Tissot’s new manual-winding PR 516 Chronograph is an affordable enthusiast darling Tissot’s new manual-winding PR 516 Chronograph is an affordable enthusiast darling

Tissot’s new manual-winding PR 516 Chronograph is an affordable enthusiast darling

Mitchell Barber

Tissot has been on a tear in the last few years. With watches like the PRX Powermatic, the slightly controversial PRX Digital and the gloriously quirky Sideral S, they have firmly solidified their position as the accessible hype brand. There’s always been one thing missing from their lineup though; a watch for the die-hard horological nerds, the collectors where movements are everything and heritage runs through their veins.

 

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Thankfully, Tissot has listened and brought back one of their gems from the 70s: a three-register, manual wound PR 516 Chronograph. First launched in 1965, the PR 516 was always the most prestigious sports watch in Tissot’s range – however, the PR 516 range has been without a hand-wound mechanical chronograph for years. Tissot has now overhauled the PR 516 range, introducing a more premium aesthetic alongside this hand-wound movement option.

The history

Tissot PR 516 GL vintage ad
The original Tissot PR 516 as seen in a period advertisement.

In 1965, Tissot released the PR 516, which, funnily enough, didn’t look anything like the watch they are launching now. It was a three-hander with a funky drilled bracelet. So what’s going on here? Is this a classic case of name recycling? Actually, the PR 516 isn’t just a single model, but a family of watches that all adhere to the same philosophy. They were Particularly Robust (PR) and the 16th models in the 5th series (516) for Tissot at the time. A slightly convoluted naming convention, but let’s go with it.

roger moore tissot
Roger Moore as James Bond wearing his Tissot PR 516 in Live and Let Die (1973).

Three years after the time-only version, the PR 516 Chronograph made its debut. In Tissot’s own words at the time, it was the perfect watch to “time a speech, clock a race, measure output or tell the exact time of day”. The 70s were a weird time for marketing copy! Watches from the PR 516 collection were worn by the legendary Roger Moore both on and off the screen – he loved it so much he didn’t want to take it off. If it’s good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for me…

The case

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical on wrist

The case of the new PR 516 feels like it’s carved out of a single piece of granite. Solid in the same way a gold bar would feel in the hand, I assume. It’s heavy but in the best way possible. It’s got a very slab-sided profile – very Tudor Black Bay-like – giving a utilitarian and robust look. Protecting the dial is a box-style crystal that adds a touch of vintage elegance.

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical in hand

What stands out for me in terms of the PR 516 is the bezel. Its PVD-coated steel bezel ring, with a black and white insert capped by mineral glass, gives the feel of a sapphire ring sitting flush with a ceramic casing – it looks very lux. It’s also lumed to the hills and adds a touch of bling to a case that is almost entirely brushed. A full-featured tachymeter completes the casework, giving you the ability to calculate average speed over a set distance, in whatever vehicle you’re racing in at the time. The pushers feel quite robust, too. At 41mm by 13.7mm thick, the PR 516 is not for the faint of heart but on my 17cm wrist, it fits well.

The bracelet

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical side

Continuing the theme from above, the bracelet is solid, literally and figuratively. Three in-a-row domed stainless steel links are brushed and include a fine polish at their edges. Where the bracelet is let down slightly, however, is the clasp. It’s a Seiko-esque folded steel number and it just doesn’t hold up in terms of quality compared to the rest of the watch. This is a nitpick, though.

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical bracelet

Being quite top-heavy, it would have benefited from something a little more substantial to balance out the weight distribution. And although price is a consideration, I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid at spending the extra money on a better clasp. Apparently, there’s a beads of rice bracelet option on the way for the PR 516 as well – perhaps it will be slightly better balanced.

The dial

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical flatlay

Sticking with the retro aesthetic, the dial of the PR 516 pays homage to the original and breathes new life into it with modern appointments. A black sunburst number, it features applied markers as opposed to the printed versions of the original. Its classic tri-compax subdial layout feels less cramped than the original, although with their metallic outer rings, a little vintage charm has been lost. The original, highly graduated, printed subdials would have given it a touch more of that vintage vibe we all love, and a touch less flash when the sun hits it just right.

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical dial closeup

A splash of blue on the 3 o’clock counter indicates a five-minute rally-timer used before the starting gun is fired at automotive or yachting races. Just in case you find yourself at one, of course. The syringe design used for the hour and minute hands is clean and unobtrusive.

The movement

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical caseback

Here’s the exciting bit. Under the hood, we have the Valjoux A05.291 manually wound Chronograph movement, based on the venerable Valjoux 7753. To fit the historic aesthetics of the watch, the automatic winding rotor has been removed and replaced with a custom-decorated central bridge section with ‘Tissot 1853’ engraved in black. It has a slightly awkward-looking placement for text but I see why they did it. Bridge real estate is at a premium. The movement is quite pleasant to look at and is proudly on display through an exhibition caseback.

Technically, the A05.291 is impressive. We’ve got 60 hours of power reserve thanks to newly designed barrel architecture, a welcome upgrade for a manual wound chronograph. Antimagnetism is courtesy of a balance wheel made from the Swatch Group’s titanium-based, non-magnetic Nivachron alloy.

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical Nivachok
A closeup of the Nivachock system in the mechanical Tissot PR 516 Chronograph’s movement.

Shock resistance and stability are increased via an evolution of a device first used by Breguet in 2006, called the Nivachock A: a spring-loaded mounting system for the jewels that support and centre the balance wheel. As well as resisting bumps and knocks, the system stabilises accuracy throughout the power reserve range, accounting for the lack of amplitude experienced as the watch winds down. This kind of tech is usually reserved for watches way up the price scale.

Quartz options

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical quartz

While the PR 516’s mechanical movement is what’s sure to get enthusiasts salivating, Tissot has also introduced a trio of quartz PR 516s in this new case design to appeal to more mainstream buyers. The quartz model is slightly smaller at 40 mm in diameter and is powered by the workhorse G10.212 Powerdrive movement, which gives the quartz model a slightly different dial layout from the mechanical model. There’s one model with a blue dial and two with a black dial, one steel as well as a two-tone steel and PVD yellow gold.

The verdict

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical crossed arms

The PR 516 collection, in my opinion, is the direction that Tissot needs to head to appeal to the more hardcore watch nerds among us. Perhaps you don’t want to follow the crowd and buy a PRX, but you’re craving an affordable piece of a company with a real history. You may have found your watch. With a well-finished case, a historic dial and a movement with impressive horological chops, the PR 516 is a home run for Tissot and a worthy choice for your next pickup.

Tissot PR 516 Chronograph pricing & availability

The Tissot PR 516 Chronograph is available now from the Time+Tide Shop. Price: A$2,925 (mechanical), A$805 (quartz, steel), A$875 (quartz, two-tone).

Brand Tissot Tissot
Model PR 516 Chronograph Mechanical PR 516 Chronograph Quartz
Reference Number T149.459.21.051.00 T149.417.11.041.00 (blue dial)
T149.417.11.051.00 (black dial)
T149.417.22.051.00 (black dial, two-tone)
Case Dimensions 41mm (D) x 13.7mm (T) 40mm (D) x 11.9mm (T)
Case Material Stainless steel Stainless steel or two-tone steel and yellow gold PVD
Water Resistance 100 metres 100 metres
Crystal(s) Sapphire front and back Sapphire front, closed back
Dial Black sunburst Black or blue plain dial
Lug Width 20mm 20mm
Bracelet Three-link brushed steel bracelet with safety clasp Three-link brushed steel bracelet with safety clasp
Movement ETA/Valjoux A05.291, Valjoux 7753 base, manual-winding Quartz G10.212 Powerdrive
Power Reserve 60 hours 38 months
Functions Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph
Availability Available now Available now
Price A$2,925 A$805 (steel)
A$875 (two-tone)