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TAG Heuer Six Features

The design philosophy that shaped TAG Heuer watches in the 1990s was the absolute dedication to what the company called the “Six Features”.

While each model in the 1990s TAG Heuer range had its own design and movements (from quartz to COSC Automatic), all the watches had the Six Features.

The Six Features were initially a big success and were a key part of establishing TAG Heuer as new brand, distinct to the old Heuer. However, the mistake was to see these six worthy features as more than just “things a sports watch should have” and instead as a philosophy applied across every watch. The result, not surprisingly, was a range of watches that, at first glance, all looked the same.

I’d argue that it was TAG Heuer’s inability to offer distinctive, high-end offerings throughout the 1990s that created a perception problem that has only been overcome through concept innovations such as the Monaco V4 and Grand Carrera Pendulum and new up-scale series, such as the Grand Carrera.

However, without the sales success of the mid-range watches in the 1990s, TAG Heuer probably wouldn’t be around today, so lets look at these Six Features that helped save the company to fight another day.

Background

The Heuer design philosophy in the 1970s was simple- a range of innovative, colourful sports chronographs powered by a family of quasi in-house Chronomatic movements. Square cases, round cases, digital- it was an eclectic range.

The watches themselves were typically named after either Formula 1 race tracks (Silverstone, Jarama, Monza), glamorous cities (Monaco, Cortina) or places synonymous with famous sporting events (Kentucky, Daytona). This philosophy was backed up by Heuer’s sponsorship of sporting events- principally Formula 1 and Sailing races, with the iconic images being the sponsorship decals on the Ferrari F1 cars.

When the banks forced the sale of Heuer in 1982 to the Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania consortium, it was clear  that changes were needed, although sadly these changes began with the naming policy, with Heuer moving to simple Reference numbers rather than names, meaning good-bye to Silverstone, Monza, Cortina and Carrera and hello to (respectively), Ref 510.403, Ref 110.511, Ref 510.513  and Ref 510.508.

Despite this lack of imagination, the Piaget/ Lemania era produced a great range of watches using the Lemania 5100 movement, even if many model designs were shared with other brands.

It wasn’t until the sale to TAG that things really changed- not just the name, but the philosophy behind the company. TAG Heuer was still a sports watch company, but one that produced the 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000 series- each design a little different, a little more expensive and a little better made as the series number became larger. And at the centre of this new range were the Six Features, a concept first introduced in the 2000 series of 1982.

The Six Features

The extract below comes from the 1995 TAG Heuer catalog and sets out the view that:

“Technology determines function and function creates the design. This philosophy is expressed by the 6 unique functional features of each TAG Heuer watch”

The Six Features are all self-explanatory and are illustrated below with images from the same Catalog

Water Resistant to 200m

Screw in Crown

Double Safety Clasp

Unidirectional Bezel

Sapphire Crystal

Luminous Markings

Impact of Six Features

The positive aspect of the Six Features philosophy was that it clearly established TAG Heuer as a leading modern sports watch brand, as each watch had the full list of features that buyers expected from watches in this category. Just as in the Heuer days, the new philosophy was backed by sports sponsorship and by selecting brand ambassadors, almost always from the sporting world.

The downside? Take a look at the photo below. At a glance, can you tell the difference between these models? (From Top left: 6000; S/el; 4000; 2000; 1500 and F1)?

This point was noted by Jean Christophe Babin, reflecting on his first impressions of joining TAG Heuer ten years ago:

“But an observation from looking at the windows in the stores was there were apparently several different series, but they were all looking very much alike.

Therefore one of my first questions to the team when I joined was if we have many series, what exactly is the role? They said, “it’s price because we have the 1000, 1500, 2000, 4000 and 6000 and each is more expensive than the previous one”, and you say OK, but as a consumer what is the difference, because they have all the “six features”?”

Where this really had a negative impact was at the top end of the range- a 6000-series typically cost 4X the price of the 1500 series, but only offered marginally different looks and movements. Where was the “halo” model? Where was the distinctiveness? After all, not all sport watches need a rotating bezel, as the Carrera and Monaco clearly demonstrate.

Moving Beyond Features

Ironically, the first series to break with the Six Features was the Classics Series released in 1996- it took going back to the Carrera and Monaco to realise that the real “feature” of TAG Heuer was its ability to blend the heritage of iconic watches with an “avant garde” flair for modern design

Today, many TAG Heuer sports models still have the six features, but they are no longer the sole foundations upon which watches are designed. There was never anything wrong with the features themselves, just that they shouldn’t have represented a straight jacket to innovation.

Of course, it’s always easy to look back at the 1980s- 1990s and judge harshly the watches from this era- not just those from TAG Heuer, but also from Omega and others.

The reality is that at best, Swiss watch brands suffered a near-death experience in the 1980s and it took a long time for the design-mojo to return and for the market to once again appreciate high-end chronographs. So, the Six Features philosophy needs to be looked at in that context- appreciation both for the fact that it kept TAG Heuer alive as well as for the fact that its firmly in the past.

  • Fabrizio

    Dear David thanks for this new piece, spot on as usual.

    Not being a fan of TAG Heuer I didn't notice so far the lack of distinguishing features from one series to another – so far, I mean!

    One remark is due though: definitely the 510.508 lacked the Carrera name, but in the same period Heuer did have two Carreras in its rooster!

    Cheers,

    Fabrizio

  • George

    Always loved the 6000 series. My first TAG Heuer was the 2000 series but the branding worked on me because I wanted the 6000 but could not afford it at the time. I hope TAG Heuer throws its fans a bone and brings it back, perhaps as a limited edition run.

  • DC

    Hi Fabrizio,

    Yes, for the first part of the Lemania 5100 era, the old names were kept and revived- Silverstone, Cortina and Carrera. It was only as time progressed that these names began to be abandoned.

    George, the good news on the 6000 is that you can still find new- or nearly new- examples for sale. Here is a Mint condition Mika Hakkinen TAG Heuer 6000 for less than USD1500
    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/TAG-HEUER-PRESTIGEOUS-6000-

  • wynonie

    Great piece, really interesting. I have such mixed feelings on this era of Tag Heuer – like many it was my introduction to the brand, but as you show here was a little bland compared to the 60s/70s and to now. Thanks for the article.

  • DC

    Same with me- these are the watches that I first came to know…my first watch was a 4000 Series quartz that I still have.

    As I tried to set out in the post, its not that I don't like the "Six Features", just that when you;re so prescriptive about so many elements of a watch's design, its no surprise that they look the same!

    Cheers

    David

  • DAn Era

    Actually, the formula 1 non chronograph didn’t have sapphire crystal and screw down crown. And as i recall they were quite cheap (at least in 1995 they were like USD 200 in a miami boutique). I had the 3 last ones plus a non chrono F1. I have always loved tags and heuers but i think that each period reflected the standars of the time. The Heuer time is a classic right now but actually it was designed as a tool and for practicality (mainly racing). The Leonidas pedior has some funky designs and things (the 70’s) such as the lcd one, that not necessarely are beautiful, even though they are collectible. And the tag era is 80’s, wall street, Rolex everywhere and such. Missing from the picture is a tag heuer 1000 (the scuba one) that if not mistaken, screams rolex submariner. I have always being a tag fan, but i think that approach was based on the market needs and tastes at the moment, so the company would not go the way of several brands that died with the quartz invasion.

  • DC

    Hi Dan,

    Yes, correct that the first gen F1 from around 1987 was a bit different. I also agree with you that the designs reflect the times.

    Spot on about the TAG Heuer 1000, which was gone by the time of the 1995 catalogue shown in this post. Take a look here at my interview with Jack Heuer from March, and you see that Rolex did indeed try to stop TAG Heuer using some of the Rolex design cues on the 1000!

    http://www.calibre11.com/interview-jack-heuer/

    Speaking of design, I'll be interviewing the man responsible for today's TAG Heuer designs shortly, so stay tuned.

    David

  • Moriarty

    Thanks for the info'.

    Are just abour to recieve my used 2000 ams am looking forwrd to it.

  • Rev Jerry

    My first Tag was a midsize WH5215K1 Chronometer with a Black dial in 1997 then later a Tag 6000 Chronometer WH5115K1 with a salmon dial, and I still have both and they both are accurate to +/- 2 seconds a day. I replaced the band on the midsize with a new Tag Formula 1 band. It looks nice and will never break like the original did.

  • Yes, the bracelet on the 6000 can be fragile…shame.