A BRIEF HISTORY —
The Autavia was not always a wristwatch. When it first appeared on the scene in 1933, Heuer was not yet envisioning it as a stopwatch for the wrist. It debuted strictly as a cockpit instrument for automobiles and aircraft. Charleseduoard and Hubert-bernard Heuer, who were leading the family-run company at the time, combined the words “automobile” and “aviation” to form the abbreviated term, “Autavia.”
In the early 1960s, it was Jack Heuer who began creating highly expressive wristwatch chronographs, starting with the steel timekeeper known as the Ref. 2446 with 30minute and 12-hour counters, and later joined by the Ref. 3646 with just a minutes counter. In both versions, Heuer installed one of the best hand-wound movements of the day – the fine Valjoux 72 with column wheel and horizontal clutch.
Both initial timepieces underwent several design modifications over the years. But these younger Autavia siblings built the foundation for a legend in the world of chronographs, which are held higher in esteem by collectors around the globe than other TAG Heuer classics like the Carrera or the Monaco. International race car drivers often favor the Autavia and state one reason for the attraction: motor sports stars like Jochen Rindt, who wore the third iteration of the Ref. 2446 from 1966, and which serves as the model for the newest Autavia. It's why that watch bore the name of the multiple Grand Prix winner who died on Sept. 5, 1970, in a fatal crash during a training session for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
Mario Andretti preferred the Ref. 3646, also in its third version. And in 1964, Gilles Villeneuve claimed a Ref. 73663 with the Valjoux hand-wound movement 7736.
The year 1968 saw the introduction of the Ref. 2446 GMT, whose hand-wound movement Valjoux 724 boasted an additional 24-hour hand. And the Caliber 11, introduced in 1969 as one of the world's first automatic chronograph movements, also powered the Autavia – initially the Ref. 1163 that was worn by Jo Siffert, Clay Regazzoni, Derek Bell and Graham Hill.
In the aftermath of the quartz revolution, the enthusiasm of Formula 1 drivers for these watches remained unchanged. But the sales of mechanical chronographs continued to slow throughout the 1970s. The continuous decline in orders from traditional sales sources led Jack Heuer to employ some unusual sales methods. For example, for a period of several months, Reynolds Tobacco included a coupon in every carton of Viceroy cigarettes that guaranteed a price of only $88 for a specially designed Autavia chronograph. The success of this advertisement event was phenomenal – Heuer had sold 16,000 watches by its conclusion.
In 2003, TAG Heuer gave the Autavia its first renaissance. Jack Heuer was actively involved in the creation of this tribute model with the Caliber 11, a mix of an ETA automatic and a Dubois Dépraz module. Like its predecessor, the Ref. 1163 from 1969 placed the crown, which was seldom used due to the self-winding mechanism, on the left side of the case. And in 2017, we assume, from all indications, that the
manufacture will honor Jack Heuer on his 85th birthday with a limited special edition model from the Autavia collection. Of course, as a chronograph specialist himself, Heuer will most certainly take part in the design of the model dedicated to him. —