I’ve always found the use of different case materials to be interesting. It’s one reason why I enjoy the second generation of Carrera so much, as it used such a range of materials.
The majority were steel, of course, but it also came in gold-plate, 18K yellow gold, black PVD (Monza and Modena) and chrome-plate (also Monza). It’s by no means alone in the Heuer range in using a less common case material than steel either. The Titanium series of the 1980s was up front about the material it was made of, putting it right there on the dial:
It’s something TAG Heuer have continued too, particularly under the auspices of LVMH, with the haute horologerie range often featuring precious metals such as platinum and white gold to help soften the cost of what are still effectively more or less prototype movements.
Even us mere mortals have had non-steel case materials available to us, with gold Carreras, rose gold Grand Carreras and a titanium Carrera Day Date, to name a few.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise, then, to see an unusual case material at this January’s show in Geneva, but I don’t know how many people were genuinely expecting carbon.
The Carrera 1887 CMC Concept
Indeed, the carbon watch wasn’t even at the show when it started! To be fair, it might have overshadowed the Jack Heuer 1887 Carrera which many people were there to see.
But it did cause a stir when it arrived. I say “it”, but there were in fact two watches. One went to the wrist of CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, whilst the other went to the team showing attendees all the new arrivals.
At a glance, the new watch clearly shows its familial relationship with the Jack Heuer 1887. The same rotated movement, allowing a 3-6-9 register layout and forcing the “bullhead” arrangement of pushers. The same case, based on the Mikrogirder’s, with a round centre section rising slightly from a framework of skeletonised lugs. Where the titanium carbide section of the Jack Heuer contrasts with its satin steel lugs though, this watch has them all in carbon.
Part of the quality feel of a watch can often come from its weight. It’s one of the reasons why the extra heft of a Carrera 1158’s gold feels better to wear than an 1153’s steel. So when you first hold this watch, its (lack of) weight can come as something of a shock, especially as, at 45mm, it’s not the smallest of watches. At 19 grammes all in, the case in fact weighs less than the movement it houses. Nonetheless, it still has a quality feel in the hand and on the wrist.
It’s worth mentioning the dial too.
Unlike many carbon dials, it’s not a weave of carbon-fibre but instead an ultra-thin sheet of carbon on a brass backing. This means that every dial will be subtly different. There is a groove in the dial to emulate the separation between the different coloured areas on the Jack Heuer, but instead of that watch’s steel markers it has the Black Gold 5 min/sec markers reminiscent of a Carrera Day Date’s.
The movement is finished in a dark grey and sits behind a smoked sapphire crystal too, all complementing the dark case and dial. The strap is shaved, matte leather and the deployant clasp is carbon too, all fitting in nicely with the overall look of the watch.
Now, I mentioned there were two watches earlier, and it’s time to come clean about that. All the images we have shown you so far are of a prototype watch, where the finish isn’t all that close to what the finished article will be. But there’s some good news coming here. Once prised away from Monsieur Babin, the second watch, the one closer to what will be going on sale later this year, reveals a much more attractive finish.
Carbon is laid up in sheets and bonded, not with the usual epoxy resin but with polyamide, before being “cooked” in an autoclave. The substitution of polyamide (similar to nylon) gets around the problem some people experience with allergic reactions to epoxies. TAG Heuer also feel their process will be easier to reproduce on an industrial scale than, for example, Audemars Piguet’s “forged” carbon cases and this will be reflected in the cost to the consumer too. Whilst prices are still under discussion, the estimates discussed at the show fall way short of the premium over the steel/titanium of the Jack Heuer’s case that many show attendees were expecting.
The way the case is then finished will again determine what of the crystalline structure of the carbon is visible. Therefore, as well as the dials varying from watch to watch, the finer details of each case will also be different. Much like buying an Omega or Rolex meteorite dial, then, this could be one of those watches that rewards a bit of shopping around to get one that really attracts you.
It’s fair to say that I was pretty taken with this watch and I really should apologise to both Jeff Stein for making him take so many photos of them and to all the other attendees who might have liked more time with the carbon watches!
Pricing, release date, limited numbers etc are all under discussion still, so we’ll need to wait from further word from TAG Heuer on that front, but I would urge anyone even vaguely intrigued by this watch to seek one out when they are available. It’s something very different, technical and interesting and it may well appeal to you on all those fronts, regardless of what you feel about its aesthetics. Personally, I love it!
Production Model Update- Reference CAR2C90
2015 Update- DC
So, it’s been a couple of years since we first saw the prototype of this watch, and as Mark Moss foreshadowed, the watch did indeed make it into production. These photos come from a regular Calibre 11 reader and show the final design of the CMC case.
The image below shows the evolution of the three cases- top left is the Basel prototype, with a finish you might expect on a titanium carbide coated steel case, while top right was the proposed production case. This second prototype case has that typical carbon fibre weave that give the chequerboard finish.
But the final case is quite different- almost a “marbled” finish like a fine Wagyu steak.
Other than the look of the case, the production watch is essentially the same as the prototype, and you have the say that’s a good thing- it’s a highly technical watch and perhaps the most successful iteration of the Carrera Bullhead design.
References Mark Moss  Calibre 11  Jeff Stein
2015 Update Photos by Shelton Kwan