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Inside the TAG Heuer Calibre CH80 movement

The opening of TAG Heuer’s new manufacturing facility at Chevenez is another important milestone in the company’s history. To show you the pace of progress over the last few years, when the very first Calibre 11 article appeared in July 2009, the only movement made by TAG Heuer was the show-piece Monaco V4. It had been more than 20 years since a production movement had been made by the company, and even then Heuer’s key role was not as the technical lead of the Chronomatic consortium.

Today is a very different story, with a full range of haute horlogerie movements and now two production chronograph movements- the Calibre 1887 and the new Calibre CH80, the new name for what was the Calibre 1969 movement.

Both calibres are made in the Swiss town of Chevenez, bringing to four the number of TAG Heuer manufacturing sites in Switzerland:

  • La Chaux-de-Fonds: HQ and Haute Horlogerie
  • Chevenez: Calibre 1887 and Calibre CH80
  • Cortech (Cornol): Cases and bracelets
  • Artecad (Tremelan): Dials

The new purpose-built facility features a cool sculpture at the front- and regular readers may recognise the concrete block at the left-hand side of the building.

Looking a little closer and you can see that it’s a plinth containing a Calibre 1887 movement…..

Chevenez- TAG Heuer 1887…which we showed you being installed back in May 2012 by then-CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. It’s certainly impressive to have gone from an empty field to a fully- operational factory in less than 18 months.Pose symbolique première pierre - Jean-Christophe Babin, Michel Baconat, Michel ProbstTAG Heuer believe that with the opening of Chevenez, it will produce more Swiss Chronograph movements than any other watch brand, with production of around 50,000 units in 2014 rising to 100,000 by 2016. This means that about 50% of all TAG Heuer chronographs will use in-house movements within 3 years.

Sellita will continue to be the main source of secondary supply, along with more limited numbers from Zenith. TAG Heuer did mention that Sellita’s quality had been pleasing, with return-rates being the same as experienced with ETA.

Manufacturing Process

Chevenez- TAG HeuerChevenez is now the production base for both the Calibre 1887 and the Calibre CH80, with the movements beginning life as a brass plate (above). These blocks are then milled into the various components- the main plate, the date bridge, the chronograph bridge and the anchor bridge all being produced here. The main component not made by TAG Heuer is the regulating mechanism, which we’ll come to shortly.

The new plant is highly automated and uses the same machines as TAG Heuer first introduced for the manufacturing of the Calibre 1887. While milling brass blocks typically involves spraying significant amounts of oil directly onto the brass plate, these newer machines use no oil and so are far cleaner and environmentally friendly.

Chevenez- TAG HeuerThe raw ingot sits in a vertical sleeve (below), with each block then pass through a series of milling operations along a conveyor belt.

Below is an almost-finished Main plate, which is the base of the movement upon which all the other parts sit.

Below is the same Main plate with the outer plate removed. Chevenez can run 24-hours a day and produce one finished plate every 6 minutes.

Once the components have been milled, jewels are added to the movement and oiled. After this, the complete movement is then assembled along with dummy-hands, regulating mechanism and other key parts.

Chevenez- TAG Heuer Watchmaker

Calibre CH 80

Calibre 1969And here is the finished product- the new CH 80 movement. The ambition with the Calibre CH80  was to achieve the best balance possible between power-reserve and thinness, which is a great development given that we’ve noted for some time that the 1887 and Calibre 16-powered watches are quite thick due to the height of those movements.

All the hairsprings and assortments are provided by Atokalpa, which is based close to Chevenez. Indeed, the new movement has been designed to exclusively use Atokalpa, with TAG Heuer having secured a supply of up to 50,000 units per year. The issue of hairspring supply has been a difficult one for the Swiss watch industry, which the majority of watch companies (including Sellita) dependent on Nivarox, which is part of the Swatch Group. TAG Heuer has now achieved a degree of independence from Nivarox, with supply from both Atokalpa (1969 and 1887) and Seiko/ SII (1887).

Interestingly, TAG Heuer has not ruled out supplying the Calibre to other LVMH brands (for example, Zenith, Hublot) once production reaches full capacity.

TAG Heuer Carrera 1969

So when will we see a watch with the Calibre CH80? The good news is that it will be this year and it will be a Carrera. There are few details about the TAG Heuer Carrera 1969, but we do know that it will offer a tri-compax layout (3-6-9) and will feature the date window at 9 o’clock, inside the 9 o’clock register. Given that TAG Heuer has stated that “500” Calibre 1969 movements will be made in 2013, its safe to assume that this first Carrera 1969 will be a LE of 500.

Calibre CH80 vs. Calibre 1887

While the focus was on the Calibre CH 80, TAG Heuer made it clear that the Calibre 1887 was still very much part of the brands future movement strategy. Indeed, the new factory has been designed so that the mix of 1887/ CH 80 production can be varied within only a few hours. The two movements bear little relation to each-other, although do appear to share the same rotor design.

The (poor-quality) photo below shows you the difference between the two movements

1969 vs. 1887You can see that the Calibre CH 80 has been designed with efficiency in mind, using fewer parts. One of the industrial differences between the two movements is how they are made. The Calibre CH80 is built in three distinct modules which are only combined at the end, whereas the 1887 is manufactured in a single process. This allows for a faster manufacturing time (estimated to be 20% faster to produce than the 1887) and ensures that any manufacturing issues are identified and corrected before the complete movements are assembled.

In terms of pricing, we understand that the Calibre CH 80 models will sit at a small premium to the equivalent Calibre 1887 model, but priced below the Calibre 36.

TAG Heuer Movements: What’s Next?

Stephane Linder- ChevenezGiven that the Calibre CH80 is a brand-new movement and that no-one has seen even the first Carrera CH80, it might be a little rude to ask about what is coming next for TAG Heuer, but we didn’t go all the way to Switzerland to simply bring you the contents of the press kit!

We can tell you that there are two key movement projects on the table for TAG Heuer at the moment:

Watch Movement

New CEO Stephane Linder told us about his ambition to produce a 3-hand watch movement when we spoke with him back in June, and the idea hasn’t gone away as he told Reuters this week:

Linder said the brand was also working on two other movement projects, particularly an in-house watch movement he considers key to conquering the Chinese market.

“The Chinese don’t like chronographs, not yet, and we need a new, stunning watch model to develop this segment,” he said, adding TAG Heuer could sell eight to 10 times more to the Chinese as its price tags starting at 1,500 Swiss francs ($1,600) should appeal to China’s rising middle class.

Production 1/ 100th Chronograph

Linder also shared with us the news that within the next “year or two”, he wanted to have a production 1/ 100th chronograph movement available for less than USD10,000. This would be a new clean-sheet design, as the existing 1/ 100th Mikrograph was never designed for mass production and will continue as a hand-built movement.

Lunch à la Heuer

Chef Jack HeuerWhile we have no ambition of turning into a “Lifestyle” blog offering photos of meals, it would be remiss not to share a couple of photos of the superb lunch, which was prepared by famed chef Philippe Rochat and his sous-chef …Jack Heuer. Yes, that is Jack Heuer himself in his chef whites!

Jack_Heuer_and_Chef_Philippe_Rochat_at_work

Jack_Heuer_and_Chef_Philippe_RochatThe lunch table took over the main room of the factory, with the watchmakers continuing their work while the assembled journalists ate.

ChevenezIt was a great event to formally open Chevenez and on paper the new movement seems like it has all the right attributes to a big success and appeal to collectors. Of course, the real test will be when we first see the new CH80-powered watches, which we look forward to showing you in the next few weeks.

 

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  • Steve

    Awesome writeup. Very interesting to see how the main components are processed. As far as the date at 9 o'clock is that an ode to the '9' in 1969? or are they making a Carrera for lefties? Hopefully, the can capture the sleekness of the original 60's Carreras with such a thin movement. Should be able to create a ~13mm watch.

  • Thanks Steve. I'm not sure what the thinking is with the date at 9…just a design touch I think. Yes, like you I hope that TAG Heuer make good use of the thinner movement by using a thinner case…fingers crossed!

    dc

  • David

    That looks like a plastic version of the "Edge" chrono

  • A very timely comment! A great story on the Edge Chrono coming this weekend…