EDITOR’S PICK: The TAG Heuer Aquaracer 300 Calibre 16 Chronograph reviewFelix Scholz
Editor’s Note: The weather in Melbourne over the last few days has been glorious. Umbrellas have been discarded and t-shirts donned – Spring has definitely sprung. For the first time in six months we thought about the beach. Of course this means we need a watch that can handle the waves – and they don’t come much more surf-ready than the new TAG Heuer Aquaracer 300 chronograph.
The story in a second
The latest version of TAG Heuer’s splash friendly chronograph, the Aquaracer 300 Calibre 16 gets a range of updates including a slick new bezel.
The big question
TAG Heuer had some big headline acts at this year’s Baselworld fair, notably the announcement of a smartwatch partnership with Google and Intel, and the impressive Carrera Heuer 01. But beyond their top billing acts the brand had a solid line-up that would fare well in any other year, featuring many of their greatest hits. Case in point is the latest version of the crowd pleasing Aquaracer 300 Calibre 16 Chronograph. The big diver’s chronograph has had a few major updates this year, most notably a ceramic bezel and small (but big impact) dial improvements.
The case of the latest Aquaracer remains structurally unchanged from the previous version. It’s a beefy, 43mm construction, full of sharp, sporty angles and facets. Nowhere is this more apparent than the 12-sided bezel, but it’s also clear from the shape of the lugs and the chronograph pushers. The design is very much a classic Aquaracer (particularly evident from the grip tabs on the bezel and the shape of the crown guards). The case is (as the model name implies) rated to 300 meters, which is deep for a chronograph. In steel this is a hefty watch (especially on the steel bracelet), which is either reassuringly solid or a little heavy depending on your tastes. Either way, you can’t deny this bad boy’s heft. You certainly know it’s there, but that said, the titanium carbide coated titanium cased version hits the sweet spot of size/weight ratio. You get a big chunky timepiece at a fraction of the weight. The all-black look is bolder though, and I think the steel case is the more versatile wearer.
The case of the latest Aquaracer remains structurally unchanged from the previous version. It’s a beefy, 43mm construction, full of sharp, sporty angles and facets.
Of course the big story about this new version of the Aquaracer is the new, ceramic bezel. Using ceramic for bezel inserts is fast becoming the norm for luxury dive watches and it’s easy to see why. Ceramic is an ultra scratch resistant, very durable material that is perfect for bezels, which often bear the brunt of wear and tear on a watch. TAG Heuer have taken it a step further, with their multifaceted insert, something most brands don’t do, as it adds extra processes to production, which adds to costs. But the investment has paid off for TAG Heuer, as the rich and angular glossy black bezel instantly draws the eye, and adds a punch to the watch.
If the case of this watch is textbook modern sports watch, the dial is where TAG Heuer have had some fun and flexed some design muscle. There’s a fair bit going on but TAG Heuer have managed to keep all the elements singing the same tune, so the result is a pleasing harmony rather than a cacophony of clashing features. As a base TAG Heuer have taken a dial with strong horizontal striations. Straight off the bat this gives the dial richness and texture. Add to that the circular azurage on the chronograph subdials (the running seconds at nine lacks this finish, which helps delineate purpose) and the dial really kicks off. All this is unchanged from previous Aquaracers, but the wide and highly polished hands and indices are new, and the highly reflective surfaces play nicely with the ceramic bezel. Also new is a cyclops over the date.While the cyclops is functional I think it’s the only design mis-step as it detracts from the overall unity of the design. Another nice touch is the subtle and restrained use of colour, only appearing on the ‘300’ and the tip of the chronograph hand. TAG Heuer clearly understand that sometimes less is more.
As it says in the title, the Calibre 16 powers this watch. For those of you who aren’t fluent in TAG movement nomenclature what you need to know is that this movement is a Sellita SW500 automatic chronograph movement, which is in itself a copy of the ETA 7750. Now, if you’re even vaguely familiar with the Swiss watch industry, you’ll probably be aware they tend to frown heavily (or rather let their lawyers do the frowning), on the whole concept of ‘copying’. But in this case Sellita are covered. The ETA 7750 is a movement developed in 1974, and the patents on it have expired, meaning Sellita can make a movement that is essentially a clone of the 7750 without fear of legal reprisal. And the other, important part of this story is that in the last few years, Sellita has been making movements as fast as it can, because the Swatch group, who own ETA, are limiting supply of their movements to non-Swatch group companies – meaning there is a huge gap in the market for a high volume workhorse chronograph movement, which the SW500 is doing a good job filling.
So, to join the dots, TAG Heuer are using the SW500 because it’s a bullet-proof movement that doesn’t cost the earth. Exactly the sort of movement you want in a watch like this.
The strap & bracelet
As mentioned above, the steel model comes on a stainless ‘H’ link bracelet – very much classic dive watch style. It’s a solid bracelet, with a folding clasp with diver’s extension that is comfortable on the wrist. The titanium model however comes on a nylon strap, lightly padded which has a distinctly stealth feel. But the contrasting bright yellow stitching and strap lining keeps the look a few shades shy of military chic, which is the right call for this watch.
Its not uncommon for a model to get a tweak every year or so, and the Aquaracer is no different, often these minor design adjustments are just that, minor. But this year, with the bulked up new dial markers and brand new ceramic bezel insert (as well as a host of other small changes) the changes add up to create a watch that really works and that meaningfully extends the Aquaracer family. The Aquaracer 300m Chronograph is a benchmark dive chronograph, and the new ceramic version raises the bar a little higher.
Sure, ceramic bezels are getting more common today. But how many do you see with 12 sides, especially on a watch at this price?
For the watchforums
Under TAG Heuer’s new strategic direction we’re seeing some bold new designs, such has the distinctly un-Carrera-esque Heuer 01. Will we see future versions of the Aquaracer shift away from the line’s core DNA?
Who’s it for?
The Aquaracer, more so than the other popular TAG Heuer collections is a watch that can handle a bit of a beating. While it will look good in a corporate office culture, it really shines in the sun and in the surf.
What would we change?
Not a great deal to be honest, but I could do without the cyclops on the date.
TAG Heuer 300 Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph Ceramic Australian pricing and availability
TAG Heuer 300M Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph Ceramic CAY211A.BA0927 RRP $4,650 (Steel model)
TAG Heuer 300M Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph Ceramic CAY218A.FC6361 RRP $5,200 (Titanium model)
Images by Kristian Dowling/Time+Tide Images