Hands-on Review: Tag Heuer Aquaracer 500m Chronograph (ref. Caj2110)

Hands-on Review: TAG Heuer Aquaracer 500m Chronograph (Ref. CAJ2110)

The latest of the Basel 2010 watches about to make their way to the dealers is the Aquaracer 500m Chronograph (Ref. CAJ2110), which as the name suggests is a Chronograph version of the successful Aquaracer 500m series.

The Calibre 5 Aquaracer 500m was launched at Basel in 2009 and represented a significant step-up in size and style for the Aquaracer series, with its vertically textured dial, distinctive rubber bezel with applied markers, helium-escape valve and “cyclops” sitting over the date at 9 o’clock.

The new model Aquaracer Chronograph builds on this style-template, but adding Chronograph dials in the traditional Valjoux 7750-layout (12, 6 and 9).

Given TAG Heuer’s heritage in diver watches, and as a previous owner of an Omega Planet Ocean (45.5mm), I was keen to try the new Chronograph to see if it’s a worthy successor to my old quartz diver from the 1980s

Heritage

The Aquaracer series traces it origins back to 1982 when Heuer released the 2000 series. By 1982 the Heuer 1000 series was a big success for Heuer, especially in Japan, however its success presented a dilemma for Heuer. Heuer’s reputation was built on mechanical watches with Chronograph functions- but the 1000 series was neither a Chronograph nor a mechanical watch. The 2000 series addressed this by giving Heuer a quartz-Chronograph in the popular diving-watch style, and the series was initially marketed by Heuer as the “Chrono-Quartz” series.

Take a look at the photo below from the 1983 Heuer catalogue and you see several design features that TAG Heuer use on today’s Aquaracer 500m Chronograph- same sub-dial layout, date at 3 o’clock with a cyclops and rotating diver bezel.

At 44mm, the Aquaracer 500m Chronograph is the largest watch in the Aquaracer range, just as the 1983 Heuer 1000m Diver watch of the 1980s was the jumbo-version of the 1000 series- yet take a look below at how the 1000m diver is positively dwarfed by the new model.

Movement

The Aquaracer 500m Chronograph is powered by the familiar Valjoux/ ETA 7750 movement, which TAG Heuer call the Calibre 16. The 12-6-9 layout of the Calibre 16 dictates the placement of the registers on the dial and clearly the challenge here has been to fit everything on the dial. The dial layout becomes a little busy towards the 3 0’clock mark, trying to accommodate a date window, a cyclops, the TAG Heuer logo and the model name all within a pretty small corner of the dial.

On the Wrist

Despite the size of the Aquaracer, it doesn’t feel overly large on the wrist. The watch has a great feel of quality, reinforced by the applied hour markers, the ratcheting motion of the bezel and the bracelet design. One of my gripes with my old Heuer 1000m diver is the laughable quality of the stainless steel jubilee bracelet, which feels like something you find in a Kinder Surprise- no such problems with the Aquaracer and in my view it’s one of the nicest bracelets made by TAG Heuer

A quick word about the bezel- one of the controversial features of the Aquaracer 500m series. The bezel is a hard rubber finish that looks great with the applied silver markers and the exposed screw-heads. But while the design works well as a diving watch, it doesn’t look as up-market as a traditional metal bezel. I would have kept this distinctive bezel design as a feature of the 500m watch and used a ceramic bezel on the Chronograph version to distinguish it from the basic watch and give the Chronograph a more up-market appearance.

The chronograph pushers are a similar design to that used for the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 and the Monaco LS and work well with the design of the watch.

Comparison with the Calibre 5 Aquaracer

Below is a photo of the Chronograph 500m next to the watch-only Calibre 5 version. The Chronograph is 1mm larger than the Calibre 5, but borrows much of the design hallmarks of its smaller brother- the rubber bezel, vertically textured dial, applied hour markers and the use of a cyclops. However, as you can see below, the need to fit in the Chronograph registers has meant that two of the really distinctive features of the Calibre 5 model have been lost- the 9 o’clock date window/ cyclops and the applied “500M” marker than joins the centre stem to the date window.

When looking at this comparison photo a personal bias became clear- in my view, a Divers watch should be a non-Chronograph. Yes, the TAG Heuer Aquagraph is a true divers watch and is a Chronograph, but there is something about a clear, simple 3-hand layout that fits better with the design-ethos of a Diver as a tool watch (remembering that it’s not advisable to push the chrono buttons when under water). Likewise, I prefer the standard Omega Planet Ocean to the Chronograph version.

Maybe this is because many of today’s diver watches are based on the Rolex Submariner template, but for whatever reason, simpler is better when it comes to Diver watches in my view

Price and Availability- TAG Heuer Aquaracer CAJ2110

Overall I really liked the Aquaracer 500m Chronograph- the watch felt great on the wrist and I liked the larger size more than I thought I expected. But, for the reasons discussed above, it’s the basic Aquaracer 500m watch that I preferred- although I’m sure that many will disagree.

Depending on where you live, the Aquaracer 500m Chronograph should be available in the next few weeks, with a list price in Switzerland of CHF3,400 (in Australia, the watch will retail for A$4,500).

More photos of the Aquaracer 500m Chronograph can be found in the Gallery.