Although much of the vintage-inspired watch design movement of today focuses around the bold, sculptural creations of the ’70s, a growing contingent of brands are setting their sights further back towards the elegant, ornate styles of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Tissot’s latest heritage-inspired release dips into the charismatically busy style of the era, reviving a classic reference with a legacy of timing ski races. The new Tissot Telemeter 1938 line brings a classically refined look to Tissot’s chronograph offerings, complete with a pair of distinctive colorways and a handful of impressively executed touches for a solidly reasonable price.
The Tissot Telemeter 1938’s stainless steel case measures in at a sizable 42mm-wide. Although this is far from uncommon in the current watch industry landscape, this larger size does undercut the prewar feel of the design on the wrist, especially with long lugs that tend to give the Telemeter 1938 a wide-wearing stance. With that said, the case itself is certainly handsome, with slim tapering lugs and a narrow, steeply sloping polished bezel. Tissot’s case finishing is also a high point, with a sharp transition between the mirror-polished upper surfaces and the horizontally brushed case sides. A domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal helps to preserve some of the old-school feel of the design on the wrist but does also add to the overall sense of size. It’s the crown and pushers, however, that stand above the rest of the case here. The gracefully tapered lozenge-shaped chronograph pushers give the design an added touch of classical refinement, and the gently rounded coin-edged crown with its antique Tissot “T” signature is strikingly well-detailed for a sub-$2000 chronograph design. Tissot does make another concession to modernity with the Telemeter 1938’s sapphire display caseback, but its poor 30-meter water resistance rating holds the design back from being a more elegant alternative to the classic sports chronograph. However, with the dressier overall feel of the watch, this is not necessarily a hindrance for wearers.
Tissot offers the Telemeter 1938 with a pair of dial options. While both follow the same general pattern – nested outer scales for a telemeter and railroad seconds track, a spiral tachymeter scale, and a pair of azurage subdials – each model’s execution gives it a markedly different personality on the wrist. The black dial variant is the simpler and more elegant of the pair, with a mirror-like glossy piano black finish accented by gilt dial text, gold-tone pencil hands, and matching applied Arabic numerals. This sort of super-high gloss dial finishing is something of a rarity in the modern watch industry and works in concert with the brightly polished gold elements to bring a sense of flash and occasion to the colorway.
By contrast, the silver dial variant brings more visual complexity to an already intricate dial layout, but balances each element deftly to maintain a sense of overall harmony. The dial surface is broken up into multiple segments here, each with its own finish. The outer chronograph scales and inner spiral scale both receive a pale matte gray finish that helps to keep each of these elements legible, and Tissot further sets each scale apart with its own designated color. The outermost telemeter track opts for royal blue, while the seconds scale and spiral tachymeter are rendered in black and eye-catching red, respectively. Tissot adds radial brushing in brighter silver to the hours track for this model, filling this area of comparative negative space with more visual detail. A set of blued hands complemented by printed black hours numerals completes the ensemble, firmly rooting it in the style of its ‘30s forebear. Despite the sheer variety of finishes, scales, dial hardware, and subdials present on both models, the Tissot Telemeter 1938 maintains an impressive sense of visual balance and symmetry, managing to appear handsomely complex rather than cluttered. Part of this can be attributed to Tissot’s decision to avoid a date display for these models, which almost certainly would have disrupted the movement of the wearer’s eye between elements here.
Inside the Tissot Telemeter 1938 line beats the ETA 7753-based Valjoux A05.231 automatic chronograph movement. Although this is nominally a relatively new powerplant made exclusively for Swatch Group brands, the reality is that this is the latest evolution of a lineage dating back to the venerable Valjoux 7750 launched in 1974. With most of the serious kinks ironed out of this platform decades age, the Valjoux A05.231 is free to be a reliable movement with impressively modern additions, including a high-tech Nivachron balance spring. Overall performance for the A05.231 is modern as well, including a 60-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. The pusher feel is slightly stiff but sharp, a welcome departure from the slight mushiness that sometimes comes with 7750-based movements. Over the course of our testing period, the Valjoux A05.231 averaged just on the edge of chronometer standards, gaining a solid +6 seconds per day. Tissot takes care to dress this platform up somewhat for the Telemeter 1938, with perlage across the bridges and balance cock along with a signed cutout rotor.
Tissot fits both variants of the Telemeter 1938 with leather deployant straps. These straps feature a notable amount of padding for a muscular, ridged look, but otherwise remain classically conservative with matching side stitching and a vintage-style Tissot script logo engraved on the clasp. For the black dial version, the brand echoes the warmth of the gold elements with a strap in medium honey brown. The darker, desaturated coffee brown used for the silver dial model is far more muted on the wrist but helps to maintain a sense of tasteful restraint for the overall design.
With stunning dials, impressively finished touches, and a handsome prewar ethos, the new Tissot Telemeter 1983 line is a strong contender in the rapidly growing field of ‘30s and ‘40s-styled chronographs that punches well above its weight. The Tissot Telemeter 1938 is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for the Tissot Telemeter 1938 stands at $1,950 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit Tissot’s website.
>Model: Telemeter 1938
>Price: $1,950 USD
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a dressier alternative to traditional sports chronographs, or with a period-inspired outfit.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Chronograph fans looking for a more formal-capable option than the usual suspects, vintage enthusiasts looking for a reasonably priced and reliable take on a spiral-scale chronograph.
>Best characteristic of watch: Brilliant dial finishing; handsome details throughout.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The case is decidedly oversized for this style of watch; abysmal water resistance.