Thinking back to the 1980s and 90s, Tag Heuer was one of the most popular, sought after (and copied, think of the fakes hauled back from many a South East Asian holiday) watches seen on the wrists of collectors and buyers. In fact, Tag Heuer, which at the time was a major sponsor of elite sports such as sailing, golf, tennis, and auto racing became as much of a status symbol as a Rolex. The Tag Heuer model of this period was essentially a dive watch, it had 200 metre water resistance, a screw-down crown, a unidirectional bezel, and a double clasp on a steel bracelet which gave it a robust, luxurious yet sporty feel – a perfect accessory for those that cultivated the affluent, preppy look so popular in the eighties.
Turn back the clock some 163 years and the name ‘Heuer’ without the ‘Tag’ (Techniques d’Avant Garde) prefix traces its origins to a small workshop in Saint Imier, Switzerland, where a 20-year-old Edouard Heuer first opened a small workshop. The marque went on to specialise in chronographs, stopwatches, and timers and in 1911, Heuer invented the ‘Time of Trip’, an on-board chronograph for installation within the instrument panels of cars and aircraft, and even on board the first Zeppelin, cementing itself as the first big name in motor racing as well as aviation.
From the 1960s onwards, the racing car profile of Heuer exploded, heighted by endorsement and association with motorsports. It was a visible brand on the wrists of Grand Prix greats such as the “King of Cool” Steve McQueen, Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve and perhaps most notably Jo Siffert who the collecting community named the Autavia ref 1163T after. Heuer reigned supreme during this golden age of rallying and racing.
Of Heuer’s ‘Big Three’ – the angular Monaco, the sleek Carrera, and the classic Autavia – the chronograph considered the race car driver’s “race bred” timepiece was the third.
An amalgamation of the words “automotive” and “aviation”, the vintage Heuer Autavia chronograph had a production run from 1962 – 1985. The watch was advertised for “those for whom life and a taste for adventure are one and the same”, with a bold design instantly legible to pilots and drivers in critical moments. Such has been the interest and desirability of these tool watches that since the sixties, Heuer has produced approximately twenty-five models and executions of this reference. Given the brand’s unparalleled motorsports heritage, the collectability pedal isn’t coming off the Autavia metal any time soon.
On offer in Leonard Joel’s Fine Jewels and Timepieces sale in March 2023 are two Heuer Autavia chronographs circa 1970. This reference replaced the screw-back, showcasing the cutting edge 60s technology of the compressor case. They were constructed so well that they can be used and enjoyed to this day.
PATRICIA KONTOS / Senior Jewels & Timepieces Specialist
Banner Image (Detail): Steve McQueen, Le Mans, 1971 / Alamy