In 1911, Heuer Watchmaking patented the first dashboard chronograph called the Time of Trip, which would later evolve to become the Autavia, used in racing cars and aircraft from 1933 to the ’50s. A combination of “automobile” and “aviation”, the name was later adopted by the dynamic new CEO Jack Heuer and used in honor of these early instruments for the launch of his 39mm chronograph wristwatch in 1962. Immediately recognisable, this innovative timepiece captured the energy and excitement of racing and, with its bold dial design, was legible under any conditions.
In 2017, after an online poll with fans, the 1967 Heuer “Rindt” Autavia – the model worn by F1 driver Jochen Rindt – was selected and reimagined to celebrate Heuer’s 85th birthday. Slightly bigger and more contemporary looking, the special edition chronograph referenced the tonneau-shaped case of those early watches but with a more imposing 42mm diameter case with bi-directional rotating bezel. It also featured updated functions in the form of the new Heuer-02 calibre proprietary movement, better water resistance and a sapphire crystal.
Behind the scenes, there were clearly plans to build a new pillar for the brand around this iconic timepiece, as is revealed two years on in the TAG Heuer Autavia Isograph. Although a chronograph will probably follow soon, the new Autavia lineup is a three-hand collection. While this might not be what collectors expected, we are taken back to the brand’s roots in car racing and adventure, reflecting elements of those early dashboard clocks. Combining heritage and cutting-edge technology, they also echo the design DNA of the first-generation wristwatches of the ’60s and are powered by the chronometer-certified Calibre 5 which features the “Isograph” escapement with its cutting-edge carbon-composite hairspring developed at the company’s research institute.
“We are pushing more the adventure side of driving. The vehicle is the way to adventure,” says Guy Bove, product director at TAG Heuer and one of the most respected designers in the industry, when explaining to me the difference between the new-generation Autavia and the Carrera or Formula 1 collections. “We are not talking about racing at all in these Autavias but instead capturing the spirit of motoring in its raw state … appealing to an adventurous young customer who is more interested in the joy of driving than in modern, high-speed motor racing.”
The future of watchmaking links the traditional workshop with the nanotech science lab, where modern alchemists alter material building blocks of iron and carbon by adding atoms or molecules. Highlighting the group’s mission to “improve the fundamental physics of watchmaking”, Bove says that the new carbon-composite springs have many benefits, including being anti-magnetic, shock resistant, less affected by temperature variations and more accurate than others.
“There are four criteria to consider in an escapement: how much torque is coming from the barrel; how much room for the balance wheel, the mass of the balance wheel and the frequency you want to achieve,” he says. “A team of mathematicians, lead by Guy Sémon, CEO of the TAG Heuer Institute and director of the Research Institute for the Watch Division of the LVMH Group, designed a simulator which takes these criteria and subjects them to external influences, such as shock, to come up with the perfect spring for the balance wheel. Unlike a normal metal spring, we are able to vary the thickness along the spiral … the terminal curve is designed perfectly … the result of that is it’s very regular; it’s designed to beat perfectly concentrically. This also gives us an escapement that is accurate over more than 80% of the power reserve.”
Further extolling the benefits of their new discovery, Sémon explains: “A very common feature in all mechanical watches is the regulator. The timekeeping device is based on a very old principle, invented by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in 1675, and is made up of the balance wheel and hairspring spiral. All brands have used the same principle without difference, until now. Hairsprings have to date been made in two materials: a metal alloy called Elinvar and silicon, invented about 20 years ago. Elinvar is relatively easy to produce but there are lots of defects with mass production and magnetic fields cause 10% to 15% of our customer service problems at TAG alone. Silicon is very fragile.”
These super-precise, sporty new pieces are waterproof to 100m and are available in stainless steel or traditional bronze cases, starting at $3 600 (about R53 500). The bidirectional rotating bezel with 60-minute scale is the same as the original designed by Heuer but updated in black ceramic, blue ceramic or stainless steel. Numerals are bold and true to the original type style but with a more 3D feel. Hour markers and all hands are coated in SuperLuminova, and there is a date window at 6 o’clock. The smoked-effect dial adds to the retro feel and comes in black, grey or blue. Inspired by pilot’s watches, the crowns are extra large, making it easier to make adjustments while wearing gloves. The bevelled lugs are also from the 1960s and the Autavia is available on either a light or dark brown calfskin strap or easily interchangeable stainless steel bracelet.
• For local enquiries, Picot & Moss (011) 669 0500 or visit www.tagheuer.com