This year marks an important milestone for TAG Heuer, albeit one that so far has gone unrecognised and unnoticed by the entire watch world: 2016 is the 30th anniversary of TAG Heuer. The brand’s origins of course stretch back to 1860, and for the first 125 years the watches and timers produced by the company carried the famous “Heuer” name. The reason for the change to TAG Heuer in 1986 was the sale of Heuer Leonidas by Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania to the Saudi investment group Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) for an estimated price of CHF12 million. Mansour Ojjeh, then 33 years old, led TAG’s acquisition of Heuer Leonidas, announcing the deal on 29 June 1985.
Once the acquisition completed on 1 January 1986, the company’s name and the brand used on the watches changed to TAG-Heuer, eventually being simplified to TAG Heuer. And so, while TAG Heuer the company is now entering its 156th year, TAG Heuer as a brand has just hit the big 3-0.
And this is not a milestone that we are going to slip by quietly- instead, we’re using the anniversary as a chance to look back over the last 30 years in a series of articles about the watches, the key people, the successes and the controversies of the last three decades.
In the first article, we start at the obvious place and look at the most important five TAG Heuer watches over the last 30 years. Now the wording here is important…these are not necessarily the best, nor the most valuable watches, but instead are the ones that have mattered the most and helped define what TAG Heuer is today. It’s not easy condensing down hundreds of models to only five, but here are our choices.
1. 1986 Formula 1
The Formula 1 series was the first watch launched by TAG Heuer, debuting at the Basel Fair in March 1986. It was a radical departure from the range of steel diving watches that had propped up Heuer in the early 1980s, being offered in range of bright fibreglass cases and powered by a quartz movement. The choice of the Formula 1 name was an inspired one, and related to both the sporting heritage of Heuer and the other investment of TAG- the McLaren Formula 1 team, of which it owned 50%.
The Formula 1 was part of the range from 1986 through to 2000, before taking a short break and re-appearing in the catalogue in 2004. Today in 2016 it’s still at the heart of the TAG Heuer collection.
Why it Matters
The Formula 1 made it immediately clear that TAG Heuer was not simply the old Heuer with a new logo. The Formula 1 was priced well below the existing collection, being aimed at a younger market, and played a key role in drawing people into the world of TAG Heuer and Swiss watches. Most of today’s TAG Heuer collection can trace its origins back to the Heuer days, but not the Formula 1- it’s 100% a TAG Heuer. Read more about the Formula 1 here.
2. 1996 Heuer Carrera Re-edition
By the mid 1990s, the TAG Heuer catalogue was dominated by the “Six Features” watches- a range of steel diving watches, including the 1000, 1500, 2000, 4000, 6000 and the S/el. The truth was that TAG Heuer had worked hard to shake off the image of the past, and rarely referred to the old days of Heuer. That all changed with the launch in 1996 of the Heuer Carrera Re-edition, a close reproduction of the 1963 Carrera powered by the hand-wound Lemania 1873 movement. And for the first time since TAG Heuer begun, the brand’s watches carried the Heuer name in a tribute to the past. It was the first sign of TAG Heuer embracing, rather than being embarrassed by, the past.
Why it Matters
The success of the Carrera re-edition transformed TAG Heuer. It led to the relaunch of the Monaco in 1997 and the Monza in 2000, all of which helped create a link to the past that inspired LVMH to acquire TAG Heuer. And under LVMH’s ownership, the Carrera and Monaco went from being small-scale novelties to once again representing the heart of the brand. The Carrera today is by far the most popular TAG Heuer model.
And none of this would have happened if the Carrera re-edition had failed. Instead, its success change the product focus of the company. Even today, the influence of that first modern Carrera casts a large shadow. Read more about the Carrera Re-edition here.
3. 2004 Monaco V4
Under the guidance of CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, TAG Heuer set about re-building the brand’s credentials as a watchmaker. Already we had seen a shift away from the quartz movements of the 1980s and early 1990s towards mechanical movements, but those movements were all supplied by ETA. At the same time, while the Carrera and Monaco had changed the face of the TAG Heuer design, these were backwards looking retro designs. Did the “new” TAG Heuer have any new ideas?
The answer arrived with a bang in 2004 with the radical Monaco V4 prototype. Not only did the watch boast a modern “3D” Monaco design, it also boasted an innovative movement, called the V4, which was driven by belts rather than wheels. Most of the watch industry scoffed that this flight of fancy would ever be made- surely, it was just a ploy for publicity. But TAG Heuer persevered, and in 2009 launched the production model.
Why it Matters
The Monaco V4 showed that TAG Heuer could turn historical designs of the past into avant-garde, modern watches and that commanded a price of USD80,000- unheard of for TAG Heuer. The success of the V4 inspired Babin to push further, launching the Carrera Calibre 360, the Grand Carrera Pendulum and eventually unveiling the Mikro range of watches, crowned by the MikropendulumS tourbillon. Even today, the reason that TAG Heuer has the credibility to launch a market-leading Carrera Heuer-02 Tourbillon stems from the Monaco V4 of 2004. Read more about the Monaco V4 here.
4. TAG Heuer Connected
While the watches we’ve picked so far are each highly successful, we don’t yet know how the Connected story will pan out. When we spoke to Jean-Claude Biver earlier this year, he admitted that the Connected could well have been the biggest failure of his career. At this early stage, it could be one of the biggest successes, given its brilliant initial sales. What is certain is that we will see a broader range of Connected watches offered in 2016/ 2017. The story of TAG Heuer’s smartwatch is only just beginning.
Why it Matters
The success of the Connected watch could well spell the end for quartz watches at TAG Heuer, with the Connected watches being priced at or below the existing quartz range. It’s easy to see the day when TAG Heuer’s range will be comprised of either in-house mechanical watches, or modern smartwatches. The Connected was probably the biggest product risk taken by TAG Heuer since the launch of the original Formula 1, and so far the signs are positive. Whether it fails or succeeds in the longer-term is unclear, but what is certain is that it will shape the TAG Heuer range over the next decade. Read more about the Connected here.
5. 2010 Carrera 1887
The Carrera 1887 was the first watch to use the Calibre 1887, the first production chronograph movement made by TAG Heuer- while Heuer financed the 1969 Chronomatic movement, it did not manufacture the calibre. The Calibre 1887 was born from push at Swatch Group to reduce its obligations to supply TAG Heuer and other Swiss competitors with ETA movements. Competition rules stopped Swatch Group from making this decision immediately, but the message was clear- as soon as it could reduce supply, it would. The race was on for TAG Heuer to find an alternative supply.
TAG Heuer took the bold and brave decision to licence the Seiko TC78 Chronograph, buying the exclusive manufacturing rights for Europe. TAG Heuer redesigned aspects of the movement and set up a production facility to make the movements itself.
The first watch to use the Calibre 1887 was the beautiful 41mm Carrera 1887, a classic Chronograph that stayed true to the design heritage of the original 1963 Carrera- simple, elegant and sporty.
Why it Matters
While its launch was not without controversy, the Carrera 1887 is a true modern classic. It demonstrated that TAG Heuer could make its own high-scale movements and led to the development of the Calibre 1969/ CH80. Today, the Calibre 1887 has been reinvented as the Calibre Heuer-01, powering the next generation of Carrera chronographs that bear the design trademarks of CEO JC Biver. Read more about the Carrera 1887 here.
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