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The Autavia, brief history of a legendary motorsport chronograph

Successfully reissued by TAG Heuer at the beginning of 2017 with updated functions and a proprietary movement, the Autavia was created in 1962 and soon became one of the most appreciated driver’s chronograph of its era.

The origin of the name goes back to 1933, when Heuer designed its first dash counter for racing cars, boats and aircraft. The name was a contraction of AUTomobile and AVIAtion.


Almost three decades later, in the autumn of 1961, Jack Heuer, the fourth generation head of the company, decided to create a new wrist chronograph with a turning bezel, a first for the Swiss brand.

It was also the first wristwatch personally created by Jack Heuer for the company. He chose to name it “Autavia”, just like the 1933 ancestor. The watch was successfully launched in 1962 soon gaining icon status  in the automotive world.

Its ambassadors were the greatest Formula 1 drivers of the 1960s and 1970s: Jo Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Emerson Fittipaldi, Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, and Gilles Villeneuve among the others.

The ties between the Heuer brand and motor sport were very strong. In fact, aside from cigarette manufacturers, Heuer was one of the very first Formula 1 sponsors.

While the Autavia was easily recognizable for some recurring details like its rotating bezel, its large snailed counters and the excellent legibility of its black and white dial, the Autavia made its name thanks to its numerous variants. Two or three counters, different scales on the bezel, a GMT model, a diving version and military variants, all these facets made the Autavia even more fascinating to the eyes of collectors.


As we will see in the article, Heuer offered several bezel types across the Autavia range - including tachymeter, 60 minute, 12 hour, minutes/hours, diving times, and GMT scales.

The Autavias are generally classified by collectors into three main generations.

The first generation starts in 1962 with models characterized by a classic 38 mm steel case with soft, flowing lugs as well as a simple black dial featuring luminescent hour markers, oversized white sub-dials and dauphine hands.


While maintaining the same case and bezel, from 1966 onwards the white sub-dials became smaller and the dauphine hands were replaced by more standard hour markers and hands.


Vintage advertisement of the Heuer Autavia

All the Autavia models of this period were powered by hand-wound chronograph movements by Valjoux. In particular, the 3 register models (ref. 2446) used a Valjoux 72, the two register models (ref. 3446) the Valjoux 92 while the GMT version used the Valjoux 724, a variation of the Calibre 72.


In 1968, Heuer introduced the second generation of the Autavia with a totally new design characterized by new lugs with square edges as well as a larger bezel. These models were equipped with the Valjoux 7730/7732 movements, which evolved into the famous ETA Valjoux 7750 in the following years.




Launched in 1969 at the Basel fair, the third generation of the Autavia was developed around a revolutionary movement, the Chronomatic Calibre 11.

At the time, automatic watches were the call of the day and Heuer was hectically working on the creation of the world’s first automatic chronograph movement available to the public. To achieve this milestone, Jack Heuer had promoted a partnership with Buren, Dubois Depraz and Breitling.

Buren was an important manufacturer of thin automatic movements, Dubois Depraz the leading specialist in the development of chronograph modules and other complications and Breitling another famous chronograph manufacturer that could share with Heuer the funding of this expensive project - codenamed Project 99 - and the resulting output: a modular automatic chronograph built on a Buren base movement (including the self-winding and calendar mechanisms) with an independent Dubois-Depraz chronograph module attached to the watch movement by three screws. Beating at 19,800 vibrations per hour, the movement offered a power reserve of approximately 42 hours.

The Heuer Calibre 11 and, below, an exploded view showing the base movement with its microrotor and the Dubois Depraz chronograph module


Heuer originally planned to use this new movement in a Carrera model but its case was too slim to house the pretty thick movement. For this reason, the team decided to initially use it on a new Autavia.

The new model had a completely new case where the traditional lugs of the previous models were replaced by integrated lugs and the crown was provocatively positioned on the left to remark that the watch did not need winding.



In the catalogue until 1986, the numerous executions of the Autavia were extremely successful, remaining to this day among the most sought-after collector's chronographs.

Jo Siffert wearing a third generation Autavia

In 2003 TAG Heuer launched a re-edition of the Autavia based on the third generation on the model. This was the first Autavia to display the TAG Heuer logo. The 42 mm steel case featuring a fixed bezel with tachymeter scale housed the self-winding Calibre 11.



At the beginning of this year, on occasion of Baselworld 2017, the Autavia celebrated its 55th anniversary in the form of a contemporary re-edition featuring updated functions and a proprietary movement.


This model was the result of an interactive campaign called the "Autavia Cup" run in 2016: from a choice of 16 vintage models, more than 50,000 web users voted for a reissue of the Autavia "Rindt" worn by the famous F1 driver Jochen Rindt.

The Heuer Autavia ref. 2446 "Jochen Rindt" - 1966

More imposing than its ancestor — 42 mm in diameter compared to 39 in the 1960s — with a 12-hour graduated bezel and a new Heuer-02 calibre proprietary chronograph movement, the latest generation Autavia carries the DNA and aesthetic codes of the original, updated for today's market. Its functions were tailored to modern requirements: a self-winding calibre, power reserve of 80 hours, date at 6 o'clock, water resistance to 100 metres. In black aluminium, the bidirectional notched bezel encircled a black dial with three white snailed counters ensuring excellent legibility thanks to the beige Super-LumiNova coating - reminding the patina of a vintage watch - used for hands and applique indexes.

The inscription "Heuer-02" above the date aperture references one of the major innovations of this contemporary model: its proprietary movement, the 4 Hz  Heuer-02 chronograph calibre. Just 6.9 mm thick, this self-winding movement comprises 233 components, a pillar wheel and a vertical clutch.


With the new Autavia  (we wrote about it here), TAG Heuer successfully revived the past and roots of an iconic timepiece in the present. tag-heuer.com


By Alessandro Mazzardo. 

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Time and Watches: The Autavia, brief history of a legendary motorsport chronograph
The Autavia, brief history of a legendary motorsport chronograph
The Autavia, brief history of a legendary motorsport chronograph. Successfully reissued by TAG Heuer at the beginning of 2017 with updated functions and a proprietary movement, the Autavia was created in 1962 soon becoming one of the most appreciated driver’s chronograph of its era. The origin of the name goes back to 1933, when Heuer designed its first dash counter for racing cars, boats and aircraft. The name was a contraction of AUTomobile and AVIAtion. The Autavias are generally classified by collectors into three main generations.
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