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Hands on Review- TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 16 Chronograph

The reaction to our story back in June on the new Calibre 16 Formula 1 was very strong, with the article being the most popular read on Calibre 11 for the last couple of months.

The new chronograph is the first men’s Formula 1 in 27 years not to be powered by a quartz movement, and represents a change in the positioning of the Formula 1 series: where the F1 used to be the entry-level TAG Heuer, the new Calibre 16 models are perhaps a sign that the Formula 1 range going forward will sit alongside the other models, rather than below them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo here for the first time are the three mechanical chronographs that make up the range- two stainless steel & ceramic models (above) and the bright Orange model that features a titanium carbide coating on a stainless steel case. Entry-level no more?

Design

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Calibre 16 F1 retains the same case shape and design as the original watch from 1986, but in a 44mm stainless steel case- a far cry from the 34mm Fibreglass case of the original. The increase in case size is sure to please those who find the current men’s range too small at 42mm.

In addition to the larger diameter, the depth of the case also increases to accommodate the thicker mechanical movement- from 11.9mm on the quartz models to 15.2mm. To put that in perspective, the Calibre 16 Aquaracer is 16.1mm thick.

One of the design flourishes used is the coloured highlights on the two chronograph pushers and crown- Orange on CAU2012…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and Red on CAU2011. The third model- CAU2010- sticks with Black highlights in keeping with its monochrome feel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe model name and TAG Heuer logo are printed on the dial itself, rather than applied as is the case with many Carrera, Link and Aquaracer models.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dials have a nice, clean finish- no vertical/ horizontal streaks or metal chronograph sub-dial rings. The stainless steel pair each have a “starburst” Anthracite dial, while the steel titanium carbide model’s dial is solid Black.

Overall the design feels very cohesive, extending to the neat integration of the crown guard and the chronograph pushers and  the TAG Heuer logo on the bottom of the central chronograph hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe caseback design shares the same look as that used on the quartz models, meaning there is no sapphire caseback, consistent with TAG Heuer’s recent strategy of using steel case backs for Calibre 16 watches (Link, Carrera and Aquaracer).

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Formula 1 Steel & Ceramic- CAU2011

The CAU2011 is my favourite of the new trio and features Red highlights- not only on the crown and pushers (as noted above), but also the “Tachymetre” script on the bezel, a Red-tipped central chronograph hand and Red sub-dial hands at 12 and 6 o’clock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis model is only available with the steel & ceramic bracelet that features ceramic brick inserts, bordered by polished steel borders that contrast with the brushed steel outer-links.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s an attractive colour combination- the watch still looks like a Formula 1, but a more up-scale, mature version of the F1 that everyone knows.

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Formula 1 Steel & Ceramic- CAU2010

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second model is CAU2010 is the same as the watch above, but without the Red- stainless steel hands, Black highlights on the crown and pushers and “Tachymetre” in white letters, matching the tachy scale on the bezel.

Speaking of the bezel, each of the three watches feature a fixed bezel- this one doesn’t rotate, despite looking like it might.

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Formula 1 Titanium Carbide- CAU2012

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe final model in the range is the most overtly sporty model- Black dial, case, bezel and rubber strap with contrasting Orange details. It’s refreshing to see TAG Heuer open up the colour palette for the F1, which after all was originally offered in every colour of the rainbow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Black and Orange chronograph is the closest to the spirit of the original Formula 1, and  quite different to any other watch in the TAG Heuer range. It’s not hard to imagine that other colours will follow if the watch proves a sales success.

On the Wrist

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 1635The Formula 1 Calibre 16 is a comfortable wear and doesn’t feel as large or heavy as other 44mm TAG Heuer models on the wrist.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 1631Importantly, the watch feels every bit as solid as other Calibre 16 models- there is no sense of lesser grade materials on the watch case itself, although the rubber strap doesn’t feel as well-finished as that used on other models- a point we’ll come to shortly.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 1633The CAU 2010 model also looks very good on the wrist- again, more up-scale than you might expect.

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Strap & Bracelet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProbably the only element of the new F1 that didn’t feel quite right were the bracelet and strap options- and for different reasons.

When it comes to the steel & ceramic bracelet, the question is one of design: you either like the ceramic bricks or you don’t, and if I was to buy one of these, I’d be checking out whether the standard steel bracelet from the quartz F1 would fit the lugs.

The bracelet itself is nicely finished, with polished and brushed steel detailing. The clasp is the same one as used on the other Formula 1 models- it works well, but is not the same quality as that used on other, more expensive TAG Heuer models. Given the price differential between a quartz Formula 1 and say a Carrera 1887, you wouldn’t expect the same level of finishing.

But now that the new Calibre 16 models close that gap by around CHF1,000 (Swiss prices), it’s the feel of the rubber strap option that stands out as being not to the same standard as the rest of the watch.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 1632The issue is not so much the strap itself, but the deployant clasp (below) that is a little of a let-down. The closing mechanism just doesn’t feel as polished and smooth as it should.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reason that the clasp stands out is that the rest of the Calibre 16 Formula 1 looks and feels close to the quality of more expensive models. The only time that you are reminded of the more humble price point  is with the clasp- fix that, and you’d find it hard to spot the difference.

Having said that, upgraded materials would likely mean a price increase- which is the dilemma of the new Formula 1…

Summary

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur previous view has been that the Formula 1 should remain a quartz-only model- upgraded high-end quartz movements, a range of sporty colours and an entry-level price would be in keeping with the spirit of the model, and of course retain the links to Formula 1 motor sport itself.

But having seen the new watches in person, there is another path for the Formula 1- an upgraded series on par with the Carrera, Link and Aquaracer that sets itself apart on the basis of its design rather than its price- yes, the new watch (deployant aside!) is that good and feels an appreciable step-up from the quartz F1 chronograph.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too early to call the end of quartz movements in the Formula 1 series, but based on the 44mm Calibre 16 Formula 1, we’d be surprised if the new trio of mechanical chronographs weren’t simply the first chapter in a new direction for the Formula 1 series.

 

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  • Robertus

    Large step in the right direction. A few wishes still open:
    – Do not hide the week-day feature! At least as an option wit day-date at 3.
    – IMHO no aim of a turning tachy bezel. If tachy, why turning? I'd way agree with a count-up 60-minute bezel!
    – Aquaracer-style double-pusher clasp for the steel bracelet, plz!!!
    – Questions: — 7750 or SW500?
    — Glucydur or Nickel-balance? At my day-date Aquaracer chronograph I was disappointed that the watch had a Nickel balance instead of Glucydur (of the TOP version). Hope TH uses onl Glucydur nowadays…

    Best,
    Robert

    PS: A day-date version of today's Aquaracer cal. 16. (hopefully with Glucydur balance again…) would be very nice too! Possibly with recessed Helium valve placed at 3…. 🙂

    • Hi Robertus. I don't know for sure on the movement, but my guess would be SW500 with Nickel balance given the price point. Yes, the Aquaracer strap would work really well on this one.

      The bezel is interesting- agree that Tachy doesn't need to rotate, but then why have scalloped edges to help grip the bezel!

      dc

  • Michael

    Hi David

    A very good review and confirmed the decision I made last week to order one was correct! After a hard decision I decided to go for the CAU2010 as I think it the monochrome will be more verstaile for everyday wear. It was a hard choice though! Ordered with a Monaco Calibre 12 Blue. A few weeks till they arrive in store and can't wait!

    Michael

    • Thanks Michael- nice duo!

      • Michael

        I will then be saving for the 1887 Carrera white dial, tan strap 🙂 The start of my Tag collection has begun!

  • scotti b

    Think Tag Heure should have kept the F1 an high end quartz series. This would have set it apart from a lot of other brands that are moving to all mechanical watches.

    • It's you and me against the world Scotti!!

      Most watch buyers disagree with us…

  • nisal weerasekera

    what is the price of calibre 16 black and orange?

    • Quoctoberfest

      $2750 USD

  • Himawan

    To scotti’s point, I think the strategy is to move to all mechanical. The option left is in-house or outsoutced movement as price distiction. Dont you think David?

    • Yes, it probably is to move to all-mechanical, but perhaps using quartz in niche models (see this weekend's story about the Aquaracer Smartwatch). The market wants/ expects "luxury" watches to have mechanical movements…

  • Adrian

    The price for CAU2012 (orange and black with rubber strap) is aorund A$3,250 – here in Australia. I strongly agree with David – the deployment clasp on the CAU2012 feels a little bit cheap and It would be better (I think) if Tag has put in the ones from the Aquaracer's.

  • Robertus

    I meant the double pusher clasp of the AR steel bracelet to be used on the steel bracelet of the Formula 1, but totally agree on the rubber strap clasps too.

  • Yes, its the deployant clasp on the rubber strap that stood out the most for me. Clasp on the bracelet didn't feel as high quality as on an Aquaracer, but was a lot closer.

    dc

  • ghostfacenoah

    Anyone tried it on yet? I'm worried that the 44mm is too big for my 6.75" wrist. Was hoping they'd keep the auto at 42.

  • Robert

    Might work fine as lugs are very short. Similar to my Bell&Ross by Sinn from around 1995, with 43 mm looks very nice on my 6.75″ wrist. You have to see it in the flesh but you’ll find it nice on your wrist.

  • ghostfacenoah

    Thanks Robert, will make sure to try it on this week!

  • I am picking my CAU2012 up next week – cannot wait.

    First automatic F1 – got to become an icon for sure?!

  • Clemente Bueno

    I just bought (Dec 5/13)a new Formula 1 (CAU2011) Calibre 16 Automatic Chronograph. So far the watch is working fine, my concern is that, it is off by 1 minute 17 day since setting last Dec 5th. Is this OK is agreable?

  • Hi Clemente. COSC timing (the highest standard- Swiss Chronometer) is -4/ +6 second per day, so if you've had the watch for 20 days then allow 120 second/ 2 minutes. So yes..yours is keeping great time.

    dc