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As regular readers of our Forum will know, we had a chance last week to speak with TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver about progress on the 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia Re-edition. But rather than simply show you photos of the new watch- or at least, the prototype of the new watch- we wanted to share with you the the thinking behind the new Autavia. This is not the first time that TAG Heuer has re-issued the Autavia, but this time it is being done with a very different philosophy to previous TAG Heuer re-editions.
The fact is, re-edition watches gain far more headlines than their sales justify. TAG Heuer will likely sell 50-100x more Aquaracers than Monza’s in 2016, but which watch captured the most headlines when they were both launched at Baselworld? The Monza- easily.
The reason is simple: these re-edition watches pay homage to the past, a past that is rightly guarded by those who collect the vintage models and so have the insight and knowledge to carefully scrutinise any new watch that purports to represent the past. Get a re-edition right (e.g. 2016 Monza) and the rewards are significant. Get it wrong (2005 Autavia) and the friendly fire can be harsh.
So before we opine on the new prototype, we wanted to understand the thinking behind the new Autavia re-edition, and who better to explain this than the driving force behind the new watch, TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver.
As you’ll discover, there are very good reasons why the 2017 Autavia isn’t a perfect copy of the 1960s original.
And we’ll also bring you the latest news on the movement inside TAG Heuer’s 2017 re-edition, the Calibre CH-80, which will now be known as the Calibre Heuer-03. As a side note for those keeping track, this will be the fourth name for this movement (Calibre 1888, Calibre 1969, Calibre CH-80 and now Heuer-03), which is going to play a significant part in TAG Heuer’s future…and not just as a Chronograph movement.
Heritage vs. Avant Garde- Can TAG Heuer be both?
TAG Heuer is pushing forward with an “Avant Garde” styling theme on its new watches- you can see this most clearly in the Carrera Heuer-01, which takes the DNA of the original ’60s Carrera and reinterprets this look for 2016 and beyond. But at the same time, we have re-edition models that reflect the past- TAG Heuer has produced more Heuer-logo watches in the last two years under Biver than at any other time since 1985.
Calibre 11- I wanted to start by asking you about the Collectors Summit. I guess it is interesting to me that heritage continues to be so important for a brand that is pushing so hard on being “Avant Garde”. How do you see the two of those things fitting together?
JC Biver- It is very easy. I always used to say “no tradition then no future”, then I said “no innovation, no future”, which means without tradition there is no future and without innovation there is also no future. Which means you need both. You need tradition on which you can build innovation. If you have no base, if you have no tradition, it is very difficult to build something up because you have no ground.
So the basis of what you are building is called tradition. That is the ground..tradition is essential. It is the base; it is the first step. Therefore, I put a lot of importance on both, not only on the innovation, but also on the tradition.
Vintage Collectors and Re-editions
The first query asked of any new re-edition is one of two questions. If it looks exactly like the original, the first question is “why would I buy this when it looks the same as the vintage one?”. If it’s a design based on the original but with modern touches, then the first question is “why does it not look like the original?”– the brand can’t win. So how does TAG Heuer think about this dilemma?
Calibre 11- On that, now that the Monza is in the market and the reception seems to be very good, have you been happy, both from a sales and from a collector point of view, with the reception that the Monza has received?
JC Biver- Yes of course. I am very pleased.
Now I want to make a little comment about the signification of the vintage collector. If you are a collector like me, I would not buy a watch that is not from the original time it was made. For me Autavia has, as a collector, held an importance that comes from 1963 that it is original. If I am a collector, what is the sense of buying something that has already existed?
For a watch lover, for a watch buyer, for a watch customer, somebody who wants to buy a watch, if he loves the Monza, if he loves the Autavia, that is good because there are not enough original pieces to feed everybody so I like those type of re-editions, but now the vintage collector; a collector will be able to buy something that has been remade.
That is also the reason why we like that our re-edition does not 100 percent look like the original. We want to give to the original its original designs and I would never copy 100 percent because if you do a re-edition that kind of looks like the original then you make the vintage collector angry because they say, “What are you doing guys, you are creating somehow some copies,” and that is why I am so pleased that we have achieved for the new Autavia to bring it out with its typical original atmosphere or ambiance or look but it has also some features of the future. In that sense it is not just a typical re-edition because the Autavia comes out with its own movement; a fantastic new TAG Heuer movement.
Introducing the Calibre Heuer-03
JC Biver- There has never been in the world of watchmaking a re-edition that came out with a new movement. It is a movement that has been built for the Autavia. One day it will be used in other watches than the Autavia but the Autavia today, the re-edition, is a very noble piece because it is not just a simple copy of 1963 with a Valjoux movement. No! It has the ambience; it has the atmosphere; it has the flair; it has even the soul of the past but it has also the contribution of the future. And in that sense, the Autavia re-edition is something absolutely unique in the history of re-editions.
Photo by Brice Goulard- Monochrome Watches
Calibre 11- When you and I last spoke, I think you were saying that the thinking was that would be a 42mm case with the CH80 movement and I guess collectors have been speculating about whether that movement might be renamed the Heuer-03 movement?
JC Biver- Yes, it is the Heuer-03.
Calibre 11- Are there many changes from the CH80 to the Heuer-03?
JC Biver- No, there are not so many changes. Of course there are a few changes but what is in the Autavia is the final, definite version of what has started as the CH80. This is the final product. And this Heuer-03 will be used in the TAG Heuer model collection from 2018 on.
Calibre 11- Fantastic….
JC Biver- ….it will be amazing. It will help launch the Autavia and in 2018 or let’s say end of 2018 or beginning of 2019, we will see a certain number of other references in the range using the Heuer-03.
Calibre 11- And that will be alongside the Heuer 01 or would it replace the Heuer-01?
JC Biver- That we haven’t decided yet. It will at first not replace the Heuer-01, it will come to be a traditional chronograph version but it could well be that by 2020 we would produce double or triple the number of Heuer-03 than the Heuer-01.
The Heuer 03 is planned to become a very important part of our business proposal in the future because we will do extensions. For example, the Heuer-03 might one day be made as a 3-hand movement, so there will be the chronograph Heuer-03 and together with all the variety that we will build around Heuer-03 it could become the most used movement in our collection in five years.
The 2017 Heuer Autavia Heuer-03
We wanted to find out more about the new Autavia, and in particular whether we would see more than one model. While that won’t be the case in 2017, it certainly seems as though the Autavia is here to stay, at least for a few years.
Calibre 11- The point you made is a really important one around the difference between re-editions and vintage because in the past with the Silverstone, when TAG Heuer re-launched that in 2010, it was a re-edition aimed at the vintage market and it didn’t work well, probably because it confused vintage collectors with the modern watch buyer.
I can see that they are two distinct markets and perhaps that also explains why for example, collectors say, “Why is the new 2017 Autavia 42mm and not 39mm?” I suppose the answer is because it is not meant to be a copy of the past.
JC Biver- It is forbidden [for TAG Heuer] to make a copy of the past. A normal eye of a normal person should immediately look see the differences between the re-edition with the original. That is what we are aiming at. So that nobody can ever be confused but if somebody likes the design of the Autavia, why wouldn’t we also make it today with a new modernised function- with more water resistance, with a better crown, in a bigger size and with a modern movement. That is what I want to do.
I never would like to do a copy as you mentioned it, when we did copies of the past we were not as successful and that is normal. You cannot be successful by copying the past. Nobody wants to copy the past but if there something interesting, if is there something strong with the past, if there a great look in the past…why would we forbid ourselves to remake it?
What we should do is we should do it again but we should be careful that people can recognise the original one- which vintage collectors are hungry to find and to buy- from the new one. But if the new one looks like the original then it could be tough. You create a certain dilution from the past and instead of honouring the past, you dilute the past. And therefore the re-edition must have its own personality, even if the inspiration comes from the past and there is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from everything. What is wrong is to copy it again, that’s another thing.
Calibre 11- Is the thinking around just the one dial colour for the Autavia? I was surprised in the Autavia Cup how popular the white dial with the black sub-dials was. That seemed to be quite popular as well with collectors. Is there any thought of offering two colours with the Autavia?
JC Biver- Yes, we will start of course with one but there is no doubt that one day, probably after 36 months or 24 months, we might come out with a second colour of the dial. But the first two or the first three years, we will stick probably to one; and then we might come with a second and eventually one day with a fourth colour.
Initial Reaction to the Autavia Prototype
So that’s the story of the 2017 Autavia- but what’s the verdict on the design? Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that we already know that several elements of the prototype will change. See how the lume on the hands doesn’t match the lume on the dial? That will be fixed. Note the date wheel is sideways? That too. And of course, you’ll see “Heuer-03” replace “Heuer-02” on the dial, and even better you’ll be able to see the Heuer-03 movement, because the final watch will have a sapphire case back.
As expected, the most debated aspects of the new watch are its case size and the date. We’re OK with the larger size, as the proportions look right- but we would make the bezel a little slimmer…not 1960s-thin, but shaving off a millimetre or so would help open up the dial a little.
The vintage-style strap looks good, but we’re excited to see the new-generation “grains of rice”style bracelet that is being developed- and yes, you can bet that this will find its way onto a Carrera at some point too.
You can take it as read that the final watch will feature a date window- new watch buyers simply expect this as a feature, so the question comes down to where you place the date window- and really on a dial like this, it’s either 4 o’clock or 6 o’clock. Of the two choices, we’d leave the date where it is- for the simple fact that it blends into the dial better. We hope that a silver date frame isn’t added to the final version.
Just as with the Monza, we think TAG Heuer has done a fantastic job with the new Autavia and we expect the final model we see in just over six months time to look even better.