For reasons like that I feel that TAG Heuer has produced an ideal timepiece for design lovers. We all know them, those guys obsessed with a particular aesthetic that go nuts trying to find the exact right look. TAG Heuer has perfected the 1960s style “panda dial” sports driving chronograph in an affordable piece from a trusted brand. Tudor did the same thing with the Heritage Black Bay. They invented a sexy vintage-style look and wrapped a modern watch in it. The look embodies a theme so well and is also in a modern package. In a more expensive way Rolex does this as well.
One of the most interesting elements of the Autavia is the selection of strap and bracelet options. TAG Heuer eventually opted for a totally retro-looking steel metal bracelet and a brown leather strap that looks like it was made from a well-worn baseball mitt (the strap is actually brown camel leather). The choices appear quirky at first, but are very intentional. They are fashion choices and they work because both the strap and bracelet (each in their own way) offer an unexpected sense of personality to the watches. The bracelet is distinctive because you just don’t see anything like it today—so “bringing it back” is novel. The leather strap isn’t just meant to look aged, but aged in a very particular manner. None of that happens unless someone obsesses over the details—and clearly the team who put this watch together at TAG Heuer had fun (and likely drove some poor suppliers nuts) picking and choosing how the Heritage Autavia was going to come together.
As a 12 hour-style bezel, the one on the Heritage Autavia moves in both directions, with a well-engineered feel. This bezel can be used to count down hours, as well as act to help reference a second time zone. The face is three layers including the lower chronograph subdials, main dial, and raised polished hour markers. The luminant color is made to look older being tan-colored. People complain sometimes that this is just “faux patina” and meant to make the luminant look old. Yes, that is true to a degree, but what is also true is that these colors look more attractive than white. This is why designers keep preferring various off-white colors that happen to occur when luminant ages.
The bezel insert is aluminum, which is the only part of the watch I wished was in modern ceramic. TAG Heuer chose aluminum because it offers a look that is hard to replicate in other materials such as the much more scratch-resistant ceramic material. Let’s just hope that when Autavia owners send in their watches for service, the price to replace the bezel inserts with new ones that aren’t scratched up isn’t too much.
Another small gripe is the AR-coating on the domed, box style sapphire crystal. The dial is always legible thanks to its overall design, but there can be glare on the crystal when in direct light. This doesn’t stop me from wanting the watch, though. As a sport watch, the polished steel case is water-resistant to 100m and feels chunky enough to endure some abuse. The crown doesn’t screw-down, which makes me want to suggest that no one should go swimming with it.
Speaking of case polishing, TAG Heuer did a very nice job at this price point. It reminds me of the polish you’d see on one of the nicer Breitling watches, such as a Navitimer or Chronomat. The polish is very even, which causes a reduction in visual blur. This also helps you see the various angles of the case better, which is very important since appreciating the style of the case is a key benefit of wearing it. Even the knurling around the rotating bezel is done better than a lot of other stuff out there.
Of course you’ll notice the lack of “TAG Heuer” branding on the dial. This is because when the Autavia (like other TAG Heuer Heritage models) was released, the company was still just called “Heuer.” TAG Heuer has adopted the practice of mainly calling their Heritage (vintage-style) watches “Heuer.” This pleases fans, and is also wise since TAG Heuer owns the rights to the “Heuer” name too.
“TAG Heuer” is however prominently printed on the movement – so there are no doubts who is behind this mechanical creation. The movement is remarkably efficient in its construction at just 168 parts, which is very lean for a chronograph. I think an A. Lange & Söhne chronograph could have 300 – 400 parts easily (German over-engineering at its finest). The Heuer 02 operates at 4Hz with a nice, long power reserve of 75 hours. Functions include the time, date (less neatly integrated into the dial at 6 o’clock) and a 12 hour chronograph.
One thing on the dial makes me ask a question that I don’t have an answer to, and it is entirely possible I am over-thinking it. Rather than the typical “Swiss Made” on the dial, the TAG Heuer Heritage Autavia just says “Swiss.” For “tradition loving” people, I can’t see that as being an accident. I’m not saying the Autavia isn’t Swiss Made, but I don’t know what just “Swiss” means—and come to think of it, I’ve never seen that before. Is this simply a proud mark of identity that eschews the waning message of what “Swiss Made” actually means to consumers and simply more generally asserts Switzerland’s deep-rooted set of cultural values that have allowed the high-end watch industry to carry on? It might be a very wise marketing move for “the real Swiss brands” to stand up and proudly assert as such. Regardless of what this tiny-sized dial text even means, it is another talking point that collectors will no doubt have far too many beers trying to decipher.
I’ve been told that the “Heuer” arm of TAG Heuer will for the time being remain its own separate region of the larger brand dedicated to a particular type of collector. Those folks will not need to mingle with watches for teen idols and DJ stars, which TAG Heuer has connected to totally different products they make. That’s probably good news because it means that just because TAG Heuer makes something an enthusiast isn’t personally keen on, that they won’t make something else that that same person will be very keen on.
If I was in the market for a watch around $5,000 and loved the effectiveness of vintage sport watch design but really appreciated the quality of a modern watch, then the Autavia needs to be on my list. TAG Heuer is lucky that Omega Speedmasters with caliber 9900 movements are still more expensive by a decent margin. Plus, TAG Heuer has a more welcoming pedestrian quality in the democratic approachability of the Autavia design. While there is an attention-grabbing shine to the polished case, this is not a blingy watch in the least. This has the appeal of a high-end vintage-style motorcycle because you know it could do the same and look more modern, but the designers chose to give it a more emotional and nostalgic look. Added emotion like that is what sells luxury watches today.
The TAG Heuer Heritage Autavia Calibre Heuer 02 Automatic Chronograph watch comes as the reference CBE2110.FC8226 on the camel leather strap priced at $5,150 USD, or as the reference CBE2110.BA0687 on the steep bracelet priced at $5,300 USD. tagheuer.com
>Brand: TAG Heuer
>Model: Heritage Autavia Calibre Heuer 02 Automatic Chronograph reference CBE2110.FC8226 as tested
>Price: $5,150 USD
>Size: 42mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone with $5,000 to spend who likes classic looking things in modern packages—when both are done very well.
>Best characteristic of watch: Fantastic value for the amount of love that TAG Heuer put into this product. Offers that “vintage look” many people admire, but with a solid modern-wearing and feeling experience. Owning a Heuer 02 movement is worth the price of admission.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Slightly more glare on the crystal than I normally prefer. Aluminum bezel will age with time in the form of dings and scratches. Some might complain that the case is too thick, but not fatally so.