Longines hasn’t launched too many watches this year, but it certainly unveiled a hit with the Master Collection 190th Anniversary. Based on the standard (and somewhat mundane) Master automatic, the anniversary edition sticks to a resolutely classical design but executes the dial in a surprisingly elaborate manner.
The grained dial has deeply-engraved hour numerals that seem to be hand engraving at a glance, but are naturally done by machine given the affordability of the watch. Combined with the high-tech ETA calibre within, the Master anniversary offers a lot of watch for relatively little money – we explain why.
The Master anniversary struck me as a watch that is easily appealing when I first saw photos. Perhaps too easily appealing, because the design is a combination of familiar, likeable elements. But the dial seemed to be done unusually well, so I thought it was worth a second look.
I wasn’t disappointed with the watch in the metal. The design is indeed a mix of details that are widely used elsewhere, but the execution is interesting enough – and the price sufficiently low – to make the Master anniversary an unexpectedly compelling watch.
The fact that the Master anniversary is this compelling is testament to the importance of the dial. Everything else about it is identical to the standard 40 mm model.
Even at arm’s length the engraved hour numerals are obvious and instantly give the watch the appearance of something fancier (and more expensive). Granted, it becomes apparent that this is an entry-level watch when you examine the details, but it remains an excellent value proposition.
The Master anniversary isn’t a small watch, but its proportions and thinness give it a notably elegant feel. It sits well on the wrist and has good visual presence thanks to the engraved dial, which is striking even at a distance.
The only aspect of the watch I would change is the case back. It’s a sapphire back that reveals the L888.5 movement, which is an upgraded ETA 2892.
I’m certain it’s a robust and reliable movement – in fact it has several notable technical features – but it isn’t exceptionally attractive despite being dressed up, which is why a solid back with an interesting motif would have been more appealing.
It’s worth mentioning the criticism that emerged on social media after this watch was launched. A few comments noted its similarity to the watches of Japanese brand Naoya Hida.
The critique entirely misses the point since both the Master and Naoya Hida watches are both derivative and share the same inspiration of mid-20th century vintage watches. Neither are the engraved numerals original, they can be found on vintage pocket watches as well as various Grand Seiko models from about a decade ago.
Even though the Master anniversary is merely another vintage-inspired watch at heart, it is masterfully executed (no pun intended). And with a retail price of US$2,400, it goes without saying that it’s excellent value.
Lastly, three variants of the model are available: the regular-production steel model featured there that’s almost an no-brainer given what it costs, as well as two limited-edition gold versions don’t offer quite as much value.
All about the face
The only feature that sets this apart form the standard 40 mm model is the dial. But the dial is done well enough that the anniversary edition feels like an entirely different watch.
The dial has a blasted finish that results in a finely-grained surface, along with the all-important engraved hour numerals. It is the engraved numerals that make all the difference as they give the dial a depth and character usually absent in watches of this price.
Although the engraved numerals resemble hand engraving at a distance, they are done by laser – a necessity considering the price. Evidently care was taken to ensure that the result is a good approximation of hand engraving.
The numerals are laser engraved but done in a deeper, more pronounced manner than the laser engraving usually found on watch dials. As a result, the recesses formed by each of the numerals have a V-shaped profile, albeit one with softer edges than created by hand engraving.
Cost efficient yet tremendously attractive yet, the numerals will surely make their way into more Longines watches, as well as those of other brands.
Interestingly, the dial isn’t that different from the standard model in terms of design, which is more or less derived from the standard Master aesthetic in use for several years now. The standard model has the same leaf-shaped hands, along with printed Arabic numerals (although Roman numerals or batons are also an option).
While the dial is indeed special, the case is essentially stock Master collection; it’s identical to the standard 40 mm Master model.
The case is simple in form with clean lines, rounded edges, and a polished finish on all surfaces. The quality of the case is solid and good enough given the price.
Even though the watch is already fairly slim, it feels even thinner due to the flat case middle. In fact, most of the vertical height is accounted for by the bezel, with the case back being almost flat.
One detail that stands out are the widely-spaced lugs that give it more of a vintage look. Instead of the 18 mm or 20 mm that’s typical for a case of this size, the lugs are 21 mm. While that does add to the visual appeal, it also means that the options for aftermarket bracelets and straps will be smaller.
And the lugs are also helpfully short, in contrast to many of the remakes in Longines’ Heritage collection that tend to have overly long lugs. Even though the Master anniversary isn’t a Heritage model, it is arguably most comparable to the remakes given its classical styling.
An industrial workhorse
Based on the slim ETA A31.L11 (that’s in turn descended from the ETA 2892), the L888.5 is made by ETA exclusively for Longines. As with most ETA movements made exclusively for Swatch Group brands, the L888.5 has been hugely upgraded over the original construction.
Most useful is the 72-hour power reserve that’s almost double that of a stock ETA 2892. It also has a silicon hairspring, which boosts the movement’s resistance to magnetism (and results in the peculiar 3.5 Hz frequency).
And the movement also features a free-sprung balance wheel, something typically found on higher-end watches because of the labour-intensive nature of its regulation. However, the L888.5 is surely regulated in an automated process considering the price. It’s still a useful feature and proof of ETA’s industrial prowess.
The movement has been dressed up substantially relative to the lowest grade of ETA movements, though it is still evidently a thoroughly industrial product with little refinement.
The rotor is striped, while the bridges are finished in perlage. Both are done by machine and reveal tool marks up close. That said, the look is attractive enough especially considering the affordability of the watch.
Historically the Master collection offered strong value and reasonably attractive styling, but the details were not quite refined enough for the watches to stand out. The anniversary editions certainly solved that problem. For someone seeking a watch of this style, the Master anniversary is undoubtedly one of the top choices in its price segment.
I’m certain the steel version will be a good seller and consequently lead to other Master models with similar styling. More options with a similar dial will definitely be a good thing.
Key facts and price
Longines Master Collection 190th Anniversary
Ref. L2.718.104.22.168 (steel)
Ref. L2.722.214.171.124 (yellow gold)
Ref. L2.7126.96.36.199 (rose gold)
Case diameter: 40 mm
Height: 9.35 mm
Material: Steel, 18k yellow or rose gold
Water resistance: 30 m
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Frequency: 25,200 beats per hour (3.5 Hz)
Power reserve: 72 hours
Strap: Alligator leather with steel folding clasp or 18k gold pin buckle
Limited edition: 190 pieces in each colour of gold, steel model is regular production
Availability: At Longines boutiques
Steel – US$2,400, or 3,420 Singapore dollars
Yellow and rose gold – US$12,000, or 17,170 Singapore dollars
For more, visit Longines.com.
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