Last Updated on August 19, 2020 by Calibre 11
With all the focus on the “Big 4” vintage Heuer chronographs (Monaco, Autavia, Carrera and Silverstone), it’s easy to forget that there were many other models that sat alongside these classics during the 1970s. Names like Verona, Jarama and Daytona also appeared during this time and like the Big 4, were powered by the family of Chromomatic movements.
Another forgotten model from this time is the Heuer Cortina, of which there were two distinct series produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
This first-generation Cortina was available in two models- one with an all-white dial (Ref. 110233R) featuring black roman-numerals and the black-dial version that you see here (Ref. 110233 NC) . While this particular watch has the common silver date-wheel with black date, there is also a rarer version with a red date on silver background.
The second generation Heuer Cortina was a result of the change in ownership of Heuer at the end of 1982, when Piaget and Nouvelle Lemania took over Heuer and launched a range of new chronographs using Lemania’s 5100 movements. While these designs were “all new”, they did borrow some of the names from the past- Carrera, Silverstone and Cortina.
As detailed in Arno Haslinger’s book Heuer Chronographs, The Cortina is named after the Italian mountain town of the same name, where the rich and famous would come skiing every year. Heuer was keen to add a winter-sports model to its portfolio, and so it made sense to name this new model after the chic Italian resort. Of course, slightly reducing this cache was the fact that by 1976 Ford was onto the fourth generation of its Cortina, the looks of which had declined somewhat since the earlier models which spawned the famous Lotus Cortina.
The original Heuer Cortina emerged in 1977 and boasted several design features that distinguished it from other Heuer models of the day. The 39mm case is the key feature of the Cortina design, being a hexagonal-shaped case with a brushed stainless steel finish, rather than the combination of polished/ star-burst pattern that was typical on other models.
The second design signature of the Cortina is the integrated steel bracelet that seems to merge into the case itself.
While the case design is a resounding success- unique and different to any other Heuer from the period- the bracelet is a bit disappointing- very plain, solid links that look a little awkward in my view. I also miss not having the safety clasp- OK, this is not a diving watch, but I’m still surprised not to see one in place.
While there is no evidence to confirm it, I’d suggest that the design of the Cortina was heavily influenced by a watch designer who didn’t even work for Heuer- the well-known Gerald Genta, who is to 1970s watch design what Giorgetto Giugiaro was to car design in the same era. Not only did he design the IWC Ingenieur, but also the two classic sports watches below- the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet and the Nautilus for Patek Philippe. The Royal Oak came first in 1972 (compare this beauty to the horrors wearing that name today) and featured an octagon-shaped bezel and an integrated steel bracelet, one of the first watches to offer this design.
Genta obviously liked what he created with the Royal Oak, because the Nautilus followed the same themes when it was released in 1976.
The Cortina of 1977 seems to use several aspects of the Royal Oak/ Nautilus template- the round dial set within a brushed stainless-steel, multi-edged case, an integrated steel bracelet…and the hour markers on the Cortina do look familiar after you’ve looked at the AP. But far from a “Poor-man’s” Royal Oak or Nautilus, the Cortina is unique enough to hold its own, and I guess it would have been difficult to design a new sports-watch in the late 1970s and ignore the impact that the Genta-duo had on the market.
Heuer Cortina 110.233NC
The dial of the black Cortina combines the mid-late 1970s hour-marker design of Heuer with the earlier design hands, resulting in a clean look that is very much a Heuer.
Heuer Cortina 110.233R
In contrast to the Black dial model, the second model in the Heuer Cortina range offers an enamel white dial with a different set of hands. Perhaps the most significant design difference of this model is the use of Roman Numerals- the Cortina is the only mainstream Heuer model of the 1970s to offer Roman Numerals.
Heuer Cortina 510.513
The second generation Heuer Cortina shares only its name with the first generation model. The Cortina shared its case with several other Lemania-powered designs, but has a distinctive blue Cotes de Geneve dial- the calling card of this model.
The second generation Cortina can be found either with or without the “Cortina” name on the dial- this example doesn’t have “Cortina” on the dial and is simply known by its reference number- 510.513.
Looking Back on the Heuer Cortina
The Cortina was never a large volume-seller for Heuer, as it only appeared for a couple of years in the dark-days of the late 1970s. Once the Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania consortium took over Heuer in the early 1980s, there was a second-generation Cortina released that shared its design with watches from Omega, Sinn and Lemania itself- all using the Lemania 5100 movement.
While a Cortina in name, the second-generation watch shared nothing with the first, and so the Cortina you see in these photos really is a one of the great “underground” Heuers.
The Cortina is a delight to wear and a nice change from the “Big 4” mentioned in the first paragraph- it’s very different to the other Heuer models, yet still has the same Calibre 12 workhorse that powered Heuer through the 1970s, the same hands and the same flutes pushers. The Cortina looks more modern that the Autavia and Carrera, but you wouldn’t mistake this for a modern design, so it’s still satisfyingly vintage.