TAG Heuer Carrera: Road Map to Success
The TAG Heuer Carrera was born to race but its 60-year legacy of precision timing makes it fit for life far beyond the track too
There is no fool-proof way to build a legacy. To put it another way, there is no tried-and-tested recipe that will secure your place in any given hall of fame. The Harvard Business Review has a sane albeit flimsy guide about the conscious methods one can adopt to maintain long-term viability of the organisation even after you are gone. There are tips on managing power and responsibility, prioritising “burden over benefits”, and being mindful of the achievements made by the generations before you, leading to a fair conclusion that the epitome of power is to leave a great legacy that lives on beyond the tenure of whoever ‘Did the Really Important Stuff.’
For TAG Heuer, the legacy-maker honour goes to Jack Heuer for being the most notable, if not the Great Man at one of the most innovative brands in watchmaking. In the often insular and deeply parochial world of traditional Swiss watchmaking, legacy is paradoxically desirable yet no guarantee of success. In no small way, this informs the significance of a man such as Jack (for convenience, we will refer to all the Heuer family members by their first names – Ed). Many great names of the horological past exist today as footnotes in museums or brand books. This is a blessing compared with the names that somehow adorn watches that are an insult to good taste everywhere. Better a place in history than one in ignominy, and Jack could have easily gone either way. Happily, the Carrera collection of 2023 gives us the chance to revisit the hows and whys behind Jack’s continuing significance to TAG Heuer.
THE CARRERA MAN
As a racing man himself, Jack was no stranger to the world of motorsports. In an interview with Gear Patrol, he shared that his proudest achievement was “placing the Heuer logo on the nose of the Ferrari F1 cars.” At the time, he was at the helm of the Heuer brand and was already supplying timing devices for the racetrack. He was a continuation of the Heuer lineage that had birthed similar genius, which began with founder Edouard Heuer. Edouard would go on to patent the manufacture’s first chronograph in 1882, then invent the oscillating pinion in 1887. The oscillating pinion enabled chronographs to start and stop instantly, at the push of a button, and remains in use today. Edouard was followed by his son, Charles- Auguste, who invented the Mikrograph and Microsplit (respectively a stopwatch that could measure up to 1/100th of a second, which was 10 times more accurate than the previous models; and a split- seconds version of the same). In the 20th century, Jack completely transformed the Heuer brand by the 1960s. It all began with a eureka moment at the celebrated 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
It was that fateful spring when he first learned of the Carrera Panamericana, the notorious Mexican road race where participation meant a one-way trip down the Pan-American highway; this remains the longest stretch of road in the world, and is infamous for being perpetually unfinished). In his 2013 autobiography, The Times of My Life, Jack credited the “sexy sound” of the word ‘carrera’ and its self- explanatory meaning (‘carrera’ means ‘race’ or ‘career’ in Spanish) as “very much Heuer territory”. Upon learning this, Jack took the name and ran with it – in 1963, Heuer debuted the Carrera Chronograph reference 2447S, which would then become the benchmark for future chronometers in its likeness.
To understand the Carrera, one must first understand Jack. This marketing mogul managed to navigate the erratic nature of the American consumer market, then an uncharted area for European businesses. Jack took bold approaches in increasing the visibility of the Heuer brand, such as venturing into Hollywood and getting the timepieces screen time via product placements – his greatest coup here was getting a Heuer “Monaco” chronograph on the wrist of Steve McQueen during the filming of Le Mans in 1970 (see issue #65 or online at Luxuo.com).
While Jack’s formal education qualified him as an electrical engineer with a proficiency in production and management (he was already imagining mechanical stopwatches being electrically powered one day), he described himself as a great lover of modern design. He referenced names such as Le Corbusier and Charles Eames, and architects Eero Saarinen and Oscar Niemeyer. The Carrera watch of 1963 was the first Heuer wristwatch chronograph that bore the design features that Jack desired – a clean and legible dial, silvered, with sunken counters for added depth, making the whole package restrained yet elegant.
The watch was a welcoming and refreshing addition, when compared with most of the vividly colourful chronographs at the time, with their thick bezels and busy tachymeter tracks, the latter of which Jack was desperate to be rid of. The first execution of the Carrera dials were not big on contrasts; neither did they sport artful finishes. Jack was all for designing a highly legible watch without the extra trimmings – monochromatic, matte-finished dials that would display your chronometric readings without the need for a double- take. This kind of clarity would have been vital on a road like the Pan-American Highway, where distractions still could still be fatal on some stretches.
Of course, chronographs that make you do a double- take these days are much sought-after, and the new 39mm Carrera Chronograph is one such watch. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves…
THE MODERN CARRERA CHRONOGRAPH
Anyone who is a fan of the Carrera legacy has deemed the watch a bearer of iconic design. But what does ‘iconic design’ really mean? Is it just because after 60 years, it has stood the test of time? A provision of artful conception that people never knew they wanted? Perhaps. But beyond fulfilling Jack’s ideal chronograph fantasy and cementing TAG Heuer’s position in the world of motorsports, the Carrera has proved itself immortal. At Watches & Wonders Geneva this year, TAG Heuer debuted two newly designed Carrera Chronograph models in 39mm. Both are designed in uniform colourways – blue and black – bearing features that we now know all too well.
In the black-dial version, the sunken counters take their assigned places against a “reverse-panda” aesthetic, a design adopted from the second execution of the reference 2447, the 2447NS (‘N’ for noir and ‘S’ for silver) from 1970. White registers stand out against a black dial, a configuration the editorial team finds more legible, and one whose adaptation has been replicated in the black retro-inspired version in true fashion, sans the white tachymeter track. Now to address that 12 o’clock date window, it is a feature taken from the Carrera “Dato 12” 3147N, a white-outlined, black-dial timepiece from the 1960s that is a quirky deviation from the golden marker of the 2447.
The “Dato 12” features the date written in red script that pops up in the striking white aperture, commanding a placement that is quite literally above the Carrera in name. Yet the minimalistic design finds balance (though better executed in the French-signed dials, where “Fab Suisse” balances out the gaping 6 o’clock hole) in the faceted case that still stands, along with the appliqué indices and matchstick hands. For the 12 o’clock date to reappear in the modern black version of the Carrera Chronograph, perhaps it is TAG Heuer’s way of saying that this noir recipe is here to stay. On the other hand, the panda-version aka 2447SN did also get its time in the limelight this year, where the reiteration of the 1968 original was unveiled at LVMH Watch Week, kicking off the Carrera’s 60th Anniversary celebrations.
Earlier, we mentioned the unwavering identity of the Carrera, where in spite of the many executions of the 2447, Jack’s design principles persevered. While a blue-dial Carrera Chronograph is not new, the updated look is still an exciting one to unpack. Immediately, the dial’s sunray finish captures different depths of blue in various lighting, illuminating the snailed guilloché on the subsidiary dials. The small seconds at 6 o’clock takes off some bulk from the layout, pointing to marked indicators instead, with the date aperture on this half of the face. While there have been blue-eyed versions of the Carrera Chronograph, the previous iteration being two years ago, it last wore large at 42mm.
The new 39mm has a softened look, emphasised by the outward-looking tachymeter scale that further frames the dial space. The standout feature is the domed sapphire crystal “glassbox” that keeps it all in, completing the look of the case without any extra metal; the black version has the same design. The crystal recalls the hesalite glass domes of watches in the 1960s (sapphire crystals were not used until a decade later), though TAG Heuer first introduced it to a Carrera chronograph in 2014. Since then, the brand has offered just eight Carreras in the glassbox case, all of them limited editions. Most recently, in 2021, there was a teal-dial chronograph in a limited run of just 500 pieces, and last year’s red dial chronograph that was limited to 600 pieces. This latest “glassbox” gets the quotation marks because it is not a glassbox, being completely soft where the hesalite was angular (hence the ‘box’ part of the name).
Powering all functions of the 39mm Carrera Chronographs is the in-house self- winding TH20-00 movement, which is built on the base of the long-serving Heuer 02, itself a modified version of the Calibre 1969 movement, preserving the 80-hour power reserve. The revamped TH20-00 sports a bi-directional skeletonized rotor, and is now protected with an extended five-year warranty, up from the previous two.
With two distinct expressions of the 39mm Carrera Chronograph as the frontrunners of this year’s Carrera lineup, TAG Heuer introduces a tourbillon version made in its likeness. The addition of the tourbillon modifies the aforementioned base TH20- 00 movement into the TH20-09, which is housed in a 42mm case and encased in the same “glassbox” crystal. An open-worked tourbillon cage takes centre stage against the blue dial, where striking orange accents recall the vibrancy of 1960s race car dashboards. More reds, oranges, and yellows are seen in the new blue and black models of the Carrera Chronograph Timeless, whose design codes are true replicas, though less can be said for the colours, which are novelty additions.
TAG Heuer’s approach to tradition is distinctively contemporary, with the use of “avant-garde innovation”. With more than 500 Carrera references over the course of 60 years, now is the time to witness how TAG Heuer modernises the iconic model. Thus, one could say that the new TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant d’Avant-Garde chronograph has been plunged into the deep end of experimentation waters, because inserting lab-grown diamonds in the crevices of an anodised aluminium Carrera body sounds more Frankenstein than Ex Machina. After introducing the Carrera Plasma at Watches and Wonders Geneva last year, CEO Frédéric Arnault could barely hide his excitement at this year’s keynote address when he followed up with TAG Heuer’s first foray in coloured lab-grown diamonds (a soft pink colour achieved using chemical vapour deposition (CVD), and implementing them in a 36mm Carrera model.
Further tribute to the original Carrera in its original 36mm size can be found in the new colourful collective of the TAG Heuer Carrera Date, released in four dial colourways: deep blue, pastel green, warm silver, and bright pink. The playful timepieces are the result of a subtle redesign, sporting a slimmer body, a new crown and bracelet. The watches are also fitted with the new Calibre 7 Automatic movement, which now provides a 56-hour power reserve, up from the previous 38 of Calbre 5. The audacious pink addition is unquestionably unconventional yet intentional, for instead of attuning the shade into another pastel number, TAG Heuer has reinterpreted pink into a desirable number.
Arnault highlighted reliability, performance, and innovation, and three main pillars for TAG Heuer in the years ahead, even having already described moving the Carrera into its “seventh decade”. “I am very proud to say that when we shared these new pieces with Jack Heuer, he was absolutely thrilled about the evolution of his inventions,” said Arnault in the aforementioned keynote speech. The young CEO also provided an insight to future projects alongside Porsche, a partnership that TAG Heuer started in 2021. With the Porsche 911 marking its 60th anniversary in 2023, plans have been set to see another Carrera timepiece commemorating the milestone.
So, with the Carrera now crossing into the twilight zones of past and present, who is the Carrera-wearing person of the future? Perhaps it is someone a little like Ryan Gosling, who is literally on a chase for Carrera in a new short film. Watching Gosling go through action-packed trouble just for “one last spin around the dial” with the blue-dial 39mm Carrera Chronograph is a reminder that the timepieces can be fun. ‘Why is it this hard to have the watch?’ you may wonder, but then you find yourself rooting for Gosling, applauding him for his slick getaways (well, probably not him exactly, but let’s not kill the magic) as he masterfully manoeuvres a red Porsche 911 – a possible tribute that resembles Jack Heuer’s first red MGA sports car. Then we share a sliver of peace with Gosling who finally gets to admire his Carrera while cruising down the street with the windows down. After everything that has preceded the Carrera up to this moment, and new milestones coming its way, the Carrera remains to be a story of radically modern heritage.
This article was first published as the cover story on World of Watches #69 Summer 2023
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