It’s always a thrilling feeling to be wearing a watch that few others have. It’s even more so when it’s the only example of that watch in the entire United States. The latest version of the Tissot PRS 516 Automatic won’t be available at U.S. retailers until the fall, but I was granted the opportunity to give this auto racing-inspired chronograph a hands-on review in its natural habitat: at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the running of the Brickyard 400, one of the biggest NASCAR races of the year.
I joined Tissot in Indianapolis’s “Racing Capital of the World” on the occasion of a marketing milestone for the Swiss brand, as it celebrated 10 years of its partnership with racecar driver Danica Patrick, one of the world’s most recognizable female athletes and, not coincidentally, a participant in the weekend’s big race. (The newest limited-edition Tissot Danica Patrick watch — the first with a COSC-certified quartz movement — was unveiled at a launch event at Indianapolis’s Reis-Nichols Jewelers and can be seen on our Instagram page.) Below is a shot of myself and Danica posing with our respective wristwear at the launch event. (I’m sure she got to keep hers, however.)
As for the new Tissot watch on my own wrist (Tissot’s product photo pictured above), it also boasts some “firsts.” The movement in this PR 516 is a new, self-winding caliber made for Tissot by its sister firm in the Swatch Group, movement-making giant ETA. Dubbed the ETA A05.H31, it holds an impressive 60 hours of power reserve. The black ceramic bezel (which features, as does any racing watch worthy of the name, a tachymeter scale for timing laps) is also new to the Tissot PRS 516 collection, the first model of which made its debut way back in 1965.
Despite the definitive modern touches, devotees of the original Tissot PRS 516 will appreciate how much of its design elements remain in place, particularly the distinctive holes in the strap, which were inspired, Tissot says, by the holes in a racecar’s steering wheel. (A famous advertisement for the original Tissot PRS 516 depicted a driver’s hands on a steering wheel.) Another detail from the original model is the use of “floating” hour indices, applied to the inside of the sapphire crystal, under which the central red chronograph hand sweeps. The chronograph pushers are designed to resemble a car engine’s pistons.
The case measure 45 mm in diameter and is made of 316L stainless steel, mostly round but with sloping lugs for greater wrist comfort (Tissot refers to the case — as viewed from the side — as “banana shaped”) and also has a see-through caseback through which to enjoy the view of the movement, whose rotor is shaped like a steering wheel and is emblazoned with a Tissot logo. Beneath the rotor, you’ll get a glimpse of the plates and bridges decorated with perlage. All in all, a very impressive engine for this price point, particularly considering it also includes a chronograph.
From an aesthetics standpoint, I immediately noted the delightfully restrained use of red for certain elements on the PR 516 — for the chronograph hands and some indices on the subdials (30-minute counter at 3 o’clock and small seconds at 9 o’clock), for the number “516” above the date window at 6 o’clock, for the “racing stripes” on the piston-like chrono pushers, for the contrast stitching on the black, calfskin leather strap, and — perhaps most subtly of all — a very thin red stripe bordering the bottom edge of bezel, visible only on the side (as seen in the product photo below). Other subtle touches of quality include the light, striped pattern on the main dial and the use of white numerals on black background for the date indication, helping it blend seamlessly into the dial. Legibility was excellent in just about all conditions, except for a short stretch at about 8:40, when the white luminescent-treated hour and minutes hands overlap both the white border of the small seconds subdial and each other, causing the hour hand to be obscured and giving one a moment’s pause in trying to figure out where it is.
Using the chronograph is easy and fun, especially in a circumstance that offers so many ideal opportunities to use it — i.e., timing the lap times of Danica and other drivers in both the Brickyard 400 race as well as the previous day’s qualifiers, and timing my own lap around the Speedway’s famous oval track at 130 mph in the passenger seat of an official NASCAR pace car. (Side note for those not steeped in auto racing lore: “Brickyard” is the nickname of the racetrack, which was actually paved with bricks when it was first built in 1909. Today, only a small strip of bricks remain, at the finish line. It is customary for the winner of the Brickyard race to “kiss the bricks” in celebration of the victory.) The screwed-down grooved crown is a bit small but relatively easy to operate, and the flat-headed pushers require a light but firm touch to start, stop, and reset. There is an inset, quick-set date corrector on the other side of the case, which is easily accessed by the tip of a pen.
The leather strap feels nice and snug on the wrist and the holes give it a perfectly sporty look. I wouldn’t wear it with a tuxedo, but it’s certainly suitable for most casual occasions. Despite the suffocating heat and humidity at the Brickyard during the weekend of my trip, this “ventilated” strap never felt stifling or overheated. The watch fastens securely with a folding, push-button steel clasp that is quite professionally executed and sports an attractive matte finish.
The new Tissot PRS 516 will land at U.S. retailers this fall and will be priced at a very attractive $2,150 — a price range at which, I would submit, it is difficult to find a mechanical chronograph at this level of quality. It’s enough to make you want to kiss the bricks — or maybe even your favorite watch retailer.