TAG Heuer’s 1887 Calibre: In-house Design?

It’s been a busy week for TAG Heuer- releasing the new Silverstone re-edition, celebrating its 25th anniversary of working with the McLaren F1 team and announcing a brand new in-house movement, the Calibre 1887. Like may Swiss watch makers, Heuer/ TAG Heuer gave up making their own movements in the early 1980s and began to reply upon suppliers such as ETA and Lemania- both controlled by the Swatch Group.

For the last few years Swatch has been trying to eliminate supply of its ETA movements to customers outside the Swatch Group- however, the EU has intervened and forced Swatch to scale down external supply over a number of years, rather than to cease immediately. This uncertainly around supply of movements has shocked the Swiss houses into action, and TAG Heuer has been at the forefront of developing its own movements- the V4, the Calibre 360, the Calibre S and the Microtimer.

Calibre_1887_HD

Calibre 1887

Cal.1887

And now TAG Heuer has announced the Calibre 1887, a 39 Jewel chronograph oscillating at 28,800 beats per hour. The Calibre 1887 has the following features:

  • 50 hour power reserve
  • Display: Hours, minutes,  date at 6 o’clock, central chrono. hand
  • Sub-dials: seconds at 9 o’clock, minutes elapsed at 12 o’clock, hours elapsed at 6 o’clock

TAG Heuer say that the Calibre 1887 will only be used on a small number of models and that the company will still source movements from its external suppliers- ETA, Zenith and Dubois-Depraz.

So far, so good- but there are some people questioning TAG Heuer’s claim that the Calibre 1887 is “100% in-house”- could the Calibre 1887 simply be a modified Seiko movement?

There’s an interesting post at WatchUSeek that compares several key elements of the Calibre 1887 with the Seiko 6S37 movement and concludes that they are “basically” the same movement with a new plates and bridges. Yet the TAG Heuer press release says:

“The Calibre 1887 is the fifth movement designed 100% in-house by TAG Heuer

TAG Heuer certainly make it clear that it sources some parts and components from outside suppliers, which is the way it has always been in Swiss watch-making and is nothing unusual. It also notes that the movement will comply with the requirements of being “Swiss Made” (>50% components made in Switzerland), although acknowledges that some components are made in other countries.

So what is going on?

I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the various claims. After all, TAG Heuer claim the Calibre 360 as an in-house movement, even though it uses an ETA 2893 base movement. This is fine with me, as the magic of the Calibre 360 is the chronograph movement, which is TAG Heuer developed.

Perhaps TAG Heuer has bought the rights from Seiko for the base movement and then designed and produced custom components in Switzerland to improve the quality and reliability of the calibre. Perhaps the WUS posters have it wrong and the similarities between the two movements are simply a coincidence. On balance, it wouldn’t be a surprise if TAG Heuer had used the Seiko movement as its base movement.

Using the base movement of another manufacturer and then improving and customizing it makes a lot of sense, and is nothing to be ashamed about- for example, the Volkswagen Phaeton shares its platform with the Bentley Continental without detracting from the engineering reputation of Bentley. In fact, designing and manufacturing an in-house movement only to use it on “a small proportion” of TAG’s watches just wouldn’t make economic sense.

It is clear that TAG Heuer has made a very significant investment in its movement design and manufacturing capabilities over the last few years, and of this it is rightly proud. It would be a shame if these developments were compromised by over-ambitious marketing claims that focus people on what TAG Heuer didn’t do, rather than what TAG Heuer did accomplish.

***

Photos: TAG Heuer

Update- 23 December

Since this article was originally posted there have been several developments in the Calibre 1887 story- catch up with the latest here