Review of Tag Heuer Aquagraph 500

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Model # CN211A

At a Glance:

Brand/Model: Tag Heuer Aquagraph 500
Movement:  Swiss automatic w/ Swiss chronograph module
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet; optional rubber dive strap
Complications:  chronograph timing in one-second increments up to 12 hours; 24-hour indicator subdial
Price:  MSRP:  approx. $3500 USD;  street price around $2300 USD new; around $1500 USD used

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

I won’t go into exhaustive detail on this Tag Heuer Aquagraph 500 chronograph because since this watch was released about three years ago, much has already been written and said about it, mostly very positive.  This is a very unique, functional and generally awesome tool watch and one that is truly built and designed for the task at hand, that is, deep diving.
The Aquagraph represents Tag Heuer’s first 500 meter water resistant watch and was the genesis of the now popular Aquaracer series.  Each Aquagraph is individually tested to make certain it achieves its 500 meter rating.  The Aquagraph came in only one flavor and was produced for only a couple of years.  There seem to be plenty on the used market and if you look hard enough, you can still score one brand new, as I did.
This watch has many intriguing features and nothing that is frivolous or unnecessary.  Let’s begin with the basics.  The fully brushed stainless steel case measures 43.2mm without the signed screwdown crown; 46.6mm crown inclusive.  Lug width is 22mm, thickness is an expectedly chunky 15.9mm due to the chrono module and the 500 meter rating.  The case back screws down and features a very cool embossed and detailed deep sea scuba diver helmet logo in the center.
The screwdown crown is one of the unique features of this watch.  The crown itself is nicely knurled with deep ridges on the knurls for a secure grip.  When viewed from the underside (case back side), one sees a colored gasket (either yellow or red/orange in color, as Tag used both colors for the gasket) between the crown and case side.  If the crown is unscrewed, the colored gasket becomes visible from the dial side, warning the wearer that the watch is not water resistant because the crown is unscrewed.  Tag refers to this feature as a ‘security indicator.’  When the crown is properly screwed down, this gasket is only visible from the rear of the watch.  A simple, elegant and nifty little addition to this watch and one that shows this piece means business. 
Inside this watch is another surprise.  Tag decided to use an automatic ETA 2892 base movement with a Dubois Depraz 2073 chronograph module stacked on top.  This gives the watch a genuine jewel count of a heady 46 jewels!  What makes this combination really special is the Lemania 5100-like large center chronograph minute hand, which sits underneath the chronograph’s large center second hand.  This design makes it extremely easy to see how many minutes have elapsed on the chrono, doubly so because both these hands are painted a bright yellow and the minute hand has a large arrow tip replete with a generous amount of lume.  Super cool!  Tag mentions this as being important to a diver concerning the duration of decompression stages.
The automatic movement is called the ‘Caliber 60’ in Tag-speak and it winds smoothly, quietly and runs a fine 45 hours on a full wind.  Accuracy in my testing procedure has yielded an average of +4 seconds over 24 hours, which is superb.  Chronograph functions are crisp and accurate, with start, stop and reset procedures working perfectly.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the Aquagraph is the rubber covered chronograph pushers.  They are rectangular and the rubber covers are secured by steel plates secured with screws.  This design allows the chronograph to be used while submerged in water, one of the only (if not the only) watches to be able to say this.
The dial on the Aquagraph is a slightly gloss black with inset subdials for the chronograph and watch functions.  The subdial at 3 is the main watch seconds hand, nicely done in yellow with a small arrow tip, easy to see and confirm that the watch is running while diving.  The subdial at 6 is the 12-hour chronograph totalizer while the subdial at 9 is a 24-hour (am/pm) indicator.  Not sure why they decided to put this 24-hour indicator complication on this watch, as there is no day or date function, but I guess it’s nice to have regardless.
As stated previously, the two large yellow center hands are the chronograph seconds and minutes counters.  The main watch hands are simple in design, silver with inset lume.  The hands are a bit stubby and wide, but not overly so.  Round applied markers with lume complete the dial’s presentation.
As with any serious dive watch, lume quality is good, bright green and long lasting.  There are even lume dots that encircle the bezel, with a lume pip at 12 on the bezel as well.
And speaking of the bezel, this is another unique point of this watch.  The bezel has six large ridges or bars on it to assist in turning it and to add a bit of style.  The bezel design is a unidirectional 60-click variety, but one that is locked and ratcheting, so as to prevent accidental movement of the bezel while diving.  You have to push firmly straight down on the bezel and while still pushing down, turn it to the desired time, then release it, locking the bezel in place.  Not real easy to do, but it does work and accomplish the goal of staying in place.  This bezel has been designed so even while wearing gloves the bezel is usable.
The crystal is anti-reflective sapphire and is suitably thick to accomplish the 500 meter water resistance rating.  No distortion has been noticed with the crystal.  And speaking of 500 meters of water, there is also an automatic helium escapement valve (HEV) in the center on the left hand side of the case.
The bracelet on the Aquagraph is pretty much a no-nonsense oyster style solid link stainless steel affair with the links held in place by the dreaded pin and collar system, but at least you know the bracelet will retain its integrity while being worn. 
The bracelet is 22mm at the lugs and tapers to about 19mm at the clasp.  Solid end links and a signed, pushbutton locking clasp with machined deployant complete the set up.  The pushbutton design of the clasp against the deployant is such that the clasp actually locks in place around the deployant instead of just fitting in by friction, so again, you can be assured the watch will stay on your wrist. 
Tag also outfitted the Aquagraph with a machined diver’s extension that folds out and locks in place, which is a nice touch.  You really can’t complain about the bracelet in any way with the exception of Tag only including one half-link for sizing and the total lack of microadjustments on the clasp.  At the very least, two half-links should be included.
There was a dive kit that some Aquagraphs came with that included a rubber dive strap, changing tool and a larger more comprehensive box.  The lugs on the watch are drilled to facilitate strap changes.
Overall fit and finish on the Aquagraph is superb and the heft this watch exhibits corresponds to its tool watch intentions and mission in life, that is, a no-nonsense dive watch meant for extreme depths.  The dial is clean and shows no dirt or defects under my standard 8X loupe exam.  And despite its seemingly large-ish dimensions and weight, this watch does not wear unduly big and is very comfortable while larding about on land.
The Aquagraph is not a poseur.  This is a serious dive watch that can and will hold up to a lot of punishment and true diving expeditions.  Factor in its unique features, precise Swiss movement and attractive, functional good looks and you have a winner, no question about it.
 

Pros:  unique feature set (ratcheting locking bezel, rubber covered pushers, crown gasket security indicator), superb Swiss movement with large chrono minute hand, great build quality

Cons:  needs two half links on the bracelet and microadjustment holes on the clasp, lack of a date display could bother some

Verdict:  a true tool dive watch for land lubbers and sea vultures alike.  Tag took the plunge with the Aquagraph and surfaced a winner.  This watch rocks!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pics.

Excelsior!

-Marc

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