By ALEX WILLIAMS
Two years ago, TAG Heuer grabbed headlines at the giant Baselworld watch fair with a glimpse of the future: a Google-enabled smartwatch, the Connected, that was considered the first big Swiss counterstrike to the Apple Watch.
This week, the pedigreed Swiss watchmaker again turned heads at Baselworld, but this time, it did so by looking back a half-century.
At a splashy news media conference featuring the actor Patrick Dempsey, TAG Heuer unveiled one of the most talked-about watches of the fair: a reborn version of its classic Autavia racing chronograph from 1962, which has become a hot collectible on the vintage market.
Instead of scouring auctions and spending five figures for an actual piece from the Kennedy era, TAG fans can secure a faithful rendition of a watch made famous by auto racing legends like Mario Andretti and Jochen Rindt for $5,150 (on a leather strap) or $5,300 (on a stainless steel bracelet).
Fans of the brand will most likely be pleased to see the meticulous period detailing on this new 55th anniversary model — most notably the so-called reverse panda dial featuring three white subdials on a black dial, a coveted retro design feature often found on vintage Rolex Daytonas that fetch $40,000 or more.
Then again, fans already are sold on this retro Autavia, it seems. This model was born of a marketing stunt last year called the Autavia Cup, in which the company, led by the chief executive Jean-Claude Biver, one of the industry’s most colorful showmen, polled more than 50,000 TAG fans to see which of 16 vintage Autavia models they would like to see brought back.
The Autavia “Rindt,” which harks back to the first sports chronograph created by Jack Heuer, the fourth generation head of the company, won going away.
Sure, vintage snobs will have to put up with a few conspicuous nods toward modernization. The new Autavia is plainly brawnier than the original, with a 42 millimeter case, rather than 39 millimeters. Some purists might be aghast to see the addition of a date window, although this one is artfully hidden down around 6 o’clock.
But in the trade-off, buyers of the modern version also get the new, self-winding Heuer-02 caliber proprietary chronograph movement, an 80-hour power reserve and water resistance to 100 meters.
So, no, the new Autavia is not the latest smartwatch. It is merely a very smart watch.