The retro trend that kicked off in the late 1990’s must have been a dream for the marketing and product development guys. Step 1) Rifle through your brands old product catalog. Step 2) Modernise the design- a little. Step 3) Pump out a heritage based ad campaign. Step 4) Lunch.
Put yourself in the shoes of the team at TAG: the Carrera and Monaco re-editions had been a huge success for the company- how long must it have taken for someone to realise that there had not yet been a re-edition of the other famous model from the 1970’s- the Autavia?
On the face of it, the decision to introduce a re-edition Autavia must have been what the marketing guys would call a “no-brainer”- so why did the model disappear within two years of release while the Carrera and Monaco are still going strong for TAG today?
The TAG Heuer Autavia re-edition (ref. CY2111) was launched in 2003. To launch the watch, TAG also released a limited number of special collector sets that had both a dash timer as well as the watch- playing on the heritage of the Autavia as a timer, not just a Heuer wristwatch. Seventy sets of these were produced in Siffert Blue and seventy in Orange- cost was almost US$8000 for the set.
As you can see from the photo above, TAG adopted a different strategy for the Autavia re-editions, making them more modern interpretations of the key Autavia design features, rather than just copying the old design. The watch had a fixed rather than rotating bezel and initially came in the two most popular colours of the old Autavia- White with blue accents and black with Orange accents. The Rose Gold model was added later as a limited edition of 150.
TAG spent a lot of time on the bracelet for the Autavia, giving it a similar look to the original G&F “Grains of Rice” bracelet, but in a much sturdier design. The pushers moved away from the cylindrical shape of the old Heuer models to the design used on the modern Monaco re-edition- a mistake that TAG continues to make today in my opinion.
TAG also decided that it was time to drop the “Heuer” branding that it had used in the past re-edition series and instead these watches wore the TAG Heuer branding.
Overall, I think that the design is a great success- enough old design cues for the old Heuer collectors, but modern enough to look like a contemporary model.
The effort that TAG went to with the Autavia is evidenced in the effort taken to move the crown to the left hand-side of the watch (the first of the re-editions to have this feature) and to use the famous “calibre 11” brand for the movement. Of course, it wasn’t really a true Calibre 11 movement, but rather an ETA 2892 movement with Dubois Depraz chronograph module piggy-backed on the movement. This is the same approach used by TAG Heuer with the recent 40th Anniversary Monaco- only the second modern TAG Heuer with the crown on the “right” side.
So nothing wrong with the movement, expect that it isn’t a true calibre 11 movement- and you have to admire the effort to engineer the movement to allow for the crown placement in a manner that only enthusiasts would care about.
So to get back to the original question, what went wrong? TAG Heuer go and produce a modern interpretation of one of its most famous watches and the model is off the shelves within two years.
While its hard to pin-point a single reason, I think that the problem was that the TAG Heuer Autavia fell between the cracks of the old and the new- maybe not enough of a faithful reproduction of the original watch but not distinctive enough to appeal to new buyers. Reading back through the forum posts at OTD, the criticisms of the watch appear to be summed up by “Yeah, its nice, but I’d rather just buy the original”. The Vintage guys were put off by the non-rotating bezel and of course the TAG Heuer logo.
Maybe the new buyers who didn’t care about- or maybe even know about- the Heuer Autavia ended up comparing the Autavia to the Monaco as a potential purchase- and then going with the Monaco as it is more distinctive and seen as the “signature” watch of Heuer/ TAG Heuer.
I think its a real shame that TAG didn’t extend the Autavia range into other models- a GMT would have been great- but who knows if it would have made a difference to the sales of the Autavia line? Maybe the TAG re-edition range was just saturated at the time with the Targa Florio and Monza, in addition to the Carrera and Monaco.
I hope that TAG use next years 150th anniversary to try again with the Autavia. I don’t think that there was a lot wrong with the re-edition, but maybe a few design tweaks and case materials (PVD?) would enable one of the most famous of all Heuer models to be back in the showrooms again.