ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH racing-inspired watches, chronographs specifically, knows that Heuer (now TAG Heuer) is one of the first classic luxury Swiss mechanical brands that springs to mind. Of all the noteworthy releases of the 1960s, three from Heuer (the ‘Big Three’) are true chronograph icons: the Carrera, the Monaco and the Autavia. (Heuer’s Camaro Chronograph also debuted in the ’60s.)
It was a tumultuous decade, to be sure, but also a period of innovation and great design. This unique trio forms the foundation of history’s most distinctive portfolio of chronographs, all developed under the aegis of industry legend Jack Heuer — Heuer’s former CEO and today TAG Heuer’s honorary chairman.
The Autavia was the first Heuer chronograph with a rotating tachymeter bezel, and until it was discontinued in 1986 it was the preferred timepiece top racers including Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti, Jo “Seppi” Siffert, Gianclaudio Giuseppe “Clay” Regazzoni, Gilles Villeneuve and Graham Hill.
Its significance goes deeper, though: Among the Big Three, only the Autavia was rooted in early automotive-inspired instrumentation — a key moment in the transition of dashboard instrumentation to one’s wrist. In 1933, Heuer had released a dashboard instrument for both cars and planes; its name, Autavia, was a contraction of automobile and aviation. (It featured a 12-hour stopwatch powered by a Valjoux 59 movement; subsequent models had a Valjoux 340.) Later that year, Heuer debuted the Hervue, the first dashboard clock with an eight-day movement.
By 1969, when the Monaco premiered, each of the Big Three was fitted with the celebrated “Chrono-Matic” Calibre 11, the first automatic chronograph movement, which Heuer developed in a joint venture with Breitling and Hamilton-Buren; it featured a micro-rotor, the Calibre 11, followed quickly by the Calibre 12. All three timepieces have since been produced and/or reissued, and the early models are some of the most sought-after vintage timepieces.
Earlier this year, TAG Heuer announced that it would reissue the Autavia in March 2017 after a three-decade halt in production, and permit watch enthusiasts themselves to select — via a vote on an “Autavia Cup” microsite — which model would be reissued. (There were 16 to choose from: 12 historic and four new “fantasy” models.) After three rounds of voting, the winner was the 1966 “Rindt” Autavia, with a black dial and white-and-cream subdials. It’ll be released at the 2017 Baselworld trade show.
This is a partial excerpt from the forthcoming second edition of DRIVE TIME: Watches Inspired by Automobiles, Motorcycles and Racing, by Aaron Sigmond with a foreword by Jay Leno and a Rolex Daytona Chapter by Ariel Adams of aBlogtoWatch.