Tag Heuer Aquaracer 500 – A Review
I’ve seen too many pre-release timepiece press pictures and then eventually handled the final product to know that you should never immediately fall for a particular watch or dismiss it entirely. The latter was certainly the case with the new Tag Heuer Aquaracer 500 models. The three-handed automatic has been out for a couple of years now but the Chronograph version was only just released this year. When I originally saw the images that were coming back from Basel I was left with no real emotions towards the Aquaracer 500. I neither hated it or had any immediate desire to go and search one out to look at in person. Apart from the rubber bezel insert it seemed to be a little generic and lacked any real soul. How wrong could I have been?
Here, at Andrew Michaels Jewellers we all had the same impression upon Tag Heuer’s original announcement. However, when we first received these timepieces into the shop we all unanimously wondered “How have they managed to produce these watches for the asking price?”. At the time of writing the Calibre 5 non-chronograph Aquaracer 500 on a bracelet is a tad under £1800. The similar spec’d chronograph version is £2450. This may initially be of concern to some as they may think, as I did, that Tag Heuer must have cut some serious corners to allow for this to be. Do not worry though. I shall henceforth explain why by highlighting the numerous design elements and details of each model.
The Calibre 5 Automatic Aquaracer 500
The Calibre 16 Chronograph Aquaracer 500
Both versions are versatile, rugged, great looking, fit-for-purpose, utilitarian sports watches. They are well built and highly detailed. They announce their intentions by subtle and well-advised aesthetic details.
The rubberised bezel is a great touch but could have easily cheapened the feel of the Aquaracer 500. However, Tag Heuer, as is the norm, has been very clever. They have added a couple of other details to the bezel to make it the stand out component that oozes class and refinement. These two design elements are the raised stainless steel and satin finished numbers and the periphery grips.
The former remind me of very high end kitchen appliances. No really. Stay with me on this. They are produced using the best materials and are designed to be contemporary and classic looking whilst being tactile at the same time. Some mention should be afforded to the rubber used on the bezel. It looks soft and yet it is incredibly hard. You cannot even push your fingernail into it. I would have no concerns about treating this element of the bezel as I would if it were made out of the usual stainless steel or aluminium.
The latter offers perfect grip of the uni-directional rotating bezel whilst, at the same time, giving the bezel a unique and solid look. They seemingly add strength and elegance at once and are a perfect contrast to the satin numerals of the bezel.
The furrows of the dial are the same pitch as the bezel and creates a wonderful linear/circular contrast. This also allows the dial to flip between dark and lighter shades of black depending on the viewing angle and lighting conditions. Whichever, the polished hands and raised hour markers always offer excellent legibility.
The lume and date display are also key proponents of legibility. The former is consistently bright for many hours after lights out and the latter has been made more decipherable with the inclusion of a magnifying cyclops. The decision to rotate the Calibre 5 movement on the non-chronograph version is an interesting one which results in the date window being on the opposite side to normal. I like it and it does offer a unique perspective.
Other diver’s watch boxes that have been ticked are the individually stylised automatic helium escape valve and the bracelet extension, that allows for the Aquaracer to be worn over a wet suit without any fiddly and annoying alterations.
Speaking of the clasp, this is one of the few areas where necessary corners have been cut. In a watch that otherwise exudes such fantastic finishing and confidence in its abilities the finishing of the clasp seems fairly rudimentary. However, I suppose if I were have to cut corners to allow the creation of a tool watch bargain the finishing of the clasp would be at the bottom of my essential list. What is of more importance, I realise, is the sturdiness and strength of the deployment clasp.
The bracelets are unique to each model. The chronograph version has polished central links which, along with the polished case sides, which I most definitely prefer. In fact, I would have liked to have seen this polishing applied to the non-chrono version. It adds refinement. I appreciate this is not essential on a tool watch but then a £1800 tool watch isn’t ever going to be essential either.
Whilst I’m in critique mode I would have liked to have seen a sapphire caseback on the chronograph version of the Aquaracer 500. Tag Heuer have clearly shown that 500 meters water resistance can be maintained with this voyeuristic feature.
The screw down crowns are oversized and easy to operate. Likewise the pushers on the chronograph model are designed for ease of utility with an incorporated grip that is both useful and tactile. The crown is embossed with a raised satin finished Tag Heuer that is complimented and highlighted by a black anodised background.
Oversized, heavy and robust divers watches are rarely the most comfortable to wear. The Aquaracers make their presence known on the wrist but they are not fatiguing in any way. The sapphire glass of the Calibre 5 non-chronograph version also aids comfort and removes some of the movement on the wrist associated with oversized heavy timepieces. Despite its machined topographical outline the caseback of the chronograph does not dig into the wrist. Both watches are substantial enough to offer a psychological security without being overbearing.
These Aquaracers have diameters of 43mm and 44mm , respectively. Due to their intended nature these watches will always look better with casual attire than with formal dress.
The Aquaracer 500 models are also available on a rubber strap or with a rose gold bezel.
Conclusion: I shall hereby reiterate my point from the start of this review: How were Tag Heuer able to produce the Aquaracer 500 series of watches for the money? There are simply no diver’s watches by other brands at this quality point that can compare on a price to quality ratio with the Aquaracer 500 series.
The Aquaracer 500 range really does satisfy all criteria for this mode of time keeper. Every element has been well thought out and implemented.
Obviously discounting the recent ingenious inventiveness of the Mikrograph, Mickotimer, belt driven V4, Pendulum and shock absorbed 24, I believe that the new bezel design created for the Aquaracer 500 series is one of Tag Heuer’s greatest recent creations. It has allowed them to craft their own unique looking diver’s timepiece whilst maintaining the feel and aesthetics that are pre-requisite for the genre.
The only weakness I can see is the clasp and, possibly, the level of detail afforded to the non-chronograph models. Sure, they could be more comfortable but that is a claim you could point at most large and heavy divers watches that are mandatorily substantial for sustaining operability at 500 meters under water. This all seems a little petty and as if I’m trying to justify the title of “review” for this article. In all honesty, for the money I cannot fault these exceptional tool watches from Tag Heuer.
All words and images by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without permission from the author.