Review: TAG Heuer Autavia
In 2016, over 55,000 members of the watch-buying community collaborated on the design of the brand new 'Heuer'-badged re-issue of the classic Autavia. If you've ever seen the episode of the Simpsons where Homer gets to design his own car, you'll also understand that asking the public for design advice invariably goes wrong. So, has TAG Heuer successfully managed to crowdsource the design of the new TAG Heuer Autavia, or do we have a Watchy McWatchface on our hands?
Watch our video review of the TAG Heuer Autavia Heritage Calibre Heuer 02 CBE2110.FC8226
It's no secret that TAG Heuer hasn't had the easiest time of it in the past, which considering the brand's heritage, is a real shame. After all, the Autavia sports chronograph comes from a time when Heuer—as the brand was then known—was breaking new ground in car racing, becoming the first non-motorsport sponsor of F1. The Autavia itself—a contraction of Automotive and Aviation—was also the daily wear of F1 driver Jo Siffert, who was tasked by Heuer CEO Jack Heuer with selling watches up and down the F1 paddock. It was a different sport back then, very different.
This re-issue Autavia is modelled on the reference 2446
The Autavia was actually Jack Heuer's first watch as Heuer CEO. The name already existed in the guise of the manufacturer's rally dash timer, which during a timed Swiss rally, Jack Heuer misread by several minutes. The error infuriated him so much that he redesigned the dash timer with a larger, central minute hand and re-released it as the 'Autorallye'.
The now redundant Autavia name found a new home as a wristwatch, which was released in a generous number of configurations. There were both bi- and tri-compax dials available, as well as Heuer's first rotating bezel with the choice of 12-hour or 60-minute markings, with the 12-hour for tracking time zones and 60-minute for timing intervals. As time went by, there were also visual updates to the hands and markers as well.
It was this variety that formed the basis of the 2016 public vote. Actioned by brand mastermind Jean-Claude Biver—saviour of Blancpain, Omega and Hublot to name but a few—the competition inspired collectors across the world to pick and choose their favourite aspects of those first vintage Autavias to build a reissue for 2017, reviving the watch that fell by the wayside when Heuer became TAG Heuer in 1985.
By 2017, the public had spoken. Of 16 available choices, it was the reference 2446 Autavia—with tri-compax dial and 12-hour bezel—that got the nod. And while it looks very similar to that brand-defining original, there's a lot that's changed in over half a century. Let's take a closer look.
The 'panda' dial features the original Heuer logo
Much of what's going on here is dictated by the movement. While the Autavia originally made use of manually wound chronograph movements from Valjoux—and then the calibre 11 automatic chronograph built in conjunction with Breilting, Hamilton and a few others—this Heuer 02 movement is entirely in-house.
The development of that movement was not without its problems: in 2010, TAG Heuer announced a new in-house chronograph movement, the calibre 1887. Turned out, however, that the 1887 was based on the Seiko 6S37, and was only fettled by TAG Heuer. So, the brand set about righting that wrong by developing a movement completely from scratch. The brand even opened a new facility in Chevenez to produce them from.
Problem was, TAG Heuer was now treading on the toes of the other watch brands owned by parent company LVMH—namely Hublot and Zenith. It didn't make sense for TAG Heuer to simultaneously be selling quartz timepieces and £100,000-plus concept watches like the Monaco V4, and the brand wasn't really in the position to be developing its own in-house movement.
The in-house calibre Heuer 02 column wheel chronograph movement
So, Jean-Claude Biver, who had recently completed his turnaround of Hublot, was moved to TAG Heuer, and development of the new chronograph movement was halted. First, he needed to shift the huge reserves of the calibre 1887 the company had amassed. Then, several years later and with the slate wiped clean, Biver was able to present TAG Heuer anew, engaging an eager audience with a challenge to design the first watch with that new, fully in-house chronograph—and the 2017 Autavia emerged.
Now known as the calibre Heuer 02, the movement inside the Autavia boasts a surprising set of features. There's a column wheel for smooth, positive operation, a vertical clutch to reduce wear, a whopping 80-hour power reserve, plus a neatly tucked-away date in the running seconds sub-dial at six o'clock.
While the Heuer 02 movement contributes to the 42mm case size and 15.6mm thickness, it's still a hair more svelte than it would have been with the calibre 1887. If you're looking for something thinner, you'll really need to spend a fair bit more and go with something like sister brand Zenith's El Primero.
Other styles have since been released
But if the looks of the Autavia speak to you, there's no getting around them—short of buying a vintage original for over twice the price. The clean design, especially when complemented by the distressed leather strap, is just so characteristic of the era in which it was first designed. Little touches like the raised crystal and 'Heuer' branding further add to the authenticity of it. Watchy McWatchface it certainly isn't.
While the Autavia hasn't had the easiest journey, it's finally made it. It may not have everything perfect, but it's certainly one of the most attractive TAG Heuer watches of recent years, and it's a promising new direction for the brand following Jean-Claude Biver's magic touch.
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