There’s a phrase in French that the English language has no equivalent for: jolie laide. Roughly translated, it means unconventionally beautiful, with the added subtext that the person or thing in question is made more attractive by its unusual features. If there was ever a watch that exemplified jolie laide, this is it: the Tissot Heritage 1948 Chronograph. It’s classically inspired (taking inspiration from, naturally, a 1948 piece of Tissot’s back catalog) and beautifully proportioned, but with a few twists that set it apart from the norm. Is this enough to propel this watch above its more traditional-looking brethren? Let’s dig in.
Review: Tissot Heritage 1948 Chronograph
The case of the Tissot Heritage 1948 Chronograph immediately draws attention with its fantastic bombé lugs, but the full package really starts to shine on closer inspection. The wide, sharply sloping and polished bezel catches the light at almost any angle, visually compressing an already thin watch even flatter on the wrist. It offers handsome contrast with the thin, lightly brushed mid-case. Broad, flat pushers coupled with a thin pillbox crown help to keep the side profile slim as well. The lugs themselves are still the highlight of the show, with sharp faceting and a gorgeous, organic twist. They curve downward to hug the wrist better than their length would suggest.
The overall size of the piece is something else worth mentioning. It’s a rare occurrence for a brand to put out a new chronograph in the 39-millimeter range, and after experiencing this one I can’t help but wish that would change. The Heritage 1948 wears brilliantly, feeling compact and vintage on the wrist while the tapering bezel helps to give the dial more presence than one would expect. So far, everything here is conventionally attractive (and very much so).
This idea of jolie laide creeps in around back, however, with the ornate and fascinating case back. I wrote when the Heritage 1948 Chronograph was first unveiled at Baselworld 2017 that this case back didn’t read visually as 1948-esque at all, and I stand by that initial impression. If anything, this split display window with its oversized boilerplate and ornate French-curve filigree feels like a page out of the Old West—like a window etching on a stagecoach, steam engine or a saloon decoration. It’s not unattractive, but it’s certainly unusual. The split window itself, on the other hand, offers a view of an impressively finished ETA 2894-2, a much appreciated addition.
Most of the dial is pitch-perfect mid-century beauty. The light silver of the main dial is surprisingly dynamic, going from a flat off-white to a sparkling metallic texture in direct sunlight. Around the edges is a clean, simple railroad minutes track, driving home the 1940s ethos while creating a handsome natural boundary to the dial. The sub-dials in particular are brilliantly executed, with subtle concentric graining punched up by a hair-thin, polished ring around the edge of each, giving these registers immediate visual importance and letting them glitter like jewels in changing light. The handset for both the main dial and sub-dials are suitably retro polished leaves, and they are supplemented by a stick chronograph seconds hand with a spearhead counterweight. Tissot’s ornate heritage emblem is used here at twelve, with oversized script forming the only real dial text. Once again, it’s not without its unconventional touches. The applied polished dots of the hours track are capped off with a massive applied Roman twelve, dominating the top half of the dial and creating an imposing visual counterweight to the three sub-dials at three, six and nine o’clock.
This is undeniably a love-it-or-hate-it addition. It’s huge, it’s imposing, and it disrupts visual flow. On the other hand, it really does balance the dial nicely and the quality of the application itself is flawless. What falls firmly into the hate-it camp, however, is the 4:30 dial aperture. With the rest of the dial’s styling and visual weight, it’s difficult not to see the inclusion of a date window, especially in such an off-kilter position, as an unwelcome disruption.
Inside this unconventionally beautiful case lies an equally beautiful movement. As a simple module addition to the ubiquitous 2892 three-hander, the ETA 2894-2 isn’t usually considered a beauty queen among automatic chronographs, but here the decoration and execution elevate this workhorse into a proper show pony. There are deep, dynamic Côtes de Genève on the signed rotor, full perlage on the plates, and further decoration around the edges. Add to that the usual suite of specs (quick-set date, hacking, 38-hour reserve and a 28,800 bph beat rate), and you’ve got a supremely capable movement even if it lacks enthusiast standbys like a vertical clutch or column wheel system.
Tissot offers the Heritage 1948 Chronograph on a choice of three straps: brown or black alligator-print leather, or a stunning Milanese mesh with a Tissot signed clasp. Our tester came in on this mesh, and it’s a glittering addition that certainly makes the watch pop on the wrist without feeling too ostentatious. If alligator or Milanese mesh aren’t your cup of tea, the early mid-century looks of the Heritage 1948 Chronograph would be well served with almost any simple leather strap—a midnight or navy blue leather, especially, could be an interesting choice here.
In terms of wearability, the combination of smaller case size and long, gently curved lugs help it to feel more midsize than its dimensions, which means that the watch should work on a large variety of wrists. It’s definitely a watch that works better in more formal situations, leaning toward business casual and above, but there’s a related energy here that would make it a perfect companion for a dressier day off.Overall, then, Tissot’s latest slice of jolie laide is just that—a beautiful design made more beautiful by its “imperfections.” The Tissot Heritage 1948 Chronograph might not be for everyone, but for those who can acquire the taste for its nuances, there’s nothing like it in the price range. To butcher Sir Francis Bacon, this is a beauty with some strangeness about its proportion, and for $1,450 it’s a solid value proposition as well. Tissot