Gold collection in 2004

Precious Metals: Part II- 1985-Today

We wants it… we neeeeeds it… the precioussss.

Sorry, small Gollum moment there. Where were we? Ah yes. We’d seen how silver was an important case material around the turn of the 20th century, before fairly quickly losing out to modern steels.

catalog-16i1We’d seen gold make an appearance before becoming relatively uncommon in favour of gold-filled (where a layer of solid gold is bonded to a base metal) and later gold-plated watches (where a much thinner layer of gold (typically somewhere between 100 and as much as 100,000 times thinner than filled gold)) is chemically coated on the watch.

Gold-plate in particular runs the risk of rubbing and wearing through and, as an incredibly thin coating (in the order of 20 microns for many watches in the 60s and 70s) has none of the satisfying extra heft of the real thing.

So, lacking the warmth, lustre and weight of even 9K gold, let alone the 18K deemed satisfactorily hard for use in watches, gold-plate never quite supplanted solid gold watches in Heuer’s range. Albeit that it gave 90% of the look for a fraction of the price. Solid gold watches persisted, if only to special order or as limited edition runs.

Question: See for yourself if you can tell the difference between solid and plated gold in this shot of a variety of second and fourth generation Carreras:

[1]

Should be pretty easy if you read the last article, but the answer is at the end of this article if you’re unsure!

The range of watches that TAG inherited when acquiring Heuer in 1985 included a number of solid gold watches; the “Golden Hours” and 125th anniversary watches we saw in the last article. The new TAG Heuer obviously saw the potential in solid gold as they went with these and developed the range further. So enough preamble, that’s what we’ll look at now.

Last time out, I divided the article into eras and decades. That worked well when I had 125 years to draw on, but 26 doesn’t give me as much scope. So I want to change things around a bit. And for reasons that will become clear as I proceed, and have been alluded to already, this time I want to split watches out into case materials. So yellow gold, followed by… well, read on to find out!

Yellow gold

Other watches inherited by the new entity included the 1000 Series of dive watches. In terms of precious metals, we’re typically only looking at gold-plate and usually then in the two-tone fashion with gold paired with steel that started to rise in the 1980s and continues through to today, although there was a rare gold version as featured in part 1 of this article.

The 2000 series, introduced circa 1982 as a chronograph range to build on the success of the 1000 dive watches but also including dive watches itself, carried on alongside. The 2000s are available in almost bewildering variety, check David’s earlier article for more detail.

Again, these watches are typically steel or at best gold-plated, but they were also a remarkably long-lived range. And it was fairly inevitable that at some point in that long life, a solid gold offering or two would be available. And so it was in the early 2000s (the decade) that a number of 2000s (the watches, sigh) were made available in solid gold, ranging from the basic WN5140 at circa £6,500 to the “pimped out” WN5141 below at over £30,000 in 2002.

[2]

Well, I never said all the watches in the article would be tasteful, did I?! Tastes vary and you may like it, but I’m not a fan myself. Some of the WN5140s have an attractive “flinqué” design on the dials though.

These watches and the x000 Series nomenclature laid the foundations for further series above the 2000, the mid-range 4000 Series (replacing the late Heuer-era 3000 Series “premium” watches) and the top-end 6000 Series, which was available in several 18K solid gold versions.

[3]

6000s in particular are relatively available today, compared to some of the watches I have mentioned. The material used warrants mention too, as it ages nicely to a mellow, “old gold” look, especially nice for those who may find yellow gold too bright. A quick Google search will bring up plenty of results. A note of caution though, this is also a watch that was widely counterfeited so make sure before buying if you’re in the market for one.

Rolling forward to 1996, we come to the first “re-editions”, where TAG Heuer launched modern versions of some of their classic watches. Solid gold versions were included and precious metals have become something of a mainstay of the classics range ever since.

[4] These first re-edition Carreras are very close to their inspiration from the 60s, apart from the (to me regrettable, though understandable at the same time) omission of the Carrera name on the dial. This classic case shape, with its “horned” lugs, works very well in gold.

When the manual Lemania 1873 movement watches were replaced by automatics, this gold Carrera chronograph was dropped from the range. That wasn’t the end of gold Carreras in the Classics range though, as a time-only chronometer was introduced, coded WV5140 (which, you will note, echoes the code for the 6000 above). [DC: Note that there is a special version of this watch with “Jack Heuer Special Edition” on the caseback- Ref. WV5141]

[5]

This is another watch whose dial deserves special mention. In a style called “Clous de Paris”, it features lots of little raised diamond shapes, separated by channels. Special and unusual dials are something else that interest me, so look for articles on these in the future.

We’re familiar with gold Carreras from before though. What the Classics range did introduce is precious metals for some of the other classic watches.

The Monaco case is iconic, being the first square waterproof chronograph. Desired by collectors and probably the most instantly recognisable of all the classic Heuers (not easy for me to say as a Carrera collector but I can grudgingly admit it to be true!). It was always in steel though, even if a handful were PVD coated. Not a precious metal in sight.

Right up to the point that this, the Monaco CW5140, was introduced:

[6]

Some staunch fans may argue that the Monaco should have stayed in steel, but I actually think it works in gold. The architecture of the Monaco case, with its flattish top and sheer sides, allows TAG Heuer the scope to show off a finesse in finishing details. The top surface of the case is brushed, but a polished line around the top of each side and running over the top of the lugs contrasts with this and the rest of each side, that is also brushed. We’ll return to this finesse with a later watch in this article.

1497 (2)The Carrera and Monaco survive to this day, and the Silverstone has since appeared, but back then there were two more models in the range. We’ll come to an Autavia later, but it’s time to take a look at a Monza now. We know that the Monza has reappeared this year and also its inspiration in the 30s rather than its 70s namesake thanks to David’s article earlier this year but for now I’ll look at an earlier re-edition Monza.

Part of the early 2000s “Gold Collection” is this Monza in yellow gold:

[7]

Again, there is good contrast between polished sides and other surfaces with a brushed finish.

Another watch forming part of this collection, but not one of the Classics range, is the Alter Ego, a sort of stylised version of the Link in a ladies size. The model below, is complemented nicely by its mother of pearl dial and diamond highlights.

[8]

Perhaps best not to mention who the ambassador for this range was…

That’s enough yellow gold. We’ve seen quite a few watches, and there are undoubtedly more but it’s time to move on. Let’s start with:

White gold

I mentioned white gold in passing in the first article. Typically, it’s a mixture of yellow gold with either nickel (in which case it’s rhodium plated to avoid skin irritations) or with platinum.

Some manufacturers, like Rolex for example, make quite frequent use of it but I know of only one example of TAG Heuer doing so.

The Calibre 360 movement was unveiled at Basel in 2005, with a beat rate of 360,000 vibrations per hour permitting timing to 1/100 of a second in a mechanical wristwatch. In a fashion that is becoming familiar, TAG Heuer released a handful of watches with what was still effectively a prototype movement at a price-point that was then something of a high water mark for the company (anything up to £15,000 depending on case material).

The watch was the Carrera 360 and here is an example of it in white gold:

[9]

These watches were available in very limited numbers, and the white gold version was almost the most limited of all (500 in rose gold, 360 stainless steel, 100 white gold and just 10 in PVD). Note the dial, which has a similar “Clous de Paris” finish to that we saw on the yellow gold Carrera WV5140. The gold is 18K, so 75% pure gold, just as the yellow gold watches are.

Platinum

Again, platinum is a material more associated with other watch houses such as Patek Philippe than TAG Heuer. A hard and lustrous metal, it is more robust than gold or silver though used more rarely. Its price is more volatile than gold. Sometimes it is much more costly, but at other times there is more parity – as I write, an ounce of platinum bullion would cost £1,097 and an ounce of gold £1,086. Nonetheless, despite occasional parity in cost, platinum tends to be reserved for rarer and/or more limited edition watches than gold.

When I was writing this article, I was expecting to write about a single watch made by TAG Heuer in platinum. Again, this is another example of them releasing a more or less prototype movement to the public in limited numbers., this time the Monaco V4 using the belt-driven V4 movement.

[10]

150 of these were sold around the end of 2009 and start of 2010 for a price of CHF 100,000, another new high point for TAG Heuer prices.

And that is where I thought the TAG Heuer story of platinum started and ended (for now). But it turns out that it’s not where it started. Whilst researching the article, I turned up a number of rumours of a limited edition of 99 6000 Series watches in platinum too. Searching eventually turned up three separate (each with a different limited edition number) watches sold through Christies auction house between 2007 and 2010. Each sale was by Christies Hong Kong, so it’s quite possible that this was series was geographically restricted to the Far East. Each of those watches included a platinum bracelet but rumours persist of another 99 watches sold as heads for wearing with a strap. I haven’t been able to substantiate that though.

Rose gold

When some people eat, they like to take a sample of everything on the plate in each mouthful. Others like to eat their favourites first. I, on the other hand, always like to save the best for last (and hope the heat and my appetite go the distance) and that’s what I’ve done here too.

Rose, or pink, or red, gold is an alloy of gold with copper. Red gold is usually 50:50 but the rose gold used most commonly in watches is again 18 carat, i.e. 75% pure gold. And it’s my favourite coloured gold, giving a warmer, less “bright” tone than most yellow golds.

We saw in part one that Heuer flirted with rose gold in the 30s before it lost out completely to yellow gold. That was to change with the introduction of the fourth watch in the Classics range, the Autavia. The original Heuer Autavia had a gold-plated version late in its life, but never in solid gold. The relaunched line had a model in black and orange and another in white and blue (so called “Siffert” colours, after the original Chronomatic Autavia worn by Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert) reflecting the designs of the classic models, but also a limited edition of 150 in rose gold.

[11]

Note also the 3 registers as opposed to the 2 of the other two Autavia variants. This is a watch I once had the privilege to try on in Dublin and it wore very nicely. The extra heft of gold can feel very comfortable and reassuring on the wrist. It’s something of a shame that the reissue Autavia didn’t perform better but it does mean that the watches already out there are all the more desirable.

Next up, another watch that was perhaps an under-performer in that Classics line, and another one that was a surprise for me in researching this article. I was fully aware of the yellow gold Monza before I started, but I don’t think I had come across this Calibre 36 version in rose gold.

[12]

An attractive watch with a lot of dial detail, I hope you’ll agree.

Moving on, we already talked about the Carrera 360 in white gold but it was also available in rose gold. The most “common” of the 360s with 500 examples, I nonetheless find it to be the most attractive of that series.

[13]

The chocolate dial perfectly complements the rose gold case. And that leads me onto our next watch. The Grand Carrera range launched with another limited edition (of 650 examples) watch in rose gold, alongside the black and red titanium model. Available with either “silver opaline” or the rather more prosaically named “brown” dial, it’s the brown dial version I’d urge anyone to seek out. As far as I’m concerned (and bear in mind I’m not entirely happy with the “Carrera” part of the Grand Carrera name), this is perhaps the most beautiful watch TAG Heuer have produced in recent memory.

[14]

Remember I said I’d come back to talking about finesse in case finishing? Here’s where it is!

[15]

Look at that polished line along the side of the case and how it varies in width and direction. It gives a sense of fluidity and motion to the watch and works even better in the metal. Note how it looks dark in places here and then in the following photo of the same watch, this time by fellow Heuer collector Paul Gavin, how light it appears in relation to the case:

[16]

Next we come to the latest version of the Monaco V4, this time in rose gold rather than the original platinum. David has already taken a look at the watch but it bears looking at again.

[17]

This time limited to just 60 examples but a whole CHF 10,000 “cheaper” than the platinum version at CHF 90,000.

I would disagree with David’s opinion there that “TAG Heuer have released some fantastic Rose Gold watches over the last couple of years (Carrera Calibre 360, Grand Carrera), but this one sits well and truly at the top of the list.” but I nonetheless prefer this combination of rose gold and black to the original platinum V4. Still desirable, yes, but I don’t think it nails the details quite as well as the Grand Carrera.

And finally, we come to another limited release watch with another advanced in-house movement, in a limited edition of 150, at circa $50,000. I have to salute TAG Heuer for actually making these available, even if only to a privileged few, rather than them remaining forever as Basel one-offs.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have: the Carrera Mikrograph.

[18]

It wears bigger than I expected but then there’s a lot going on inside that movement.

It took the unveiling of the Mikrotimer for me to really make sense of the Mikrograph’s dial:

[19]

Even now, I wish they would make the two pushers identical – having two different ones loses some of the balance of the watch.

But despite all of that, I think the case is gorgeous! The original Carrera case from 1964, updated for 2011 and rendered in a beautiful rose gold. I’m torn between the subtle finishing of the Grand Carrera’s case and the outright simplicity of this one as to which would get my nod as TAG Heuer’s best rose gold case. Right here, right now, I think the Mikrograph gets the nod but I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow!

Conclusion

We’ve seen yellow gold rule the roost as top gun precious metal for Heuer, but also that in the last 5 years or so, TAG Heuer have been much more adventurous in their choice of case material. Enough to think that this will continue for the future, so we will have more good-looking limited edition watches to look forward too. And I still hanker after a first edition Carrera from 1964 in a rose gold case.

Unfortunately, such a watch never existed, so that’s a wish that will remain forever unfulfilled. Let’s hope that, if this article has raised a precious metal Heuer itch in any reader that it’s one that exists so that itch can be scratched!

Answer: The watch second from left is a solid gold Carrera 1158, the one fourth from left a plated Carrera 73655.


***

References

[1] Mark Moss personal collection

[2] eBay

[3] TAG Heuer Catalogue

[4][5][6][7][8][9][11][12][13][18][19] Courtesy of TAG Heuer photo archives

[10] [17] Calibre 11

[14][15] Courtesy Abel Court

[16] Courtesy Abel Court, photo by Paul Gavin

  • tony8911

    The one I didn't expect to like, actually looks OK. (The Monaco)

    The others get a thumbs down. Still not sure of the rose gold, on some yes (Monza, Carrera 360), others no. White just looks like steel, which is slightly pointless to me.

  • Mark Moss

    Yes, it’s a lot of watches and a lot of precious metals going on there, it can be a bit overwhelming!

    Gold, and other precious metals, are very much a matter of personal taste so I get your point Tony. Some of them don’t appeal much to me either (the pavé diamonds 2000 I would definitely pass on and the blue-dialled and blue-strapped 6000 is just garish), but others I find really attractive. With some, I really don’t think you get the full impression unless you handle the watch in the metal – definitely the case with that Grand Carrera.

    The Monaco is definitely a watch to like despite the expectations you may have. Perhaps it shouldn’t work in gold, but it does (for me at least) though it is very strap-sensitive, as David mentions in his reply.

    White gold and steel you really need to see together to appreciate the differences. One good way is to find one of the meteorite-dialled Rolexes – it goes very well with a steel case (given it’s an iron meteorite) but there’s just something off with the lustre on the white gold case with the same dial, at least for me. I think the steel actually looks a bit more “premium”, at some fraction of the cost of white gold.

  • Cowboy Bebop

    OMG, that's all I can say…maybe seizure exposure…

  • DC

    Too much Yellow for you?

    Firstly, thanks to Mark for another great article.

    I'm not a fan of yellow gold, but that Carrera Chronometer is a spectacular watch. I missed one of these on eBay a couple of years ago and curse that I missed out by only a few dollars. That watch on a black leather strap is perfect for mine.

    And yes, if it has to be Gold, I prefer Rose Gold. While I still love the V4, take another look at the detail on Abel's Grand Carrera- just beautiful.

    <img src="http://www.calibre11.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/GC-Gold.jpg&quot; alt="" />

    Finally, for any Gold watch, I think it has to be on a black or tan strap- a gold bracelet is too much for me.

    dc

  • wynonie

    Great piece again Mark. The Tag Carrera Chronometer wins for me out of all of the experiments with precious metals – its just so wonderfully simple.

    Right now, I can't really see a gold piece enter my collection, although i'd never rule out picking up an interesting vintage piece – but maybe its a fashion thing and what one doesnt like now, one may do in the future – a bit like watch sizes. Maybe in 10 years we'll all be wearing tiny gold watches.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed both of Mark's articles and hope for many more – if he isn't too busy working on the Carrera book all Heuer fans demand he writes!

  • For me this model is one of the best looking Heurs or Tag Heuers made. I only prefer it in steel. Not yet a gold fan…. 🙂

  • DC

    Which one Guy? The Carrera Chronometer?

    I've owned two Gold watches in my collecting career…a NOS Gold Heuer 1000 Diver (analogue/ digital) and a Gold Heuer Montreal…with matching gold bracelet…bling.

    Neither stayed that long…so like Wynonie I'm still looking..

    By the way, one thing about Platinum is the weight. The Monaco V4 that I tried on in March is easily the heaviest watch I've ever worn.

    dc

  • tony8911

    I missed the blue 6000 1st time round Mark, you're right hideously garish. I take you're point on the white gold too. Quite like that Carrera 360

  • tony8911

    ^^your point 🙂

  • Mark Moss

    You want to try a solid gold watch rather than a plate one David, it gives a whole different impression. Warmer and weightier than steel. Of course, with TAG loaning you some for review, you probably don’t need to!

    Not as weighty as platinum of course – though platinum is only marginally denser than gold, 18K gold is alloyed with silver and copper so only 75% is weighty gold – silver and copper are about half as dense as gold. Not sure of the purity of the platinum in the V4 but if it’s 950 as I believe it would be markedly heavier than 18K gold, and even if the platinum was more alloyed than that, you would still probably note the difference.

    I knew these articles wouldn’t be preaching to the converted 🙂 I held off buying a gold watch for a long time myself, until the motorsport lure of the Carrera 1158 became too much! Even now, more than 99% of the time I wear steel but when the occasion is right, or when the mood fits, it’s nice to have the option of gold. Sometimes even then steel gets the nod – I went to a wedding this summer and wore the re-edition Carrera with the mother-of-pearl dial (CV2115) because it just went better with the occasion and what I was wearing.

    But even if you think it’s not for you, I’d urge anyone to try on a solid gold watch if you see one – you might just get the allure once you see how it looks and feels on. And no, I won’t be responsible for any purchasing decisions based on that!