TAG Heuer marks the 160th anniversary of its founding this year, and there is much to celebrate. From its humble beginnings in 1860, the brand has grown into a global powerhouse with a reputation for technical innovation that is worthy of its Techniques d’Avant Garde name. Along the way, it has also borne witness to – and had an outsized impact on – the changing landscape of the luxury Swiss watch industry. To commemorate this milestone, the brand has relaunched an iconic chronograph collection that harks back to its roots as a timekeeping specialist.
a Keenly Honed Expertise
Chronographs have long been an integral part of TAG Heuer’s heritage. The brand was already producing large numbers of pocket chronographs in its early years, as sporting competitions proliferated in the 1880s and brought with them a surging demand for accurate timing instruments with which to measure events.
Edouard Heuer, the brand’s founder, made several contributions of his own to the development of the complication. He was most notably granted patents for his invention of the oscillating pinion in 1887. The mechanism alternates between two positions to engage and disengage the chronograph seconds wheel with the gear train’s second wheel, which in turn starts and stops the chronograph. This device remains in use even today thanks to its simplicity and reliability.
Other developments followed. In 1916, the then Heuer unveiled the Mikrograph, which was the world’s first chronograph that can measure elapsed time down to 1/100th of a second. This was succeeded by 2011’s Mikrotimer Flying, which refined the mechanical chronograph’s resolution to 1/1,000th of second. Rugged dashboard- and cockpit-mounted timing instruments, chronographs with swappable rings that offered different functions, and belt driven movements are just some other innovations that TAG Heuer has introduced.
Throughout its history, TAG Heuer has developed several iconic chronograph families such as the Autavia, Monza and Monaco. Among these lines, the Carrera has arguably been the most successful. It was conceived to be a racing chronograph by the brand’s then CEO Jack Heuer – the great-grandson of Edouard Heuer – and designed with legibility as its highest priority. To achieve this, Jack Heuer stripped away every superfluous detail, and played with the watch’s proportions and design vocabulary to ensure that it offers at-a-glance legibility. The Carreras today speak the same language as the original, and offer the same clarity on their dials that allows their wearers to tell the time instantly.
A Return To Familiarity
As part of the brand’s 160th anniversary celebrations, TAG Heuer has relaunched the Carrera’s chronograph segment with the new Carrera Sport Chronograph. The “Sport” moniker used here is an important distinction – it differentiates the novelties from the current Carrera chronographs that were first unveiled in 2018.
Visually, the Carrera chronographs from 2018 were a radical departure from the archetypal Carrera. Their multi-tier openworked dials revealed the Heuer 02 movements underneath, which gave the watches a busy, industrial look. This certainly emphasised the Heuer 02 movement’s technical slant; the in-house calibre was a major boost to TAG Heuer’s movement portfolio, and represented a new era of watchmaking for the brand. Their modular cases further strengthened the line’s visual identity, and created an overall package that was both technically and aesthetically advanced.
The Carrera Sport Chronograph, on the other hand, marks a return to basics for the collection by harking back to earlier versions of the Carrera, which placed a premium on simplicity and legibility. It is fairly large at 44 millimetres across, but fits the wrist comfortably thanks to its short lugs. Gone is the modular case of its predecessor. Instead, a traditional construction is used, with attention paid to the finishings on the various surfaces of the case to create a more sophisticated result that identifies the timepiece as a luxury sports watch. The dial has also reverted to a solid one bearing different textures, such as circular graining and snailing, to make the watch much easier to read.
Four references of the Carrera Sport Chronograph are currently available. The first variant juxtaposes a contemporary green dial with a traditional steel bezel for a distinct retro-modern look. The remaining ones, on the other hand, sport ceramic bezels that match the colour on their dials, including a version each in black and blue. Finally, a more luxurious reference in black and rose gold rounds up the current line-up.
Despite the updated aesthetics, the movement powering the new generation of chronographs remains unchanged. The Carrera Sport Chronograph is still equipped with the Heuer 02 calibre, which uses a column wheel for actuation and a vertical clutch system to drive the chronograph. An 80-hour power reserve is also standard for the movement, so the watch can be left unworn over a weekend without needing any adjustment on Monday morning. If it isn’t obvious enough, the Heuer 02 has already established itself as the workhorse calibre for TAG Heuer, just two years after its introduction.
The carrera 160 years silver limited edition
Two special variants of the Carrera have been released as well. Aesthetically, these models are stark contrasts of each other. Yet, they also clearly share a common design lineage that is testament to the Carrera’s wide range of models over the years.
Unveiled at the beginning of 2020, the Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition was the first of the two to be introduced. In terms of design, it is a faithful interpretation of Jack Heuer’s idea for the Carrera to be a clean, modern chronograph that’s supremely legible for race car drivers. To that end, TAG Heuer’s designers based it on the Heuer ref. 2447S from 1964. This vintage reference remains one of the purest iterations of the Carrera with its monochromic colour scheme and silver dial, which its contemporary counterpart has retained. The polished steel case and pushers have returned too, thus completing the overall look of the watch.
The Silver Limited Edition is far from just a reissue though. Instead, it has been thoroughly modernised in several areas. Note how the silver dial now bears a brushed sunburst texture while the sub-dials, which sport snailing like the original, have been subtly enhanced with borders that have a contrasting grained finish. Other visual upgrades include hour and minute hands that are now faceted, and a simplified chapter ring.
On the technical front, the Silver Limited Edition has been significantly improved as well, beginning with the box-shaped crystal that has been updated from the original’s acrylic to scratch-resistant sapphire, which is de rigueur today.
Meanwhile, the positioning of the running seconds subdial at six o’clock hints at the Heuer 02 calibre ticking beneath the dial. This is a significant upgrade over the hand-wound Valjoux 72 fitted in ref. 2447S, to put it mildly. Finally, the new timepiece also comes upsized at 39 millimetres, to better suit contemporary tastes.
The Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition is offered on a black alligator leather strap with a matching steel folding clasp. Production of this model is limited to 1,860 watches worldwide to echo the year of its birth.
The Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition
TAG Heuer followed up on the Silver Limited Edition with the Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition in June. The watch is largely similar to its sibling, but comes imbued with bold splashes of colour on its dial to assume a very different visual identity. Interestingly, this colour scheme didn’t originate from a vintage Carrera reference. The interplay of blue, yellow and red elements against a matte white dial actually came from 1972’s Heuer Montreal ref. 110503W, which was part of a separate line of watches that has since been discontinued.
The bright palette on the Montreal Limited Edition harks back to the 1970s, which saw frequent releases of timepieces similar to ref. 110503W. It was a period of bold experimentation enabled by advancements in material engineering, as vivid colours and new materials became viable in watchmaking. In the Montreal Limited Edition, TAG Heuer is offering a vibrant counterpoint to the Silver Limited Edition and demonstrating how the Carrera’s very design promotes legibility – whether colours are used or not. The markedly different personality displayed here will appeal to anyone who wants a little more oomph and presence on their wrist.
The Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition comes with a blue alligator leather strap fitted with a steel deployant clasp, and will see just 1,000 examples produced in total.
Still To Come
At press time, a total of four references in the regular collection have been unveiled alongside two special edition timepieces in limited production. TAG Heuer has hinted that four more watches belonging to the core collection will be revealed in September, with an additional two special editions to come by the end of this year.
Beyond just novelties, however, it is worth thinking about the Carrera’s progress in the context of TAG Heuer’s technical advancements. The brand’s relentless forward march will surely continue, and we will see improvements in timekeeping accuracy, reliability and robustness in the years – and decades – ahead. The new Carrera watches are a culmination of the brand’s design and technical developments so far, but there is more to come yet.