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On the Wrist: A Closer Look at the TAG Heuer Autavia

Autavia’s new movement, larger size, polished finish, and power reserve give it a very good pole position to win the hearts of vintage and modern watch fans.

TAG Heuer used a contest to see what fans wanted when the time came to revive the Autavia. Before it was over, 50,000 people voted on sixteen vintage watch styles from the 1960s before eventually naming one winner: the 1966 Autavia reference 2446 Mark 3. TAG Heuer then did what the faithful voters wanted. It used that design to recreate a larger, modern-day version with a proprietary automatic movement.

This watch is not like a low-profile Formula One Lotus of famed driver Jochen Rindt, who was known to wear the original watch reference. If the Autavia were a vehicle, it’s more like an SUV with a powerful engine, good visibility and all the comfort you’d expect in a modern ride.

Case and Dial

The new Autavia’s polished stainless steel case is a contemporary 42mm wide, compared to the original’s 39mm. It’s also nearly 16mm high on the wrist, a height in part resulting from its slightly domed sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective treatment. The watch has 100-meter water resistance and still provides a screw down sapphire display case on the back.

The Autavia’s 12-hour, black aluminum bezel features large, Arabic numerals. The numerals are as large as the bezel is wide; polished edges frame the bezel’s edge. It is easy to grasp and it provides the gratifying click as it rotates in either direction around the dial.

The flat-black dial has three, stark-white registers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Turn the watch in the light and you can see it reflect off the polished, beveled indexes with hints of the off-white SuperLuminova. It looks like aged luminescence, but the faux-vintage reference is subtle and subservient to the overall design.

The white printed Autavia and Heuer at 12 o’clock are perfectly sized and placed and offer a visual balance between the surrounding dark dial and white registers.

There’s a 30-minute register at 3 o’clock and a permanent second’s counter register at 6 o’clock that slyly hides the date window at its 30-second mark right below the Heuer-02 movement namesake. I’m not a date-window-purist, but some collectors may disapprove about this visual swerve from the original design with this addition. Still, it’s necessary information in today’s watch-wearing world.

I would take the date window over the 12-hour register at 9 o’clock, which serves as the most underused feature on a chronograph in my house.

The stark white lacquered central chronograph hand stands at the ready at 12. The pusher that starts it has the definite snap you want as you launch the hand around the dial. The white hand does get a little lost when it spends its ten seconds hovering over each, white register, so I wonder if other color options will be available in the future.

The rhodium-plated polished hour and minute hands also have off-white luminescence and extend to the perfect length to reach the dial’s edge and easily track the minutes. Its luminescence was not spectacular, but perfectly acceptable for its purpose.

The movement

Under the hood of this Autavia reedition is TAG Heuer’s newly named Heuer-02 caliber chronograph. The caliber is a 33-jewel automatic with a power reserve of eighty-hours, all from a single barrel. Out of the two common types of driving systems or transmissions of power in chronographs, TAG Heuer chose a vertical clutch and column wheel mechanism to control its actions.

The movement was first launched a few years ago under different names, and will continue to power other models in their collections. It hums along at the respectable 28,800 vph, contains only 168 components and is 6.9 mm thick. This is slightly thinner than ETA’s ubiquitous Valjoux 7750 chronograph movement, which is 7.9 mm thick with the same frequency.

The signed crown is smooth and buttery when it is wound. The black rotor seems to have a little extra swing in it since you can hear it reacting to your arm movement. Flip it over and the rotor spins endlessly until it snaps into place like a wheel of fortune without the Vanna White applause.

The watch was easy on the arm at 108 grams, but I attribute that to the low weight of the distressed leather strap. The bracelet version will weigh more. The strap sized quickly, offered enough length to bend under the leather keeper and fit snuggly to my 7.5” wrist.

The watch world has seen its share of reissues recently, and this one competes nicely on that track. The vintage cues keep it connected to the past as does its F1 legacy, but the new movement, larger size, polished finish, and power reserve give this watch very good pole position to win the hearts of vintage and modern watch fans alike. It’s priced at $5,100 on a leather strap.

Ken Nichols is a writer and photographer living in the South with his wife, three girls, vintage Airstream and humble watch collection. https://about.me/ken.nichols

Small sidebar box:

Autavia’s Roots

In 1933, Heuer designed the first dash counter for racing cars and aircraft: the Autavia chronograph. The name was a contraction of AUTomobile and AVIAtion. Three decades later, in 1962, Jack Heuer, the fourth-generation head of the company, created his first wrist sports chronograph. Its signature: a rotating bezel. The Autavia name was reborn with this new, complete and extensive range. In the catalogue until 1986, Autavia’s numerous executions were extremely successful, remaining to this day among the most sought-after collector's chronographs. ---courtesy TAG Heuer

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