Tag Heuer - La chaux-de-fonds - 35.10.2010
©Thierry Porchet

History of the ETA 7750 and TAG Heuer

The ETA 7750 movement, also known as the TAG Heuer Calibre 16, is perhaps the most successful automatic chronograph movement ever produced. While it has become fashionable to regard the 7750 as a generic, “common” movement, the calibre is easily able to meet COSC Chronometre standards (in top spec) and can be found in a range of high-end watch brands, including IWC, Tudor, Panerai, Hublot and, of course, TAG Heuer.

But as the watch world prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the movement in 2014, from a TAG Heuer perspective, the 7750 era is drawing to a close.

CAT2011.BA0952_LINK_CALIBRE_16_CHRONOGRAPH_MOOD_PACKSHOT_2012The story of the 7750 is one that mirrors the fortunes of the Swiss watch industry- born during a burst of innovation in the early 1970s, discontinued during the quartz revolution of the mid-1970s, only to be revived in the mid-1980s as the industry stabilised.

And by the late 1990s, the 7750 was the most popular automatic chronograph movement on the planet. Not bad for a calibre that should have died in 1975, if not for an act of corporate disobedience.

Developing the 7750

The 7750 was developed by Valjoux, a legendary movement maker that was part of the giant ASUAG conglomerate. Created in 1931, AUSAG consolidated many of the independent movement makers in Switzerland. By the early 1970s, AUSAG included several watch brands, such as Certina, Edox, Eterna, Oris and Longines. The origins of the 7750 spring from another famous name from the past, Venus, which became part of Valjoux in 1966.

Many of the world’s best known automatic chronograph movements were developed in the arms race of the late 1960s. Between 1969-1974, there was a golden age of innovation, with the Heuer- Breitling- Hamilton Chronomatic (1969), Seiko 6139 (1969), Zenith El Primero (1969) and Lemania 5100 (1973) all being launched.

Although Valjoux was the leader in manual-wind chronographs, it was slow to the self-winding party, appointing Edmond Capt to lead the development of a new movement in the early 1970s. Based on the manual-wind Valjoux 7733 (itself a descendent of the Venus 188), the 7750 was first available in watches in 1974, having been one of the first movements to be designed with the aid of a computer.

Valjoux 7750A reliable, cost-effective calibre, the 7750 is relatively thick and large compared to its contemporary competitors. There is also a sonic signature: the sound of the rotor. The 7750 is mono-directional (only winds in one direction), and so has a relatively large and heavy oscillating weight that can reach high speeds when rotating in its non-winding direction. Because it free-spins in one direction, you can sometimes feel the movement “wobbling” on your wrist. It’s alive!

The first versions of the Valjoux 7750 came in two frequencies- 21,600 bph and 28,800 bph, each with 17 jewels.

Quartz Crisis

Seiko_35ADespite a promising start (an estimated 100,000 units in its first year), the Valjoux 7750 was all but dead by 1975, when the decision was taken to stop production. The advent of low-cost quartz movements from Japan had all but destroyed demand for expensive Swiss mechanical watches. Despite stopping production in 1975, such was the drop in demand for the movement, that supply lasted until the early 1980s.

However, just as happened with the El Primero at Zenith, local management ignored the orders to destroy the dies and equipment used to manufacture the 7750, instead hiding the equipment away from corporate eyes.

Heuer and the Valjoux 7750

Valjoux7750As a major customer of Valjoux’s manual wind movements during the 1960s, it was no surprise that Heuer would offer watches with the 7750 movement, despite having its own Calibre 11 engine.

The 7750 first appeared in 1977, when Heuer launched two new models- the Kentucky (below) and the Pasadena. While the Kentucky had a relatively short life (1977, 1978), the Pasadena was available until the end of Heuer family ownership in 1982.

In addition, Heuer launched a second-generation Heuer Montreal in 1981 (below), a design which was a similar to the Pasadena.

7143268477_603a599805_zSo why did Heuer stop using the Valjoux 7750 in 1982? The reason was not so much that supplies had come to an end, but because of the involvement of Heuer’s new co-owner- Lemania.

While Valjoux was part of AUSAG, Lemania had been part of the rival conglomerate SSIH. When AUSAG and SSIH came together in the early 1980s to form Swatch Group, some rationalisation was needed. Given that the new group already had movement experts ETA and Valjoux, Lemania was deemed surplus to requirements, and so was spun out of SSIH as a new independent company, Nouvelle Lemania (today, Lemania has returned to the fold- it is part of Swatch Group- essentially what Breguet call their “in-house” movements are made by the Lemania).

Nouvelle Lemania combined with Piaget to buy Heuer in 1982, and so wanted to make sure that Heuer used Lemania automatic movements- the Lemania 5100 and the LWO 283. And so in the early 1980s, it seemed like the use of the Valjoux 7750 by Heuer would be a relatively short chapter in brand’s history, especially given that there had been no new 7750’s produced for more than 7 years.

1985: Re-birth of the 7750

7750 FamilyProduction of the Valjoux 7750 re-started in 1985, as business conditions began to stabilise following the creation of what we now know as Swatch Group.

Valjoux began to expand the number of variations of the 7750, offering  two, three and four (!), as well as a moon-phase complication.

Why bring back the 7750? As former Heuer watchmaker and founded of Chronoswiss Gerd-Rüdiger Lang told WatchTime in 2008:

“The Valjoux 7750 is characterized, on the one hand, by its extraordinary toughness and its very good, nearly indestructible self-winding mechanism. On the other hand, it also represents a good cost-benefit ratio. And it’s very easy to service, as long as no work is needed on the mechanism for tallying the elapsed hours, which is a difficult item to service on any chronograph. Some improvements have been made since the 7750 was designed.

For example, in the early 1990s, Chronoswiss was the first company to produce and insert a blocking-lever made of metal. ETA later adopted this change and incorporated it into its movements.

We therefore regard this caliber as a very contemporary device. Of course, we have no other option, since there’s no other model with a built in chronograph. We would like to see a reduction in the overall height, and would welcome versions with a big date display and power-reserve indicator. But most important of all, we hope that this model will continue to be manufactured for a long time.”

– Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, founder and owner of Chronoswiss Uhren GmbH

With production of the 7750 back around 200,000 units by the 1990s, the movement became the default chronograph movement for many watch brands- and given Swatch Group’s monopoly on supply, there was little incentive for most brands to invest in developing an alternative.

The 1990s: TAG Heuer and the 7750

 

TAG Heuer relaunched the 7750 with the S/el Chronograph (below) and 2000 Chronograph in 1997, signalling TAG Heuer began to re-introduce mechanical movements across its range.

S-el

Despite this, the vast majority of TAG Heuer’s chronograph offering was still quartz powered. And just as it took the change in ownership in 1982 to seal the end of the 7750 for Heuer, it was the arrival of LVMH as owner of TAG Heuer in 2000 that brought a new strategy- a focus on mechanical chronographs.

2000s- The TAG Heuer Calibre 16

Calibre 16The 7750- which would lose the Valjoux name in the 2000s and became known as the “ETA 7750”- was rolled out across other models in the TAG Heuer range, such as the Link series in 2001. But it was a new model range in 2005 that accelerated the use of the movement- the Carrera.

While TAG Heuer had launched a re-edition Carrera in 1996, the range was more of a retro-novelty rather than a volume seller. That changed in 2005 when TAG Heuer introduced the first new Carrera design for more than 20 years (below).

CV2010.BA0786In addition to the new look, TAG Heuer also gave the 7750 its own TAG Heuer designation- the Calibre 16.

The Calibre 16 was available across much of the TAG Heuer range- Carrera, Link (below) and Aquaracer.

CJF2114.BA0594

2010: Arrival of the 1887

Calibre 1887 difference Calibre 16Regular readers will recall that Swatch Group has been fighting Swiss regulators for some time to allow them to stop having to supply competitors, such as TAG Heuer, with movements. Faced with the risk of losing access to the ETA 7750, TAG Heuer bought the rights to the Seiko 6S78 movement, which it then modified and produced in Switzerland as the TAG Heuer Calibre 1887.

TAG_Heuer_Calibre_1887A much newer design that the 7750, the Calibre 1887 shares the same dial layout, making it an easy replacement for the ETA movement. However, as TAG Heuer learned, the industrialisation process for any new movement is a significant exercise. As demand for TAG Heuer’s watches grew significantly in the 2010’s, the supply of the Calibre 1887 could not keep up with demand, meaning the Calibre 16 was still needed

Faced with growing demand, but shrinking supply of the ETA 7750, TAG Heuer (like many in the Swiss watch industry) turned to another Swiss company that had been quietly assembling the ETA 7750 for years as a sub-contractor to ETA- Sellita.

Sellita SW500- 2012

sw500_verso_bigAs the patent protection rights elapsed for some of ETA’s older movements, Sellita has acted to fill the gap in the market by producing what are essentially clone versions of ETA movements. Launched in 2012, the Sellita SW500 is essentially the ETA 7750 made by Sellita….who used to help make the 7750 for ETA anyway!

Today, TAG Heuer offer the Calibre 16 in several models- sometimes that means the ETA 7750, sometimes it means that your watch will have the Sellita SW500.

sw500

The end of the Calibre 16?

Calibre_1887 (1)With production of the Calibre 1887 (above) increasing and the new Calibre 1969 coming in stream in 2014, TAG Heuer’s reliance on the ETA 7750 has significantly reduced…which is fortunate, given that Swatch Group will almost certainly stop supplying TAG Heuer as soon as it legally can. And so while the Calibre 16 will continue for at least some time, that will now mean the Sellita SW500, and the end of an era.

While collectors regularly line-up to praise the history of the Lemania 5100 (even forgiving its plastic components!) and the El Primero, you won’t read many gushing about the history of the ETA 7750, despite its fascinating story.

Perhaps that’s because the distinctive 12-6-9 layout isn’t as classic as the 3-6-9 tri-compax style, perhaps its because of the movements bulky nature. In many ways, the success of the 7750 is its undoing- its ubiquity. Watch brands seeking a well priced, rugged, accurate movement all reached the same conclusion- use a 7750.

And in a world where exclusivity and uniqueness are favoured, the popularity of the ETA 7750 is perhaps its greatest weakness.

***

Credits

– Seiko quartz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watch#Electronic_movements

– http://www.watchtime.at/archive/wt_2008_03/WT_2008_03_156.pdf

– Chuck Maddox: http://chronomaddox.com/

– Sellita SW500- www.sellita.ch

– Valjoux 7750/ Heuer- OntheDash.com

– Heuer Montreal 7750- http://heuerville.wordpress.com/

 

  • Fabrizio

    Very interesting read David, many thanks for putting this together.
    Cheers
    Fabrizio

  • Mr. L. J. Nordvik

    A truly great read,and vert timely for me as I bought my first automatic watch earlier this week:a brown Carrera Calibre 16 with a calf skin strap,and needless to say: I adore it!

  • Philmo

    A great article DC. It's refreshing and totally logical to read a piece which focuses on the whole history of a single movement with relevant lateral developments and assessment of the effects of contemporary competitive machinery.
    I would certainly welcome more of this genre and also comparison pieces covering strengths/weaknesses of alternative chronograph movements which Heuer and TAG Heuer have used or considered using over the years.

  • Thanks Guys. There are two issues that I have with the 7750- the layout and the thickness. None of these get to the quality/ accuracy of the movement, and really both are subjective. Some of us like larger watches, some don't.

    As for layout, I switch between preferring 3-9 or 3-6-9 as my preferred layout for the registers…just think that it gives the dial a better balance…never really warmed to 12-6-9.

    Philmo, good suggestion. I've been talking with a watchmaker about a piece on the Calibre 17 movement…stay tuned

    dc

  • wynonie

    DC, excellent piece as always. Are you able to say much about the level of modification done by Tag on a Cal 16 movement? Do they basically get the movement from the supplier with the decoration already done, is it something they do? Also, are there any technical modifications done by Tag to 'improve' the movement?

    Cheers

  • Robert

    Thx for the piece, excellent!
    Just two remarks:
    1. for me the first 2000 scan does not seem to be 7750-based
    2. I can only hope that the new movement can offer a day-date (or simple full calendar) feature, maybe a fly-back too.
    Best,
    Robert

  • Scotti b

    Very interesting article. I have the aquaracer 500m titanium all black chrono with the 7750 movement keeps to within a second a day!! I too was wondering what modifications, if any that tag heure do.

  • Hi Robert- the Super 2000? Looking into it. I recall reading somewhere that it was a 7750, but a couple of people have pointed out that the date set-up looks much more like an LWO283.

    I don't believe that TAG Heuer modify the 7750 in anyway, other than cosmetics (the rotor). Don't forget that many brands that offer "customised" 7750s with blue screws and high-end finishing are simply ticking the standard ETA options box, rather than necessarily doing any work themselves.

  • Scotti b

    I wonder for us that have purchased a Tag Heure chronograph with the Eta 7750 movement what the servicing from Tag will be like in the future? Will spare parts still be made available to tag from Eta? Or will it be case of using the Sellita Sw 500 as a replacement.

  • Gopal

    Beautiful article. So this model has Selitta or ETA? AQUARACER
    CALIBRE 16 AUTOMATIC CHRONOGRAPH 42 MM
    CAP2112.BA0833

  • Philmo

    Hi DC
    I enclose below an extract from a history of Super 2000 development published by the watchmaker [Canadian IIRC] who supplied me a Super 2000 auto:
    "In 1989 TAG-Heuer introduced the TAG-Heuer Super 2000 Chronograph in 4 different automatic models, the 165.806, 165.306, 169.306, 169.806 and later the limited edition and extremely rare 169.806/G (only 100 serial numbered 169.806/G were produced with a solid 18K Gold Bezel & Bezel Studs). The first generation Super 2000 Chronographs used the LWO 283 (Dubois Depraz 2000 chronograph module on the ETA 2892 base) automatic movement.
    Both the quartz and automatic chronographs use the Dubois Depraz 2000 chronograph module. The Automatic movement (LWO 283) mates the DD2000 module to the ETA 2892 base, while the quartz movement (Calibre 185) uses a ESA 555.XXX (also known as the ETA 955.XXX) tractor. the Dubois Depraz 2000 module was the result of a partnership between Lemania and Dubois Depraz that began in the late 1970s."
    I can forward you the full paper if you'd like?
    Best regards
    Phil

    • Hi Philmo,Yes, you're right. The LWO 283 has a 30 minute counter at 9 o'clock and a 60 second elapsed seconds counter at 12 o'clock- 7750 has running seconds at 9 o'clock and 30 mins at 12.Yes, I'd love to see the whole paper- cheers!______________________________________David Chalmers+61 409 670 734

  • teatimecrumpet

    Great article! Thanks! for this…now if only there could be a huge surge in automatic movements within the mainstream market. Why? Because I want a cheaper auto chrono!

    • Not sure it will happen..but would be nice!