Tag Heuer Autavia Isograph.
An introduction, and why the Autavia Chronometer is still a superb timepiece.
Tag Heuer could quite easily follow some of the other leading luxury watch brands if they wanted to. What I mean by this throw away, incongruous statement is that their popularity within the luxury watch industry has few peers, with regards to units sold. Some brands epitomise “resting on your laurels”. Fair enough, they are incredibly popular and offer fantastic, proven quality. I do feel, though, that the members of their vestigial design department must have the easiest jobs in the industry.
“So, Henri, how are we going to sell millions of our divers watch this year?”.
“Well, Claud, how about we make a green version?”.
“Errm, is that it?”
“Yep, and next year we’ll reduce it by 1mm in diameter. Right, I’m off to rest my overworked genius on the ski slopes”.
I appreciate this is flippancy in the extreme and slightly exaggerated, and I may seem biased through nonchalant ambivalence, but my point is that Tag Heuer never fail to create something bespoke and technologically ground-breaking each year. Indeed, Tag Heuer were the brand that I immediately searched for during the first morning of every Baselworld. And I was never disappointed with their phenomenal pioneering offerings that wowed the masses with technological mastery.
Previous, “Oh, wowsers, I’d love one of them” moments, that left me devoid of appropriate superlatives, came from the following:
Carrera Mikrogirder with 5/10000th of second chronograph
Carrera Mikrograph 100th of a second
Grand Carrera Pendulum
Last year, which was, sadly, the last year of Baselworld, was no exception, when Tag Heuer proudly announced the Autavia Isograph. A simple three hand Pilot inspired aesthetic belied the brand-new proprietary material development securely held within. The headline for the 2019 Autavia was the Isograph movement. This world first took the tried and proven Calibre 5 work horse and added a carbon composite hairspring which was fully developed in-house by Tag Heuer, and was originally witnessed in the Limited Edition Carrera Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph, which retailed for £20750.
Tag Heuer have stated that this all new Isograph technology offers multiple benefits over the traditional hairspring. These include better impact resistance, insensitivity to magnetism, increased impact resistance, reduced influence of gravity and targeted compensation of the temperature effect. All these factors will normally have a detrimental effect on the humble anchor escapement, resulting in cadence interference and regulation degradation. Unlike other silicon-based hairsprings the Isograph spring is relatively easy to manufacture in volumes, meaning no inflated price points that we usually endure for ground-breaking, world leading technological advancements.
As a result, thankfully for average earning professionals such as myself, this extraordinary and visually striking timepiece was affordable, ranging from around £3000 to £3500 in steel or bronze.
The Autavia, as a nomenclature, has been part of Tag Heuer’s history since 1933 when it was initially introduced as a dashboard timer. Autavia being a portmanteau of Automotive and Aviation. At a time when Heuer were only producing high quality chronographs the Autavia was born into a market created by the exponential interest in Automobile racing and Aviation. These robust and legible timers were an instant hit and allowed Heuer to grow into a household name by the 1960s, just before the quartz crisis threatened to financially cripple the brand. Thankfully, Technique d’Avant Guarde (TAG) recognised the enthusiasm in the Heuer family to still make high quality timepieces and bought the brand in the mid-1980s. A purchase not simply bought out of business acumen. Tag Heuer have now become one of the largest purveyors of high-end watches, by volume, in the world. Many do not realise that the catalogue of Tag Heuers we see today are homages to Heuer timepieces from before the Swiss-wide financial difficulties of the 1970s. Wrist watches such as the Monaco, Carrera, and Autavia were all Heuer models.
Sadly, in early 2020 when we were all wondering what had become of this aspirational timepiece, the announcement came from Tag Heuer that the carbon composite hairspring was not quite ready for production in such high volumes and to appease the waiting public, who had so admired the 2019 Autavia for its beautifully simplistic and stylish good looks, a Chronometer rated version would be released at circa £400 less than the original. This was a potentially awkward situation for Tag Heuer but I believe that all is not lost as the Autavia Chronometer is a stunning timepiece in itself and definitely worthy of your attention if you were interested in the Isograph version. Shall we find out?
The steel and bronze cases are both 42mm in diameter and 13.5mm thick. This size seems to have been optimised for both legibility and comfort.
The large crown, with engraved logo, is also a design-nod to pilots watches of yore. Originally augmented to create maximum user friendliness whilst wearing pilot’s gloves, this carry-over proffers a point-of-interest design cue coupled with maximum grip.
The bi-directional bezel is constructed from the very same bronze and ease of use is assured by a coin edge grip. The insert is produced out of highly scratch resistant ceramic in a lustrous black. The slightly rounded profile is reminiscent of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. The MIL-SPEC re-issue version being my favourite dive watch of all time.
The desirable pilot’s dial is accomplished with Superluminova© printed Arabic numerals and peripheral applied hour markers. The polished rhodium plated sword hands complete a stunning platform for the introduction of the new Autavia.
Unlike many beige, faux patina Superluminova© coatings on the market, the Autavia Chronometer manages to look pertinently cool during the day with bold brilliance during the night. The white Superluminova© on the all-steel models is just as impressive after lights out.
The mildly domed sapphire crystal allows perfect legibility across the entire dial with zero distortion whilst adding a vintage inspired design inflection.
The genius strap/bracelet change facility is a bonus, and an element rarely seen at this price point. Given that the blue dial alone has proven to look superb on blue strap, black strap, brown strap and steel bracelet this adds flexibility of both visuality and practicality.
Simply pull on the recessed button and the strap is released. This is the most satisfactory solution to a given issue with wrist watches I have ever used.
The new Autavia Chronometer family is an eclectic bunch of dial colours and case materials. However, for me, the green dial, bronze case is definitely the stand-out model. Bronze on its own, especially after a little bit of unique and natural patina, is a wonderfully warm and charming case material and the chosen gradient green is very special and exclusive. There are a lot of revolting greens available but, thankfully, the Autavia Chronometer employs none of them, going from a deep verdant green to brighter, but not too bright, olive. The gradient brown dial is also spectacular and works seamlessly with the bronze dial and brown ceramic bezel. It is the same with the gradient blue, which radiates from deep navy blue to a brighter royal blue. Even the black to grey dial, which is my least favourite shares the same grained texture and fumé style that elevates these glorious timepieces from the hundreds of wannabee pilot’s watches on the market.
Viewing the Autavia Chronometer is a gratifying indulgence. I’m sure you’ve already made your own mind up about that and don’t need me to opinionise on your behalf. However, one important element of ownership is wearing a watch and I can categorically declare that the new Autavia is an absolute pleasure to have upon the wrist. The soft, supple leather offers immediate tactile joy. The clever interchange facility of each strap and bracelet also allows for straps to be swapped at will by the owner to create diverse modifications on a whim of impulsiveness or to appropriate it to a sartorial situation.
My only real negative comment about the Autavia, well more of a bemusement, is the use of the moniker Autavia for a watch that is so Aviation inspired with zero Automotive inclinations. This is emphasised even more by the addition of a LASER engraved propellor inside a steering wheel on the case back, according to the official press release. I can clearly see the propeller, but the steering wheel eludes me. It doesn’t add up. Historically, the dash-board, and subsequent wrist worn, Autavias have all been chronographs. These were all endowed with delightfully legible dials to allow both pilots and drivers alike to peruse the timing information they require in non-perfect conditions, usually resulting from propellor vibrations and vehicular impacts.
The Aviation inspired case back
To conclude, the Autavia Chronometer isn’t just an important watch for Tag Heuer it is significant for all of us. To address the elephant in the room, the lack of Isograph carbon composite hairspring may seem to be a disappointment. This immediately places the watch at a disadvantage because we were waiting for something else. However, I would argue that the Autavia Chronometer has all of the charm and character of the original Isograph release with the very same peace of mind length of warranty and a Chronometer certification, guaranteeing the owner accuracy as confirmed by a third party impartial and respected test facility in Switzerland, for a lot less money than the Isograph. So, what have we actually lost in this announcement? That depends on your emphasis on technology. As I always say to a prospective luxury watch customer: Primarily, you need to like the look of a timepiece, then you need to actually enjoy the feel of it on your wrist, before looking at the specification versus price point comparison to other watches.. The Autavia Chronometer is both gorgeous to look at and one of the most comfortable watches I have ever worn. Throw in the chronometer status, sapphire glass and ceramic bezel for peace-of-mind long term ownership plus a very clever on-the-fly strap change system for easy aesthetic transformation, and we are presented with one of Tag Heuer’s flagship models in my opinion.
The Autavia Chronometer is a non-assuming, and yet emboldening, timepiece that still captures the innovative spirit of a brand who refuse to cease being proactive, despite the delay on the Isograph hairspring. The Tag Heuer Autavia Chronometer offers immediate desirability through eye-catching and meticulously conceived visual appeal and will continue to delight ad infinitum by virtue of its robust and reliable, if not pioneering, movement, hard wearing materials and perfectly conceived ergonomics.
We should still applaud Tag Heuer for continuing to try and push the boundaries of what is possible in horology. Sometimes these proven technologies on a test engineer’s bench do not transpose onto the production line within a feasible timeline. I know this isn’t the last we’ll hear of the Isograph movement and its carbon composite hairspring. I’m sure they aspired to announce updates within this study of excellence this year, until the world was turned upside down.
In the mean time we can still indulge ourselves in one of the best looking chronometer rated pilot watches on the market. It may seem like obstinate bravado to release the Autavia Chronometer but let us not forget that this new Autavia 3-hand proposition was to be the vehicle for Tag Heuer’s exemplary and innovative Isograph movement with in-house carbon composite hairspring. I still have immense admiration for Tag Heuer’s forward thinking R and D department and I love the new Autavia Chronometer, especially in that exquisite bronze and luscious green.
All words by Richard Atkins. All images by the author and Tag Heuer, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.