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Review: Longines’ Spirit Zulu Time is a Modern Homage to Aviation’s Golden Age

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Founded in 1832, Longines is a luxury Swiss watch brand that’s deeply rooted in a history of fine craftsmanship and horological innovation, with the St-Imier label having been responsible for delivering a long list of firsts in the watchmaking world. With such a long and illustrious history, Longines unsurprisingly routinely looks to its own archives when seeking inspiration for new references and ranges. Most recently, this has taken the form of the new Longines Spirit Zulu Time — a finely-crafted luxury GMT watch that we’ve just finished testing for this hands-on review. 

At A Glance

Longines Spirit Zulu Time Specs

Case Size: 42mm
Lug to Lug: 49.3mm
Case Thickness: 13.9mm
Lug Width: 22mm
Case Material: Stainless Steel
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement Type: Automatic
Power Reserve: 72 Hours
Movement: Calibre L844.4
Lume: Super-LumiNova
Crystal: Sapphire
Strap: Three-Link Stainless Steel Bracelet

Deeper Than Marketing

Longines’ Historical Ties To Aviation

While plenty of luxury brands have histories that include producing military and aviation watches, Longines is particularly of note, as it carries a myriad of significant historical connections and ties. Not only was the brand famously worn by Albert Einstein, but it also had watches that were co-developed by US Navy officers. The company’s ties to aviation are even more significant and include producing the pilot’s watch worn by Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh during his historic non-stop solo flight in 1927, as well as the cockpit clocks used by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon during the first nonstop trans-Pacific flight from Japan to the U.S. in ’31, and by Amy Johnson in 1930 when she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia — just to name a few of the brand’s many historic accolades. 

What’s In a Name?

Unpacking The Zulu Time Monicker

After previously introducing its first dual-time zone pocket watch in 1908, Longines unveiled its inaugural dual-time wristwatch with the Zulu Time in 1925 — a caliber 10.68N-powered item that actually sported a Zulu flag on its dial . Also used on the company’s latest four-handers, this name (Zuu Time) is a reference to another term for Universal Coordinated Time (or UTC) once uttered by pilot’s when using NATO phonetic alphabet. The term UTC is essentially just another word for GMT, however, labeling this new watch as a Spirit Zulu Time reference admittedly sounds far cooler and than going with Spirit GMT. 

The Longines Spirit Zulu Time is admittedly a great-looking watch, though those familiar with the brand’s existing catalog will recognize that the timepiece is basically an existing Spirit model that’s been bestowed with a fourth hand. Taking a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” approach, Longines has maintained the vast majority of the design elements that made the existing Spirit lineup so popular, such as its diamond-shaped indices, winged logo, and gilt-framed Arabic numerals and hands. It’s also impossible to talk about first impressions of the Spirit Zulu Time without mentioning the watch’s overall fit and finish, which is absolutely stellar, boasting the craftsmanship and meticulous consistency that’s ore typical of watches costing 2-to-4 times the Spirit Zulu Time’s MSRP. Additionally, one of the first things we check whenever getting our hands on a four-hand travel watch is whether or not it’s a “True GMT” (meaning its hour hand can be adjusted independently), and we’re happy to report that the Spirit Zulu Time is indeed of the “True GMT” — or “Traveler’s GMT” — variety.

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Fully Brushed Brilliance

The Longines Spirit Zulu Time’s Case

Capped off with a bidirectional rotating ceramic bezel, the Spirit Zulu Time is constructed around a 42mm stainless steel case with an almost entirely brushed finish that’s juxtaposed by sleet swaths of high polish. Water resistant down to 100 meters, the watch also features a conical screw-down crown and a screw-down case back. Measuring 13.9mm thick, the case also boasts 22mm lugs and a 49.3mm lug-to-lug. While it makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel, the case of this Longines watch is an extremely handsome one that combines modern visual themes with elements from the so-called Golden Age of aviation. 

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Applied Excellence

The Longines Spirit Zulu Time’s Dial

Starting from the bottom and working our way up, the Longines Spirit Zulu Time sports a matte black dial that’s encompassed by a rotating bezel and protected beneath a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, with several layers of anti-reflective coating on both sides. At 6 o’clock the dial sports a date window. Directly above is a classic five-star logo, the words “Zulu Time” and the word “Chronometer” — with the latter being a reference to the watch’s movement’s certification. A traditional silvered polished sword-style handset has been supplemented via a fourth arrow-style hand that glides over the dial’s applied Arabic numerals. The dial has also been bestowed with a generous amount of Swiss Super-LumiNova lume. 

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In-House Automatic

The Longines Spirit Zulu Time’s Movement

At the heart of the watch is Longines’ own Caliber L844.4 movement. This automatic self-winding workhorse beats at 25’200 vibrations per hour and features a monocrystalline silicon balance spring that helps it to achieve a power reserve of approximately 72 hours. Built exclusively for Longines, the L844.4 also boasts COSC Chronometer certification. While this movement would be impressive on its own, what really makes it special this context is the price of the watch that it’s being sold in — and how said watch outs just a fraction of other similarly-specced luxury watches. 

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Comfort Elevated

The Longines Spirit Zulu Time’s Bracelet

This Longines features a classic three-row stainless steel bracelet. Like the case, the bracelet of the Spirit Zulu Time sports a heavily brushed finish. Equipped with five micro adjustment slots, the bracelet attaches to a 20mm logon either side of the case. So, while we happen to be particularly fond of the bracelet that comes standard with the watch, we still feel the need to point out how easy it would be to swap out the item thanks to its nearly universal sizing. Even more importantly, despite looking fairly run-of-the-mill, the bracelet on the Spirit Zulu Time is actually remarkably comfortable. 

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Final Thoughts

Why The Spirit Zulu Time Is Worthy Of The Name

The Longines Spirit Zulu Time manages to build on the brand’s rich and illustrious history while still being readily identifiable as a modern timepiece. Not only is the watch’s design outwardly attractive, but the meticulous attention to detail and fit and finish on display take an already attractive watch to the next level. Put simply; no matter how you measure or score it, it’s just an incredible watch. It’s handsome upon just a quick glance and instantly announces itself as being a top-shelf luxury watch, though the closer it’s inspected, the more minor details there are that jump out at you, giving it a decidedly rich and dynamic appearance. 

Another area that makes this watch noteworthy is its price. While True GMT’s are far from rare, this particular true GMT watch is made all the more unique by the fact its True GMT status comes at a sub-$5,000 price, making it just one of three options in the $3,000 to $5,000 price point — alongside Tudor’s new Black Bay Pro and Black Bay GMT. Just as noteworthy is the fact that the Spirit Zulu Time comes in at just $50 over its non-GMT, three-handed Spirit counterpart. It’s also particularly interesting seeing this high-end of a watch offer this level of value. At the end of the day, the team at Longines has managed to deliver an elegant tool watch that’s legitimately worthy of sporting the iconic, more-than-century-old Zulu Time name. 

The Best Watches You Can Buy Under $5,000

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Want to check out some of our other favorite luxury timepieces that can be had for five-grand or less? Then be sure to head over to our feature article on the best watches under $5,000.