Q&A with Jean-Christophe Babin

It’s been a few months since we talked with TAG Heuer’s CEO Jean-Christophe Babin to get the inside word on what was happening at TAG Heuer. Those last few months have been a typically busy period for the company, with further development work on TAG Heuer’s in-house movements, and several new models, the most notable being the trio of new Aquaracer 500m models.
While attractive designs in their own right, they do mark a departure from the previous design philosophy…so that seemed like a good place to start…

1. Aquaracer 500m Ceramic- Explaining the Design

Q: Reaction to the new Aquaracer 500m ceramic has been interesting- while the ceramic bezel is a clear step forward, several readers wonder why the design is so close to the Aquaracer 300m, where the older model was quite different. Why the change in design philosophy?

A: The Aquaracer has clear design codes making it a design icon since 1982 when it was born as the 2000 series, namely the six studs allowing to turn the bezel easily under water. With the new 500m we wanted this code to be clearly visible, hence the design is closer to the 300m. But for many features, it’s markedly different: ceramic bezel, helium valve, bracelet, dials.

The all-automatic new 500 is the slimmest 500m watch on the luxury market and adds a twist of sportiness to the classical Aquaracer 300m.

2. TAG Heuer Design- Still Avant-Garde?

Q: Several of the recent designs (2011 Link, 2012 Formula 1 and now 2012 Aquaracer 500m) seem to have taken a more conservative approach to design- more classical/ elegant rather than “avant-garde”- is this a fair interpretation?

A: I would not say classical but rather timeless and sophisticated. If you look at them, they are crafted to the tiniest component and made with the best potential materials. That said, we have some models with more Avant-Garde design such as the Aquaracer 500m Oracle Team USA or the new Formula 1 Gents with red flanges which is one of our worldwide best sellers.

3. Farewell to Lewis Hamilton?

Q: Moving to ambassadors, it was a surprise to see Lewis Hamilton announce a move from the McLaren team for 2013. How will this impact his relationship with TAG Heuer?

A: Lewis has been a great TAG Heuer ambassador since he was in Formula Renault, 10 years ago. We hope to continue with him in the future even though we don’t know yet what will be his freedom for personal deals at Mercedes. Furthermore, we’re very happy with Jenson Button too and we might prefer to focus even more on him next year. He’s one of the very best drivers around and an outstanding Brand ambassador.

4. The future of the past

Q: Where do you see the future for re-editions, as against “heritage-inspired”? The Silverstone was launched in 2010, but nothing since, although we have had the heritage-inspired 300 SLR and Jack Heuer Carrera. Is there still the opportunity for a re-edition that has its own unique case, or is the cost prohibitive?

A: Re-editions are obviously costly. However they have a very important role for the brand beyond financial KPIs. Remember that both the Carrera and Monaco were re-introduced as re-editions in 1996 and 1998 respectively before becoming back in the 2000s as the pillars they used to be in the glorious 1970s.

We have in the pipeline some great “commemorative” masterpieces which are kind of creative re-inventions of past legends i.e. more than re-editions but paying a tribute to the past. You’ll see good examples next year for the “50 years of Carrera”.

5. Autavia Comeback?

Q: The 2011 Monza borrowed the case developed for the 1999 Monza- is there the potential to re-launch the 2003 Autavia in a similar way?

A: Why not ! The Autavia has been an extraordinary re-edition in the early 2000s and remains today one of the most iconic designs from Heuer. So we could imagine it coming back …..

6. Calibre “1888” & Movement Update

Q: How is the development for the Calibre “1888” movement going? Given the on-going reduction in ETA movements, are you able to share any news of new TAG Heuer calibres that we can expect in 2013 from other suppliers?

A: The 1888 is well on track, being at the 3D technical plans stage, the last one before prototyping. In that context we can expect the first functional prototypes for Baselworld 2013 and the first production watches by end 2013/early 2014.

It looks like a state-of-the art movement: extremely thin and well constructed. It will really be the first mechanical calibre of a new generation benefiting from all the research and experience accumulated on the Calibre 1887, the V4 and the Mikro family. With two years development only from a blank page it will also set a new record in the luxury watchmaking industry.

In parallel to the 1888 we’re working very closely with Zenith, Sellita, Dubois-Depraz and Soprod on the mechanical side, and Ronda on the quartz’s to be potentially independent from ETA much before the Comco calendar. Today we’re already very much independent with ETA accounting for less than 30% of our mechanical supply and 0% of our assortments supply thanks to our partnerships with SII (Seiko) and Atokalpa.

7. Future of the Grand Carrera

Q: What is the plan with the Grand Carrera range? There are rumors from dealers that the line will be discontinued?

A: The Grand Carrera has been overall a success since its launch in 2007, with more than 100.000 units sold at a significant premium versus the Brand average RSP [Retail Selling Price- DC]. We are currently refocusing the Grand Carrera on chronographs, as well as in Boutiques which today represent the highest potential for the series.

It will be continued but on a more exclusive assortment and distribution platform. This year we’ve introduced a new Grand Carrera Calibre 36 with yellow twists on black titanium, which has been a big hit !

8. Haute Horlogerie Update

Q: Finally, is there any news on the development of the Pendulum or Mikrogirder?

A: Both are “extreme” masterpieces, to be compared with the V4 in terms of technological quantum leaps. Therefore they’ll need some time to become commercial as we want to ensure total quality and accuracy. But we’re actively working on magnets-regulated oscillators as much as on mikroblades oscillators.


Many thanks to Jean-Christophe for his time.



Images courtesy of TAG Heuer and Calibre 11

  • Sean

    Very nice start to my pre-Abu Dhabi GP Sunday morning, David. I'm now looking forward to the 50 Years of Carrera. I wonder what they'll make of Sergio Perez next year. It works out nicely as Mexico is pushing their watch event hard on the calendar

  • Christopher David Ch

    Where is the Steve McQueen blue faced Monaco here. Its the most iconic TAG surely. I also have a Grand Carrera which is the better watch but the Steve McQueen gets the looks

  • WI Proud

    I'm not sure 100k units of the GC over 6 years is a qualified success. Fact is, WatchTime Magazine said TAG only had 559 COSC certificates in 2011 which means 1) TAG is discontinuing the line or 2) they have overstock of movements.

  • Interesting point Dan. Here are TAG Heuers COSC numbers for the last few years:

    – 2006: 7,450

    – 2007: 29,936

    – 2008: 35,429

    – 2009: 70,195

    – 2010: 24,541

    – 2011: 559

    Taking JCB's comment that the Grand Carrera range wil now "focus" on Chronographs, I wonder if that will mean only the Calibre 36 model (that is what I heard elsewhere, but unconfirmed)

    There haven't been many other TAG Heuers that have been COSC over the last two years…but the fall in numbers is so stark (even going back to 2004 TAG Heuer were certifying +7,000 movements) that you'd think that the reason is a combination of far fewer GC models and the reduction in remaining GC production.