This past March at Baselworld, TAG Heuer introduced the Autavia Isograph line of watches, a new model that was historic for the brand and bound to be controversial among vintage enthusiasts. From 1933 to 1957, the Heuer Autavia had been a dashboard timer, designed for automobiles and aviation (thus, the "Autavia" name). Commencing in 1962, the Autavia was a chronograph, with over 85 models being produced over the next 23 years.
In 2003, TAG Heuer reissued the Autavia chronograph in a cushion case (two versions in stainless steel and one in 18k gold) and over the past two years TAG Heuer has re-issued eight versions of the Autavia chronograph in a traditional round case (including the model reviewed by Jon here).
With the introduction of the Autavia Isograph at Baselworld, the Autavia moved to the third chapter of its life – being a three-hand watch with no chronograph complication.
While the newest Autavia has been well received among most watch enthusiasts, it has stirred up debate among vintage Heuer enthusiasts, and for two reasons.*
First, some traditionalists have questioned whether TAG Heuer should produce any form of three-hand Autavia. They suggest that the Autavia must be a chronograph and that offering any form of Autavia that is "only a watch" is simply wrong.*
My answer to this objection comes by comparing the Heuer catalogs from the 1960s to today’s TAG Heuer catalog. Back in the 1960s, Heuer offered only chronographs; there were no three-hand watches in the catalog. Zero. Starting around 1960 and running into the quartz era, there was not a single three-hand watch in the catalog. Browse today’s TAG Heuer catalog, and we see numerous models of three-handed Carreras and Monacos. So just as the Carrera and the Monaco made the transition from being 1960s chronographs to being modern three-hand watches, it seems entirely appropriate to allow the Autavia this opportunity. *
Second, even assuming that TAG Heuer is permitted to offer an Autavia in three-hand form, there have been questions about the design of the Isograph model. To what extent should the design of any new Autavia – whether a watch or a chronograph – be consistent with previous models? Are the designers limited to elements that were used in the classic Autavias or may they introduce new elements, so long as any new Autavia captures the spirit of the predecessor models? And come to think of it, why is the Autavia confined to the spirit of these predecessors? The world has changed, so why not the watches?*
Before we get to the watch itself, let me share my perspective on what the release of this new model means, for the TAG Heuer brand and for its enthusiasts (and particularly vintage Heuer enthusiasts).*
Collection Status

As a dyed-in-the-wool Autavia enthusiast, the huge news at Baselworld 2019 was not that the Autavia had become a three-hand watch. The headline news for me was that the Autavia would take its place in the TAG Heuer catalog as one of the brand’s six "collections" (in addition to the Connected Watch collection).
TAG Heuer will have three collections based on the classics from the 1960s, the Autavia, Carrera and Monaco, and three collections that TAG Heuer has introduced over the past two decades, the Aquaracer, Formula One and Link. That’s all – six collections in the catalog, and as of March 2019, the Autavia was one of them.*
Rewind the time machine to early 2016, and we had TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver announcing the reissue of the Autavia, but telling the vintage enthusiasts that the Autavia would not become a catalog collection, at least not then.
Instead, there would be two models in the catalog (one black and one white) and some limited editions along the way. The old-timers were excited to see any Autavia in the TAG Heuer catalog, but disappointed that our beloved Autavia would be an occasional visitor, rather than a permanent resident.
So it is a tremendous accomplishment for the Autavia to become a collection of watches in 2019. And it makes good sense. Just like in 1969, when Autavia, Carrera, and Monaco were a "Big Three" for Heuer, 50 years later the same strategy suggests that these three models should be full collections of watches that will appeal to a broad spectrum of enthusiasts.*
Back in the 1960s, the Carrera combined purity of design with a sporty look, offering luxury features such as solid gold cases and triple calendar complications. The Monaco, with its square case and midnight blue and charcoal gray dials, was for the enthusiast who wanted to push the style envelope. The Autavia was the most useful "tool" in Heuer’s tool box, offering bezels for driving, diving, and flying, a GMT complication for the world traveler, and at least 20 color schemes, with dials ranging from black and white to olive green, pewter, and champagne. For the Autavia to take the same position in today's TAG Heuer catalog would be a wondrous thing!
Three Categories Of Sport Watches

Since the Autavia Isograph made its debut at Baselworld, there has been considerable discussion about where this watch fits into the line-up of sport watches. The taxonomy of sport watches suggests that these watches may be grouped into three major categories – watches for pilots, watches for divers, and watches for racers. We will review the defining characteristics of each type of sport watch, and then consider how the new Autavia Isograph fits into this scheme.*
The purpose of examining the core elements of the three major types of sport watches is not to suggest that any new sport watch must come within the four corners of one of these defined styles. There is no prize for sticking within these three well-worn paths, and in fact there is the risk of repetition. However, it may be difficult for a new watch that combines elements from the different types of sport watches to present a coherent style and traditionalists may ask, "What is it?"
The Pilot's Watch

Visualize the instrument panel of a pre-digital aircraft and from there we can see the pilot's watch as one more instrument, except that the pilot wears this instrument on their wrist rather than having it mounted in the instrument panel. Still, the style of the pilot’s watch will be consistent with the style of the aircraft’s other instruments. The pilot must be able to read their watch in the darkness of the cockpit, mandating maximum contrast between the matte black dial and the bright white hands, strong luminous material on the dial and hands, and traditional Arabic numerals to indicate the hours. The pilot’s watch must be rugged, being anti-magnetic and resistant to sudden changes in g-forces and air pressure. Reflective metal markers and other bright elements are discouraged, as they may distract the pilot at a critical moment.*
The pilot's watch may include a rotating bezel, typically with a large triangle to mark a time and heavy hashmarks to indicate the minutes. This bezel may be used for a variety of timing requirements, from timing the pre-flight check, to turns in a holding pattern, to the fighter pilot’s "time over target."
The Diver's Watch

The diver's watch begins with reliable waterproofing, and a dial and hands that will provide for maximum visibility in a variety of underwater conditions. Hands and dial markers are oversized, often employing irregular shapes that will be more easily seen by the diver. Numerals are disfavored, as the diver may not be able to differentiate between them. The dive bezel will be marked with a large triangle that the diver rotates to mark the time of descent, as well as minute markers that count up to indicate the elapsed time of a dive. The diver also uses the bezel to time other events, including decompression stops and required surface intervals (the time between dives). While the pilot may use the bezel to track hours or make complex flight computations, for the diver, it’s all about the minutes.*
Diving destinations are often bright and sunny, and watch dials in orange, yellow or white may accentuate this aspect of the diving hobby.*
The Racer's Watch

In describing the key elements of watches for pilots and divers, we looked at the details of individual elements, but describing the defining characteristics of the racer's watch is far easier, requiring only a single word. The racer's watch is the chronograph.*
Whether we are considering the driver, the navigator or the crew member in the pits, the racer needs a stopwatch incorporated into their watch. The racer may time their laps or the interval between cars, just as the rally navigator times the exact time of arrival at a checkpoint. To emphasize the connection to racing, many chronographs incorporate a tachymeter scale on the dial or bezel, to convert time over a measured distance (the mile or the kilometer) into speed (MPH or KPH). Though rarely used, the tachymeter has become the ultimate decoration on the racer's watch. Looking at the history of sport watches, we can say that there has never been a three-handed watch closely identified with motorsports. The chronograph is essential.*
The Isograph?

Using this framework, we face the question, "What kind of watch is the new Autavia Isograph?" As an Autavia, we would expect the Isograph to feature elements for automobiles and aviation, but being limited to three hands (with no chronograph), we wonder how the watch will succeed. Indeed, much of the discussion about the watch among vintage collectors stems from the fact that the Autavia Isograph has elements of being a dive watch and elements of being a pilot’s watch, but few cards from the "suit" of racing watches. *
Checking for elements offering the look of a pilot's watch, we find large Arabic numerals, railroad tracks around the edge of the dial, an oversized crown and a distinctive triangle at the end of the second hand. On the list of features that we might find on a dive watch, we see polished markers for the hours, bright, oversized hour and minute hands, and a bezel showing minutes, with numerals for 10, 20, 30, etc. But, try as we might, there are no "tools" for the racer – no chronograph function and no tachymeter scale. (For a detailed look at the origins of each element of the Isograph Autavia, see this OnTheDash post.)*
Three Eras In One Watch

In addition to seeking to incorporate elements from the three major categories of sport watches, the Autavia Isograph covers three eras of watch styles. The Autavia dashboard timer was designed in the 1930s, and from this era we see "railroad tracks" and an oversized crown.*The Autavia chronograph came from the 1960s, and this decade is well-represented with the case (which matches the geometry of the mid-1960s Autavia chronographs), the Arabic numerals (which match those of Heuer’s Bundeswehr chronographs), and the date window (first appearing on an Autavia in 1968). The modern era is represented by the hands, which are similar in style to those used by other brands for some recent pilots watches, the ceramic bezel insert, and the bright white lume.
A Walkthrough

So when we see a watch that incorporates elements from three types of watches, and employs style features from three eras, we face the most important question of all – "How does it look?" Can the new Autavia Isograph succeed as an eclectic combination of elements, all within the span of its 42 millimeter case? Or is this combination simply a mish-mash, trying to check too many boxes, but failing to offer the strong imagery of either flying, diving or racing?*
As I studied the first photos of the Autavia Isograph back in March, my habits as a collector and historian took control. I catalogued the elements of the watch and saw a mixed breed. How could the watch include fonts from the Bundeswehr for the numerals on the dial and from the Autavia for the numerals on the bezel? After 80 years, the lume on a dashboard Autavia will be somewhere between amber and black, so how has TAG Heuer used this bright white Super-LumiNova? On the screen, I saw discrete elements that were familiar, but lacked the cohesive look of any known type of sport watch or historic era. **
When I first saw the line-up of Autavia Isographs in the metal and had the opportunity to wear them, the collector’s analytical approach receded, being replaced by the emotions of an enthusiast. I was wearing a great looking watch and enjoying it from every angle. Rather than seeing and cataloging individual details of the watch, I saw a beautiful case that was familiar and comfortable, colorful dials that captured the energy of today’s watches, and bright white numerals and hands that make the watch pop. This watch might not be designed specifically for a pilot, a diver or a racer, but it captures the energy of today’s adventurer or fun-seeker.*
As I looked at the TAG Heuer logo top-dead-center, I realized that the Autavia Isograph is not a re-issue or tribute to any of the previous Autavias. The Isograph is not aiming to please those of us who collect the vintage Heuer chronographs. Rather, it is built for today’s enthusiast who wants to wear a bright, colorful watch, and is not concerned about the number of teeth along the edge of the bezel or the exact date when Heuer first used polished markers.*
Case And Crown

Autavia chronographs resided in many different cases over the period from 1962 to 1985, and the new Isograph uses one of the fan favorites, the second execution screw-back case circa 1967. The bezel is narrower than on the first Autavias, with the teeth cut diagonally rather than in rectangles. We all have our preferences, but the fact that this second execution case received the most votes from TAG Heuer enthusiasts in the Autavia Cup competition back in 2016 tells us something. This was the case used in the Autavias worn by two Formula One champions, Mario Andretti and Jochen Rindt.*
At 42.5mm, the new Isograph is a typical size for a modern sports watch. The 13.5mm thickness and the geometry of the beveled lugs create a comfortable watch. The edges of the case are razor-sharp, mimicking the look of the 1960s predecessors, rather than using the soft, polished edges of many of today's watches.*
The oversized crown gives the impression that it is up to the task and I found myself winding it during the day, just to engage with the watch. The crown handles well, offering a secure, reliable feel in setting or winding the watch.
Dial And Hands

The dials of the Autavia Isographs are strong, both in terms of the vibrant colors and the gradient style in which they are finished, with the paint being lighter toward the center of the dial and darker at the outer edges. The "orange peel" finish provides the warm texture of a rug that is effective in pulling together the variety of "furnishings" in our eclectic room. The Arabic numerals and the hands are the strongest of these furnishings, with the white Super-LumiNova popping on both these elements. The polished metal markers, integrated into the chapter ring, are an additional element that give the dial considerable punch.*
As we move away from the center of the dial, past the bright numerals and markers, the "railroad track" between the chapter ring and the bezel appears somewhat weak. Other than the hat tip to the dashboard timers and chronographs of the 1930s, one could ask what this element adds to the watch.*
I have the same quibble about the bezel. Rather than incorporating the strong graphics typically used on the bezel of a dive or pilot's watch, the bezel of the Isograph is muted, compared with these predecessors of the Isograph.*Yes, the bezel captures the feel of those used by Heuer on the Autavia chronographs of the mid-to-late 1960s, but – at least to my eye – the style of the watch and its positioning as a watch for "adventure" beg for more powerful numerals and markers.
The interior designer employing an eclectic approach faces the danger of incorporating too many different looks or objects. So too, while I appreciate each individual element incorporated into the Autavia Isograph dial, there may be just a few too many pieces of furniture in this particular room.*
Movement

Author's Note: The prototype watch I had for review contained a standard Caliber 5 movement, not the updated Isograph caliber. For this reason, I have not included any notes about timing or precision.
One of the most interesting innovations of the Autavia Isograph watch is its new movement. Consistent with the theme of mixing elements from different eras and categories, TAG Heuer has taken its workhorse Calibre 5 movement (made by Sellita), which had its origins in the first automatic watches of the 1950s, and refitted the movement with a carbon-composite hairspring recently developed by TAG Heuer. This new hairspring was first used earlier this year, in the Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph chronograph, a watch that retails for $25,500.*
TAG Heuer suggests that the new Isograph technology offers several benefits over traditional hairsprings, including better impact resistance, reduced sensitivity to gravity, insensitivity to magnetism and targeted compensation of the temperature effect. The new hairspring excels in providing the balance wheel with isochronism, meaning that the balance will take the same amount of time to complete a swing, even if the size of the swing may differ. The new movement is COSC certified as a chronometer. *
Strap And Bracelet

The Autavia Isograph is the first watch from TAG Heuer to incorporate its proprietary system for mounting and changing straps.*
The spring-bars are fixed in place, and the end of the strap or stainless steel bracelet incorporates a sliding piece that allows the user to remove and mount either the strap or the bracelet, using only their finger nails (but not requiring any tool). This is a nice feature for a sport watch, allowing the owner to pop on the stainless steel bracelet for the morning swim or run, and switch to a leather strap if that will work better with the day’s outfit.*
In Conclusion

When we review the historical timeline of the Heuer Autavia, we should put two notations by the March 2019 entry. Not only did TAG Heuer open the third chapter in the life of the Autavia, as it became a three-hand watch, but TAG Heuer also announced that the Autavia would take its place as the sixth "collection" in the brand's catalog. Rather than quibbling with the font on the bezel or placement of a railroad track atop the chapter ring, we should celebrate the new status of the Autavia. I greatly enjoyed wearing the newest Autavia and believe that it can provide the foundation for a rich collection of watches, both three hand watches and chronographs. Pilots, divers, racers, and other adventurers will all enjoy the newest Autavia. Yes, it's great to have the Autavia back in the catalog!
For more on the TAG Heuer Autavia Isograph, check out our original coverage here and visit tagheuer.com.
Author's Note: Thank you to Jason Heaton for providing information included in the section of this story about diver's watches.


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