The Calibre 1887 Story

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   22 March 2010   |   22 Comments  

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.

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