A Closer Look at the Iconic Tag Heuer Carrera Family of Watches
TAG Heuer celebrates 160 years this year with two Anniversary Limited Edition Carrera chronographs. We take a closer look at this iconic family of watches, with the help of four more brand new 2020 Carrera chronographs
There is a certain art to cooking eggs. Go too high or too low on the heat and disaster awaits. Even boiling eggs can be dicey, depending on whether one starts with water at a boil, or brings water and eggs to boiling point together. To be sure, eggs are amongst the easiest things to cook, but they are also extraordinarily difficult to master. Questions abound: do you crack the eggs on the side of the pan, and do all the work in the pan, under heat? Or do you instead go in with an abundance of caution, only introducing heat when everything is just right? Unfortunately, you might only be able to get certain kinds of results in the pan, and certain other results by preparing out of the heat. It all requires a good deal of precision, and precision timing. That is just how it goes… In the end, timing is everything, which is something we know something about at WOW.
To be sure, the chronograph was never meant for something so prosaic as timing cooking events. The parallels between timing racing events and the vital business of the kitchen, while readily apparent to this writer, are hardly germaine. In fact, most of the public sees the chronograph as emblematic of heroism, as Aurel Bacs alludes in his preamble to “Heuer Parade: The Crosthwaite and Gavin Collection”. He noted that while he could not recall what Heuer chronograph his father wore, it informed his view of watches overall. “As a little boy I remember the hair on my father’s wrist sprouting out through the holes (of the Corfam strap). What a masculine, heroic look!” wrote Bacs. This is where we hit the throttle and straight-line some S-curves on the way to the point of this story: the chronograph is a symbol of masculinity, heroism and timekeeping vitality, and the standard-bearer for this message has to be the TAG Heuer Carrera.
Obviously, if you are reading this story then it must be because one – or both – of the TAG Heuer Carrera Anniversary Limited Editions featured on our cover drew your attention. If so, you are already well acquainted with Bacs’ sentiment. Carrera chronographs are well-known for getting people excited about horology. Although the Autavia is older, and the Monaco is more distinctive, it is the Carrera chronograph that defines TAG Heuer today. It did not arrive at this honour by chance.
Before we get to the story of the Carrera overall, a few words about this issue, and this story. Just as we normally do, the entire issue is built around a couple of salient points, some which are carried forward from previous issues. The chronograph is central to the current issue, and not just in these pages. You will find at least two other stories this issue that deal directly with this complication. Both focus on very practical matters rather than covering technical ground. In this particular story, we will explore how a brand name can become inexorably tied to a complication. As usual, details about the two anniversary Carrera watches themselves will be found in our cover watch story. Here we will focus on the collection as a whole, including four other watches, and the stellar history of TAG Heuer itself, going back to its roots.
YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
Now, the full names of the two TAG Heuer cover stars are Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition and Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition. That anniversary refers to the brand itself, having been founded in 1860 (more on that later), not the Carrera collection itself, which was only launched more than 100 years later in 1963. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that brand founder Edouard Heuer patented his first chronograph in 1882, and pioneered the use of an oscillating pinion in 1887. In a very real way, Edouard is a true hero of horology by virtue of his innovations, not just the fact that he founded the Heuer company.
Although watchmaking sometimes makes noises about destiny influencing a brand from the start, the chronograph wristwatch really came into its own thanks to another visionary leader of the Heuer firm. This happened in the 1960s, and that leader was Jack Heuer. Writing in the TAG Heuer book, “Monaco – The Paradoxical Star”, the ineffable Nick Foulkes called Jack (we use his first name to distinguish between him and the Heuer firm) a “new type of man for a new age,” despite being the fourth-generation Heuer to run the firm.
It is from Jack’s own biography that we learn that the future boss had gotten into analysing the numbers for the firm, then headed by his father and uncle. He compared this with figures for the industry overall. First of all, he noted that Heuer watches were underperforming in the USA (reportedly with market shares as low as 2-3%), then as now a critical market for wristwatches. Jack also pointed out that chronograph wristwatches were a promising segment for Heuer, alongside stopwatches, for which the margins were exceptional. This was in stark contrast with the automatic wristwatches that were the brand’s stock-in-trade. Jack called the margins here “absolutely miserable.” He recommended two things: focusing on the US market and developing a great new chronograph.
The Heuer assortment of chronographs at that time was not an issue (see Heritage Director Catherine Eberle’s point about this in our sidebar – Ed), but Jack wanted something cleaner, finding most prevalent designs a little too busy with their telemeter scales. At that time, Heuer did not name its collections, with the Autavia of 1962 being the first. While that watch was being introduced, Jack was busy hitting the races in the USA, being something of a racing gentleman himself.
Eric Wind, a noted dealer in vintage timepieces, reported in a definitive Hodinkee story about the original Carrera 2447N, that Jack was first struck by the idea of a Carrera watch in 1962 while in Florida for the 12 Hours of Sebring race. He was now at the helm of Heuer, implementing the ideas he had put forth earlier. Jack had been invited to the Sebring race by the Sports Car Club of America, on the strength of the relationships he had forged a little earlier, which saw Heuer supplying a variety of timing devices for the race.
While kicking back in the Ferrari pit, Jack made the acquaintance of the parents of two young Mexican drivers. It was here that he learned about the Carrera Panamericana race, and how deadly it was. As Porsche fans know, the word Carrera means race or career in Spanish, and both are quite appropriate for the very special chronograph Jack came up with. Luckily, Heuer was able to register the name in a hurry because that new chronograph Jack wanted was coming out in 1963.
As a watch, the Carrera is notable for looking like it must have always existed. The proof of this is in the aesthetics of both Limited Editions, which are vintage-inspired, and all four of the new models featured in these pages (two of which are in the opening spread). If you look at the actual vintage pieces themselves, these could also be contemporary (with some tweaks, excluding the Heuer Montreal). Only the Chronomatic version of 1969 stakes a bold design claim to its own era, just as the Carrera Tourbillon Chronograph is a creature of the contemporary era. The Heuer Montreal of 1972 that inspired the new Montreal Edition is an entirely different story of course, given that it was not a Carrera. On that note about the Chronomatic, it is worth remembering that the Carrera played its part there too – it was not only about the Monaco. The fi rst automatic chronograph was important across the entire range of chronographs from Heuer at that time, as it remains today.
Returning to the contemporary pieces, the new Carrera models do speak to the consistency of the collection from TAG Heuer. For example, the anniversary Limited Editions sit quite comfortably alongside their larger siblings. One could even argue that the Montreal Edition is what a contemporary TAG Heuer design and watchmaking team would have come up with, had they been working in the 1970s on a Carrera version of the same model. One can only achieve a feat like this by staying faithful to the spirit of the brand, rather than just the overall look and feel. This has really been a hallmark of the last five years in watchmaking, with its plethora of recreations of past winners. At best, these have not been slavish tributes. Instead, they established new chapters in the story of the collections they represent. So it is with the Montreal Edition.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the contemporary TAG Heuer Carrera chronograph is to look to the famed 2447 Carrera models produced by Heuer, which are in fact built on an ideal already reflected in older models such as the 2444. The TAG Heuer-centric website Calibre11.com asserts that Jack took a good design and pared it down even further. He kept the dial clean by utilising an innovation that added an angled steel tension ring to secure the crystal to the case. Not only was this useful from the perspective of water-resistance, but it could also serve a visual function too. Jack had the ring painted with decimal indices marking the seconds, down to 1/5 of a second.
Now, take a break from those lovely vintage-inspired Limited Editions and accelerate into the last lap of this story, as we spend a little time with four new Carrera chronographs. At 42mm each, these might seem as far as can be from the Limited Editions; indeed the bracelets on three of the four big boys are fully contemporary, and make the watches wear completely differently to the Limited Editions. On the other hand, even a casual examination of the visible aesthetics makes it clear that
they are all of the same lineage.
The layouts of the tri-compax chronograph registers and the running seconds subdial are the same, hinting that all six watches featured here use the same movement: the in-house automatic chronograph Heuer02. Only the rotor design differentiates the Limited Editions here. The water resistance of 100 metres is completely in line with contemporary requirements, although TAG Heuer was quite brave in hiding the date mechanism here. Anyway, if that is not enough to tie the
watches together, details such as the type of hands in play here (faceted with SuperLuminova, unlike the vintage pieces) and the fonts must do the job.
At this point, right at the finish line, you might protest that we have made the bold claim that the Carrera transcends eras. At the same time, we have also said it is not timeless because it is always contemporary. So what gives? Well, TAG Heuer also happens to be a rather paradoxical brand, but that is a subject for another story. Most importantly, the brand is always true to its own nature.
We caught up with the TAG Heuer Heritage Director on the occasion of the brand’s 160th anniversary to get a professional perspective.
Have you always been interested in communicating history in a fun and relatable way for the public?
I’ve always loved telling stories. History is obviously made of a succession of stories. What thrills me is to find connections between facts that can give us a new perspective, or a more meaningful understanding of who we are.
Many watch brands have a grand history, with some key distinguishing factors. Tell us what makes TAG Heuer’s story distinctive, and what milestones speak particularly well to the character of the brand.
There are obviously in TAG Heuer’s past many watchmaking milestones, inventions and patents which pushed the industry forward since 1860. However for me the decisive era was that of Jack Heuer. He was truly visionary in his analysis of his ancestors’ foundations, which he used to take the company to the next level. Just like his predecessors Edouard (oscillating pinion), Charles Auguste (micrograph), Charles Edouard (advertising), Jack’s goal was to improve performance. In that regard the year 1969 was truly foundational for the brand, with the launch of the Monaco and its Calibre 11, the first automatic chronograph movement. Another part of his legacy, which is maybe less known, was finding new and creative ways to communicate about watches, like sponsoring and product placement, which opened a whole new era for marketing and left its mark to this day.
For some watch brands with a lot of history, they are always using it for touchstones and design references. Given that TAG Heuer has a very contemporary side too, how does the relationship between tradition and modernity play out at TAG Heuer?
It’s an interesting question because at TAG Heuer our tradition is actually very modern. It’s made of innovation and (it’s) avant-garde. As a brand, we have always been in the present moment, not nostalgic nor for eternity, and that spirit has been very consistent throughout the different eras.
With regards to the Carrera, how does this model reflect both the history and the aspirations of the brand?
The TAG Heuer Carrera is the contemporary flagship of the business but it’s first and foremost Jack Heuer’s creation, and his proudest. It expresses our rich heritage in motor racing and his design principles of legibility and simplicity. But it’s also radically modern, as were the first Carreras, with a statement look and a sophisticated manufacture movement, for high precision and performance. The TAG Heuer Carrera, the original racing chronograph, continues to open new chapters in its iconic history.
Why is this model so closely tied to a sense of TAG
I think the TAG Heuer Carrera more than any other model embraces all our paradoxes as a brand: it’s elegant yet sporty, born for motor racing yet fit for any lifestyle, distinctive yet classic.
On the face of it, Heuer already had all manner of chronographs before the Carrera – was this the main complication for the brand by the 1960s, as has been widely reported?
Yes, the chronograph is our brand essence. Actually, Charles-Edouard Heuer (Jack’s father) had a powerful and quite transparent claim in the 1950s: “Heuer, the
Chronograph by Excellence”!
Through the decades it has been the answer to all our difficulties, business-wise, and where we really stand out. Jack took it one step further in his time and stopped all the three-hand models to focus exclusively on chronographs: the Autavia, the Monaco but most of all the Carrera.
For a firm with such a leading position in wrist chronographs — the first one was in 1914 as cited by Wikipedia, and of course one of the first automatic chronographs in 1969 – how does the anniversary showcase this pedigree?
I feel very fortunate as Head of Heritage to live through this milestone! We decided to celebrate 160 years by relaunching the most legendary of our chronographs with limited editions as well as the core range. But we’re not forgetting our other iconic pieces and you will see more on Monaco for example in the coming months. We’re opening the path for the next 160 years, and it’s going to be an exciting journey!