Leaders / Watches

Detailed Observations: TAG Heuer Guy Bove On the Iconic Models

TAG Heuer Creative Director Guy Bove weighs in on our obsession with innovation, while sharing his passion for how details can speak volumes

Nov 19, 2022 | By Ashok Soman

In watchmaking, careers can still span decades, and we are not even talking about families that own their own brands. Engravers and polishing specialists might be at manufactures or specialised producers for upwards of 20 years. This means that for however long you own a particular watch, the people who worked on that piece might be with you for the length of your own journey with that watch. This is a bit of a romanticised notion, to be sure, but it also applies to the front-office folks, and sometimes even the top brass. Even if they are not at the same companies, or in the same roles, as when you first meet or hear of them, there is a good chance that they will remain in the industry for their entire careers. 

We choose to begin this story about TAG Heuer Designer in Chief Guy Bove this way because we first met him in 2006, when he was Georges Kern’s chief designer at IWC. As we have noted before, his design for tonneau-tortue Da Vinci remains one of our favourites. Over the years, he moved from IWC to Chopard, and then to Breitling with Kern again, and then finally to TAG Heuer. Despite the many familiar faces one encounters in the niche watchmaking trade, few relationships graduate to the level of friendship. For this reason, I will dispense with our usual practice of maintaining third-party voice. It would be disingenuous to do so anyway. 

Guy Bove is certainly a friend, and we felt this most keenly at Watches and Wonders Geneva, where we met again after years of pandemic-enforced distance. Time is typically tight at such fairs, and I understand after many years that I am no one’s priority but the marketing and communications departments. Despite this, Bove really made a lot of time for me, for which I am grateful, and delivered some off the record comments, which I am sorry to exclude. I will say that he is a master of using physical communication to convey certain points, such that you would never be able to quote him anyway. To that, I say well-played sir! 

At TAG Heuer, Bove has been busy, touching virtually everything in the current collection, as he says. This of course does not mean he is responsible for every existing TAG Heuer design, but rather that he has been coming to grips with everything in the brand’s grand design story. If you want to know what his design vision is at TAG Heuer, you need only look to the current Aquaracer timepieces, which he himself declared is completely changed, yet the mind’s eye may not register any revolution here; Bove asserts that if you look at the new Aquaracer and the 2015 version side-by-side, the differences are obvious, and that is just a fact. When you look carefully, there are lots of subtle differences between the current 43mm model and the old one, which helps to explain why the watches wear so differently. 

I realise I have not said much yet about Bove and that is because the interview runs pretty long. It has already been edited for clarity as well as to remove banter… all the usual things you might say between friends, which I will spare you, dear reader. I have also cut out the questions, all to have more space for Bove’s answers. That said, from my biased position, I characterise Bove as a creator of great integrity. As you will discover, he does not simply wander into any given collection looking to make his mark everywhere. At same time, perhaps quixotically, he is also not too keen on the trend towards contemporary reissues. You can see this for yourself in the TAG Heuer Tribute to Reference 844, which we spent a lot of time examining in issue #61 last year. There are many ways to make a commercial success of such a watch, but Bove proposed this one, which is appropriate given that TAG Heuer means to look forward rather than backwards, trying to recapture glory days. 

On that note, we will leave it to Bove to take the show forward, with a nod towards our own special focus this issue.

On innovation, sustainability and the joint development with La Joux Perret for the Aquaracer Solargraph… 

The watch has all the advantage of quartz, without the disadvantages (of the same). You don’t have to worry about a battery. You don’t have to open the seals to change the battery. You don’t have to touch the watch for years and you don’t have to think about, is the battery going to be dead? You just expose the Solargraph to sunlight for 10 seconds and it will start running, and two minutes of exposure will have it running for the entire day (the TH50-00 movement gets a full charge on exposure to sunlight for less than 24 hours, although practically speaking that means you will have to leave out in sunlight for a couple of days – Ed). What’s cool about the watch is that if you take it off and set it aside, it will keep ticking for six months. That’s real innovation, and this is an important part of TAG Heuer’s history, and still is today. We want to keep innovating on quartz watches because it is a huge segment for us. Right now, we are focussed on the innovation message with this watch, but you are right to suggest that this is also about sustainability – you don’t have to deal with batteries, throw away batteries, mine more minerals to make more batteries…it’s great! 

On the Aquaracer collection in general… 

TAG Heuer STILL in water

There are some really good things about (historical) Aquaracers, and we didn’t want to change that too much, but we did do a lot of work nonetheless, on the case. If you, look at it from the side, if you compare it with the previous (2015) model, the horns are much shorter and steeper. We also added the facet from the original 844, which redefines the view of the watch (in profile). I think it looks like a truly dynamic sports watch. We also played a lot with the proportions to get it to fit right on the wrist…if you look to the Superdiver (above), I think this is one of the slimmest professional water-resistant to 1,000 metre dive watches (in production today). With this model in particular, which is 45mm, we tried hard to make it fit properly on a human wrist! With the Aquaracer 200, we are talking about human powered activities (as opposed to motorsports in other ranges) outside the water too. So, I don’t know what you do during your lunch break, but say you go skiing, or rock climbing. You can wear the Aquaracer 200 because it is tough enough to go on your adventure, and then fit back under the cuff of your shirt when you get back to work.

On the Monaco Gulf… 

Well, you can see that we haven’t done a complete redesign here — this is a limited edition adaptation. I think (for us) the question was how do we adapt the Gulf to the Monaco; if you consider just the geometry of (the Monaco Gulf) it is the same as we have in our current range. Then again, if you really look at it, it is quite a different beast. We wanted to figure out what makes the Monaco tick — sorry for the pun! It’s the interplay between circles and squares and you see it on the dial, but you also see it on the side of the case where there is a circular arch in a rectangular shape. We have also used the square chronograph counters, with the light blue and orange colours, which anyone who’s not blind can see. We have the navy blue on the dial, where it is sunray-brushed in the centre circle and flat in the square outside — Gulf also used navy blue besides the light blue. It doesn’t stop there… on the dial at 12 o’clock we have the 60 instead of the hour markers (typical for the Monaco) and the colours continue onto the strap, and the movement where the column wheel is also orange. It is a true collaboration between us and Gulf. 

On the challenge of working with iconic designs… 

When you get your hands on an icon (like the Monaco but also the Aquaracer), there are a few ways you can look at the intellectual challenge. You can say out with the old, in with the new; you can say we’re afraid to touch that — let’s not do too much there; or you can ask what the people who worked at the brand at that time were trying to say when they created the watch, originally. I like that last one. Most of the time, you can’t ask the actual people who worked on the watch because they are long gone, but Jack (Heuer) is still around. For him, it was all about legibility. 

With some watches, you can see that they (whatever brand it is) went very far — maybe too far — and changed a lot. Other times, you can tell that they were afraid to touch anything. For us, it begins with a question (as I said). It is really about understanding what TAG Heuer was trying to do at any given time. With the Aquaracer for example, there is a lot of good stuff in the 2015 version, but at the same time, the brand is moving in a different direction now, so we had to ask how we can move the watch in the direction the brand is going. 

On the Carrera Plasma… 

What’s funny about this watch is the automotive connection. You know how car companies send camouflaged prototypes onto racetracks for testing? That camouflage is the inspiration. What’s different is that we have used diamonds for the camouflage, which you see less often in cars… We also wanted to push boundaries here, and make a show of force about what could be done with growing diamonds, cutting them, and getting them to fit onto cases very precisely. You see that some of the diamonds are set into the case in such a way that more than one face shows, which means additional complexity in terms of doing the facets. Then there’s the polycrystalline diamond dial, which is a kind of panda dial, which has never been done before in black and white diamond; the whole thing is a single piece. The idea was not so deep as to reference asphalt or F1 tires, as you thought (I thought both the case and dial had racing ideas behind them – Ed). The crown is a single diamond, and here we had two questions: one was could this even be done, and how would it be attached to the watch. (Obviously), we did it, and the little shield your see in the diamond crown is how it is connected to the movement. 

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