The Autavia GMT is a very special watch and one of the most underrated models when it comes to vintage Autavia chronographs.
Not only is it the most complex variation of the manual-wind Autavia, it’s also the first Autavia to truly deliver on Heuer's promise of a chronograph that would fit the lifestyles of drivers and aviators alike.
Of course, the GMT wouldn’t exist without the original Autavia, and that’s why, in order to talk about this reference, we need to first go back to 1962, and one of the most significant launches in Heuer’s history.
Heuer had just been taken over by the founder’s grandson, Jack Heuer, and the new CEO immediately showed a desire to strengthen the family business in two key markets: automobiles and aviation.
Heuer had previously made dashboard chronographs for both, and the Autavia aimed to be the wristwatch equivalent. However, the first Autavia chronographs, reference 2446 and 3646, mostly addressed the needs of drivers.
These were double and triple register chronographs with exceptionally large sub-registers and a black and white dial to make it easier for drivers to read their lap times.
The first watch that truly combined the world of cars and airplanes would be the first to combine chronograph and GMT, and Heuer gave us that watch in 1967, five years after the original Autavia.
Heuer relied heavily on existing Autavia parts to create the first generation Autavia GMT, including using a fourth execution dial and a second execution screw-back case. Naturally, Heuer also had to make important changes to transform their chronograph into a pilot’s watch.
Most notably, the Autavia’s movement was modified, from a Valjoux 72 to a Valjoux 724, and a 12-hour bezel was used for the second time zone.
For the bezel, Heuer chose to follow Rolex’s example by adopting a Pepsi-style bezel which differentiates AM and PM by way of color. Until then, the Autavia had only featured black bezels, which made the GMT the most colorful Autavia and the most distinguishable too.
Evidence suggests that Heuer made very few examples before introducing more changes to the dial and the case, but the first generation GMT models are easy to spot.
They feature a small –T– above the word Swiss at 6 o’clock, indicating the use of Tritium for the hour markers, and have shorter dashes at 40 in their seconds sub-register.
Exactly eight examples of the first execution are known to exist, all within a tight serial range, and the present example is the earliest in that group. It’s also the most well-preserved.
One of the most appealing features of the GMT is its colorful bezel, and this one remains vibrant despite its old age. The condition of the dial is just as impressive. It has aged beautifully, while the hands and indexes show a nice even patina.
All this raises some important questions about the watch’s value today. Interest in the original Autavia reference 2446 and 3646 far surpasses interest shown in the GMT, and this is perfectly normal given the importance collectors place on chronology when it comes to vintage wristwatches.
But when you consider the rarity and complexity of the GMT relative to other Autavias, the model becomes a very appealing option for any collector. In near mint condition, this particular example enters grail territory.
The Heuer Autavia GMT '1st Execution' is lot 28 in The Crosthwaite & Gavin Collection auction, taking place on November 11 in Geneva.