TAG Heuer Movements: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   4 December 2010   |   42 Comments  

It’s hard to remember a time when there has been so much focus on the movement that sits inside a watch- where it comes from, who designed it and who made it. It may sound strange to say that there was little focus on movements until around 2000- after all, they are not only an integral part of the watch, but are the actual components that deliver the primary function of a watch- keeping time.

I suspect that a big part of the reason was that by the 1990s no-one, putting aside a few Haute Horology brands and Rolex, knew how to make a complete movement- they all bought either ebauches (a “blank” or a collection of parts ready for assembly- normally including the main plate, the bridges, the train, the winding and setting mechanism and the regulator) or complete movements from ETA. This meant that there was little point promoting the movement inside your watch, because it was the same movement that sat inside your competitors watch.

But over the last 10 years this has changed. Partly because of Swatch’s strategy for ETA and partly because the market for high-end watches has returned strongly. Despite the fact that the idea of an in-house movements is very much a modern phenomenon, it is an undeniable trend, with customers expecting more from movements today than ever before.

Today’s customer not only wants to know that the Calibre 16 in their watch is a Valjoux 7750, but they also wants to know which grade of 7750 is being used. The movement is the centre-piece of  the watch again, which has caused all sorts of activity in Switzerland as companies work out how to deal with this new imperative.

TAG Heuer’s approach to movements has also changed significantly in the last 10 years, so lets look at how this approach has evolved over the last 40 years- and where it is heading tomorrow.

1970s-1990s

One of the most common myths in watchmaking today is the idea that a real, traditional watch company should design and manufacture its own movements. This has never been the case, and in fact quite the opposite- it was banned by law. The traditional Swiss watch-making industry was a classic model of industry specialisation- there were the dial makers, the case makers, the bracelet and buckle makers and the movement makers…and typically each of these was an independent small, family owned company. There is a great article that sets out some of the history of the ebauche market written by Carlos Perez, who says the following about the tendency of watch snobs to turn up their noses at a watch brand that only modifies ebauches:

“The interesting thing about this state of affairs is the contradiction inherent in its values. While “tradition” is often stated as an important and motivating value to those who collect mechanically automated watches, the new gourmand ethic precludes a traditional method of production based upon the use of third-party ebauches; a unique and fundamental part of the Swiss tradition of watchmaking”

Re-finishing Ebachues sourced from outside suppliers was the norm in the industry, even for Audemars Piguet, Breguet and Patek Philippe (supplied by Jaeger LeCoultre, Frederic Piguet and Lemania). This is because historically, a company either made watches or movements. In fact, Swiss laws set in place after the Depression forced members of Ebauches SA to stop making complete watches and members of Federation d’Horlogerie (“FH”) to stop making Ebauches. FH members had to buy ebauches from ESA. This created a division between the manufacturing of movements and the manufacturing of watches which lasted for almost fifty years before the two major Swiss Cartels  merged in 1983 (AUSAG- which included Ebauches SA, component manufacturers and watch brands Logines, Rado, Certina and Mido- and SSIH comprised of movement companies including Lemania and watch brands such as Omega and Tissot) eventually going on to create Swatch.

 

So what about Heuer? By the 1970s Heuer basically had three sources of movements- its own Chronomatic movement (Calibre 11, 12, 14 and 15), manual-wind movements from Swiss maker Valjoux and quartz movements from ESA. Heuer’s movement strategy was basically unchanged throughout the 1970s, and it wasn’t until the sale of Heuer in 1982 that Lemania 5100 movements and LWO Lemania/ Dubois Depraz movements were added…and the Chronomatic movements came to an end.

While the LWO movements continued into the 1980s, the Lemania 5100 was phased out in favour of ETA sourced movements- both automatic and quartz. ETA movements were so dominant, that by the time LVMH bought TAG Heuer in 2000, TAG Heuer made or modified precisely zero watch movements. Not one. This wasn’t that unusual, as ETA then supplied- and still does today- the majority of movements to the industry.

Today

As Jean-Christophe Babin told us back in March, one of his first tasks when he started his role at TAG Heuer was to focus on rebuilding TAG Heuers reputation as a watchmaker. Starting from nothing, the company began a programme of investing in innovative movements which today has resulted in the following Calibres:

  • Calibre V (Monaco V4)
  • Calibre HR03 (Microtimer/ Monaco 69)
  • Calibre S (Quartz tractor, mechanical chronograph module)
  • Calibre 1887 (Carrera and 300SLR)
  • Calibre 360 (Chronograph module only).

In addition, there is of course the Pendulum movement that is in the early stages of being further researched. It’s an interesting mix of movements and skills, all the way from quartz to the highly complex, belt-driven V4.

So, who provides the rest of TAG Heuer’s movements?

Home » Calibre 360, Calibre S, CH1887, Chronomatic, Lemania 5100, Mikrograph, Movement/ Calibre, Pendulum, Sellita, V4