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.
We’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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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]
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:
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.