Comparing the TAG Heuer Carrera Range

It’s hard to imagine today’s TAG Heuer range without the Carrera, the model that was at the heart of the range for more than twenty years, but disappeared in 1985. Making its comeback in 1996- initially as a Limited Edition- the series is now available in more than 40 different models, with case sizes ranging from 39-43mm and an array of quartz and automatic movements.

While this breadth means there is no shortage of choice, it also means that it’s an ongoing challenge to give each of the models its own distinct look and feel.

While Calibre 11 has reviewed the Carrera 1887 and Carrera Heritage– the two key models in the 2011 range- before, this is the first time that we’ve been able to show the two watches side-by-side.

And while TAG Heuer continue to refine the Carrera design to differentiate the various models, one recent change to a long-standing model has created a bit of a stir….even though it’s a change that you’ll never see while the watch is on your wrist.

Carrera Heritage Calibre 16 vs. Carrera Calibre 1887

Above are the Carrera 1887 Chronograph (left) and the Carrera Heritage Calibre 16 Chronograph (right). Even though the layout of the registers is the same and both have a 41mm case, the two models are quite different in character. Starting with the dial, the key differences are:

  • Flat black dial (1887) vs. “Flinque” textured dial (Calibre 16)
  • Hour markers vs. Arabic numerals
  • “3D” vs. flat sub-dial outline

The two models also have different hands and- importantly- Chronograph pushers. I really like the design of the 1887 pushers, which have a much more interesting shape compared to the relatively plain barrel-pushers of the Carrera Heritage.

The changes made from the V2 to V3 Carrera 1887 have helped put more distance between the two designs, as the V2 1887 uses the same target sub-dial at 9 o’clock as the Carrera Heritage.

But while the differences between the two dials are pretty obvious, even at a glance, the same can’t be said for the differences in the outer-bezels.

The two Chronographs use an identical case, but have different outer-bezels.Below you see the Carrera Heritage on the left and the 1887 on the right. The flat section of the 1887 bezel (the part parallel to the crystal) is about half the width of the same part on the Heritage bezel, giving it a thinner look. This also means that the rounded part of the bezel on the 1887 has a sharper angle heading down to meet the case.

The impact of this is that The dial on the 1887 looks larger, as it seems to extent to the edge of the case. OK, we’re talking about a difference of mere millimeters, but when you only have 41mm in total to play with, a small change can make a difference visually.

The Case of the Disappearing Caseback

So now that we’ve covered off on the differences between the 1887 and Carrera Heritage on the outside, what about the inside? Below you see the Calibre 1887 on the right and the Calibre 16 (Valjoux/ ETA 7750) on the left, both visible through the sapphire casebacks.

In fact, the Sapphire caseback has become a design signature of the series. It’s used across the Carrera Heritage range- such as the Carrera Heritage Calibre 6 below:

And it’s used on most other Automatic Carrera’s, including the Calibre 5 Lady below:

But this use of Sapphire casebacks across the Carrera range is about to change, and it’s not a universally popular move.

Below is the well-known Calibre 16 CV2010, which has been part of the Carrera range for several years now. The 41mm Calibre 16 family includes other models, such as the CV2014 and CV2050.

While this watch has used a Sapphire case back, that is about to change with a running change being made for 2011 to an engraved caseback with the image of 5-time Formula 1 World Champion Juan-Manuel Fangio.

The Fangio caseback is similar in design to the one used on the 2010 300 SLR, essentially a Limited Edition version of the Carrera 1887.

Why the Change?

There’s been an active discussion on the change over at the Watchuseek TAG Heuer forum, with a range of theories for the reason ranging from a cost-cutting move, through to it being way to sneak out the ETA 7750 and instead use the basically identical Sellita SW500.

I spoke with TAG Heuer to find out the reasons for the change. The explanation is that, firstly, TAG Heuer want to provide a greater point of difference between the ETA-powered Chronograph and the Carrera 1887. The Calibre 1887 is made in-house, and so having a sapphire caseback on this model emphasises this point of difference.

The second reason comes down to the continuing 2011 TAG Heuer promotion of “150 Years of Mastering Speed”. You don’t get much more iconic than Fangio when it comes to speed.

I don’t agree at all with some of the views on Watchuseek that the name Fangio doesn’t still hold enormous value. Seems strange to me that using Steve McQueen is un-questioned, but people have somehow forgotten a 5-time World Champion who won almost 50% of the races in which he competed? Surely not.

No matter what the reason, it’s fair to say that the verdict so far has not been positive. Sapphire casebacks were unheard of a few years ago, but have quickly gained popularity. I can understand why people looking to buy a Calibre 16 watch might be disappointed, but for those who simply must have a sapphire caseback, there are still other options in the Carrera range.

Heritage Calibre 6 vs. Heritage Calibre 16

One last comparison shot that I wanted to show was the difference in the cases of the Carrera Heritage watch (above right) and Chronograph model (above left). The watch uses a 39mm case, while, as mentioned above, the Chronograph uses a 41mm case. But the real difference isn’t really in the width- it’s in the thickness of the case.

No prizes for guessing that the watch is on the left below:

Not surprisingly, the watch feels a lot lighter on the wrist than the Chronograph.

Carrera Calibre 5 Lady

Finally, I also borrowed two of the Lady’s series- both with Mother of Pearl dials and diamond highlights. It’s unusual for a Ladies watch to use an automatic movement due to a preference for smaller size. Ironically, the 36mm case is the same size as the Men’s re-edition from 1996.

I like the detailing on the Carrera Lady- take a look at the diamond hour-markers above.

For more photos of the 2011 Carrera range, including the Carrera Heritage, Carrera 1887 and Carrera Calibre 5 Lady, click here for the Gallery.

Want to find out more about the history of the TAG Heuer Carrera? Check out the dedicated Calibre 11 Carrera mini-site to see all ten generations of the Carrera from 1963-2013.