Since its re-introduction in 1996, the TAG Heuer Carrera has gone from a limited edition novelty to being the centre-piece of today’s TAG Heuer range. So, given the importance of the Carrera we have put together the ultimate guide to the TAG Heuer Carrera, stepping you through the key models from the five distinct generations of the re-booted Carrera all the way through to the current range.
As a TAG Heuer model, the Carrera has moved away from simply being a mainstream Chronograph- we’ve had line extensions (the Grand Carrera) and a push into the top-end of watchmaking, with the Carrera serving as the base for the Mikro models- Mikrograph, Mikrogirder, Mikrtotimer and MikrotourbillonS.
In our look at the Heuer Carrera, we ended the first chapter of the story with the Carrera being phased out by the newly created TAG-Heuer. The TAG Heuer range expanded into a full-range of numerical models- the 1000, 1500, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 6000 series which all exploited the TAG Heuer “Six Features” mantra.
But 10 years after the Carrera disappeared, a range of factors came together which saw the iconic model return.
The 1990s Carrera
The 1990s were a decade when retro suddenly became cool again. Whether it was cars or watches, it seemed as though every brand was desperately checking its back catalogue to see if there were any hidden gems. So how did TAG Heuer rediscover the Carrera/.
One story is that the resurrection of the Carrera actually begins with the planned initial public offering (“IPO“) of TAG Heuer in the mid-1990s. Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) sold 40% of TAG Heuer to private equity firm Doughty Hanson in 1995 and along with the management team, the parties were looking to tap into the growing market for luxury brands going public.
But there was a problem- what exactly did TAG Heuer stand for? In an era where heritage was all-important, what was TAG Heuer’s heritage? The oldest model in the range was only ten years old.
And so to address this it was decided to re-launch a special edition of the Carrera at the Monza circuit in late 1995/ early 1996. The company even invited back Jack Heuer to attend the launch of the Carrera, something Jack generously agreed to, despite the hurt of the forced sale of Heuer in 1982 still lingering.
The renewed interest in Heuer’s heritage also extended to the book “Mastering Time” which the company commissioned to look back on the history of Heuer and integrate the new TAG Heuer into this story. The book was first published in mid-1996, only a few months after the Carrera re-edition was launched.
Sixth Generation: 1996- 2002
As the name implies, the Carrera re-edition was a faithful reproduction of the original 1964 Carrera (at the time, TAG Heuer believed that the Carrera had been launched in 1964 not 1963- it was only recently after earlier materials were found in the archives that the date was confirmed as ’63).
This was the first watch under TAG Heuer ownership that had been launched with the Heuer logo. Inside the watch was a manual-wind Lemania 1873 movement, which suited the character of the watch perfectly.
In the late 1990s, the range expanded to include two models with white sub-dial surrounds- known as “Daytona Rings”. Neither the Salmon-dial or Black-Dial Daytona models were made back in the 1960s, the first sign that TAG Heuer saw sales potential for the resurrected Carrera.
The 2000s Carrera
The start of the new millennium saw a major change at TAG Heuer, with the company bought by French luxury conglomerate LVMH, who quickly installed a new CEO: Jean-Christophe Babin. The new management team took two steps that had a profound impact on the product range- firstly, they moved the Carrera and Monaco away from being limited edition watches to part of the permanent range, and secondly, the decision was made to offer Jack Heuer the position of Honorary Chairman at TAG Heuer.
It was during this decade that a Carrera wore the TAG Heuer logo for the first time, as well as seeing the launch of the first truly new Carrera design since the early 1980s (and even that design that was borrowed from Lemania). The Carrera moved from being a retro novelty to being the centrepiece of the TAG Heuer range, a strategy that continues today.
We start the decade with a series of heritage-themed models and end with a new range of 41mm Carrera Chronographs that continue today.
Seventh Generation: 2000- 2002
While the 1996 re-edition range was faithful to the original 1963 Carrera, the new designs added to the “Classics Collection” in 2000 were not based on any historic model. There were two variants: a 3-hand watch (above) and a GMT version. No longer powered by the Lemania 1873 movement, these newer models had ETA Automatic Calibres.
These models were the first sign that TAG Heuer was considering whether the Carrera could be more than just a one-off retro limited edition, as it invested in new designs.
Eighth Generation: 2002-2008
One of the early decisions made by Babin and his team was to invest in marketing the TAG Heuer brand alone, rather than co-branding (“Heuer” for the Classics and “TAG Heuer” for the new designs). This is why the Autavia launched in 2003 is a TAG Heuer, while the Monza of 2000 (pre-LVMH) is a Heuer.
While the 1964 Re-edition was a huge success, the reality is that the watch was small by prevailing standards. This was addressed in 2002 when TAG Heuer launched a heritage-inspired Carrera collection which borrowed the design of the original, but in a 3mm larger case. The new watches were branded TAG Heuer and fitted with a Calibre 17 automatic movement.
This new design was also used for the 40th Anniversary Carrera (below), the watch that would provide the inspiration for the design of Jack Heuer’s 80th birthday Carrera in 2012.
In 2004 the most significant Carrera series of the modern era was launched. This was TAG Heuer’s modern interpretation of how a modern Carrera could work- not a retro design, but a contemporary design informed by the past.
The new series (CV20XX) boasted a 41mm case with the classic Carrera lugs and Chronograph-pusher design. The most significant change was the addition of a fixed external bezel, which was a first for the Carrera.
The dial design was dictated by the use of the Calibre 16 movement (the ETA/ Valjoux 7750- again, the first time that Heuer/ TAG Heuer had fitted this movement to a Carrera, even though the movement traces its origins back to the 1970s), meaning a 12-6-9 layout with the date at 3 o’clock.
It was also during the 2000s that TAG Heuer began to launch concept watches, an idea appropriated from the car industry. One of the first concept watches was the Carrera Calibre 360, which not only signaled how the Carrera could be adapted to a modern design, but also flagging TAG Heuer’s ambitions as a manufacture.
The 2010s Carrera
If the 2000s were about flagging intentions, then the following decade was about fulfilling that ambition. Only three years since the decade began, TAG Heuer now manufacture five movements- the volume production Calibre 1887 and five haute horlogerie calibres- the Calibre V and four movements based off the same Mikro-platform: Mikrograph, Mikrotimer, Mikrogirder and MikrotourbillonS.
Of these, the most important has been the Calibre 1887, which has shown that TAG Heuer can manufacture significant quantities of its own movements and break the reliance that the company (along with most of the Swiss watch industry) had on ETA stretching back more than 50 years.
The family of new movements will grow further in late 2013, when TAG Heuer is scheduled to release its newest production volume calibre- the Calibre 1969.
To showcase the new movements, TAG Heuer has refined the Carrera into distinct series- the sporty 41mm Carrera 1887, the more luxurious 43mm Carrera 1887, the retro-style Carrera Heritage and the 2013 Carrera Ceramic Bezel 43mm.
Tenth Generation: 2010- Current
The Carrera 1887 caused a stir when news of the watch first leaked in late 2009. Controversy over the origins of the Calibre 1887 distracted many from the real story of TAG Heuer’s re-emergence as a volume manufacturer of movements. In fact, the story of the 1887 was a key milestone for this website, as we were one of the first to highlight the Seiko links and draw a response from Jean-Christophe Babin, as you can see here.
And as TAG Heuer began to showcase its watchmaking skills with the Mikro- platform watches, it chose the Carrera as the base for these new designs. No longer simply keeping up with other Swiss manufacturers, TAG Heuer’s range of high-precision mechanical Chronographs- stretching to 5/ 10,000th of a second- sets a benchmark that no other brand can match.
Today the Carrera is both TAG Heuer’s past and its future. It’s not hard to imagine that drivers competing in a 2013 Carrera Panamericana would recognise and embrace the spirit of the modern Carrera as they did in the past.
Eleventh Generation: 2015- Current
In 2015 the first Carrera Heuer-02 as launched, representing the vision of new CEO Jean-Claude Biver. The Carrera Heuer-01 uses a modified version of the Calibre 1887 (Heuer-01) and uses a modular construction case with open-skeleton dial.
50 Years of Carrera
This article is a summary of our dedicated Carrera mini-site, which traces the Carrera through its history- both as a Heuer and TAG Heuer Chronograph.
Click on the image below to be taken to the Carrera mini-site and learn more about the Carrera.
All Photos supplied courtesy of TAG Heuer, with the exception of the 40th Anniversary Carrera by Alex P. Selamat