Tissot’s new Telemeter 1938 brings vintage style to a thoroughly modern chronographD.C. Hannay
Swiss watchmaker Tissot has been the name on everyone’s lips recently since the release of their category-disrupting integrated bracelet juggernaut, the ’70s-tastic PRX. But the brand’s horological history does, of course, go back more than 150 years, all the way to 1853. A page from their rich back catalogue serves as inspiration for their elegant new Telemeter 1938 chronograph, with some marvellously vintage touches integrated within a thoroughly modern chronograph, including a lovely throwback of a telemeter dial from a bygone era.
The Telemeter 1938 is a sports watch that falls gently onto the side of dressy, inspired by such graceful vintage Tissot designs as the 6159 chronograph, albeit in a more modern size. The contemporary 42mm case diameter is framed by long, polished-top lugs, nicely in proportion, and it should easily fit average to larger wrists. Vintage purists may wish for a smaller case diameter, but the end result is a watch that’s eminently more wearable for the majority of customers.
The polished 22mm lugs coordinate with the bezel, bevels, and caseback edges, and definitely lend a sharp, dressed-up air to the overall look, but some well-thought contrast comes by way of the brushed case sides. The tall bezel flows perfectly into the equally tall coated boxed sapphire crystal, a detail that emphasises the overall aesthetic, but which comes at the cost of a tall 15mm case height. However, given the case diameter, it remains in proportion to the rest of the watch. A signed, keenly fluted crown provides excellent grip, even though the crown itself isn’t especially deep, but that only further affirms the overall vintage vibe.
The two chrono pushers are a retro delight, with an oval, pill-like shape that affords a great tactile experience for the wearer. Moving around back, the see-through caseback affords a clear view of the chrono movement within, and the back’s edge sports an etched vintage logo, along with the usual specs, including the 30 metre water-resistance rating.
Now onto the real star of the show: The dial. For watch history buffs, this dial is a true deep cut. A telemeter scale on a modern chronograph is rather anachronistic, but fans of vintage will find it utterly fascinating. Tissot is well-known as one of the leading lights in Swiss sports timing, currently the official timers of the Tour de France, the MotoGP racing series, and the NBA. That tradition goes all the way back to 1938 (hence the name), when a Tissot chrono was used as a ski racing timer at Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.
The dial, available in gilt-on-black, or red, black, and blue on white, features several timing scales starting just beyond the vintage logo in the centre, where you’ll find a tachymeter scale for recording average speeds. Moving outward, there are two railroad subdials, with a 30-minute counter and running seconds at 3 and 9, respectively. Black vintage-styled Arabic numerals set against a circular-brushed stainless field mark the hours, with a minute track just outside. Finally, the telemeter scale resides at the edge of the dial, rendered in blue.
What is a telemeter, you ask? It’s used to measure the distance between an event seen first, and heard second, such as the distance of a visible lightning strike before the sound of a thunderclap. The telemeter scale was also used during World War II to measure the approximate distance of an enemy’s artillery fire, which perfectly nails the brief, considering that the classic Tissots that inspired the Telemeter 1938 hail from that era. No date window keeps things clean and symmetrical, providing a balanced look to a fairly busy dial. The sword-shaped hands are gold-coloured on the black/gilt variant, and nicely blued on the white-dialled version, and both look appropriately vintage.
Having the Swatch Group as a corporate parent has its advantages, particularly when it comes to movement sourcing. The autowinding A05.231 caliber is an updated version of the ETA/Valjoux 7750 chronograph, a reliable, venerable, and easily-serviced choice that powers many iconic timepieces. An automatic version of the Valjoux 7733, it beats at 28,800 vph, has 29 jewells, and eschews the day and date complications of the 7750. Upgrades include an extended 68-hour power reserve, and a more durable, antimagnetic Nivachron balance spring. Finishing is simple, but well done, with perlaged bridges and a period-correct Tissot logo on the rotor, echoing the logo on the dial. I personally appreciate the visible caseback, which, while not exactly vintage, allows you to watch the show as the movement goes about its timing business.
Each version gets its own strap, crafted in vintage-look padded and stitched Italian leather that’s designed to patinate with age. The white dial version features a lovely dark brown colour, with contrasting white stitching, and the black/gilt model utilises a a more laid-back dark tan colour, with matched stitching. Either choice is at once sporty and refined, and the signed, stainless-steel, push-button butterfly-clasp adds an upscale touch. Should you wish to swap straps, changes are a breeze thanks to the quick-release springbars and 22mm lug width.
The Telemeter 1938 is an especially handsome sporty tool watch, which smartly bows to its vintage heritage while remaining contemporary in all the important ways. The modern size, updated movement, and overall good value (for a mechanical chronograph) tick a lot of boxes in the plus column, and both colourways are quite handsome: It all comes down to your own personal taste. It’s a smart, great-looking nod to the early days of chronographs in sport, and a reminder that Tissot’s history holds much more than you might realise.
Tissot Telemeter 1938 pricing and availability:
|42mm x 15mm
|Box sapphire crystal, AR-coating
|Black/gilt or white
|Stitched calf leather strap
|Tissot A05.231, Valjoux 7750 base, two-register chronograph with Nivachron balance spring, 68-hour power reserve