In the world of watches the quest for the “perfect” material is a voyage that’s as long as the history of watchmaking itself. The goal of this ages–long struggle is to find something that is at the same time attractive, easy to work with, robust yet light, resistant to scratches and cost effective. Leaving aside the movement, I struggle to think of a substance that has NOT been used to fabricate the case and other parts of a timepiece. Stainless steel, gold, titanium, aluminium, carbon fiber, platinum, tantalum, bronze, glass, plastic, rubber, granite, wood (yes wood!) and cardboard (editors note: dont forget about cheese!) are but a few examples each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Put simply, unless some breakthrough in materials is made, there are no true candidates. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any materials that sum up some of the aforementioned desirable characteristics. Ceramic is one of them. It’s attractive, it can be both highly polished and matte and made in virtually any colour. It’s extremely hard and essentially scratch proof , yet weighs 30% less than steel per cubic centimeter. It’s relatively easy to injection mold to form (though not as easy milling steel), immune to rust and magnetic fields and much much cheaper than gold or platinum. So, where’s the catch? Ceramic in virtue of its extreme hardness is quite brittle. Drop it from a height on a hard surface and it has a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving unscathed. Best case it will get chipped, worst case you’ll be hoovering it off the floor.
So why an earth did Longines use ceramic to make a diver watch that has to withstand the rigors of being bashed on reefs? I had the opportunity to play around with one so let’s find out.
The Longines HydroConquest reference n. L3.7184.108.40.206 was presented in late November and as far as I know, it’s currently only available in select Longines boutiques (it’s still on pre–order at AD’s). At a first glance you would be fooled into thinking that this is just another PVD/DLC job applied to the popular (and fantastic value) Longines diver. But pick it up and that perception fades away immediately: It just comes alive. This 43mm diameter watch is made nearly entirely of black ceramic. The polished case, back, crown, matte dial, one piece bezel and even the deployant clasp are forged out of zirconium oxide ZrO2. The strap is a comfortable vulcanized black rubber affair with formed ends that perfectly hug the case between the lugs. About the lugs: they are a bit on the long side so the watch does wear larger than its actual diameter suggests.
Like I wrote earlier, from the moment you start to handle this black beauty you realize that there is no angle from which the ceramic case looks the same. The deep black sheen sends off grey reflections and at times specular highlights just like polished stainless steel. Six digit Rolex Submariner owners are familiar with this look from the ceramic bezel. The surrounding environment determines its looks more than any other material I know. It’s hard to describe in words and photographs hardly do it justice. This watch has to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated. The finely finished dial is highly readable with big lumed arbaics at 6, 9 and 12 and round lume pips at the other 5 minute marks. Large lumed silver snowflake–like hour and minute hands and a lollipop second hand show the time. The finely finished matte ceramic dial contrasts strongly with the hands enhancing readability as does the sapphire crystal with multiple layers of AR coating on both sides. A small framed date window with a white background adorns the 3 o’clock position. There is no cyclops: good choice Longines.
Oddly the biggest surprise has nothing to do with its looks but rather its temperature. It’s cold to the touch in a eerily pleasing way, like a pebble picked out of a stream. My steel Tudor Black Bay felt warm by comparison. This coldness serves no practical purpose but together with case’s slippery smoothness it adds immensely to the “fetish factor” if such a thing even exists! In simple terms it just feels great to hold in your hands.
Another pleasant surprise is the price. While it’s more than twice the cost of its steel counterpart; the 2870 pound price tag is an absolute steal for a fully ceramic watch of such high quality. As far as I know the closest competitor is the Tudor Fastrider Black Shield Chrono, a completely different ceramic watch that retails for over 1000 pounds more. (If readers have any other suggestions please drop a comment below)
It’s as clear as day from what I’ve written that I really adore this watch so much so that I’ve added it to my (very long) wish list. As a response to the question, why did Longines make it the answer is because it looks and feels stunning and that’s a good a reason as any. If you do get round to adding it to your collection I’m sure it will bring a big smile to your face. But for goodness sake be careful: just don’t drop it!
The name’s Luigi but his friends call him Gigi. Italian lifelong watch enthusiast, born in southern Italy, but grew up in London, with an English (dare we say Scottish) dry sense of humor. Started the hobby in early childhood with a Timex Mickey Mouse watch, and has been going through the ages with all manner of timepieces (quartz, digital, Swatches etc. etc.)
Has been living in Milan since 1981 and works as a financial controller in a bank. Loves films and often uses obscure quotes. Only took “the red pill” in June 2019 and shot all the way down the watch collector’s rabbit hole at supersonic speed spending most of his disposable income in useless things you strap around your left wrist. Is a big fan of Tudor and currently owns 4 of their watches.
Is considering selling a kidney or mortgaging the family home to fund the purchase of a Ressence Type 5 oil filled diver’s watch.
Is an avid amateur photographer and has recently taken to watch photography and watch review videos on YouTube.
Instagram: @timetotalk_watches, YouTube: Time to talk watches