What does “under the radar” even mean when it comes to watches? It’s one of those terms that is thrown around quite a bit, but it seems like everyone has a slightly different definition of what makes an under the radar watch. Is it a watch that is essentially the opposite of flashy? If the Rainbow Daytona is the most over the radar watch, its aesthetic opposite must be something significantly more subdued and generic. Or does under the radar have more to do with how a watch is seen and discussed by the public? In this day and age, there are few watch releases that truly go unnoticed by the combined forces of websites like ours, Instagram, and the forums. Almost everything is scrutinized within a millimeter of its life before it even winds up on the wrist of an enthusiast who might actually want to own it, so it’s tricky to look back on a year and find a watch that was seemingly missed by the general public.
My choice for the top under the radar release of 2021 could potentially meet the necessary criteria for such a designation in multiple different ways. The Longines Spirit collection as a whole flies a bit under the radar for reasons I’ll theorize about in a moment, but the new titanium entrant into the series which was introduced in September is particularly stealthy not just in how it looks, but in how it was received. Here we have a lightweight, pilot’s style watch that doesn’t trade too heavily in hitting you over the head with vintage cues, in a no-date execution, with a chronometer spec movement and a price tag well under $3,000, all from a brand with a ton of legitimate heritage that is virtually guaranteed to be around for the long haul. It’s the kind of watch that seems to check every box for the possibly hypothetical watch buyer looking for something that can confidently be worn day in and day out in an endless variety of situations. But as the community moves from one hype watch to the next, the Spirit recedes further from the conversation, if it was ever really in it to begin with.
It’s curious to me why this happens, because Longines is not an under the radar brand. They’re a big name, part of the Swatch group, and have the ability to release a watch that dominates the watch world conversation for a period of time (their collaboration with Hodinkee last year is a good example). But just like Tudor can’t get out from underneath the Black Bay, and Zenith seems to be eternally held at gunpoint by the El Primero, Longines has really become a brand that does thoughtful, accurate, and incredibly well made vintage reissues, and seemingly nothing else. Truly, they have the best eye in the game when it comes to raiding their own archives, and the watches that come out the other end are always spot on. But we rarely talk about the HydroConquest, their modern diver, and the Spirit collection, which was a bold play for the brand when it was unveiled as a new product line in 2020, doesn’t seem to have caught on with the enthusiast community.
Maybe that’s OK. The enthusiast community, after all, is naturally going to be drawn to things that push boundaries, or are slightly obscure. That’s not what the Spirit is about. I don’t have any inside information on Longines sales numbers, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they sold far more Spirits in 2021 than watches inspired by historic pieces from the back catalog, their bread and butter. Those vintage inspired watches, though, are probably much more likely to be photographed by their owners and posted on Instagram. Maybe the people who bought Spirits bought them simply because they wanted or needed a watch, and haven’t yet discovered the rabbit hole of watch collecting culture on the internet? Anything’s possible.
Regardless of what explains the new titanium Spirit being among one of last year’s most under the radar watches, it takes nothing away from how good the watch is on its own. Whether it catches a viral wave and becomes a phenomenon (however briefly) or sits ignored in a jeweler’s case, the Spirit, particularly in the sleek, no-date, titanium variant, is an incredibly solid, good looking watch, that will almost certainly be just as wearable twenty years on as it is today, even if it’s still under the radar. Longines
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