While the internet offers collectors and prospective buyers a great way of researching and finding watches, there is still nothing like looking through a nice printed catalogue to get you in the buying mood. In looking through one of these catalogues, it was interesting to see the mix of new technologies and materials that TAG Heuer offer- mechanical quartz, titanium and carbon fibre.
But while you might think that these technologies are spread throughout the 2010 catalogue (Calibre S, Grand Carrera Titanium and Day-Date Carrera Carbon fibre), it was actually a 1983 catalogue and a single watch that had all of these features- the Heuer Titanium series.
The 1980s were obviously a difficult time for watch lovers- famous Swiss watch houses were falling and everyone seemed to be heading towards quartz movements. It was also a difficult time for Heuer, with the company being lost to the Heuer family and sold first to a Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania consortium and then on to the Middle East investment house, Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG).
The watches from this era….well, let’s just say that they’re not on the top of collectors minds today- but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some interesting models- and the Titanium series is one of these.
Series One- Heuer Titanium
The Heuer Titanium series was launched in 1983 and marketed as having “space-age” technologies- a case and bracelet made entirely of titanium and, on some models, Carbon fibre inserts on the bracelet. And space-age was very much the flavour of 1983- the Space Shuttle Columbia that first flew in 1981 was pictured in the sales brochure next to the watches.
The design of the Titanium is very similar to that of the Heuer 2000 quartz Chronograph of the same era, but in a higher-grade case. While the 2000 quartz Chronograph had flat-colored dials, the Titanium dial was anthracite to give it a high-tech look.
As befitting the higher price point of this series, the Titanium series all featured a sapphire crystal, while most contemporary Heuer models still used mineral glass.
The Heuer Titanium was available in three models:
- Titanium and Gold- fixed bezel
- Titanium and Gold- rotating bezel
- Titanium and Carbon fibre- fixed bezel
Each of these models came in three versions- two sports watches (Mens and Ladies, ref. 823.213 and 823.208 respectively for the Carbon fibre versions) and as a chronograph (223.206- again, for the Carbon fibre).
Limited Edition: Heuer Fittipaldi Titanium
The most interesting version of the Heuer Titanium is the Emerson Fittipaldi edition that was released in 1985. Fittipaldi was a fascinating Formula 1 driver, in that by the time he was 27 he was not only Brazil’s first World Champion, but now a two-time champion. He left the McLaren team at the end of the 1975 season (where he was runner-up) to join his brothers team. That move proved to be unsuccessful, and after five tough seasons that brought only one podium, he left Formula one at the age of 34.
Nowadays, that would have been the end and Emerson would have drifted into commentary, but after a four-year break, Fittipaldi returned to open wheel racing in 1984 in the CART series, where he won two Indianapolis 500 races, the last in 1993 when he was 47. A true legend.
The Fittipaldi Titanium was released in 1985- one of the last watches with Heuer on the dial- and while it’s a shame that this great driver has his name on a Heuer Titanium rather than a classic Heuer Silverstone or Carrera, it’s a fitting end to the Heuer- Formula 1 era and a very rare watch. The example below is the only one that I’ve ever seen and was posted at the Italian Heuer forum at Vetroplastica.
Series Two: TAG Heuer Titanium
The second series Titanium- now a TAG Heuer- was not significantly changed from the Heuer version. In fact, like many of these transitional-era watches, the only real change was the name of the company on the dial. Below are the three models equipped with the rotating bezel.
Like many Heuer models from this era, the movements used in the Titanium were quite advanced for the time- especially the Chronograph movements.
The quartz Chronograph is what Heuer called its Calibre 185. This is a “mechanical quartz” modular Calibre- an ESA 555.232 quartz module, with a Dubois Depraz mechanical chronograph module piggybacked, which is an interesting solution- it’s clear that Heuer was still trying to work out how it could embrace the newer quartz technology, yet still keep its place as a maker of precision Chronographs.
The Automatic Chronograph uses the LWO 283 movement, a Calibre that was originally developed by Lemania with Heuer before being sold to Dubois Depraz.
Collector Warren Snook recently bought these two Heuer Titanium Chronographs from a dealer in Germany. The Dealer in turn had bought them from a collector who had a habit of buying new watches and then storing them without wearing- a lucky find almost 30 years later.
“There are two fundamental flaws with the titanium range. Heuer marketed this model highlighting the use of space age technology and the latest manufacturing processes. The truth of the matter is they didn’t actually do much research into the properties of titanium and merely used this material as a substitute for stainless steel. The case design is fine, it is the bracelet where the serious design flaws are to be found.
References to the bracelet links incorporating “screws and springs” have been made on the internet. This is merely layman terminology for split pins and spring bars which attach the bracelet to the watch.”
“The bracelet links are constructed from several intricate pieces of titanium with the gold or carbon fibre insert being placed inside each link. One of my spare links is broken, the titanium outer layer has sheared off where the split pin has been inserted. I can only guess that the force exerted to etract a split pin was enough to fracture the titanium. The other problem is the end pieces where the springbar is inserted to attach to the watch head – It is very thin!
Heuer, or whoever manufactured the bracelets for them, made an incorrect assumption that titanium has the same properties of stainless steel. They did not take into consideration that titanium can fracture when certain stresses are applied and critical components of the bracelet were designed with a total disregard of these facts. Some owners have commented on broken links and fractured end pieces. Indeed, very few used examples of Heuer Titaniums still have their original bracelets and this goes some way to explaining why.”
Looking back on the Heuer/ TAG Heuer Titanium
The three variants of the Titanium series continued basically unchanged through to the late 1980s when the range was quietly dropped. While the Titanium series introduced some technologies that are still considered innovative more than 25 years later, the series is not remembered as a highpoint of TAG Heuers of the 1980s. Still, they are very difficult to find- in any condition- and any price premium that these once commanded over a more common Heuer 2000 quartz has long since disappeared, making them an interesting transitional Heuer.
1,2,6,7 TAG Heuer Catalogues: Chuck Maddox
Automatic & Quartz Chronograph comparison photos: Warren Snook