Hands On: Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph

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Few objects transport you to another time and place like a watch. This, of course, is no secret to watch lovers – we’re keen to seek out watches from the past to make that connection to a world we may have never known. It’s the same uncanny feeling you get when opening an old book that hasn’t had the spine cracked in decades, or when you find yourself sorting through your own boxes of accumulated junk during the annual round of spring cleaning, or ahead of a move. Photographs, old articles of clothing, compact discs bought with hard won money from a summer job decades ago, unplayed for who knows how many years. These things are little caches of memory that worm themselves into the brain and temporarily provide us with a mental vacation from whatever mundane task is currently at hand. 

This, ultimately, is the reason so many watch brands have reverted to old designs in the last decade. For a variety of reasons outside the scope of this Hands On, we’re hungry for nostalgia, and want to connect with the past. The Tissot Heritage 1973 Chronograph is a modern watch, made with modern materials, for a modern customer, but it exists, I think, for one reason and one reason only: to make us feel like we’re in the pit of an F1 race in the early 70s. 

What? You were never in the pit of an F1 race in the early 70s? This hardly matters. Strap the watch on, actuate the chronograph, and, Tissot hopes, you feel like your life could have been led on some other timeline.

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$2100

Hands On: Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph

Case
Stainless steel
Movement
Valjoux 7753
Dial
White with black subdials
Lume
Yes, on hands and hour markers
Lens
Sapphire crystal
Strap
Black leather
Water Resistance
100 meters
Dimensions
43 x 46.6mm
Thickness
14.8mm
Lug Width
22mm
Crown
Push/Pull
Warranty
Yes
Price
$2100

My first impression of the Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph was likely an exclamation regarding its size. It’s a big slab of steel, and its size is accentuated and exaggerated by the tonneau case design. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, in my experience, a cushion or tonneau case can make a watch that’s large in terms of dimensions feel and wear smaller. Not so with this Tissot. The wide polished bevels along the case flank draw your eye to the watch’s peculiar shape, and create a visual distinction between the brushed slab sides. The resulting impression is one of real heft, even though the lines are soft and there aren’t a lot of hard angles at work here.

Clean transitions between finishing techniques give the case plenty of visual interest.

But this is a feature, not a bug. Based on a 70s design, when a watch like this would have been upsized against a more standard sports watch, and certainly against more casual or dressy options, the contemporary iteration of the watch is similarly designed to be a larger alternative to the competition. This is a watch, and a design, meant for someone searching for that all important “wrist presence,” which I think is just code for a big watch that people notice. 

In terms of the aforementioned transportation-to-another-place-and-time effect that Tissot is after with this watch, it mostly hits the mark, largely because of the big, exaggerated case shape, and the panda dial chronograph layout, one of the most foolproof of all vintage cues. This isn’t a slight, but the Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph isn’t a particularly versatile watch, so when you put it on, you can’t help but think of the original purpose behind the design. Some sports watches, even purpose driven tool watches, have a chameleon-like ability to work in a variety of different scenarios. You can, in a pinch, get away with wearing a Sinn 104 with a suit, for example. But this Tissot chronograph is different – it really only feels at home in a casual environment, and because of its size, you’re always aware that you’re wearing a racing inspired watch on your wrist. Like I said, it’s a direct route to pit road. 

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The quality of the finishing work on the case is quite good for a watch that retails for $2,100. The brushed elements on the top and sides of the case are particularly well done, and show a certain amount of intentionality. Too often, finishing on watches at this price point is incidental, with brands under the impression that it’s enough to simply mix finishing techniques and not completely destroy the transitional lines. The Tissot 1973 Heritage Chrono features brushing with radial and horizontal patterns, matching the lines of the case, and counterbalancing the polished elements. It all comes together coherently and I appreciated the fact that someone really thought through how the case should look from every angle.  

The radial finishing on the top side of the case is very well executed.

That panda dial is really this watch’s best feature by a mile. The color combination is unbeatable, and there are enough little details incorporated here to give it a little something extra. The chronograph hands (center seconds, as well as the small hands in the 3:00 and 6:00 subdials that count minutes and hours, respectively) are orange, providing a pop of visual interest that falls in line with the vintage cues present elsewhere on the watch. The main handset are simple batons, and are readable enough against the mixed black and white backdrop of the dial, although sometimes the hour hand can disappear within the mess of black subdials and tiny chrono hands. This is more of a general chronograph legibility problem, though, and not as much a Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph problem. It’s a pretty clean design, overall, and not nearly the eye chart that some chronographs can become.

Tissot also made a wise choice in implementing the tachymeter scale in black to contrast with the dial. Furthermore, the tachy is actually a separate piece applied directly to the dial, adding a layer of dimensionality, and subtly giving the whole package a premium feel. 

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Wearability is about what you’d expect for a watch of this size. The barrel-like shape makes it feel long from top to bottom, and the chronograph mechanism within requires a thickness that might be too much for some. My wrists are about 7.5 inches, and this watch is at the large end of what I’d typically wear at about 43 x 46mm, maybe a bit beyond. It definitely fits (there’s no lug overhang on my wrist), but the watch is tall and a bit topheavy. After some time, though, you get used to it. You notice its presence, but it isn’t uncomfortable. It’s just sort of there, which certainly isn’t a negative if you enjoy the style.

This watch is powered by a Valjoux 7753, which is as fine a workhorse chronograph movement as there is on the market right now. A date window has been cut at 4:30, and while it definitely throws off the symmetry of the dial, it’s also in line with the somewhat funky 70s aesthetic. Winding action and chronograph actuation are smooth and solid, as you’d expect, and the crown is nicely oversized, making adjustments a snap even for guys like me, who tend to lack the mechanical sympathy needed to easily adjust more demure timepieces. 

The Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph comes mounted on a thick, black rally strap. It’s pretty good quality, and on my review unit it felt supple and comfy right out of the box. The weak point of the watch is likely the butterfly deployant clasp. It’s not machined to the same standard as the case, and in my opinion this is just a clumsy, uncomfortable solution in search of a problem. On a big watch like this, where comfort is paramount, my preference would be a sleeker, lighter option. Luckily, if you’re an owner of the watch, or planning to be, it’s incredibly simple to swap out the stock strap and deployant for something with a simple pin buckle. Or, perhaps you’ll find the stock clasp to be comfortable where I found it a tough wear. As always in these matters, your mileage may vary. 

Spending some time with the Tissot 1973 Heritage Chronograph was a lot of fun, and I think that’s the point of the watch. This isn’t a somber, serious piece. Its 70s roots are obvious, even if you stripped the reference to Me Decade from the watch’s name. This is pure nostalgia, and if you’re the type of person who feels a connection to 70s Formula 1, or if the panda dial simply scratches your particular itch for 70s styling, this piece has a lot going for it. It’s probably not a daily wear candidate for someone buying their first chronograph, but plenty of people will easily find space in the watchbox for something like this. Tissot

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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