#MilitaryWatches: The Argentinian Heuers

Cool pieces – with an even cooler history.

Few things excite vintage watch collectors as rare pieces do. Especially if they have some military history and provenance, or even military markings and service records. That is when you have struck the holy grail – for real. This time it’s all about the Heuer chronographs used by the Argentinian air force: Fuerza Aérea Argentina. And talking about holy grail. This right here is some proper provenance.

In fact, Heuer – known for their timing instruments – supplied the Argentinians with chronographs for a series of decades. They were not new to this, as they had already sold watches to the likes of the German Bundeswehr and the Norwegian air force.

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The items in question are from the late 60s and early 80s respectively, featuring two of the distinctive Autavia case shapes. The classical and earlier rounded case (ref. 3646) and the cushion style that was later adopted for the model (ref.11630). In other words: Something for all kinds of tastes. The latter was nicknamed “Mario Andretti”, naturally coming from the famous racing driver’s use of this particular model. Maybe the Argentinians were big fans of the Italian-American racer. Funnily enough, the name Autavia does in fact derive from it’s multi-purposed intent, meant for both automotive and aviation use.  

The earlier Autavia watches from Heuer – which first appeared on people's wrists in 1962 – featured the rounded cases and were produced in the 60s and 70s. The watches came about after Jack Heuer had decided he wanted to put his timing instruments on the wrist of people,  not only on their dashboards.

Pictured is a reference 3646 (available here), fitted with a manually wound Valjoux 92 movement to power the 2 register chronograph. The case is – as a proper tool watch of the time should have been – made in stainless steel with a handsome size of 39 mm, making it a highly wearable piece. The dial is in a simple matte black, with white sub-dials that really pops. A splash of colour is added with the yellow seconds hand. The finishing touch is the 12-hour turning bezel, which would enable the soldier to keep track of a second time zone if such was needed.

Later, the cushion case came about, which was highly reflected by the style of the decade. It was indeed one of the hottest fashions in the watch industry in the 70’s. Specifically is pictured a reference 11630 “Orange Hands” from 1982 (available here) – a rare color combination with the black dial. Compared to the above, here the case has increased in diameter – up to 42.5 mm. In other words the Autavia had became quite a hefty watch – in nothing but a good way. Also, a new movement was fitted for this reference, upgrading to an automatic winding mechanism. Furthermore, this was delivered on a original metal bracelet, adding to the heft. The turning bezel was equipped with a tachymeter scale, which enabled the wearer to compute speed and distance.

This particular watch was made only few years before Heuer merged with TAG.

Pictured is another C-shaped Autavia from the 70’s, with more subtle color combinations than the one above. Instead of the tachymeter scale, it is equipped with a 60-minute bezel (available here).

In addition to the three Heuers, Nosville is proud to offer another watch used by the Argentinian air force. This particular example is a classic Omega chronograph, with 3 registers, made in stainless steel (available here).

As if the front of these magnificent watches weren’t enough to satisfy you, when turning them around you are faced with the stunning detail that truly makes their provenance: The stamped logo of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina – right there on the case back. Magical...

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One can only dream of what these pieces has experienced throughout their days on the wrists of men in service. The patina only gives some teasers to the full stories.

The reasons why the Argentinians specifically chose the Heuers is hard to tell. However, as previously mentioned, the Swiss manufacturer was known for their quality in timekeeping and a not-too-expensive pricing. This was of course essential to their intended use in the armed forces, especially considering the environments they would be used in – flying at speeds way past Mach 1, being banged around cockpits and equipment. The quality of Heuer was really put to the test… And it turned out to be a test they excelled in. The watches are still ticking away to this day.

Heuer ended up supplying Autavias to a number of armed forces, from Angola and Belgium to Jordan and Kenya. That is some serious pedigree.

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At the time the Heuers were issued to service members, the Argentinian air force was operating attack/fighter planes such as the Dassault Mirage and Douglas A-4 Skyhawk (pictured above). Both were highly acclaimed in their respective roles. The former was capable of being launched from a naval aircraft carrier and participated in a number of armed conflicts under the Argentinian flag, also in the 10 week long Falklands War in 1982, where it inflicted damage to several british assets. The South-American country received a total of nearly 130 examples – and some are still said to be in service.

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Also helicopter pilots were issued these mechanical stunners from Heuer. The Argentinians used a series of different types of helicopters during the relevant period, being of everything from British to Russian make, some of which where the Hughes 369/500 and the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. The latter is still being used in active service today.

The Heuers are however no longer in service. The Fuerza Aerea Argentina has – as most other military forces – moved away from mechanical timepieces. Maybe to some watch fanatics dismay, but for the better functionality of modern military technology.

The total number of Heuers supplied to the Argentinian air force is not exactly known, but estimated to be somewhere around 1600 watches in total in a variety of variations – two of which we have seen in this article. That makes these some seriously rare birds. Vintage Heuers in general are in high demand, and scarce vintage pieces with military history are even more so. These watches would be a great addition to any collection.

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