TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrograph Review

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   19 January 2011   |   9 Comments  

There aren’t many watch companies today that don’t speak of their heritage- sepia photos of the famous watches from the past, the technological achievements and of course the stars who owned them. All of this is nice, but in the end meaningless unless the company of today is building watches worthy of that legacy and not just milking an old name.

And that’s what I like about TAG Heuer today- yes, there are the heritage models from the great legacy, but there are also genuine breakthroughs and innovations, such as the Monaco V4, The Calibre 360, the Pendulum- and now this watch: the Carrera Mikrograph (ref. CAR5040.FC8177).

As always, official photos are one thing, but it’s really hard to know what a watch is really like until you get to see it in person and play around with it- something that I was lucky enough to be able to do to bring you this review of the first of TAG Heuer’s 2011 models.

Origins

The origins of the Mikrograph may well stretch back to the famous stopwatch of 1916, but the modern history of the watch starts in 2005 when TH introduced the Calibre 360, the world’s first automatic chronograph capable of 1/ 100th second accuracy.  This was possible due to the amazing 360,000 beats per hour of the Chronograph module- 10 times faster than the legendary El Primero (Calibre 36) movement. The Calibre 360 was a modular movement made up of 230 components that was a combination an automatic ETA 2893 base module and a manual-wind, in-house chronograph movement.

The movement made its first appearance at Basel 2005 in the Carrera Calibre 360 Concept, which came to market in late 2005 as the Limited Edition Vanquish. Only eleven pieces of the Vanquish were made, all sold in Switzerland.

The next watch to use the Calibre 360 movement was the Carrera Calibre 360, a series of four Limited Edition watches announced at Baselworld 2006.  The Carrera 360 set a new price level for TH, with the model below (Rose Gold Carrera 360) having a retail price of around USD18,000. There were four versions of the Carrera 360- stainless steel (360 watches), white Gold (100), Rose Gold (500) and Black PVD (10).

While the movement was also used in the Calibre 360 LS Concept of 2006, it was never used again in a production watch. While the movement was able to achieve the stated accuracy, it was limited by its origins as a module Chronograph- it was a little like dropping a Ferrari engine into a VW Golf- the car may still be able to reach 300 km/h, but with not without straining the other components that were designed for a more normal life. But although TAG Heuer moved its focus to developing the Monaco V4, the intention always was to further refine the Calibre 360.

The Mikrograph Movement

The Mikrograph owes a lot to the basic layout of the Calibre 360- two different assortments (balance wheels, escapements and transmission systems) operating at different frequencies to make sure that the chronograph doesn’t unduly impact the usability of the time-keeping function. However unlike the Calibre 360, the Mikrograph movement is an integrated movement, with the whole movement specifically designed, developed and manufactured in-house by TAG Heuer. Not one part from the Calibre 360 is carried over.

(ignore what look like gold vertical lines on the movement above- that is just reflected light- the back plate is pure black)

The key stats of  the new movement are:

  • COSC certified
  • 62 jewels
  • Power Reserve: 42 hours (Watch); 90 minutes (Chronograph)
  • 2 Balance Wheels: 28’800 vibrations per hour (watch); 36,000 vibrations per hour (Chronograph)

Of course, the party-trick of the watch is watching the central blue Chrono hand complete a full revolution every second- take a look below at the official video to see the watch in action.

Like the Calibre 360, the Chronograph function must be manually wound, which is why there is a power-reserve indicator showing the percentage of the 90-minute worth of Chronograph power that remains.

What surprised me about the Sweeping hand was how smooth the movement was- the Calibre 360 used to make an amazing sound as the little hand buzzed around the small register, but this is a lot calmer.

The Mikrograph was designed by TAG Heuer and is manufactured in-house at an internal prototyping unit- a small workshop that hand-builds the Monaco V4 and now the Mikrograph. This is totally separate to the Cortech facility that manufactures the Calibre 1887.

As always with the watchmaking industry, specialist sub-contractors are used- CEO Jean-Christophe Babin had no hesitation in mentioning the role that Atokalper (part of the Sandoz foundation) and Dubois Depraz play as sub-contractors, with TAG Heuer itself making components, including the complex plates, as well as building the watches.

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