Today, we saw (and discussed) three and four-handed Autavias. That's right, prototypes of Autavias that are "watches" rather than "chronographs". How can this be . . . every Autavia since 1962 has been a chronographs?
Some quick reactions / half-baked thoughts, from someone who knows nothing about branding / marketing / product development, but has a deep commitment to the vintage Autavias.
My apology for posting in “bullets”, but sometimes they seem useful in keeping the fragmentary thoughts somewhat organized.
- Let’s start with the Bottom Line – I am fine with TAG Heuer launching three-hand (non chronograph) Autavias, and believe that the DNA claims / heritage positioning are legitimate. Would I buy it? Maybe. Should TAG Heuer offer it? Definitely!!
- I like the Carrera Calibre 5 watches . . . simple “three-hand” watches, that take their styling cues from the traditional Carreras, as they were made in the 1960s. Yes, I bought one of these Carreras for our son-in-law to wear on his wedding day and have recommended them to several friends, buying their first “real watches”.
- Yes, for just a few seconds, a few years ago, I thought about the fact that these Calibre 5 Carreras are not chronographs, but I got over that “issue” fairly quickly. They are good looking watches; attractively priced; and the fact that they are called “Carreras” is OK with me.
- I worry a lot about TAG Heuer’s commitment to its heritage / vintage portfolio. Have a look at the “Heritage Collection” on the TAG Heuer website -- https://www.tagheuer.com/en-us/watches/heritage-watch -- and see whether you can make any sense of it. Around 10 models are included -- five Monacos (three of them with three hands); one Monza; two Autavias; and two Carreras. That’s all we have as the “Heritage Collection” of the Heuer brand, that we know to have an amazingly rich heritage. How did TAG Heuer ever get itself into this position / predicament?
- So how is TAG Heuer leveraging its remarkable vintage portfolio? That’s the question that is so difficult to answer (and so troubling). It gets complicated. Let’s look at the positioning of the TAG Heuer brand, since Jean-Claude Biver became the CEO, over three years ago. We know that TAG Heuer wants to represent “accessible luxury” or maybe it’s “entry level” luxury. It’s a luxury item, but with a relatively low price of admission.
- In this line-up of “entry level” watches, the Formula 1 and Aquaracer occupy very natural positions. So too, the Connected Watch (which lives in a derivative of the Carrera case). Thus, we end up with a nice selection of watches in the $1,000 to $3,000 price range. Above that, in the $3,000 to $5,000 band, we see some Carreras with the better movements – Calilbre 1887 and Heuer 01. And in terms of what TAG Heuer is selling, there are relatively few watches north of that price point.
- Remember, TAG Heuer is looking for younger customers, perhaps buying their first luxury watches. So the new “Ambassadors” are no longer the Hollywood stars, but action-oriented characters . . . yes, think of surfers, DJs, models, cyclists, etc. And, yes, Alec Monopoly. Look at the line-up of ambassadors, and once we get past Tom Brady, how many ambassadors would the average middle-aged person recognize? Very few. But that’s OK . . . TAG Heuer is not focusing on middle-aged watch buyers.
- So how does the “Heritage Portfolio” fit into all this? It seems like the natural position is at the top of the TAG Heuer range, say, in the $5,000 to $7,000 band. And what is in this Heritage Portfolio right now? Very little. Cats and dogs, 10 watches . . . and no one could possibly look at this Heritage Collection and see any coherent catalog or strategy. [As an aside, Breitling will have a much easier time developing its heritage line of watches, as the brand has a much higher price point, starting just about where TAG Heuer is finishing. No, Breitling is not offering the equivalent of Aquaracers and Formula 1 watches.]
- So can an Autavia have only three-hands (and not be a chronograph)? Yes, of course it can, just like the Carrera can and the Monaco can. There can be great looking watches (with only three hands), inspired by the vintage chronographs (which had twice that number of hands). And they can claim the DNA of the historic predecessors!!
- On the other hand, many of the new Carreras should not be making the DNA claims. Look at most of the newest Carreras, and once you get past the general geometry of the lugs, there is no real connection to the original models (from the 1960s). Yes, the press releases talk about DNA and legibility, but all this seems bogus. Maybe these skeletonized Carreras are stepping stones to the higher priced Zeniths or Hublots, and maybe TAG Heuer can be successful in selling them, but it’s impossible to see the origins of these Carreras in the Carreras of the 1960s.
- So how does the three-handed Autavia fit in? It seems to have a natural position, as a step above the Calibre 5 Carreras and Aquaracers; while resting a (big) step below the Heuer 02 powered Autavias. Perhaps it’s the entry-level / gateway Autavia, and that’s OK with me. Yes, the DNA can be there, even if it’s not a chronograph.
- Why not call it something else? Like the 1000 or 844? Simple – the TAG Heuer catalog can only have a limited number of chapters, and it seems better to build out the third leg of the “Big Three” (Autavia, Carrera and Monaco) than to add a new model line to the catalog.
- Finally (or almost finally) – I think all the screaming from the vintage collectors about these new three-handed Autavias is telling (and – oddly enough-- gratifying). It shows how much we care about the vintage Autavias . . . yes, they are special watches, and we guard their heritage with fervor. Why was there no similar outcry when TAG Heuer launched the three-hand Carrera and Monaco? The “offense” was identical, it’s just that the collectors didn’t really care as much, about guarding the sacred position of all these watches.
- And about the GMT version / the “Four Hand” Autavia – The blue / black bezel looks fine to me. The sky is blue during the day and black at night, and so too the bezel. Yes, Rolex used the Pepsi colors, and so did the vintage Autavias, but no need to be bound by those choices. The GMT versions of the TAG Heuer Aquaracer and Formula 1 have used this same blue / black approach, and I have always admired them.
- One more thing -- what we saw today are prototypes, which clearly have some design issues. I see some kinks to be worked out, and am optimistic that the folks at TAG Heuer will improve on these designs, before the watches actually go into production. If nothing else, we have put them on notice that when they mess with our beloved AUtavia, they had better get it right!!
And to all a good night. Yes, we saw three-handed Autavias today (March 28, 2018), and I expect that the sun will still rise tomorrow morning (March 29, 2018) . . . in the east!! If it doesn’t, we’ll know that TAG Heuer has, in fact, offended the watch gods!!