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We receive many requests for vintage dress watches here at the analog/shift headquarters. While collectors and enthusiasts understand the need for a strong vintage sports watch, dress pieces--with their smaller case sizes--have been off their radar for some time. Now that smaller, more delicate timepieces are becoming popular again, choosing one that offers a good blend of looks, construction, history, and originality can be a daunting task.
The challenge lies (as with any vintage watch) in finding a good one. Years of neglect, damage, and over-restoration can make finding a suitable timepiece a burden. In our minds, there are few minimum requirements for a proper dress piece: a svelte case design, clean looks, a solid movement, and originality.
Longines is a brand that needs no introduction. It was a staple of the Swiss watchmaking industry throughout the 20th century. They are well-known for their broad assortment of models and designs, as well as their masterful--and iconic--chronographs, like the 13ZN.
The Longines UltraChron is a watch that ticks all the boxes that we require of a proper vintage dress piece. Introduced in the late 1960s and produced for only six years, the UltraChron is an early attempt by the brand to mass-produce a mechanical watch that, according to their advertisements, was "the world's most accurate watch... guaranteed accurate to within one minute per month." This was achieved with the hi-beat Caliber 431 movement, which had a beat rate of 36,000 beats per hour.
"Hi-beat" in the early 1960s meant 18,000 bph, a standard that was not surpassed until 1966, when Girard-Perregaux came out with the Gyromatic. The higher beat rate of the Gyromatic (36,000 bph) posed a problem in terms of design and lubrication. In hi-beat movements like Girard-Perregaux's, the balance wheel is smaller and there are twenty-one teeth on the escape wheel instead of fifteen. The mainspring is also thicker, which means that the mainspring barrel itself must be larger to accommodate it. What this means is that in higher-beat calibers, traditional lubricants simply wouldn't stick, resulting in increased friction and, in turn, a shorter service interval.
To counter this problem, Longines produced a hi-beat movement of their own in 1967, to commemorate their centennial as a company. Like Girard-Perregaux's Gyromatic, the Longines Caliber 461 beat at 36,000 bph. However, Longines solved the problem of lubrication by coating the escape wheel teeth with a dry lubricant they dubbed "molybdenum bi-sulphide."
Hi-beat movements of this era, without a doubt, represent the pinnacle of horological achievement in mechanical movements. Before the Quartz Revolution, it was next to impossible to achieve that level of accuracy in a mechanical movement--until the hi-beat movements came onto the scene. While the Caliber 461 might have been overshadowed in later years by the hi-beat calibers produced by Zenith, for example, it's an excellent example of just how dependable these movements can be.
As far looks go, the UltraChron has it all: a svelte, thin gold-filled case with sharp, beveled lugs; a crisp, silver dial with a sunburst finish; and a funky, asymmetrical date window. The UltraChron went through several different design configurations in its short run, with those from the late-1960s and early 1970s designs being more bulky than the earlier executions. While we love a good cushion case, there's something undeniably elegant about this early UltraChron that would make it an excellent contender for a vintage dress watch.
10k yellow gold-filled case is approximately 34mm (excluding crown). Longines Calibre 341 Hi-beat Automatic Movement. Circa 1967.
Overall Condition: 10K gold-filled case is in very good condition over all, with sharp bevels and no signs of over-polishing, and only slight signs of wear and use in keeping with its age, including some scratches on the side of the case near the crown. Dial is in fair condition with wear around the outer edge between hour markers and some light damage in the center of the dial. Unsigned crown; signed case back shows some deep tool marks.
Includes one 18mm brown Italian crocodile strap with gold-tone buckle.