Last Updated on August 19, 2020 by Calibre 11
It’s easy to get caught up in the hyperbole of writing about watches- reading most press releases you’d get the impression that every new model hand crafted in the Swiss Valleys was a ground-breaking chapter in that brand’s history. A technical and artistic revolution, all contained in a wristwatch.
But even with this warning in mind, let me put forward this view: the re-edition of the 1964 Heuer Carrera from 1996 is the single most important TAG Heuer (i.e. post 1985) ever released.
Try and imagine today’s range not only without the Carrera, but without the Monaco and without the special editions like the Silverstone. Imagine a range today that ignored the “old” Heuer heritage, from the innovation of the Mikrograph in 1916 to the images of Steve McQueen in Le Mans. Because if it wasn’t for success of this Carrera re-edition, then it’s easy to imagine that TAG Heuer would have once again turned its back on the past and instead focused solely on the avant garde.
As well as being a truly significant watch, the Carrera re-edition also comes with a great story. A watch that not only set a new direction for the brand, but also a watch that helped sell a company.
History of the Carrera
The seminal article on the history of the Heuer Carrera is this 2002 review by Chuck Maddox and Matthias Liebe-Kleymann, who describe in great detail how the Carrera evolved from its introduction in 1964 through to its “final” Heuer days in the mid-1980s and then its re-birth in 1996.
It was this article that inspired me to start writing this website, because I found that I went back again and again to re-read the “story” of the Carrera.
The Search for Heritage
The Carrera was initially dropped around 1986, with stock continuing into 1987. The watch just didn’t fit the new direction- the “six features” and emphasis on the avant garde.
But ten years later, the Carrera was back- this time as a pure slice of nostalgia as you can see from the catalog scans below. So what changed?
The story that I have heard about the Carrera re-edition starts with the planned initial public offering (“IPO“) of TAG Heuer in the mid-1990s. Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) sold 40% of TH to private equity firm Doughty Hanson in 1995 and along with the management team, the parties were looking to tap into the growing market for luxury brands going public.
But there was a problem- apparently some of the advisers to the company became concerned about potential investors marking down the company because of the perception that TH was really just a marketing company- after all, they didn’t make movements- and they didn’t seem to have a real heritage story to help sell the romance of investors buying into a luxury brand.
And so to address this it was decided to re-launch the Carrera at Monza in late 1995/ early 1996. The company even invited back Jack Heuer to attend the launch of the Carrera, something Jack generously agreed to, despite the hurt of the forced sale of Heuer in 1982 still lingering. The renewed interest in Heuer’s heritage also extended to the book “Mastering Time” which the company commissioned to look back on the history of Heuer and integrate the new TAG Heuer into this story. The book was first published in mid-1996, only a few months after the Carrera re-edition was launched.
Whether this new-found focus on heritage helped or not is hard to say- but TH did indeed list on both the New York and Swiss stock exchanges in September 1996. The float was almost 20-times over-subscribed, but ominously, no new capital for future growth was raised– it was simply the existing shareholders getting out. As we now know, LVMH came along three years later to acquire the company and finally inject some funds into growing the business once again.
The Carrera re-edition was launched with three models in the range- the Gold Carrera (CS3140), the black-dial Carrera (CS3111) and the watch you see below- the white Carrera (CS3110). The Carrera is probably the only Heuer design that I would call pretty- yes, there are other striking, beautiful designs- but pretty? Only this one.
The Carrera re-edition was true to the original Heuer Carrera 2447D in almost every aspect from the 36mm stainless steel case, to the pushers and crown and the dial and sub-dial design. The only real difference is that the original had the text “Carrera” on the dial. Ask collectors today which re-edition TAG Heuer they like the most and its usually universal that the Carrera re-edition is the best. Why? Because it’s the most true to the original.
In Chuck’s article, reference is made to the original having a white dial compared to the silver of the re-edition- I’d love to see the two watches side-by-side, because to me they look to be the same colour.
Note in the photo below the darker silver ring around the outside of the dial- and then take a look at the original Fisher Carrera towards the top of the page- TAG Heuer truly did get the details right on this one.
However, what did surprise me when I looked at these macro shots was the quality of the printed dial. Of course, it looks fine when viewed in life-size, but the Macro shots show some “bleeding” around the edges of the black text- not up to the standards of today’s dials.
The only downside I find with the design is the size. Yes, 36mm is true to the original, but it just feels too small by modern standards, although the smaller size does give it a certain elegance.
As the Carrera line made its way into the 2000s, TAG increased the size of the re-edition style Carrera to 39mm, which feels like the right size for the modern version of the Carrera.
All of the Carrera re-edition models are powered by the same movement- the manual-wind Lemania 1873. As the photo from Chuck’s article shows, the movement was beautifully finished in an era when the clear caseback were just an idea waiting to happen.
There is a real romance about manual-wind movements that gets lost in today’s obsession with cutting edge automatic movements. Sadly, there are very few around today- ETA phased out the manual-wind version of the 7750 some years ago, leaving only the old Unitas movements (as used in the Carrera 1) in the ETA range.
Franco Baresi Edition Carrera “20 Years of Milan”
In 1999, Italian Football powerhouse A.C. Milan celebrated its centenary by allowing fans to vote on their “player of the century”. The winner was local hero Franco Baresi, who played his entire 20 year career at A.C. Milan. To commemorate the occasion, a special edition of the silver dial CS3110 was commissioned, with 200 watches made. Despite the changes to the dial, the watch has the same reference number as the standard edition.
These photos come from well-known Italian collector Gianvittorio Molteni, who sadly passed away in 2020. You can see more photos of “GVM”‘s watch as his website here.
The Heuer Re-edition Range
The success of the Carrera re-edition meant that the re-edition series became more than just a one-off for TAG Heuer. On the back of the success of the Carrera, TAG Heuer expanded the Carrera re-edition range and introduced the Monaco re-edition in 1997. Other models such as the Monza (below) followed in 2000.
Each of these proved to be a success, and TAG began to focus its entire marketing strategy around its heritage range. Every new concept watch since the early 2000s has been based on either a Monaco or a Carrera design. These models have become the two iconic watches in the range and the real heart of TAG Heuer- not just as re-editions but with contemporary versions such as the Grand Carrera and the Monaco Twenty Four.
And I’d argue that this re-shaping of the TAG Heuer range and the appreciation for Heuer all started because of this Carrera re-edition and its success. It may have been created to simply sprinkle a little “heritage dust” over the IPO, but the watch had a far greater impact than simply selling a few shares- what it did was to re-set the strategy for the entire brand and bring back an appreciation for those great watches of the past.
Photos: Chuck Maddox