Last Updated on June 23, 2019 by Calibre 11
It’s hard to remember a new TAG Heuer watch that has been as anticipated and scrutinised as the new Heuer Autavia Heuer-02. Whether it be the design of the date window, the dimensions of the case, or even the choice of strap colour, everything about the Autavia- reference CBE2110- has been debated.
And this is exactly as it should be, because the Autavia holds a special place in Heuer and TAG Heuer history, as well as being the hottest vintage ticket in town. The Autavia is a watch that TAG Heuer simply had to get right.
For this review we’ve handed over the pen to Johan Pergler, or “Yonsson” online, a Swedish watch collector and reviewer who is active on the various watch fora. You can see his website here, where he collects his reviews and is also active on Instagram.
Heuer first launched the Autavia line under Jack Heuer’s leadership in 1962. The name Autavia is a combination of the words “Automotive” and “Aviation” and there were a number of variations produced 1962-1985 that has led to the cult status that the Autavia now has in the watch collecting community. You can read all about the history of the Autavia here.
There were several models available with 12 hrs chronograph function and a turning bezel with either 12 hrs, 24 hrs, 60 min, decompression or tachymeter-markings. The combination of chronograph function and a turning bezel enabled time measurements during a long period of time combined with an intermediate time. All models were “waterproof” to 100m, and had basic protection against shock and magnetism. The large variety of models meant a broad spectrum for use and even if the Autavia today is mainly known for the connection to racing, it was actually aimed at sea, air and racing use.
The vintage Autavia models have skyrocketed in price over the last years and that is probably one of the reasons why TAG Heuer thought the timing was right to make a new Autavia inspired by the past.
The Autavia was officially re-launched in 2016 when TAG Heuer announced a competition to help inform the choice on which specific model would be launched at Basel 2017. The model being reviewed here is the result of that tournament where more than 50,000 voters voted for their favorite vintage Autavia model.
TAG Heuer did not only have time to release a brand new model in one year, they also had time to host an event for the vintage Autavia collectors. The fans and some members of the press got the opportunity to see a prototype and give their thoughts on the upcoming model. The increase in size and the addition of a date function was expected to be controversial but Jean-Claude Biver, one of our times most prominent and respected leaders within the watch industry, explained on location that the new model was adapted to the standards and expectations of a watch being released 2017. The model is not intended to be an exact copy of the original, it’s “only” inspired by the original.
The 2016 Autavia features the new in-house movement, the Calibre Heuer-02, which is an automatic column wheel chronograph movement with a vertical clutch, 12 hrs chronograph function, 75 hrs power reserve and beats at 28800 vph. Timekeeping specifications are not official during the review.
The chronograph function is precise and there is no visible vibration of the central chronograph hand when the chronograph is started or stopped. The rotor can make a loud winding sound sometimes when the rotor starts turning like crazy, I however find it charming, not annoying. The Calibre Heuer-02 is a modern movement and given the long-standing debate around the importance of in-house vs. third-party movements, I thought it would be interesting to follow the path of the development of this specific movement.
The earlier Calibre Heuer-01 movement (Calibre 1887) is based on the Seiko Chronograph 6S movement. There are a variety of views on which specific Seiko movement formed the basis for the Heuer-01/ Calibre 1887, but the most likely candidate for the base movement is the 6s78 movement used in the since long discontinued Credor chronograph GCBP997. The factory used by Seiko for outsourcing movements is the SII (Seiko Instruments Inc.) and their version of this movement is named SII TC78. Despite this family link, the Calibre Heuer-01 is however a significantly modified SII TC78.
Initially it’s a good idea to source and modify an existing movement since it costs significantly less than developing a new movement from scratch, but there are some restrictions, for example flexibility is limited on the final size, layout on the dial and the production process.
The chronograph layout (12-6-9) is the most evident restriction. Seiko has a layout which makes good sense, as you can see the “running seconds” even if the watch is partly hidden by the sleeve of your shirt. This layout is however not true to the heritage of Heuer and therefore was not the best choice for the new Autavia.
The new Heuer-02 movement traces its origins back to 2013 when it was launched as the Calibre 1969 and shares the same basic architecture as the Heuer-02T and potentially other future TAG Heuer movements. The advantages are great when it comes to production and keeping spare parts. Having the same base also enables flexibility in production since TAG Heuer easier can use already produced parts if there for some reason was a change in demand from one type of movement to another.
This “modular” production philosophy is very common within for example the car industry and is one reason why TAG Heuer can produce such the Heuer-02T tourbillon movement at such a competitive price. It’s not only in traditional mechanical chronographs where we see this philosophy, for example you see the same ideas in the 2017 Connected Modular 45.
The Autavia case is made at TAG Heuer’s own Cortech factory in Cornol, with nothing to complain about regarding the finish. An all-polished case is expected and we recognise the design language from the original 60s/70s Autavia.
The case offers nothing new when it comes to the design compared to the original models except for the larger size of 42mm. Releasing a larger new version of a classic is always ammunition for the doubters, but I think the new size works great. I would of course prefer the case to be a little thinner but the thickness of 15.9mm doesn’t bother me.
The width of the bezel looks a little large in pictures, but looks good on the wrist. The bezel has 60 clicks and is therefore already prepared for the possibility of a diving bezel inlay with count-up or countdown markings.
I always prefer a solid caseback regardless of movement finish, but the caseback displays the movement nicely which some will appreciate.
The Autavia is available with a bracelet (for a slight premium), or with the 21mm leather with contrasting stitching that you see in this review. The strap is waxed on the sides and goes well with the watch but I would have preferred it to be tapered to 18mm instead of 20mm. I also think Tag Heuer missed an open goal by not using a rally strap, such as the style made by Heuerville.
The buckle is true to the original style and works well.
The Autavia has some very nice details when you look closely. The domed sapphire crystal in combination with the brushed rehault results in just the right amount of reflections. Hands and hour markers are rhodium plated. The hour markers are chamfered towards the centre which sets of some distinct but discrete reflections in direct sunlight.
The slightly sunken chronograph registers have a circular finish and the contrasting colours in combination with the white text on the dial makes for great legibility. I’m not a fan of the coloured lume which is supposed to imitate the look of “aged” vintage lume, but in this case I think it’s pretty discrete and works. I don’t really see the point of it, but I can let it slide since the amount of lume on the dial is so small.
One of the best aspects of the dial is the very nicely camouflaged date display at the bottom of the dial. If you need reading glasses however, then you are in trouble.
On the wrist
The Autavia comes off as a little bulky on the wrist but I would not have guessed the thickness to be 15,9mm. The size is no concern for a 18cm wrist like mine and the wrist can move freely despite the strap only tapering 1mm.
The relaunch of the TAG Heuer Autavia has been much anticipated and it’s a welcome return. The prices on vintage Autavia’s have been increasing like crazy, meaning the new Autavia arrives at an interesting time.
There has been a lot of change over the last few years at TAG Heuer, changes for the better in my view. My prediction is that TAG Heuer within the next upcoming years will get the respect they deserve from the customers, the watches have already been elevated to the next level.
CEO Jean-Claude Biver gets a lot of exposure, and rightly so given his history of success and willingness to “tell it like it is”. The combination of the still-new factory at Chevenez, a new chronograph movement and a clear vision of the brands direction has helped to refresh and refocus the TAG Heuer image.
TAG Heuer’s slogan#Dontcrackunderpressure is very relevant to the relaunch of the Autavia. As soon as a possible release was announced we knew that there would be a lot of criticism regardless of the upcoming watch design. It’s a big risk to revamp the Autavia but at the same time it is inevitable. To pay respects to the brands history and at the same time strive forward and break new ground is what must be done to stay relevant.
I think that TAG Heuer has succeeded very well with the 2017 Autavia, but they have missed a few details. A 21/18mm rallystrap would have made a world of difference to the overall package but on the other hand it’s a cheap “upgrade” to make afterwards.
Another detail is the combination of vintage colored lume and a crystal caseback. I find the combination contradicting: one grasps for the past and one pulls towards modern aesthetics.
But that is where the criticism stops. The Autavia offers a nice vintage/classic style with nice finish and very up to date performance. Given the movements specifications I would even go so far as to say that the Autavia is a great bang-for-buck watch for anyone looking for a Swiss made automatic chronograph. I have no doubts that the Autavia will be a smash hit and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up buying one.