TAG Heuer’s 1887 Calibre: In-house Design?

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   6 December 2009   |   29 Comments  

Its been a busy week for TAG Heuer- releasing the new Silverstone re-edition, celebrating its 25th anniversary of working with the Mclaren F1 team and announcing a brand new in-house movement, the Calibre 1887. Like may Swiss watch makers, Heuer/ TAG Heuer gave up making their own movements in the early 1980s and began to reply upon suppliers such as ETA and Lemania- both controlled by the Swatch Group.

For the last few years Swatch has been trying to eliminate supply of its ETA movements to customers outside the Swatch Group- however, the EU has intervened and forced Swatch to scale down external supply over a number of years, rather than to cease immediately. This uncertainly around supply of movements has shocked the Swiss houses into action, and TAG Heuer has been at the forefront of developing its own movements- the V4, the Calibre 360, the Calibre S and the Microtimer.

Calibre 1887

And now TAG Heuer has announced the Calibre 1887, a 39 Jewel chronograph oscillating at 28,800 beats per hour. The Calibre 1887 has the following features:

  • 50 hour power reserve
  • Display: Hours, minutes,  date at 6 o’clock, central chrono. hand
  • Sub-dials: seconds at 9 o’clock, minutes elapsed at 12 o’clock, hours elapsed at 6 o’clock

TAG Heuer say that the Calibre 1887 will only be used on a small number of models and that the company will still source movements from its external suppliers- ETA, Zenith and Dubois-Depraz.

So far, so good- but there are some people questioning TAG Heuer’s claim that the Calibre 1887 is “100% in-house”- could the Calibre 1887 simply be a modified Seiko movement?

There’s an interesting post at WatchUSeek that compares several key elements of the Calibre 1887 with the Seiko 6S37 movement and concludes that they are “basically” the same movement with a new plates and bridges. Yet the TAG Heuer press release says:

“The Calibre 1887 is the fifth movement designed 100% in-house by TAG Heuer

TAG Heuer certainly make it clear that it sources some parts and components from outside suppliers, which is the way it has always been in Swiss watch-making and is nothing unusual. It also notes that the movement will comply with the requirements of being “Swiss Made” (>50% components made in Switzerland), although acknowledges that some components are made in other countries.

So what is going on?

I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the various claims. After all, TAG Heuer claim the Calibre 360 as an in-house movement, even though it uses an ETA 2893 base movement. This is fine with me, as the magic of the Calibre 360 is the chronograph movement, which is TAG Heuer developed.

Perhaps TAG Heuer has bought the rights from Seiko for the base movement and then designed and produced custom components in Switzerland to improve the quality and reliability of the calibre. Perhaps the WUS posters have it wrong and the similarities between the two movements are simply a coincidence. On balance, it wouldn’t be a surprise if TAG Heuer had used the Seiko movement as its base movement.

Using the base movement of another manufacturer and then improving and customizing it makes a lot of sense, and is nothing to be ashamed about- for example, the Volkswagen Phaeton shares its platform with the Bentley Continental without detracting from the engineering reputation of Bentley. In fact, designing and manufacturing an in-house movement only to use it on “a small proportion” of TAG’s watches just wouldn’t make economic sense.

It is clear that TAG Heuer has made a very significant investment in its movement design and manufacturing capabilities over the last few years, and of this it is rightly proud. It would be a shame if these developments were compromised by over-ambitious marketing claims that focus people on what TAG Heuer didn’t do, rather than what TAG Heuer did accomplish.

***

Photos: TAG Heuer

Update- 23 December

Since this article was originally posted there have been several developments in the Calibre 1887 story- catch up with the latest here


Home » Calibre 1887, Future Models
  • Andrew

    http://www.worldtempus.com/fr/actualites/a-la-une

    "Francoise Bezzola, marketing director: '…we chose to modify and to optimize a calibre already existing'"

  • http://www.tagheuer.com Babin

    Hi, I'm J.C. Babin the CEO of TAG Heuer, and YES, the new Caliber 1887 is based on a SII (Seiko Instruments Inc.) TC78 platform developped and patented in 1997 (filing) and eversince produced in very limited quantities, apparently for Junghans and Seiko watches in Japan. The caliber we propose and announced last week in London is a major evolution of this platform even though I aknowledge that the overall construction may look similar at first glance. However, the TAG Heuer movement is much different in terms of components, size and eventually performances, not to mention it is manufactured (all its key components including plate, bridges, assortment, cannon pinion, eccentrics etc….) in Switzerland in TAG Heuer workshops of Cornol (Cortech – a company owned by TAG Heuer and already producing TAG Heuer and Zenith cases) and La Chaux-de-Fonds (where we have also the HQs and where we added 30.000 sq feet more last year for movements assembling and other manufacturig projects) as well as from "best in class" partners such as Nivarox.

    – Dimensions: it's broader (29.3 mm vs 28 mm) and thinner (7.13 mm vs 7.27 mm)

    – Therefore the main plate, bridges – especially the chronograph bridge – and oscillating mass have been significantly modified to allow this evolution

    – Its assortment is a swiss asortment specifically developped by Nivarox for TAG Heuer, and allowing to improve further accuracy and shocks resistancy

    – New assortment centring of the balance wheel also specifically developped by KIF, a leading swiss expert company in balance wheels centrings

    – Change and development of a new swiss engineered cannon pinion to increase time-setting overtime reliability

    – Redesign of the fixing of ball bearings of the mass to contribute reducing the thickness

    – Adjustements to pass the famous "60 TAG Heuer torture tests" in terms of accuracy, reliability, thermical and physical shocks resistancy, chemical agressions etc….

    We have today already 45 TAG Heuer people working full time on that project in Switzerland and work with 21 other suppliers for additional parts, most being swiss. Total investment is several tenth of mio USD.

    I would therefore qualify that movement as really in-house and manufactured by TAG Heuer even though, yes, the original IP has been acquired from SII. Please note that the original SII Caliber has always been praised by watches experts.

    I hope I answer your questions as well as our fellow Watchuseek lovers !!!

    Good evening – JCB

  • http://www.tagheuer.com Babin

    Always a pleasure to share the evening with other watch lovers. And sincerely apologize if ever I created some confusion initially as it was never meant to be. Remember that in 1969 we did not do it alone either but with Breitling, Buren, Hamilton and Dubois-Depraz. When you want to produce high quality in significant volumes, capitalizing rather than re-inventing the wheel can be a smart idea especially if the outcome is a beautiful, reliable, performant, evolutive and versatile movement. And Caliber 1887 is that. For breakthrough it's another story,……but for everyone apparently, except maybe with TAG Heuer, but then through the V4 and unfortunately with…..only 150 masterpieces produced as we lack capacity for such a daring re-invention of a mechanical movement.

  • Admin

    M. Babin, many thanks for taking the time to clear up the origins of the new movement and providing additional details on modification work done by TAG Heuer.

    Hope that you continue to visit Calibre 11 when time allows- its great to have a CEO as passionate about watches as we are.

    Regards

    David

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  • http://watchandclockforum.com/index.php Thomas Carey

    You know for many years there has been much rumor and speculations about such things going on in the Swiss industry. In fact many allege that many parts on the celebrated Swiss brands are Chinese in origin. I wonder what else will come out now if anything.

  • Johan

    That’s very interesting stuff you have here, David! Comments from the TAG Heuer CEO is indeed high praise of your excellent website.

    I guess no one has an objection to the idea of TAG Heuer acquiring the rights to an old Seiko movement, modifying and improving the same and using it for a new watch. The issue is instead with the 100 % inhouse statement as opposed to “I would therefore qualify that movement as really in-house and manufactured by TAG Heuer even though, yes, the original IP has been acquired from SII”.

    I think watch brands in general tend to stretch the truth a bit in their marketing spiel and it is a good thing that we collectors question these kind of statements or claims. I doubt TAG Heuer is worse or better than many others and I personally don’t think this is a PR disaster, just a bit of a hiccup and maybe it can lead to some introspection and improvement. In the long run, the luxury brands with 100 % credibility will almost certainly be the ones who can command a price premium.

    Any early pictures of the anniversary Carrera which will be the first home for this controversial movement? :D

    Cheers!
    Johan

  • Admin

    Thomas, this goes on in many luxury good businesses- not just watches. being in Hong Kong its amazing to head across the border and see the factories producing OEM handbags, clothes and bags- all down to the "Made in France" tag. This then gets shipped to Europe and finished.

    Does it matter? The new Aston Martin is built in Austria, the BMW 3-series on sale in Australia is made in South Africa.

    I guess that's why the hurdle for "Swiss Made" is set at 50%. So long as there is no discernible difference in quality, I have no problems with components coming from outside Switzerland- I do agree that sourcing from outside of Europe is the dirty-secret of the Luxury goods industry…no-one wants to highlight the fact that it goes on.

    Cheers

  • Admin

    Thanks Johan- is that what you've heard? That the Calibre 1887 will be first seen in an anniversary Carrera? News to me, but good news.

    Agree with your comments- imagine if TAG Heuer had their time again they may have changed the reference to "100%".

    Cheers

  • Johan

    Some website (Worldtempus.com) makes reference to the 1887 to be launched in an anniversary Carrera during 2010 (presumably Basel). But you can't always trust what you see on internet. I just read the 1887 press release on http://presscorner.tagheuer.com/ and, if this is the way it read originally, the reaction to the 100 % statement is surprising. This press release reveals the Seiko platform in the very first paragraph and it says "assembled 100 % inhouse by TAG Heuer" some place further down. Maybe there was an early misleading version and it has been removed?

  • Jean-Christophe Babin

    Hello,
    The patent is a 1997-1999 SII (Seiko Instruments Inc.) patent which was granted to TAG Heuer to use as IP for its own movement. On that base, TAG Heuer totally engineered, industialized and redevelopped the main parts of the Caliber, all manufactured in Switzerland either by TAG Heuer in its Cornol Factory (Plate, bridges) or by top-end swiss suppliers such as Nivarox for the assortment of Kif for the raquetterie. The movement and its 320 parts is then 100% assembled in another TAG Heuer Factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The movement is 29.3 mm diameter and 7.13 mm thick i.e. different from the original TC78 patent. It is absolutely Swiss Made and meets TAG Heuer highest quality requirements. 19 of the 20 components suppliers involved in making the other parts are swiss. SII supplies to TAG Heuer some pins, screws or levers. But not major horological components. Many movements manufacturers use components coming from both Switzerland and other countries as eventually what counts is to put together the best quality possible within the swiss unique watchmaking craftmanship frame.

  • Admin

    Thanks Jean-Christophe- can you give us some clues on which models we'll see the new movement in first? Is the speculation about a special Carrera for the 150th anniversary correct?

    David

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  • http://www.sunglassespublisher.com/ over sunglasses

    Hi, I applaud your blog for informing people, very interesting article, keep up it coming :)

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  • Jerry

    In-house is in-house. Highly modified base movement is highly modified base mvnt. That ultimately is the bottom line; no need to get “technical” with terms, lawyers, and internet rage.

    Any monkey can throw any number of catch-phrases, try to redefine understood terminology, and make something sound more sophisticated than what it really is. Come on, let’s be honest with each other here; someone at Tag dropped the ball on marketing the new 1887 and it got passed through management somehow. Maybe they’re trying to play us for fools? Maybe they thought we wouldn’t notice? Maybe they wanted to generate negative publicity at launch? Regardless, someone should take responsibility, salvage this situation with dignity, and attempt to build credibility with the fans again.

    Other design houses may be mocking the launch of the 1887, but I wouldn’t pay attention to them. Continue doing what you need to do, and keep innovating. Mr. CEO, thanks for coming forward. Playing damage control like this, I believe, is only the first step.

    Best Regards.

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  • Albert Kotze

    @Babin, I think you had Erhard Junghans in mind when you stated that the movement was used by Seiko and "Junghans". The movement is used in the Aerious of Erhard Junghans.

  • DC

    Thanks Albert

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  • Brian

    Thanks to Mr. Babin, Tag Heuer has definitely won itself a new customer in me. Many companies make great watches, but I truly admire the CEO that comes to a watch enthusiast website to connect with loyal followers and potential new customers to the brand. Furthermore, the clear explanation of the Calibre 1887's design shows pride and passion for his company's work and products that parallels the importance of whether a company's movements are truly in-house.

    Without a doubt, the Calibre 1887 43MM will be my next purchase!

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