When it comes to affordable, vintage-inspired timepieces, few brands seem to have a better understanding of the current market than Tissot. Over the past few years the Swatch Group marque’s trendy, integrated PRX collection has become a sales juggernaut (and a critical darling to boot), while other recent vintage-inflected pieces like the Sideral have generated significant buzz on their way to becoming cult favorites. In other words, Tissot’s vintage-styled designs rarely put a foot wrong these days, and this trend shows no sign of stopping in 2024. For its first major enthusiast-focused release of the year, Tissot turns its sights to the golden age of racing chronographs and reinterprets a fan-favorite reference from 1970. Athletic, stylish, and solidly appointed for the price, the new Tissot PR516 Chronograph successfully captures the ‘70s sporting spirit, but adds a raft of modern refinements to create one of the most intriguing sub-$2,000 chronograph offerings in recent memory.

In a world of svelte, compact case designs, there’s an old-school muscularity to the Tissot PR516 Chronograph’s 41mm wide stainless steel case that helps to set it apart. While much of the overall case silhouette is carried over from the PR516 Chronograph of the 1970s, this modern interpretation diverges from its ancestor in a few key aspects. Of course, the largest and most obvious of these is size. The original PR516 was a diminutive 36mm wide, and despite the historical inaccuracy the new model’s 41mm diameter and substantial 13.7mm overall thickness intuitively feels at home alongside the chunky, vibrant sporting chronographs of the early ‘70s. There’s also the split tachymeter/pulsations bezel to consider. Tissot echoes the glossy two-tone look of the original with an eye-catching mineral glass insert, but raises this insert on a vertical black PVD bezel. In the original iteration of the PR516, the bezel is virtually flush with the surrounding case surfaces, leading to an unusual, instantly recognizable silhouette. There are a variety of reasons, ranging from potential packaging issues to mass market appeal concerns, why the modern PR516 Chronograph opts for its more conventional layout, and while it’s certainly not unattractive it arguably takes away one of the line’s visual calling cards. However, the main case body itself handsomely captures the blocky, athletic charm of the ‘70s version. Squared lug cutouts and smoothly brushed slab case sides help to emphasize the watch’s old-school “block of steel” character on the wrist, with the overall brushed finish interrupted only by narrow, tapering polished lug chamfers. Perhaps the most surprising addition to this case design, though, is the inclusion of a sapphire display caseback. Display backs in general are a rarity at this price point, particularly in chronographs, but its inclusion here may not be doing the watch any favors (more on that later). Despite this rare inclusion, the Tissot PR516 Chronograph is rated for a solidly sporting 100 meters of water resistance.

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Nearly all of the Tissot PR516 Chronograph’s dial is faithfully carried over from the original, but nearly every visual change made to the underlying formula makes this modern design far more refined on the wrist. As a start, there’s a newfound focus on visual brightness to better accent the matte black base dial surface. The distinctive blocky paddle-and-syringe handset is partially polished, for example, but the most significant tweak towards brightness comes courtesy of the three subdials. On ‘70s examples of the PR516, these flat subdials are flanked by painted white accent rings, but for this modern revival Tissot upgrades to a striking set of azurage silver rings. When combined with the handset and the modern, polished applied rectangular indices, the overall effect is crisp, engaging, and quite a bit more luxurious than many of its direct competitors. Tissot preserves many of the original PR516’s distinctive flourishes though, such as the 3 o’clock chronograph minutes subdial’s handsome sky blue highlight segment, and a printed line to better visually delineate the important 15-minute mark on the wrist. Although this last element is a faithful rendition of its ‘70s forebear, it does make the similarly-hued orange subdial hand tricky to discern at a glance. However, the vivid signal orange used for the chronograph hands is otherwise both visually arresting and impressively legible.

Tissot powers the new PR516 Chronograph with the 7753-derived ETA/Valjoux A05.291 handwound chronograph movement. Although this is in many ways a new caliber, including a newly revamped winding system that allows for a hefty 60 hours of power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate, at its core the A05.291 has a rich legacy spanning all the way back to the classic Valjoux 7750. On the one hand, this should mean the movement platform is robust and reliable, but on the other it does mean some elements like the cam-lever chronograph actuation system are simplistic by modern standards. Equally simplistic is the movement finishing, which consists of a linear brushed upper bridge atop matte blasted lower bridges and a plethora of cheap-looking stamped and polished components. There’s a certain novelty to having a visible chronograph movement in general at the PR516 Chronograph’s price point, but more seasoned enthusiasts (myself included) might imagine that this movement would be better served by a nicely engraved solid caseback rather than this display.

To complete the package, Tissot first the PR516 Chronograph with a classic three-link stainless steel bracelet. While this may seem to be a simple, safe choice at first glance, the brand packs in a surprising amount of nuance and visual detail here. The muscular, rounded link profiles give this design more dynamic light play than flatter, more traditional links, while slim polished outer link chamfers add some welcome brightwork to the sporty brushed finishing and create a visual through line to the chamfered lugs. By contrast, the locking stamped two-button clasp feels somewhat basic alongside the rest of the case, and a milled clasp would go a long way towards establishing an overall feeling of higher quality.

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Taken as a whole, the new Tissot PR516 Chronograph is another impressive step forward for an already-established leader in vintage-inspired affordable sports watches. Thoughtful finishing, impressive movement performance, and an athletic ‘70s charisma make this a genuine contender against chronographs retailing for far more, and it’s easy to imagine this design becoming another cult classic in the Tissot stable. The Tissot PR516 Chronograph is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for this watch stands at $1,850 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.

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