Hands on Review- TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS

Posted by: C11   |   2 May 2010   |   53 Comments  

Our favourite watch in the Grand Carrera range is this one- the TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS. The Chronograph offers a bespoke dial design that sets the model apart from the rest of the range.

While the majority of the Grand Carrera range tends towards the “elegance” end of the spectrum, the Calibre 36 model is firmly in the sporting category, with its rubber strap and complex sub-dials which combine TAG Heuer’s “RS” (Rotating Disc) system and “LS” (Linear System).

What distinguishes the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 from other watches in the Grand Carrera range is the Caliper system, an ingeniously simple way of allowing the chronograph to display 1/10th second accuracy. The Calibre 36 movement has always been able to achieve 1/10th second precision, but the challenge has always been how to show this fraction of time on the dial.

Zenith now have their own El Primero watch with 1/10th accuracy (The El Primero Foudroyante), but TAG Heuer did it first, unveiling the Calibre 36 Grand Carrera as a concept watch at Basel in 2008.

The Grand Carrera Calibre 36 set new price boundaries for a TAG Heuer watch (RRP at close to USD9,000) and so I was keen to review one to see if the premium is justified and whether the watch lived up to expectations

The TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Range

Work on the Grand Carrera started in 2004 and it was three years before the watch was released in June 2007. Like many contemporary TAG Heuer models, the serieswas designed by Christoph Behling. At the time of launch, there were three models in the range:

  • Grand Carrera Calibre 6RS (40mm case, date at 6 o’clock; ETA 2895/2)
  • Grand Carrera 8RS (43mm case, GMT Function, “Grande Date” at 12 o’clock; ETA 2892A2/ Soprod GMT)
  • Grand Carrera Chronograph Calibre 17 RS (43mm case, date at 6 o’clock, Chronograph; ETA 2894/2)

The purpose of the Grand Carrera was to introduce a premium line of TAG Heuer watches, one that grew the Carrera line into premium price points. From a first glance you can see that a special effort has gone into the watch- the dials of each model have applied hour-markers and TAG Heuer logo, Cotes de Geneve finishing on metal parts of the dial and a new bracelet design with improved fit and finish. Every model in the range was COSC certified and featured the Rotating Disc system (hence the “RS”) developed by TAG Heuer, which distinguishes the watch from other ETA-powered watches.

We now know that there was much debate within TAG Heuer during its development on what the new watch should be called. The codename during the early days was “Vanquish“, a name that TAG Heuer would use on the limited edition version of the Carrera Calibre 360 in 2006.

Thankfully, enough people- including Jack Heuer– decided that the name didn’t suit the new mode, and so the name “Grand Carrera” was adopted. The rationale for this was that the watch was a premium version of the Carrera- TAG Heuer’s largest selling model. With the benefit of hindsight, I think its a shame that the Grand Carrera name was used, as the watch is special enough to warrant its own name rather than being an off-shoot of an existing model.

Concept Watch

Following the successful introduction of the Grand Carrera, TAG Heuer then announced a special Grade-two titanium version of the watch at Basel 2008- The Grand Carrera Calibre 36 Concept Chronograph. The concept watch took the design of the Grand Carrera series further- a much more “industrial” design with an emphasis on extreme sportiness rather than elegance.

Like the rest of the range, the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS uses the Rotating Disc system in place of traditional sub-dials. The disc at 3 0’Clock shows elapsed minutes, while the counter at 6 o’clock shows elapsed hours. On the left hand-side of the dial is a narrow window that shows seconds using TAG Heuer’s Linear System (“LS”)- again a rotating disc that rotates every 20 seconds. From 0-40 seconds the disc shows a black line, while from 41-60 the line changes to red. This means that there is no way of distinguishing between say 11 seconds and 31 seconds- perhaps a case of form over function when combined with a narrow window that can be difficult to read.

The highlight of the dial was the metal bridge connecting the two sub-dials with its Cotes de Geneve finish. From a technical perspective, the key development was the Caliper system, which is reviewed in more detail below.

The watch was released in conjunction with a new concept-car from former Pininfarina designer Ken Okuyama (the K.O 7- below) which borrowed elements of the dial design for its dashboard.

Reaction to the concept watch was overwhelmingly positive, with the watch winning the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2008 (Ultimate Sports Inspired Timepiece) award. Only one year later, the production version was ready.

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