Review: Baselworld 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia

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The “Autavia” in the new 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia is a contraction of Automobile and Aviation. Beginning life as a dashboard rally timer in 30s, it caught the attention of young Mr. Jack Heuer himself when he made a crucial mistake of misreading the complicated dial during his time as a driver’s assistant.  By the time rally timers were just about obsolete, the romance and connection of the name motivated  Mr. Heuer to perpetuate the name and its legacy as a wrist chronograph. Here’s his story:

In the autumn of 1961 I decided with my production team to create a new “Autavia” as a wrist chronograph. Until then we had never added a turning bezel to one of our wrist chronographs. We therefore designed this new “Autavia” to have a turning black bezel with a choice of division markers. A bezel with 60 separate one-minute divisions, for example, would allow the wearer to set a marker for a defined interval of less than one hour; a 12-hour division would allow the time in another time zone to be displayed; and divisions of 1/100th of a minute would be useful for time study purposes.

Vintage Heuer Autavia advert showing 2 of 4 possible bezel configurations

Our modern range of wrist chronographs started in 1962 with these “Autavia” models and continued in 1963 with the “Carrera” range. Both products were very successful, and with every new production series we made small technical improvements, for example by changing the shape of the hour bars or the colour of the radium bars……Looking back I can say that the “Autavia” wrist chronograph was the first real wristwatch product I personally created for the company.”

Review: Baselworld 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia

Due to the Carrera’s modern history with TAG Heuer, it is easy to cultivate the perception that the Carrera was the collection which established the brand’s legacy as a premier watchmaker of racing chronographs; that said, the Heuer’s story of how he himself was let down by the original Autavia and how he eventually re-imagined the racing timer as a wristworn chronograph, inarguably establishes the provenance of real sporting heritage and authenticity of the TAG Heuer Autavia. More importantly, it was also adaptable by way of a simple rotating bezel in various configurations for maximum functionality – like 60 minute timing graduations, 12 hours for secondary timezone and even tachymetre for race timing.

2017 TAG Heuer Autavia Case, Dial and Hands

First unveiled in 1962 and now re-issued for Baselworld 2017, the new TAG Heuer Autavia with 12 hour bezel graduated bezel is nicknamed “The Rindt” after its famous racing owner and also this particular model. The new version may share the same design codes as the original but it’s by far an entirely different beast through subtle but noticeable modifications.

For a start, case size has increased to more contemporary proportions befitting a modern chronograph, the 42mm steel case has 3 mm on its heritage ancestor in terms of case diameter. Proportionally, the automatic winding calibre within has also replaced the original manual winding one which makes it a little thicker. That said, the lugs are tapered downwards so it doesn’t wear like a 42mm modern chronograph. Aesthetically speaking the bezel makes the watch look larger than 42mm but it is merely an illusory effect.

The dial of the new TAG Heuer Autavia is where the retrotastic elements really shine. Returning are the large white oversized sub-registers with concentric circles within, exactly the same as the original Heuer Autavia which debuted in 62. Then there’s also the cool tricompax “reverse panda” colour scheme which sets the subdials on a black background. We definitely appreciate the date window slipped unobtrusively into the subsidiary seconds counter. Sure the square window breaks the symmetry of the concentric circle texture within the dial but it’s a commercial decision we can live with in order to make the Autavia re-issue possible. That said, the Heuer shield motif returns sans TAG complete with Autavia font at 12. Applied baton indexes makes an appearance in place of the original radium applied lume and the hands themselves are the more traditional hour and minute pointers with hollows for the lume rather than the greatly desired fully lumed dagger hands like in certain vintage models.

The Movement of the new Heuer Autavia

The original Autavias were driven by the manual winding Valjoux 72 while the new TAG Heuer Autavia is fitted the new Calibre Heuer 02 with 4Hz or 28,800 vph balance and 80 hours of power reserve. It’s competently if industrially finished, the red column wheel partially obscured by the skeletonised rotor reminiscent of racing wheel rims. There’s some cotes de geneve decoration on the plate as well as the brand’s modern TAG Heuer logo but nothing really gives the watch’s modern origins away obviously unless you know where to look on the dial side. The original Heuer Autavia had a closed caseback thus hoping for a manual winding movement for authenticity is a non-starter unless you’re hoping for the high horology feel of viewable gearworks but either way, we’re non-fussed as the raison d’etre for re-issues is meant to be interpretative rather than direct replicas.

Concluding Thoughts

Perhaps the price point for a non-chronometer specced chronograph is oddly out of tune with Biver’s recent price re-orientation to make TAG Heuer watches relevant to the mass market again – when put up against the COSC-certified Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chronograph, the new TAG Heuer Autavia is up against serious competition – US$4,900 vs. Tudor’s US$4,500. Granted, the Tudor is no reverse panda tri-compax chronograph but in a neck to neck race without the advantage of history and provenance, the Heuer Autavia is up for a tough race. That said, the Baselworld 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia acquits itself admirably overall. It’s definitely one for the grail list if you don’t have one already.


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