The roll-out of TAG Heuer’s Gulf-branded watches continues, with the 2018 Gulf Special Edition Formula 1 following hot on the heels of the two Monaco Gulf watches launched earlier this year. Like the Monaco duo, the watch carries the famous blue and orange colours of Gulf Oil, whose iconic livery was worn by the Le Mans winning Porsches of the late 1960s/ early 1970s, including the Porsche 917 driven by fictional driver Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) in the 1971 movie Le Mans.
Gulf Oil of 2018 is very different to the major oil company founded in 1901, which met its demise in the 1980s when it was forced to merge with Standard Oil of California, with the new entity being named Chevron. In the US, the Gulf brand today rests with Gulf Oil Limited Partnership (owned by private equity firm ArcLight Capital Partners) and operates petrol stations across the US. Internationally, the Gulf brand is owned by Gulf Oil International (itself owned by Hinduja Group), which is operates petrol stations in Europe, South America and Indonesia and an oil trading business.
TAG Heuer’s agreement to use the Gulf brand is with Gulf Oil International, with presumably a second agreement with Gulf Oil LP to allow the branding to be used in the US. The complexity behind the ownership of the Gulf brand is the reasons Gulf branded watches in the past have been launched in the US on a different timetable to other markets.
But that’s enough of the corporate machinations behind the use of the Gulf branding, let’s get down to business with the new watch, which is the best value way to get a Gulf-branded TAG Heuer on your wrist.
Before we get underway, one very important note: the watch used for the majority of this review is the prototype model first shown at Baselworld 2018. The final production watch has a much lighter blue stripe and white, rather than beige, sub-dials. We’ll show you that final design later in the article, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the specific colour scheme shown in the majority of these photos is not the one that you’ll be able to buy.
The new Special Edition is not the first Gulf-branded Formula 1, with that honour going to the 2011 model (Reference WAH1013) shown above, which was based on the previous Formula 1 case design.
The 2018 Gulf F1 uses a 43mm stainless steel case, the standard case offered across the Formula 1 Chronograph range. The case has a notched steel bezel with a lovely blue aluminium insert and a titanium-carbide coated crown and chronograph pushers.
The key element that sets the Gulf edition watch apart from other models is of course the dial, which starts with a dark blue base before adding the two Gulf stripes- light blue and orange. The off-centre stripes are the same design as McQueen’s racing suit in Le Mans and the same featured on the 2018 Gulf Monaco and other Gulf-branded watches.
The same orange is used for the central chronograph hand, as well as the tips on the three lacquered sub-dial hands. We’re not a huge fan of the coloured tips used on several TAG Heuer sub-dial hands -we’d rather see a solid colour used, in this case the simple black rather than to go to full orange hands.
The three sub-dials each have an azurage, or circular pattern. These registers have a slight beige or ivory tint to them rather than being a pure, bight white.
The other key details on the dial are the minuterie flange, with 5 minute increments, and the standard rectangular hour indices, which have white SuperLuminova, as does the over-size “12” at the top of the dial.
Overall, it’s a great looking dial. The Formula 1 series should be about bright bold colours, and that’s exactly what you get on the F1 Gulf. As much as we like the colours and dial design, it’s hard not to agree with TAG Heuer that the final “blue” offered on the production watch is an improvement, being much closer to the true Gulf Blue.
Case from every Angle
It’s hard to believe that it’s now been three years since the introduction of the revised Autavia-style case on the Formula 1 series. Given that the former lozenge-style case was around for 30 years, we still double-take when looking at today’s F1. Just like the third generation 1970s Autavia, it’s a good-looking case, with the 43mm size about as large as we’d want to see for this case design. Despite the large case size, the use of quartz movements keeps the case relatively slim and giving the watch a nice feel on the wrist.
The case offers a polished steel finish, which has become standard issue for today’s TAG Heuer’s, including most Carrera and Autavia models. While those heritage-style models should have a combination of polished and brushed finishes- admittedly a more expensive finishing process- offering a single finish on the entry-level Formula 1 makes good sense.
Complementing the bespoke dial design is a fantastic new strap, reference FC8243. The strap is made from calfskin and has an unusual “asphalt” texture effect. On the inside of the strap is an orange rubber lining, with matching orange stitching.
Whoever is designing TAG Heuer’s straps over the last few years deserves special praise for continuing to develop innovative, special designs. It wasn’t that long ago that every TAG Heuer model used the same 3-4 leather straps, but now it seems as though each Special Edition gains a bespoke strap, which we love.
While there is no bracelet officially offered, there is no reason why the standard Formula 1 steel bracelet won’t fit the Gulf F1…but keeping the watch on the bright blue leather strap feels like the right choice.
Turn the watch over and you’ll see the standard Formula 1 caseback- with the exception of the Gulf logo. And behind the caseback is the Ronda 5040D quartz chronograph movement the same reliable movement offered across all F1 Chronographs.
As noted at the start of this review, a few changes were made between the prototype Gulf F1 photographed for this article and the final model- and what you see here is the final design. There are two key changes:
- Lighter “Gulf” pale blue stripe on the dial
- Bright white registers rather than beige
Both of the changes are improvements, especially the use of the true Gulf blue.
Price and Availability
The 2018 TAG Heuer Formula 1 Gulf is available to pre-order through the TAG Heuer website in the USA, UK, Japan, Switzerland and Australia and available “in selected TAG Heuer official retailers” worldwide. The US price is $1,600, which is $50 less than the Formula 1 Aston Martin Edition ($1,650) and $50 more than the Red Bull Formula 1 Chronograph- in other words, it’s priced right where you’d expect it to be.