Longines and a jubilee Lindbergh, 90 years on…
I slip the Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch onto my wrist and I close my eyes. My mind is instantly a-whirl with powerful images of an historical past. I see a fascinating procession of pioneers in aviation history parade before me.
The cheek of it! A mechanical calibre, namely the L699.2, dares to ruffle the course of an otherwise peaceful day. Running at rate of 28,800 beats per hour, it emits a vibratory frequency that quietly perturbs my sedentary everyday existence. This jubilee model has great presence, clearly and unapologetically enjoying its generous 47.50 mm diameter case. It has literally invaded the world of my imagination, occupying the space of my dreams. In the twinkling of an eye, I am whisked away on a journey through time itself. A journey that will last almost four revolutions of the dial thanks to its 46-hour power reserve, during which I remain immobile. I have almost two days to do nothing but consciously daydream, two long days to contemplate the brushed silvered finish of the circular main dial and gaze admiringly into the galvanic depths of the central dial.
The stellar career of Charles Lindbergh
Was it really without undue awareness that he gave the chocks away signal in the pale grey light of that drizzly dawn? The plane flown by Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, was at the far end of Roosevelt Field, its wheels sunk deep into the soft, clayey soil. What was going through the pilot's mind at 07.52 a.m. that morning of 20 May 1927, as Charles Lindbergh's plane took off from Roosevelt airport for Le Bourget, then the only airport in Paris? Did he really think he might be the first man to make a nonstop solo transatlantic flight and land 5,850 kilometres and thirty-three and a half hours later, suffering the hallucinations of sleep-deprivation, or that his name would go down in History?
He was reputedly a shy and self-effacing 25-year-old. He had already succeeded in shaking off the ghosts of his not-so-successful fellow pilot, René Feinte, considered "the greatest flying ace of WWII", and the tragic and incomprehensible loss of Charles Nungesser and François Coli, two WWI aviators, who had died just a fortnight earlier attempting a similar exploit. Naturally, he would flirt with death on more than one occasion. Needless to say, he received a hero's welcome, his public in awe over his decision, during the preparatory phase, to forgo a parachute and a radio in favour of extra fuel. Food-wise, he travelled light, with just the bare minimum on board: two sandwiches and a few bars of chocolate to keep him going…
An iconic status and useful functions
The wheels were set in motion. Charles Lindbergh had become a star.
Longines, a Swiss watchmaking brand based in Saint-Imier and incidentally official timekeeper for the FAI (the International Aeronautics Federation) participated in approving this historic achievement by timing the event. In agreeing to a sketch made by Lindbergh, it also helped gave birth to a watch that would become a genuine aerial navigation instrument, a watch that Lindbergh could well have done with at a time when his spirit was so eroded by hunger and lack of sleep, that he was pursued by the hallucinatory images of elves clinging to the wings of his plane. A tangible object, a pillar of time, a timepiece that only Longines was capable of developing, a model that grew from a drawing and a few explanations. Lindbergh's simple sketch gave rise to a watch of remarkable functionalities and tremendous reliability that was guaranteed to bring you back down to earth, whatever the cost.
All these images and their powerful symbolism are thus channelled into this 2017 piece, which the Saint-Imier Manufacture has very kindly suggested I take out for a test-drive. Noteworthy features, aside from Breguet hands, a perfect study in classicism, and longitude indication (degrees and minutes of arc), include a rotating bezel in black PVD-coated steel, which allows the wearer to manually adjust the equation of time, namely the difference between true time, or solar time and the time officially adopted by the authorities. Keeping my eyes closed, I toy with it, turning it this way and that. My fingers feel their way over the English crown, intentionally oversized to facilitate handling with gloved hands. Brown leather aviator-style gloves, of course, complete with buckles and straps.
Imagination and elegance for the layman
Despite my limited understanding of the complex temporal and longitudinal considerations proffered by this covetable time-measurement instrument, I can fully appreciate the retro styling aesthetic. It reflects an array of shades and hues that lend soul and beauty to the piece and make the stresses of modern life fall away one-by-one, like timeless dewdrops glancing off the wings of Lindbergh's legendary monoplane. The Spirit of St. Louis was a stunning silver bird measuring 8 m 40 in length with a 14 m wingspan, weighing 975 kg empty and 2330 kg when fully tanked, which continues to dominate the history of aviation and its great pioneers.
This incredible epic journey, forever etched into my imagination, is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2017. The Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch, water-resistant to 30 meters, which I can barely do justice in writing, is its concrete manifestation. Lighter than light, crafted in grade 5 titanium, it has seen me run the full gamut of centuries-old emotions amid spirited conversations with passionate watchmaking enthusiasts and aviation aficionados.
Take, for example, the pilot sitting next to me now. I've already given him the watchmaking bug and it's highly infectious. So, to get me to join him in his own air-borne adventures, he's offered to take me for a spin in the skies sporting this pure distillation of history. A nifty jaunt through the clouds, touching down at Le Bourget. He can sign me up right away!