Reference No. CAP2112.BA0833
Fifty Shades of Blue
TAG Heuer's Aquaracer model line is the offspring of two hugely-popular TAG Heuer model lines, the 1000 and 2000 series. These two dive watch lines were TAG Heuer's bread and butter during the 1980s and 1990s; for many collectors, they were an affordable watch entry point into the world of Swiss luxury watches. As of early 2013, the Aquaracer line spans over ten models, including two automatic chronographs, two quartz chronographs, one quartz alarm watch, five automatic date-time models and one quart date-time model.
While the modern Aquaracer models are more expensive than their 1000 and 2000 series predecessors, they are also higher quality watches, with a more substantial look and feel. In this review, we'll dive deep into the deep end with a blue-dialed Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph 300m, a mid-range Aquaracer which takes name from its workhorse mechanical movement.
The metallic blue dial is a cool customer in all environments, but truly shines under the brightest lights. Like an adventure-loving movie star. We give TAG Heuer’s marketing department credit for that nugget of creativity.
When one first sets eye upon the Aquaracer Chronograph, it is the striking metallic blue dial that stands out above all else, really comes into its own when viewed under well-lit conditions. Under the right lighting conditions, suddenly the dial is awash in a full a spectrum of blue shades: navy blue, cobalt blue and sky blue are all in there and the dark blue subdials add a hint of Oxford blue to the proceedings. The cacophony of textures brings further intrigue to the dial. The main dial is finished with a striped texture, lending this diving chronograph a dollop of elegance, while the silver lined chronograph subdials are textured using a pattern of fine concentric circles. Finally, the texture of the running seconds subdial provides a dash of easy-going matte. Taking the shaped date window and the faceted applied markers into account, the luxurious watch dial definitely surpasses our expectations for a watch at this price level. Readability in limited light is likewise excellent, thanks to the application of Superluminova on the angular hour and minute hands and the applied markers. The chronograph hands and subdials are not illuminated, which may disappoint the two or three people who occasionally fine use for chronographs while under the sheets. All-in-all, the dial deserves very high marks.
The time reading on the left is purely coincidental, but we won’t judge.
While the dial is sublimely executed, the Aquaracer’s bezel can’t quite decide whether it belongs to a sports watch or dress watch. For that reason, the bezel reminds of the crossover utility vehicles that have recently taken over the American car market. Conjuring images of a best-selling concept can’t be bad, can it? Well, the hybrid concept does work out quite as well here. The sixteen-sided bezel is quite unique aesthetically, but it is nearly useless as a diver’s bezel because the minute track has been completely omitted. On land, the bezel can function as a secondary means of measuring elapsed time; in fact, the unidirectional bezel is exceptionally precise because it can be adjusted in 3o increments (120 clicks per revolution), while many bezels are only adjustable in 6o increments. The raised tabs are tastefully polished, but they don’t look quite as good as Breitling’s rider tabs. Furthermore, the polished look should have been carried over to the faceted edge the carries along the perimeter of the bezel; we feel the overall look would have been more striking, functionality be damned.
Memories of Jules Verne.
The angular theme expressed in the bezel and main hands is also found when examining the case, although these edges are obfuscated by the bezel when the watch is viewed from a top-down angle. The side edges of the case are polished, while the rest of the case’s surface is finely-brushed, a suitable solution for a watch with sport pretenses. In fact, we’re not quite sure why the sides were polished; a skillfully-applied brushed finish would have been even better. The ridged crown is adorned with a simplified outline of the brand’s logo, while the trapezoidal pushers provide both form and function. While we did not find any machine markings or crudely-finished surfaces, our overall impression of the Aquaracer’s case was that it was a less than the sum of its parts. While the right combination of smooth curves and sharp edges can produce a sublime form, this case lacked the je ne sais quoi that separates the best from the rest. The caseback, featuring a prominent machine-engraved antique diving helmet and deeply-engraved text, is well done. While some will lament the lack of a transparent sapphire crystal window, this watch’s workhorse movement need not be seen. Here, the solid caseback is the right choice.
Curvaceous, yes. Angular, yes. Sexy…no. Good try TAG Heuer Watch
While the Aquaracer is a relatively expensive watch, there is no doubt that the designers were obliged to cut corners along the way to hit TAG Heuer’s target price point. The value engineering is most visible in the generic metal bracelet, the weakest element of the watch. The bracelet itself feels substantial, but signs of the care that went into designing the rest of the watch are notably absent here. The sides of the links are polished, while the remaining surfaces are brushed with a fine grain. Frankly, the bracelet looks a bit dull, and the sportive nature of the watch should not be held as an excuse. The bracelet could have been enlivened with a combination of angular links, a more interesting brushed texture and polished center links. The accounting department's bean counting is evident in the pins which hold the tag heuer watch links together and the small gaps between the links themselves. The finest watch bracelets of the day use screws in place of pins for a more impressive look and, incidentally, a more secure fit. The best bracelets on the market today also feature fine adjustment micro-adjustment mechanisms, so wearers can finely adjust the bracelet to account for wrist swelling on hot and humid days. Perhaps a diver’s extension would have been more appropriate for this dive watch, but this feature is also absent. The back of the clasp is engraved with the brand’s name, but the execution of the engraving was very basic. For all our criticism, we must note that the bracelet functioned flawlessly during wear, closing shut with a satisfying click. The single fold-over clasp is easy to operate and the spring-loaded release mechanism ensures that the Aquaracer remains securely fastened to the wrist.
When examining the bracelet, value-engineering is evident.
In fact, operating the Aquaracer Calibre 16 is a breeze all-around. The ridged crown is easily grasped and requires only a reasonable amount of effort to unscrew. Once fully unthreaded, the crown is easily pulled to its date-setting and time-setting positions. The chronograph pushers don’t have that perfect spring to their step, but the amount of effort required to start, stop and reset the chronograph is just right. The generous surface area of the rounded trapezoid pushers ensures that chronograph operation is an easy-going affair, if not a tactile pleasure.
Can you spot the problem?
As is common to many mechanical chronographs in this price range, the watch is powered by the trustworthy Valjoux 7750, which TAG Heuer refers to as the Calibre 16. Since we did not have the tools or gumption required to pop off the caseback and get a good look at the movement, we will assume that the picture featured on TAG Heuer’s website is representative of the movement that powers our watch. As such, the Calibre 16 is functionally finished and is outfitted with a customized rotor that has been tastefully decorated with Geneva stripes and gold engraved letters. For the uninitiated, the Valjoux 7750 is an automatic chronograph movement that features horizontal coupling and cam-switching. While many collectors are not particularly fond of the ETA-manufactured Valjoux 7750 due to its ubiquity and the proliferation of stamped parts in its economical architecture, most watchmakers agree that it is an impressive feat of Swiss watchmaking. If one was looking for THE most reliable mechanical chronograph movement in production today, the Valjoux 7750 would definitely be on the short list. Therefore, the irony was not lost on us when the semi-instantaneous jumping minute counter on our test watch stopped functioning roughly three minutes after the chronograph was started. A quick trip to the LVMH service facility in New Jersey should fix the problem and it is highly unlikely that our issue is indicative of a quality control problem on the assembly line. Such defects are an unfortunate element of the generally-rewarding mechanical wristwatch ownership experience.
The ubiquitous Valjoux 7750, dressed to impress as the Calibre 16.
Despite being rather large and chunky - 42 mm in diameter and 15 mm thick, the Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph felt at home on our tester’s (my) slender wrist. The overall footprint is manageable on small wrists due to the short and stout lugs that echo the curvature of the wrist. There was minor concern that the elaborately-machined caseback would cause discomfort, but that fear was completely unwarranted. The Aquaracer is a heavy watch and those unused to massive watches will require an adjustment period. Provided your authorized dealer sizes the bracelet properly, wear will eventually become effortless. The Aquaracer Chronograph is the ideal daily wearer for those with casual lifestyles, as it will look and perform admirably with jeans and a t-shirt. While some sport watches can be worn under shirt cuffs, the Aquaracer Chronograph is not such a watch. Therefore, owners are advised to leave the Aquaracer in the watch box when dressing up for a night on the town, unless the intention is to hit a trendy nightclub with sleeves trendily rolled-up. Chances are that particular look will be out-of-style long before the Aquaracer Chronograph has seen its best days pass.
The Aquaracer prefers a sleeveless look, hairy wrists notwithstanding.
On the whole, the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph is a nicely-executed chronograph. Notwithstanding the charismatic dial, this version of the Aquaracer Chronograph is solid but unexceptional in most respects. The dull and unimaginative bracelet is the most glaring example of cost-cutting, but this maligned element was flawless in actual function. Even at the 2900 USD retail price, the Aquaracer can still be considered an entry level timepiece of sorts and it is a fine introduction to the world of fine mechanical Swiss watches. Despite our reservations towards some of the aesthetic choices made, we feel that the Aquaracer will still provide its owner with years of reliable wear and enjoyment, provided it is serviced at regular intervals. In this regard, the Calibre 16 or ETA Valjoux 7750 is ideal, as it is a workhorse mechanical movement that is relatively easy and inexpensive to service or repair.
TAG Heuer is now best-known for its more expensive re-editions, the Monaco and Carrera, but fifteen years ago brand had carved out a substantial niche as a watch brand that provided Swiss precision and luxury at an affordable price point. While the inflation bug will continue to push retail prices onwards and upwards, the Aquaracer line carries on the standard established by its spiritual predecessors, offering a strong blend of sport, luxury and affordability.
Specifications at a glance:
Diameter - 42 mm
Thickness - 15 mm
Bracelet - Stainless steel with single fold-over safety clasp
Movement - Valjoux 7750 Elaborate Grade (28,800 vph)
Power Reserve - Approx. 42 hours
Water Resistance - 300 m / 1000 feet
Price - 2900 USD (Also available with rubber strap 2700 USD)
Note: Available from Amazon.com at a significant discount to retail (Tag Heuer Aquaracer Automatic Black Dial Chronograph Mens Watch)