Sunday, January 17, 2016

2013-2015 Longines HydroConquest in Black L3.695.4.53.6

For a change of pace let's discuss a Swiss timepiece instead of the usual Japanese fare. Today, that Swiss timepiece is the 2013-2015 Longines HydroConquest dive watch reference L3.695.4.53.6.

Longines is a well known watchmaker established in 1832. As you might imagine, there is a lot of history and heritage behind the brand itself. Today, it's owned by the Swatch group, and it is positioned in the high range along with Rado and Union Glashütte, which is lower than stablemate Omega, but higher than fellow stablemates Tissot and Certina.

This version of the HydroConquest with an all Arabic numeral dial was first released in 2013, replacing the earlier model which only had Arabic numerals on the 12, 6, and 9 o'clock position. This was (and probably still is) available in a variety of colors for the dial and bezel, as well as with quartz movements and chronograph variants, but this review shall only focus on the black dial 3-hand automatic version.

The case diameter measures a conservative for modern day standards 41mm (a smaller 39mm version is also available) with a lug width of 21mm and a lug-to-lug length of about 50mm. As such, despite the relatively small case diameter, it wears large for its size because of the relatively long lug-to-lug length. Case thickness is a slim 11mm, meaning it will have no trouble sliding under most shirt cuffs. The case and bracelet are all stainless steel and features mostly brushed surfaces, except for the sides of the case and the crown guards. Bracelet is a typical folding clasp type with solid end-links, dive extension, H-links and split pins holding them together. The caseback is solid, with a handsome and detailed engraving of Longines' winged hourglass logo.

As a dive watch, it ticks most of the necessities, including a screw down signed crown, 300m water resistance and a rotating unidirectional 120-click bezel with a lume pip at the 12 o'clock position. The feel of the bezel while being rotated is more akin to heavy machinery than precision tool, with loud clacks instead of smooth clicks, but it gets the job done, and the bezel is stiff enough to resist unintended rotation. It uses an aluminum insert, which is acceptable, though a ceramic scratch resistant one would have been more desirable. The bezel surrounds a flat sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating on the inside.

The dial is a mostly black affair, with white details and red hash marks and a red second hand tip. The full numerals give the watch a military vibe, with the Arabic hour markers painted rather than applied. There are three lines of crisply printed text and an applied logo. There is a date window with black text on a white background at the 3 o'clock position. The hands are beveled and rhodium plated, with the hour hand sporting a diamond/snowflake design while the minute hand sporting an sword design.

The overall design of the whole timepiece itself seems to indicate a nod more to form rather than function, as there a number of style elements which do not contribute, and actually even detract, from the usability of the watch as a true diver. Example of these design choices include the use of Arabic numerals as indices, the rotating bezel which is coin edged for grip, yet features smooth sections at the 12 and 6 o'clock position, the oversized and sharp-edged crown guards which make winding and setting the time a bit of a chore (particularly with gloves on), and the lack of luminous material on the second hand tip.

Speaking of lume, the low light visibility of the entire face is at best okay, if not poor. Lume intensity and duration, despite the use of Super-LumiNova® C1, are well below what we typically see in Seiko dive watches, but are, for the most part, acceptable except in the most extreme situations, such as one might face in, well, diving.

One thing Longines didn't skimp or compromise on is the movement. Instead of the Longines L633 movement based on the Elaboré grade ETA 2824-2 found in its predecessor, this version of the HydroConquest uses the L619.2 movement based on the higher end Elaboré grade ETA 2892-A2. The 2892-A2 is slimmer, has a slightly higher power reserve (42 vs 38-40 hours), and typically exhibits slightly better accuracy compared to a 2824-2 of equal grade. The 2892-A2 in this particular watch also seems to wind more smoothly than most 2824-2s, almost as smooth and effortless as, say, Seiko's 4R36 or 6R15. Both beat at 28,800 bph. Ironically, the L619.2 uses just 21 jewels, while the L633 uses 25.

All things considered, one may conclude that the Longines HydroConquest was intended to be as a desk diver, and from that perspective it actually over-qualifies for the role.

Competitors from the same market segment it has been known to hold its own with include the Oris Aquis Date and the Rado D-Star 200. To some extent it can even keep up with watches marketed on the higher end of the spectrum, such as the Tag Heuer Aquaracer, and perhaps even Omega's own Seamaster. Interestingly enough, the HydroConquest today perhaps represents what the Seamaster was before it went further upscale (the 1988-1994 "Pre-Bond" Omega Seamaster 200).

With Omega poised to take on Rolex on the higher end of the market armed with an upgraded movement featuring the Co-Axial escapement and its prices reflecting the move, Longines may very well take on the market slot formerly occupied by Omega.

As of the middle of 2015 Longines has apparently ceased actively marketing of this model and reverted to the old, pre-2013 HydroConquest. This Arabic numeral dial version can still be found or ordered at a number of authorized dealers or online retailers, for approximately 1,000 USD thereabouts.

As a mid-level luxury dive watch, it may have its flaws, but for bang-for-the-back, it is one of those Swiss watches whose value is hard to beat. It may very well end up a future classic.

Some photos:

2013-2015 HydroConquest.


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