What comes to mind when one thinks of quartz watches? Perhaps something inexpensive yet accurate; a disposable one even. But we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The Longines Conquest V.H.P. is one such example. It might house a quartz movement on the inside, but an exceptional one that is.
Here, we bring you an in-depth coverage of the Longines Conquest V.H.P. Launched during Basel 2017, it was a revival of an underappreciated part of the brand’s history – and history of an “arms race” in quartz technology. This is a pre-cursor article to the new Longines Conquest V.H.P. models which will be released soon.
Review: Longines Conquest V.H.P.
Where it began
The Longines Conquest V.H.P. has an impressive pedigree – both historically and presently. Since its launch in 1984 the V.H.P.’s electronic heart has undergone several major changes. It is not your average 80s quartz watch.
The current model stems from an earlier ‘Very High Precision’, quartz wristwatch which the company first produced in 1984 (hence the term “V.H.P.”). It is powered by the dual-oscillator Caliber 276.2: a co-development effort with AsuLab (now part of Swatch Group). This movement promised an accuracy deviation of ± 10 seconds per year: a technical feat accomplished through usage of thermo-compensation technology. While it can’t assert as the most accurate quartz watch then, it defied conventional standards still.
Sidebar: Most modern quartz timepieces are accurate to ± 10 seconds per month. This is due to a lack of thermo-compensation in their movements. The Cal 276.2 is equipped with thermo-compensation to achieve the impressive accuracy of ± 10 seconds per year. In addition, the Cal. 276.2 movement has 7 jewels, while conventional modern quartz typically have 1 or even none.
An interesting note about the Cal 276 is the battery choice. Instead of a standard 1.55v alkaline, a 3v lithium battery is used for better performance. Another peculiar aspect is that the Cal 276 does not have a digital calibration terminal. And hence the movement cannot be regulated. Once it is set in the manufacturing, the timekeeping rate cannot be changed.
In subsequent years after launch, the V.H.P received several movement changes. The changes added a digital calibration terminal and changed to a standard 1.55v battery. Further updates includes replacing the second oscillator with a built-in thermistor. Accuracy ratings remained unchanged. These updated calibers are given the references: L174.2 (ETA 255.561) and L237.2 (ETA 255.563) respectively.
The last generation of the Conquest V.H.P. was seen in 1996. This version is equipped with a new ETA-developed movement, caliber L546.2 (ETA 252.611). Among a slew of improvements is the addition of a perpetual calendar function. This movement was discontinued in 2006.
The Longines Conquest V.H.P.
We begin at the begining…with the new movement:
The New Longines-exclusive Caliber
The most notable detail of this watch is its movement. Inside the new Conquest V.H.P. houses the Longines-exclusive caliber L288. It’s one of two Very High Precision quartz movements Longines uses. The other being a V.H.P. chronograph, Cal. L289. They were developed in collaboration between Longines and ETA – both of which are under the Swatch umbrella.
It boasts a slew of features, but a standout is the proprietary shock detector and Gear Position Detection (GPD) system. They automatically correct and re-synchronises the hands after exposure to shocks. In addition, the watch is able to detect magnetic fields and freeze hand movement, thereby preventing damage. Time is still kept internally and the display auto corrects itself once out of ‘danger’. Finally, the watch is equipped with a perpetual calendar that is accurate till 2400. Suffice to say, the Conquest V.H.P. is a highly accurate and intelligent piece – a smart watch.
In fact, its most remarkable feature is perhaps the accuracy. The movement utilises a thermo-compensated quartz which delivers an impressive accuracy rating of ± 5 seconds per year; a 100% improvement over the 1984 V.H.P’s. This also makes it one of the most accurate in current production, with its only rival being the Citizen Chronomaster. (There are certain models in Grand Seiko’s lineup which offers similar accuracy, but are limited edition pieces. Examples are the SBGT241/SBGV238.)
Despite all the bells and whistles, the watch still manages a reasonable battery life of more than 4 years. We weren’t able to test this for obvious reasons. However, a built-in E.O.L. (end of life) indicator would indicate such. A rather excellent daily driver; set and forget hassle-free piece.
The V.H.P’s crown holds key to several interesting features. By varying pressure exerted, the watch is able to be set either by minute or hour by hour (quick setting). To ensure accuracy of the perpetual calendar, the movement prevents time-set exceeding 24 hours backwards/forwards.
In addition, the watch can be put into a sleep mode to conserve battery life. It is accessed by pulling out the crown for 2 minutes. The hands reset to 12 and stays there until the crown is pushed back in, doing which toggles normal operation. Time is kept internally and the hands and date then advances to the correct settings. Rather cool.
Case, Dial and Hands
The new Conquest V.H.P. shares the same case design as its automatic counterpart.
The watch features a round stainless steel case that measures 41mm in diameter. Its design is chunky with thick asymmetrical lugs, ‘flared’ side profile and protruding crown guards; a rather sporty appearance. The finish is versatile: not one that vies for attention with minimal area of polished surfaces. Instead, the only hint of elegance is its polished bezel which offers a nice contrast against the brushed case.
The contemporary size offers the watch a palatable amount of wrist presence. The case thickness of 14mm might be a put-off for some, but we found to be a overall comfortable fit on an average wrist.
The Conquest V.H.P. sports a handsome blue sunburst dial. It dons a concentric circle pattern that radiates out from the middle – one that adds depth and class. Visual balance is well executed with a minimalist amount of text; a much appreciated detail which adds to the sleek appearance, yet maximising usage of negative space. Readibility is good with applied silver indices and hands. They are filled with Superluminova, ensuring legibility in all situations. To top it off, a flat sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating protects the mien.
A detail which we enjoyed would be the small attention-to-detail touches, such as the black date background which blends in well with the dial. This is also true for lighter-coloured dial variations.
Turning the watch over, we find the brand’s iconic Wings-Hour Glass logo on the case back. The watch is available on either a rubber strap or stainless steel bracelet. The bracelet is only available in full link increments, and perhaps one complaint might be the lack of half links and micro adjustment features, potentially making the size awkward for certain wrists.
Perhaps a quirk with the Conquest V.H.P is its water resistance rating of only 50m. This is rather surprising considering the 300m of the mechanical Conquest, which we indicates to us that Longines is capable of a higher depth rating using a similar case design. Having said that, we think it to be adequate for practical daily usage.
The Longines Conquest V.H.P (ref. L3.7188.8.131.52) has a recommended retail price of SGD 1,510. Rather good value and competitively priced in the (still) niche segment of high accuracy quartz (HAQ) watches. Its exceptional accuracy of ± 5s per year ranks among the best in industry. If one were to compare based solely on an accuracy/features/price scale – if there is one – the watch faces very little competition.
We discount radio/satellite controlled watches as they require an external transmitter. Here is a non-exhaustive list of HAQ watches (< ±10 seconds per year).
We kick things off with the Citizen Chronomaster AQ 4020 which was reviewed here. It is perhaps the best expression of traditional Japanese art in watches. For starters, the dial is made from artisanal washi paper. The robust titanium case, bracelet and hands dons a sharp and bright Zaratsu finish. To top it off, it is a light-powered movement that is accurate to the exceptional ±5 seconds per year. In addition, the watch is packed with features such as a full perpetual calendar complication (date, month and leap year). That goes without mention its haute horologie finishing in and out. A jaw-dropping piece that managed to captivate the entire entire staff in the Deployant office, including the author himself. The Citizen is priced at ¥ 330,000 excl Japanese VAT.
Next up, we propose the Grand Seiko SBGX069/SBGX269. It features sharp all-round Zaratsu polish and a handsome black patterned dial. But the true star lies within. More mechanical-like than quartz, the 9F movement is hand-assembled, hand-finished and hand-decorated. It is designed to be serviced rather than thrown away. Seiko recommends service intervals at once every 50-years. However, the 9F62 in this model has an accuracy rating of ±10 seconds per year and a 3-years battery life. The SBGX069/SBGX269 is priced at ¥ 340,000.
The Sinn UX (EZM 2B) is another option. Designed for professionals, the Sinn is made from tough German submarine steel. It is powered by an ETA 955.652 thermo-compensated quartz movement that is accurate to ±10 seconds per year. A rather capable do anything and go anywhere piece. The Sinn is priced at USD 2,350.
From Switzerland, we have the Breitling Colt Skyracer (ref. X74320E4/BF87/293S/X20S.1). The watch is powered by the Breitling caliber 74: a movement based off the ubiquitous ETA 955.652 – ±10 seconds per year. Everything is packed into a sturdy 45mm case made from Breitlight: a composite fiber and plastic mix that is six times stronger than steel. The Skyracer retails for SGD 2,850.
The new Longines Conquest V.H.P. is a rather interesting value proposition. Its design is sporty and versatile. The build and overall quality is done to a high engineering standard. But more importantly is the exceptional ±5 seconds per year accuracy. Though the Longines/ETA movement might not win any beauty contests, it is a symbol of technical brawn. The Citizen Chronomaster is perhaps the only piece in the market being on par. And the Longines is cheaper to boot, representing a very good value.
It is a real shame that ETA have resolutely stuck with the trend established in their latest line of PreciDrive thermocompensated movements in not adding digital calibration terminals to the VHP’s L288 (/L289).
Whereas owners of earlier VHPs have been able to trim their nominally 10 SPY watches down to sub-5 SPY (and keep them there year after year), I know of owners of the new VHP who have sent their watches back because they have failed to meet the boasted 5 SPY spec and cannot be regulated. I know of one poor fellow whose first (new generation) VHP was slightly off-spec; he sent it back for regulation; they sent him anew watch instead and the second one was even more off-spec than the first!
And what’s up with the water resistance being only 5 ATM? And a 4-year battery? My old VHP had the independently adjustable hour hand, perpetual calendar, digital calibration terminals, a 10-year battery and 200m WR. I can’t honestly say that the development of the ‘smart crown’ makes up for all the ways in which the new model appears to be inferior to the old one.