Eclaté_de_mouvement_-_Calibre_1887

The Calibre 1887 Story

Debating the merits of watch movements is usually a sport reserved for the true Watch Idiot Savant. When I bought my first automatic watch (a Heuer Monza re-edition), I took it back to the store shortly after I bought it because I noticed that if I didn’t wear it for a few days, it tended to stop. The funny thing is that as soon as I started wearing it again, it worked fine…surely I can’t be the only one who has done this.

One of the secrets of the Swiss watch industry over the last 20 years is that basically everyone was using the same movements- OK, a few high-end brands had their own, but generally it was ETA/ Valjoux as far as they eye could see and customers generally didn’t care.

But this has changed somewhat, and watch companies are now looking to establish themselves in a crowded market as being a “real” watchmaker- of course, the truth is that if ETA/ Swatch hadn’t forced their hand, most would still be happy to use the same reliable movements that they had for years.

And so to the Calibre 1887 (ignore the “Calibre 18” in the photo above- that is just a prototype)- TAG Heuer’s first movement built in-house, based on the design of the Seiko 6S37 chronograph movement- critically, a much newer design that the tried and trusted Calibre 17/ ETA 2894. The story behind the Calibre 1887 movement was one of the things I was most looking forward to learning about during my visit to TAG Heuer- and it is a very interesting story, not just the movement itself, but the scale of TAG Heuers ambitions as a manufacturer of chronograph movements.

Origins and Design

The idea for Calibre 1887 started about 4 years, when TAG Heuer decided that it needed to have access to its own high-volume chronograph movement, to ensure that supply wasn’t constrained by whatever Swatch ended up deciding to do with supplying ETA movements outside the group. Yes, TAG Heuer had good access to the El Primero Calibre 36, but not in the volumes required.

TAG Heuer acquired the rights to the European production of the 6s37 from Seiko Instruments and then began the process of re-engineering the movement and putting together the resources and skills for production of the movement.

The Calibre 1887 is an integrated chronograph movement with 320 parts in total. Of that, about 270 are made in Switzerland, some by TAG Heuer/ Cortech (bridges, plates, oscillating weight) and some by specialist suppliers such as Nivarox. Some of these parts have been upgraded from the original design (for example, the main plates are larger).

The key specs of the movement are as follows:

  • 28,800 vibrations/ hr
  • 50 hour power reserve
  • 39 Jewels (41 if fitted with power reserve)
  • Oscillating Pinion
  • Column Wheel
  • High Efficiency Rewinding (“HER”) system
  • 12-6-9 dial layout

T-0: Cortech

By way of background, take a look at this post that explains the TAG Heuer production process.

The life of the Calibre 1887 begins at Cortech, which two years ago set up a dedicated team to manufacture the bridges, plates and oscillating weight for the new movement. This was a first for Cortech, as previously they had only produced cases, bezels and case backs, although at least starting from scratch meant that the latest manufacturing processes and robots could be put in place.

The team spent more than 18 months learning how to build the new pieces at a separate location while Cortech was being upgraded, and only moved back in a few months ago.

The Calibre 1887 components are all made from square brass ingots, which are stamped and cut in the various parts. The board below shows the parts made here in T-0 and the steps.

Obviously the precision required for these parts is extremely high- the depth and diameter of the holes must be precise to accommodate the screws and jewels. Below are the main machines that turn the brass ingots into finished products. You may recall from the earlier post on Cortech that milling metal traditionally using requires a lot of oil- but not here.

These high-tech machines (designed in Switzerland specifically for TAG Heuer) use no oil and are instead temperature controlled. The ingots start at the left hand side of the photo and move their way down through various iterative cuts and incisions.

Once the plates are milled (about one hour),  jewels are then added using another high-tech robot that places each jewel in the right place. The parts are now ready to be sent to T-1 at TAG Heuer.

T-1: La Chaux de Fonds

TAG Heuer’s T-1 facility has about 15 people, the majority of whom are dedicated to the Calibre 1887 (a small number build the Monaco V4 watch and movement).

Just as Cortech have installed the latest equipment, so to has TAG Heuer at T-1. The movements move along a conveyor belt that runs under the work desks and  then pop up in front of the assembler. The computer screen indicates which step number is being completed (step 270 in the photo below) and highlights in green the parts that should be fitted, as well as any specific notes. The other technical development is the inventory tracking system, which has sensors tracking the completeness and progress of all movements.

Some elements of the assembly process are automated- for example the jewels in the movement being automatically oiled. The whole process is highly efficient and allows TAG Heuer to produce the high volumes required with great precision and efficiency.

Targets

This being the first year or production, TAG Heuer are aiming to assemble about 15,000 units, with the goal of increasing  that to 50,000 in 2011. To put that in perspective, that will make TAG Heuer Switzerland’s second largest producer of automatic movements after ETA, which would be a huge achievement. At the moment, the only Calibre 1887 model that has been announced is the Carrera, but given that the movement will power about 25% of TAG Heuers annual chronograph production, it won’t be long before we see other Calibre 1887 models. The focus today is clearly on getting the simple things right- i.e. getting the production processes working well and making the new movement to the standards required. As they get that under control, it would be nice to see further refinement of the design to distinguish it from its Seiko origins.

The future

It’s not hard to imagine that there will be a power reserve variant of the Calibre 1887, but there are no current plans to seek COSC certification, as TAG Heuer are confident that the movement already performs at close to COSC guidelines and that the expense of certification isn’t worth the effort and cost.

What TAG Heuer now have is not just a high-volume, modern movement that is at least the equal of the ETA variants that it will supplement, but a new base of watch-making knowledge. The Calibre 1887 won’t be the last movement made by TAG Heuer- there are stories about TAG Heuer developing a high-end integrated Chronograph movement that will use elements of the Calibre 360 chronograph technology.

Ultimately, the Calibre 1887 represents a milestone for TAG Heuer and continues the rebuilding of the company’s reputation as a watch maker, not just a watch brand.

To see photos of the Calibre 1887-powered Carrera, take a look here.

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  • Speedmaster

    Wonderful pics!

  • DC

    Thanks Chris. It's a reassuringly elaborate process that makes you feel a little better about the price you pay for a new watch…

    David

  • BrandScottK

    Thanks a lot for taking us through the facility and process with the 1887. I do wish they would gain COSC certification, but I appreciate everything else that is being put into the process. Good point about making further strides to distinguish it from Seiko's original as well. All companies should be realizing this similarly with the amount of money spent on a cherished timepiece. Thanks again.

  • bla bla

    Man, I still cannot accept the fact that the marketing team claimed that the movement is 100% in-house. To me, producing and assembling this movement inside tag's factory does not make it in-house because they took the blue print from Seiko. In my view, to qualify as a "Manufacture" movement, tag has to design its own movement like the V4, not modify and improve what already existed. Look at A.Lange & Sohne, now they are true manufacturers.

  • DC

    No doubting A. Lange & Sohne's credibility- but we're talking very different price points to the Calibre 1887.

    Anyway, irrespective of what marketing did or did not say six months ago, the watch will be in the stores soon meaning that everyone can pass judgment at the cash register…

    David

  • Rex

    @bla bla – Do you always believe everything every marketing campaign says? When is the last time any marketing campaign was 100% accurate? It's called marketing for a reason. Half truths, embellishments, etc. It's all to paint the product in the best light so you buy theirs over someone else's. If a company can legally get away with saying something to make their product seem better they will.

  • Rex

    Oh, one more thing to add here. In the engineering world, it is very rare for a company to start off with clean sheet designs, regardless of the product. First, it is too expensive, and second, it takes too long. Case in point – the V4. Look how long it took for that movement to go from design to production. It is far quicker and cheaper for a company to start with an existing design and modify it to work for the intended purpose.

  • DT

    Hey,

    does anyone know where does Tag Heuer or in this case Cortech/Nivarox get their raw materials from? ie. their brass? need some help here..=)

    doing a proj bout them..

    • DC

      Sorry DT- that's a level of detail I can't help you with

      dc

  • DT

    thnx DC…

    another qns…what are the difficulties do you think Tag Heuer face in implementing sucha strategy??

  • DC

    DT, you mean a manufacturing strategy?

    Well, its not that simple to become a manufacturer. TAG Heuer's CEO says that the Calibre 1887 project was originally planned for 2009…and then was pushed to 2010. He also says it will take up to 5 year to reach full manufacturing levels of output.

    This shows the complexity of getting such precision instruments manufactured to the right quality levels.

    But, how risky would it have been to have done nothing and be faced with a shortages of movements from your largest competitor (i.e. Omega/ ETA/ Swatch)?

    dc

  • Snowl

    Wow, did not read this article when I was out searching for a Carrera Cal. 1887. Bought my V2 CAR2111 last year and am still very, very happy with it. A power reserve would indeed be nice, but one always needs something to wish for.

    • DC

      Hi,

      Not sure what happened to the Power Reserve..I saw the prototype a couple of years ago- maybe they decided not to go ahead?

      dc

  • eddie

    I found this watch in a box off junk i brought in a car boot sale.. i took it 2 th jewellers ad thay had alook at it ad sed there was alittle flaw in it . Its not much like its something got 2 do wi th wind wheel.. now cud u tell me if it,s worth getting fix,d as i doint no wat th watch is wourth.. so im asking cud u help me out on th prize it may be..?.. b4 i get it fix,d, like wud it be wourth getn fix,d…?? Thank u…..

  • Dan

    I got a Calibre 1887 41mm… is it a good model?

    • neo lidon

      I also have a car2110. ba0724
      I think our model is a one of the best chronograph and carrera

  • Hunter Kirchner

    Does anyone know how long it takes to build a Carrera 1887 from begining to end?