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The holy grail for vintage watch collectors is the prototype watch- something that goes beyond being merely “rare”. Every vintage collectors knows that there is rare and then there is really rare. The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona Exotic Dial? Very expensive, but far from rare. You could have one landed at your desk within a few days. Same story for many coveted vintage Heuers- if your budget can stretch, you can buy almost any model within a week or so of looking.
But prototype watches are a different story altogether, as in many cases prototype runs were limited to only a few watches, or more often, just a few parts. While they are highly prized, they also present an obvious problem: how do you verify a prototype watch? There is no catalogue to check it against, and given that many of the records of Heuer/ TAG Heuer pre- 2000 no longer exist, the majority of “prototype” watches are frauds. Anyone can stick an Autavia dial in a Carrera case and produce their very own, one of a kind “prototype”.
But despite this, there are some genuine prototype Heuers out there, and this week’s story shows one of these- an early 1970s Heuer Autavia 1163 with a bright orange dial.
Heuers in Orange
Heuer has produced several orange-dial watches over the years, mainly in the diver range, such as these two examples from the late 1970s.
TAG Heuer has also made several modern orange dial watches in the Formula 1 line, and most recently the Aquaracer 500m series.
Heuer Autavia 1163 Orange
So what do we know about the 1163 Autavia? The watch was bought from a small watch shop in Bavaria, who had apparently acquired the watch from a former Heuer watchmaker. The best guess on age traces the watch back to the early 1970s, the movement being a key clue that we’ll come to shortly.
The watch case is a conventional 1163 Autavia, with the distinguishing features being the dial and hands. The dial has black stripes on the hour-markers to match the hands. Overall, it’s a great looking dial and one that certainly would have stood out in the watch cabinets of the day.
Movement- High-beat Calibre 11
Further enhancing the “prototype” status is the movement, which in itself is a prototype that we have seen a few times- a high-beat version of the Calibre 11. While the traditional Calibre 11 (shown above) vibrated at 19,800 beats per hour, Heuer experimented with a “high-beat” variant that vibrated at 28,800 BPH, probably chasing Zenith’s El Primero that boasted 36,000 BPH. The benefit of higher frequency is that it allows time to be divided into smaller increments, which is why the Calibre 36 (El Primero) today can offer 1/ 10
th second chronograph precision, while the Calibre 1887 can not.
Heuer did not go ahead with the high-beat Calibre 11, but did increase the frequency of the Calibre 12 to 21,600 BPH. Several of these watches made their way into the hands of collectors, albeit usually in otherwise-conventional models.
Is it Original?
So cutting to the chase: is the watch original? In all likelihood it is. The owner has tried to verify the watch with TAG Heuer, but the records from the era are not that detailed. My view, and the view of other collectors that I have spoken to, is that the dial is certainly original, although whether it was ever cased in this particular Autavia is impossible to know. Did a watchmaker take a genuine vintage dial and fit it to an otherwise generic 1163 case? Perhaps.
The other part that looks unusual is the hand-set. Take a look at this late 1970s Heuer Carrera 110.253G
While not identical to those found on the 1163 Autavia, the style is certainly closer to that used on the Carrera than typically used on the Autavia. To counter that, the hands on the 1163 do match the hour-markers.
In many ways the question of whether the hands are “correct” is irrelevant… correct relative to what? You can imagine the watchmaker putting the prototype together simply grabbing the first available hands, as this was meant as a test watch, so what it looked like didn’t really matter.
The Autavia 1163 orange “prototype” is for sale at the moment, with the owner seeking offers over 7000 Euros. If you are interested, you can contact him at this e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other Heuer Prototypes
The 1163 Orange is not the only Autavia prototype that we have seen, for example a collector owns the Autavia above, which uses the same colour scheme as the Monaco 74033N below.
And speaking of Monaco prototypes, there is also this Monaco test dial from Singer.
While neither of these answer the question of the originality of the 1163 orange, they do show that prototype Heuers exist and are out there in the hands of collectors.
The other point to keep in mind is that despite the Autavia having been out of production since the early 1980s, we are still discovering new models and variants. For example, there is only one-known example of the Indianapolis Autavia above, which sits in the TAG Heuer museum. Doubtlessly, there are others out there hiding in collections, but to date we known of one.
There is also the case of the “Exotic-dial” Calibre 15 Autavia below. This was first spotted at the inaugural Heuer Collectors summit in 2008 and was also thought to be a “prototype”, but since then we have seen probably a dozen examples in the market.
And the story is similar for this 3646 Autavia Tachymeter dial, for which we have now seen a small handful of watches.
You should be highly cynical about any Heuer watch that claims to be a prototype, because 95% of the watches that claim to be are simply frauds. But that only makes it more exciting when we do see a genuine prototype that helps us fill in more of the detail of Heuers brilliant period of creativity in the 1960s and 1970s.[color-box color=”red”]
TAG Heuer and Vintage Heuer Forums
Join in the discussion of the prototype Heuer 1163 Orange at the forums here
Heuer Autavia 1163 Orange photos courtesy of Andreas Kuschel