TAG Heuer did something interesting over Christmas weekend. Without flooding social media with teases and slick videos, without enlisting the influencers and other usual suspects, and without even issuing a press release, TAG Heuer released three new models of the Autavia for sale in retail channels. And if you might be thinking that TAG Heuer releases these types of watches so often that fanfare is not warranted, I point out that the release included the first new generation of the Autavia chronograph since 2017 and the first Autavia GMT watch ever.  The three new Autavias are already available for purchase in retail stores.

We are in that quiet week between Christmas and New Years Day. Many of the folks in the Swiss watch industry are out of the office (or on the ski slopes). So instead of trying to assemble information about these three watches from the usual sources, instead of studying specifications and press kits, I took a different approach. I drove to my nearest TAG Heuer Boutique, tried on the three watches, took some measurements and snapped a few photos with my aging iPhone.

For each of the three watches, I will provide some background information, and then post the “head shots” released by TAG Heuer along with some “live” photos that I took earlier today at the TAG Heuer Boutique.  We provide full specifications for all three of the new Autavias at the end of this posting.

Special thanks to the crew at the Atlanta TAG Heuer Boutique for showing me these three watches and for their incredible enthusiasm for all the TAG Heuer watches.

The Black Flyback Autavia Chronograph (CBE511C)

The two Autavia Flyback chronographs break new ground for TAG Heuer in two respects.  First, the Heuer 02 movement used in these chronographs is now certified by Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) as a chronometer, meaning that it has been tested to an average daily accuracy of plus 6 seconds or minus 4 seconds.  Second, the new Autavia chronograph has a flyback feature, meaning that the chronograph can be stopped and restarted with a single push of the lower pusher.  This is critical where a chronograph is used to time a first event (for example, a pilot’s holding maneuver), and then immediately begin timing a second event (the second leg of the maneuver).  Think of a race car crossing the start / finish line, and a crew member recording the time for one lap, while immediately beginning the timing of the next lap.  The Heuer 02 movement provides a very strong 80-hour power reserve, meaning that it will keep running for three days, eight hours, without being worn or wound.

The Black Flyback Autavia Chronograph features a matte black dial and registers, with green-toned Super-LumiNova used for the numerals and hands.  The case is stainless steel, with a black DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating, that incorporates both brushed and polished finishes.  The bezel’s ceramic insert is marked in minutes, and rotates in both directions.  This chronograph sells for $6,950.

The Back Story

The Black Flyback Autavia has its origins in one of the iconic Heuer chronographs from the 1960s, the “Bundeswehr” chronograph made by Heuer for the German Air Force.    In addition to the flyback function, other features of the “Bund” designed for pilots include easy-to-read Arabic numerals, painted with luminous material, a matte black dial with black registers, and bright white hands.  The rotating bezel is marked in minutes, useful for the pilot to time maneuvers or “time over target”.

In the early 1970s, after designing the c-shaped case to house its Caliber 12 automatic movements, Heuer introduced a series of manual-winding chronographs that used similar cases.  One of these manual Autavias was the Reference 73663, which incorporated the style of the previous “Bund” chronograph.  Not surprisingly, today’s collectors refer to this as the “Bund” Autavia, although there is no evidence that the model was ever issued for military use.  This is a rare vintage model, with fewer than 20 or 30 of the model known to collectors.

Five Minutes of First Impressions

I spent around 30 minutes in the TAG Heuer Boutique studying the three new Autavias, and the Black Flyback Autavia emerged immediately as the “it” watch of the group.  The DLC coating is different and attractive, and show us just how far materials for watch cases have come over the last 60 years.  From the introduction of military aircraft, stainless steel was the “advanced” material for pilots, but over the last few decades advances in materials have been dramatic.

The case of the Black Flyback Autavia is an attractive combination of polished and brushed DLC.  The watch measures 42 millimeters across the dial, but wears very comfortably, in part due to its relatively thin, soft strap.

The “Panda” Flyback Autavia Chronograph (CBE511B)

The second of the new Flyback Autavias incorporates a familiar design for Heuer (and TAG Heuer), the “Panda”.  Heuer’s first chronograph to incorporate the white dial and black registers was the Reference 1163 T Autavia (introduced in 1969), worn by Swiss Formula One hero, and Heuer ambassador, Jo Siffert.  The “Siffert” Autavia had 12-hour chronograph capacity, but only two registers, for the hours and minutes, as the first automatic Autavias had no “running” seconds register.  The new “Panda” Flyback Autavia chronograph is a full three-register model, with running seconds at six o’clock, but the hours and minutes registers mimic the style of the historic models.  This chronograph sells for $6,300.

The Back Story

Heuer introduced its first “Panda” Autavia in 1969, and Autavias with the “Siffert” color scheme were produced in many configurations (automatic and manual; two registers and three registers; etc.).  Among vintage Heuer enthusiasts, “Panda” versions of the Carrera have also become very popular, with Matt Damon (as Carroll Shelby) wearing one of these Carreras in the movie, “Ford v Ferrari”.

Five Minutes of First Impressions

The white-dialed Flyback Autavia is a nice looking watch, but at least compared with shock of seeing the black-dialed version, I was left with the impression that TAG Heuer had done this white / black dialed watch before.  Indeed, TAG Heuer’s first re-issue of the Autavia (circa 2003), as well as its second re-issue (in 2017) had included “panda” versions, and recent versions of the Carrera incorporate this same style.

The GMT Autavia Watch (WBE511A)

The new GMT Autavia offers a “fourth” watch hand that can be set independently of the main time of day hands, so that the user can track a second time zone on the bezel.  The bezel rotates (in both directions), so that the user can check the time in a third time zone.  The dial is a deep blue, with a brushed sun-ray, finish, in the same family as the color used on the Carrera “Twin Time” that TAG Heuer introduced  for travelers.  The GMT Autavia also differs from the two Flyback Chronographs in that it is sold on a stainless steel bracelet, consistent with the needs of a traveler or adventurer.  This watch sells for $4,200.

The Back Story

Heuer has made watches and chronographs for travelers and others tracking a second time zone since the mid-1950s.  The “Twin-Time”, introduced circa 1955, used a rotating inner bezel, with the hours marked 1-through-12, so that the user could rotate the inner bezel and then use the main time-of-day hands to see the time in a second time zone.  Heuer introduced its first GMT chronograph in 1968, as a modification of the three-register Autavia chronograph (Reference 2446).  The additional red hand makes one revolution per day, and with the 24 hours marked on the red / blue bezel indicates the time in a second time zone.

Circa 1970, Heuer switched from manual-winding movements to automatic movements for the Autavia GMT, and these automatic models remained in the Heuer catalog well into the 1980s.  Autavia GMT chronographs were popular among both military and civilian pilots, providing the pilot with a tool for flying, and keeping track of the time in multiple time zones.

Five Minutes of First Impressions

I am a big fan of the “Twin Time” Carrera that TAG Heuer introduced earlier in 2021, and this new GMT Autavia should be another attractive watch for travelers (or even people who keep track of friends and family in other time zones).  Matching the skies, the blue / black combination on the bezel is a sensible way to keep track of the day and night hours, and the orange (on the GMT hand and the word “Autavia”) adds a sporty element.

Together, the Carrera Twin-Time and the Autavia GMT offer travelers or others who need to track a second (or third) time zone some interesting choices.  The Carrera is smaller (at 39.5 millimeters across the dial), and the inner bezel is fixed, so the user moves the GMT hand (independently of the main hour hand) so that it will track a second time zone.  On the larger Autavia GMT (measuring 42 millimeters across the dial), the GMT hand can be set independently of the main hour hand (as on the Carrera), and the GMT bezel can be rotated, so that the user can track second and third time zones.  Both watches use the Calibre 7 movement, with it being chronometer certified in the Autavia GMT.

What It Means — From Generation to Generation

Yes, it was strange to wake up this morning and see that TAG Heuer had shipped three new Autavias to its retailers over the Christmas weekend.  In terms of the Autavia chronographs, this marks the third generation of TAG Heuer Autavias (after the re-issues in 2003 and 2017), while the GMT watch can be thought of as the second generation of watch, after the first three-handed Autavias were introduced in 2019.

Having been a fan of the vintage Autavias for over 20 years, this unusual late-December launch is significant, not only in terms of the three watches that I saw today at the TAG Heuer Boutique, but also in what it suggests for the future.  TAG Heuer CEO Frederic Arnault and his senior management team have  led TAG Heuer for approximately 18 months, and we are beginning to see the progression of their portfolio.  As the first new Autavia chronograph in almost four years, it is great to see TAG Heuer in motion again,  taking good advantage of its heritage portfolio, with the prospect of other interesting and attractive models coming in the new year.

Specifications – TAG Heuer 60th Anniversary Autavia Flyback Chronographs 42mm; Black Model (CBE511C) and “Panda” Model (CBE511B)

Case — stainless steel, polished and fine-brushed finish; Black model is coated with diamond-like carbon (DLC); 42 millimeters across the dial, 15.5 millimeters thick, 50.5 millimeters lug-to-lug; black ceramic bidirectional rotating bezel (marked for minutes); sapphire crystals (front and back) with anti-reflective treatment, water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar); weight of the watch is 96 grams, without strap.

Dial and Hands — Black model has black dial with green Super-LumiNova on numerals, indices and hands; “Panda” model has silver dial, with black chronograph recorders at nine o’clock and three o’clock and off-white Super-LumiNova on numerals, indices and hands, and Rhodium-plated hour and minute hands; TAG Heuer applied logo; running seconds and date display at six o’clock.

Movement — TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 02, Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) certified chronometer; “flyback” function allows instant restart of chronograph timing; built with column wheel and vertical clutch; frequency 28,800 bph (4 Hz); thickness is 6.9 millimeters and a diameter of 31 millimeters (13-3/4 ligne); power reserve at least 80 hours; offers hacking to synch the watch to a reference time.

Strap — Black alligator leather strap (21 millimeter width); pin buckle is DLC-coated (on Black model) or stainless steel (on “Panda” model).

Availability / Price — Available December 2021; price is $6,950 for Black model and $6,300 for “Panda” model.

Specifications – TAG Heuer 60th Anniversary Autavia GMT Watch 42mm (WBE511A)

Case — stainless steel, polished and fine-brushed finish; 42 millimeter across the dial, 13.5 millimeters thick, 46.5 millimeters lug-to-lug; blue and black ceramic bidirectional rotating bezel, marked for 24 hours; sapphire crystal, with anti-reflective treatment, water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar).

Dial and Hands — Blue sunray-brushed dial; white Super-LumiNova on numerals, indices and hands, and Rhodium-plated hour, minute and seconds hands; TAG Heuer painted logo; date display at six o’clock.

Movement — TAG Heuer Calibre 7, COSC certified chronometer; frequency 28800 bph (4 Hz); diameter of 26.2 millimeters; GMT hand may be set independently of hour hand

Bracelet — stainless steel bracelet, with folding clasp and double safety push buttons.

Availability / Price — Available December 2021; price is $4,200.

Jeff Stein
December 27, 2021