Ultimate Guide to the TAG Heuer Formula 1

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   7 January 2012   |   36 Comments  

The TAG Heuer Formula 1 has a special place in the brand’s history, being the first watch released following the acquisition of Heuer by Techniques d’Avant Garde (“TAG”) in 1985. While Heuer had spent the late 1970s and early 1980s desperately trying to make money from mechanical watches that were designed for a very different competitive environment, the Formula 1 was a watch of its time. It was the first analogue Heuer/ TAG Heuer series to be quartz-only and to this day there has never been an automatic model.

The inspiration for the Formula 1 was the success of the Swatch watch, which had been launched at Basel in 1983. The quartz crisis of the 1970s had forced the Swiss to re-think how to engineer a watch to make money at a much lower selling price- the F1 was priced around 30-50% of the price of an Autavia.

While the F1 was not as cheap as the Swatch, it used the same template: a synthetic case, bright colours, low-cost movements and simple packaging to try to tempt buyers back to Swiss watches. And like the Swatch, it was a huge sales success.

The choice of name was also symbolic of the new TAG Heuer, as perhaps the only thing that TAG and Heuer had it common was their link to Formula 1 racing. Heuer had of course been a sponsor of Ferrari during the 1970s, while TAG was the principal sponsor of the Williams team from 1979-1981, before buying 50% of McLaren International at the end of the 1981 season. TAG then funded the development of the Porsche 1.5 litre turbo engine that would power the McLaren- TAG cars to consecutive World Championships in 1984 and 1985.

Despite the immense success of the Formula 1 series, the watch was discontinued in 2000, having sold more than 3 million units. Brought back a few years later, the Formula 1 remains a key part of the TAG Heuer range focused on the value-end of the market.

At the time of writing this post (January 2012), TAG Heuer are about to launch a new Formula 1 series, so before we see the new-look F1 of 2012 and beyond, let’s take a look back at the history of the Formula 1 series.

Series 1: 1985- 1990

The first generation F1 watches (The watch above is Ref. 380.513) were designed by Eddy Burgener and used an innovative case construction- a mixture of a stainless steel inner case coated with Fibreglass.

The first range was limited to two sizes (28mm and 34mm) of brightly coloured cases matched to plastic straps that you could cut to size.

The design was unlike any other contemporary Heuer or TAG Heuer watch, with the only familiar design traits being the Mercedes-style hands already used on the Diver series.

In 1987 the range expanded to include a stainless steel case and bracelet as well as a range of new colours. The Fibreglass models continued to be sold until 1993/4 and stand out today as the real signature watch of the Formula 1 series.

The first series F1 use a variety of quartz movements. Early watches use either a Harley Ronda SA 705 movement or an ESA 965.312 module, while the majority of the later watches use the ETA 955.412/ 955.414 movement.

First Generation Chronograph

In keeping with the sporting theme of the watch, TAG Heuer added a Chronograph version to the Formula 1 range in 1989 (The blue watch above being Ref. 470.513).

Formula 1 ChronographThe Chronograph was powered by a complex mechanical-quartz movement, which appears to be made by Ronda. The module had an unusual date function on the 6 o’clock register, elapsed minutes at 3 o’clock and Chrono. seconds at 9 o’clock.

These movements were quite fragile and are very difficult/ impossible to service today, which probably explains why they were on sale for less than two years before a second generation Chronograph was launched.

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