During the early 1960s, the watch industry had its own arms race to create the worlds first automatic chronograph; the contenders were Breitling, Heuer, Buren-Hamilton, Seiko and Zenith. All succeeded, but who was first? According to Jeff Stein in Project 99, “there is no simple answer to the question of who produced the world's first automatic chronograph.” This fierce competition initiated a widespread adoration of the complication among consumers and industry members alike. Five decades on, in the midst of a thriving vintage market, the early and rarer versions of the pre-automatic chronographs are surfacing on an increasingly regular basis, with prices steadily climbing. Discussions among collectors of their investments and returns have developed considerably among those in the know.
The Heuer Autavia, more specifically the 2446 pictured above, is a prime example of a pre-automatic chronograph which has made huge leaps in value over the past five years or so. The buying team of Watch Xchange, who assist collectors in acquiring rare and important pieces, purchasing on behalf of collectors and for their online store, were the fortunate final bidder on the 2446 Autavia at the Watches of Knightsbridge Summer auction in June of 2016. The hammer fell at £36,000 and was subsequently sold, almost immediately, for what the owners discreetly describe as a “modest profit”.
The subject of buying vintage watches for the purpose of investment becomes very complex, requiring a vast amount of knowledge to make, what you might call, an informed purchase. These vintage pieces are available in increasingly short supply, along with limited trustworthy information about them. This 2446 is among the very first Autavia models to be created, bearing a first execution dial with second execution hands. The movement inside is a manually wound Valjoux 72, a tried and tested workhorse used by many brands at the time. It pre-dates the calibre 11 automatic chronograph which was introduced during 1969. Of all the Heuer chronographs from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the Autavia range gains the most attention while commanding the highest premiums at auction. The popularity of the reference is largely down to the associations made through the branding of the range; Autavia is derived from the words automobile and aviation, and was the first chronograph to be given a name, rather than a reference number. The earliest example of a dial bearing the Autavia name was also the first Heuer chronograph to include a rotating bezel back in 1933, on a dashboard timer. It would be thirty years later that we see the first wrist-worn example, offering the ability to time various activities using three scales of measurement: twelve hour and sixty minute scales for pilots and skin-divers with a tachymetric scale for racing drivers. A prominent racing driver during the 60s, named Jochen Rindt, famously wore the reference 2446 MKIII and would ultimately earn the piece the nickname ‘The Rindt’. This association with racing drivers during the 60s and 70s was the brain child of Jack Heuer, great grandson of the founder Edouard Heuer. Jack created the Autavia range at the ripe old age of 30 and spent most of his time travelling between races, trading stopwatches, timing equipment and other associated gear. With the Autavia chronograph travelling with him everywhere, he had the perfect wristwatch to offer these drivers.
The very first version of the Autavia 2446 is perhaps the purest of all. These early examples featured some charming differences to later models, including the first execution hands, which, rather than featuring the lume on contained in the centre of the hands, was flat and covered entirely in the luminous substance. The early model featured oversized sub-dials and are a signature of distinction between these rarer earlier references versus later more common references. Another deign charm was the unusual use of Arabic numerals 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 around the twelve hour subsidiary register at the 6 o’clock position. The dial featured radium luminous hour markers with a singular twelve at the top, above the brand’s logo. To the seasoned Autavia fanatic, the screw-down case versus the later compressor case is another easily distinguishable difference from later models. With such varied detail and a rich history teamed with an increased availability of rare vintage pieces on the market these days, it’s no wonder why prices are continually climbing hand-in-hand with interest and demand.
In response to the heightening interest in the Autavia range, Tag Heuer will be launching the winner of the Autavia Cup in 2017; a public vote for which historical Autavia chronograph should be reissued. The public selected the reference 2446 MKIII ‘Rindt’. This speaks volumes about the current Autavia market along with Tag Heuer’s respect and appreciation for its past and long standing collectors. The possibility of this creating another spike of interest and value to the original pieces is certainly possible, only time will tell. Perhaps now is the time to consider buying vintage.
Chris Beccan is an accomplished watch journalist. He enjoys writing about watches with a dash of whisky and runs BEXSONN.
If you would like to see more pictures and details of this stunning Heuer Autavia 2446 check out the original listing on our website.