UTC (Universal Time Coordinated), albeit expressed in a more historically adventurous idiom, and a watch that displayed the time in this manner was particularly useful for early aviators before the rise of electronic guidance systems. Thus it is fitting that Longines uses the term for this latest model from its Spirit collection, a watch family that takes its inspiration primarily from aviation watches that the Swiss brand produced in the early 20th century that were worn by pioneering pilots like Amy Johnson, Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon. What makes the Longines Spirit Zulu Time extra special is that it’s not only the first model in the Spirit collection equipped with this dual-time function but it also carries an all-new proprietary movement inside.
Like many of Longines’ most popular models these days, not only in the Spirit line but also in the historically influenced Heritage collection, this one takes its cues from a historical predecessor, namely the first Longines “Zulu Time” wristwatch, produced in 1925. In keeping with the Art Deco era in which it was released, that watch had an angular square case and ornate hour numerals, along with a third hand to indicate a second time zone and, most notably, a Zulu flag emblem with a red letter “Z.”
Longines’ history in this style of timekeeping goes back even further, however, to a pocket watch developed in 1908 for clients in the Ottoman Empire (today known as the country of Turkey), which had separate hands to display French time and Turkish time simultaneously, an innovation for which Longines filed a patent in 1911. The Swiss watchmaker continued to develop dual-time mechanisms throughout the 1930s and beyond, including the dashboard clock used by Herndon on his historic flight from the U.S.A. to Japan in 1931; this device had double hands for hours and minutes and two concentric 24-hour dials. Longines later partnered with naval officer and navigation-tool inventor Philip Van Horn Weems on another dual-time watch, a collaboration that would lead to a subsequent team-up with Weems’ protegé, Charles Lindbergh, and the creation of perhaps Longines’ most renowned contribution to navigational timekeeping, the Lindbergh Hour Angle watch. It is this epoch of aviation innovation that informs the Spirit collection, and the new Zulu Time model, with its pilot-friendly dual-time functionality, might be its most authentic expression yet.
The 42mm round case of the Spirit Zulu Time won’t remind anyone of that historical 1908 watch but it does settle firmly within the modern Spirit collection, which has thus far offered three-hand date models and a handful of chronographs. Like the vast majority of timepieces in the Spirit collection (with the notable exception of last year’s Spirit Titanium model), the case is made of stainless steel, with an impressive array of alternating brushed and polished finishes; at this price point, Longines executes this high level of finishing more expertly than most. The case is fairly thick, at just shy of 14 mm, but not unwieldy, and the crown screws down to help ensure a water resistance of 100 meters. The watch’s key visual and functional element is the bidirectional rotating bezel, which features a ceramic insert with engraved and lacquered numerals on its 24-hour GMT scale, along with an inverted, luminous-coated triangle at the 12 o’clock/24-hour position.
The bezel inserts come in three colors, black, blue, and dark green, to harmonize with the three dial colors of matte black, sandblasted anthracite, and sunray blue. The applied Arabic hour numerals as well as the traditional sword hands, in either polished silvered or polished gold-tone, are coated with the increasingly popular faux-aged Super-LumiNova. The central GMT hand, which is notably adjustable independently of the hour hand, has a luminous-coated arrow tip that points to the wearer’s home or reference time on the bezel’s 24-hour scale. The tips of this blackened hand are also executed in three different colors: blue, gilt-polished, and orange. No, Longines doesn’t go so far in its historical references to resurrect the Zulu-flag “Z” on the dial, but those looking for additional historical touches will find one above the elegantly faceted date window at 6 o’clock: a row of five applied stars, now a hallmark of the Longines Spirit family, whose use hearkens back to Longines watches of old and denotes a “five star” movement of the highest precision and reliability.
The new movement that earns those five stars beats in privacy behind the elaborately engraved caseback of the Spirit Zulu Time, bearing the historic Longines winged hourglass logo (the oldest registered logo in the world, incidentally) superimposed over a globe meridian motif. Caliber L844.4 has been produced exclusively for Longines by ETA, the prolific Swiss movement manufacturer with which Longines shares a parent company, the Swatch Group. Based on the automatic ETA Caliber A31.L411, it oscillates at 25,200 vph, contains 21 jewels, and offers a power reserve of 72 hours, or three days. (For those counting, that’s an improvement over the 64 hours of the base caliber, possibly owing to this one’s use of a friction-resistant silicon balance spring.) Significantly, the movement is also certified by the Swiss testing agency COSC for chronometric performance, so those five stars are no mere boast.
The Longines Spirit Zulu Time completes its look with a color-coordinated calf leather strap in blue, beige or brown, or a three-link stainless steel bracelet. The straps have a folding steel buckle with a new micro-adjustment system, while the bracelet offers a push-piece-operated folding clasp; all options are designed to be easily interchangeable. In keeping with its tradition, Longines is offering this "everyday" complication at a very accessible price point: just $2,950 on the strap and $3,050 on the bracelet.