Last Updated on April 15, 2021 by Calibre 11
One of the favourite stories that we’ve told over the years is the tale behind the TAG Heuer Edge, a new entry-level series planned for launch in the early 2000s, but ultimately cancelled at the last minute. We showed you what the production watch would have looked like, and spoke with then- CEO Stéphane Linder (who was Head of Product when the Edge was developed) who explained why the watch was cancelled despite tens of thousands of cases having been already made.
Today we can bring you the inside story of how the TAG Heuer Edge was developed, thanks to an interview with the man who conceived the original design- Barth Nussbaumer. While the Edge was Barth’s first project with TAG Heuer, it was by no means his last and we’ll share some of those stories over the coming weeks to give an inside perspective of how watch designers turn a simple product brief into a finished, production watch.
So let’s get into the full story of the Edge, from the initial prototype drawings, through to the promotional catalogue photos and finally how the TAG Heuer Edge saved Barth from missing a flight in Copenhagen.
The Designer: Barth Nussbaumer
Barth’s studied design and jewellery making in La Chaux-de-Fonds, which led to his early career as a jewellery designer, before moving on to designing watches for two design studios- Rodolphe in Switzerland (which had a line called Rodolphe by Longines) and Di Modolo in Milan, whose clients included Vacheron Constantin and Raymond Weil .
In 1996, as the age of only 24, Barth struck out on his own, setting up his own company and designing popular watches for Calvin Klein. It was during the time that he came to the attention of TAG Heuer, which had a very specific project in mind- the replacement for the TAG Heuer Formula 1 series.
Barth designed several other TAG Heuer watches, including the first TAG Heuer Autavia, Aquagraph and Targa Florio chronographs and would later co-found White SA with Manuel Romero in 2003.
Code XY- The TAG Heuer Edge
The Edge project was known internally as Code XY and began in 1998, when TAG Heuer was an independent listed company. Since the banks manoeuvred Jack Heuer out in 1983, the company was initially owned by a Lemania/ Piaget consortium, before being acquired by Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) in 1986. TAG Heuer would eventually be listed on the New York and Zurich Stock Exchanges in September 1996, before LVMH came knocking in 1999. It was during these final days as an independent company that TAG Heuer began the Edge project.
Barth was approached by Marc Michel-Amadry (now Head of Sales at IWC) and Stéphane Linder (now Chief Operations Officer at Breitling) to work on a new project to replace the Formula 1 series as the entry-level TAG Heuer. The Formula 1 hadn’t really changed much since its introduction in 1986- by 1998, the 3-hand watch was already discontinued, and while a new F1 Chronograph series was launched in 1998, the Formula 1 was discontinued around 2000.
Evolution of the Design
What you see above is the very first design of the Edge from late 1999, and while some of the details were refined through the prototyping phase, the essence of this initial design carried through strongly to the final watch, as Barth explained:
“So, this was the first design. This is really the outline design and then I was really doing by hand all the rendering of the volume of the watch. This was one of the super early dials of the watch, but TAG Heuer felt it was looking a bit too simple, so we then designed a second dial about 18 months later.”
This second dial design featured even Arabic numerals and small trapezoid hour markers for the odd-numbered hours. It was during this subsequent 18 month development period that a Chronograph version was also envisaged- you can see both of these designs below:
It was this second dial that was approved for production, and while the Edge never made it to market, you can see how the design of the second dial inspired other future TAG Heuer models, such as the 2002/ 3 redesign of the Kirium Chronometer
The watch that you see below belongs to Barth and is the version of the watch that was to go on sale. While the design was constantly under the spotlight from a cost perspective, you can see that the bracelet elements are far from standard, with curved edges and a brushed finish.
Another interesting aspect of the Edge story is how watch designers were remunerated for their work- and it wasn’t a simple one-off fee as you might expect, as Barth explains:
Barth Nussbaumer: “It was also my first and last project with royalties. I had really big hope on that watch. At the end, they’ve been pretty fair and looked after me.
Calibre 11: Is that how it used to work, where you’d get a fee and then royalties depending on sale?
BN: Yeah. It was a tiny, a little fee at the beginning. Then you were supposed to receive a pretty good royalty. It could have been nice in terms of business, it was supposed to be a nice project. Again, they were very fair.
C11: Does it still work that way now, or is it now just a simple one-off fee?
BN: Very rarely are there any royalties today. The brands understood that designers were doing very well from this arrangement. This was my first and last project [where royalties were involved]. And it’s not that I negotiated the thing. It was a proposal from TAG Heuer. That’s how we worked with others. And for me, everything was like, wow, great. So, I was really happy about the offer.
The TAG Heuer Edge Range
Far from being a single model, the concept behind the Edge was very much to create a new TAG Heuer series, with a full family of watches. Above are the four variants planned for launch, albeit this image shows the early dial design. included in the range was a 3-hand watch in three different case sizes (30mm, 36mm and 41mm) and a single Chronograph (41mm).
Beyond the initial launch, further variants were planned, including an Edge 1000m diver (below) and a digital Edge using the movement from what would eventually be the TAG Heuer Micrograph/ Microtimer.
What was different about these later concepts is that they were designed on computers rather than by hand, a process that saved many days.
3 Months to Launch…The Axe Falls
Despite more than two years of development, including the manufacture of an estimate 70,000 cases, TAG Heuer axed the Edge project in late 2000, some three months before the watch was due to be launched. It was during a lunch with then-new CEO Jean-Christophe Babin that the news was shared with Barth.
What we can show you here for the first time are some of the promotional photos that were taken for the Edge. These images were taken of the first dial design by Miodrag Mijatovic, otherwise known as Mijat. not only is Mijat handy with the camera, producing many catalogues for TAG Heuer and other major brands, but in his “spare time” he is also a celebrated watch designer, being responsible for the TAG Heuer Monaco in 1997, TAG Heuer Monza in 2000 and the Hublot Big Bang.
It was the arrival of new CEO Jean-Christophe Babin that signalled the demise of the Edge, with the entry-level series the antithesis of the Babin strategy of uplifting the TAG Heuer range. While the Edge was permanently scrapped, TAG Heuer did decide to reintroduce the Formula 1 series in 2004, realising that this was a market segment too important to ignore.
Looking back on the TAG Edge
Having devoted two years to developing the Edge, the end came as a huge disappointment for the Edge project team, but as a small consolation, the team each received one of the pre-production watches as a memory of the time and effort invested. But despite the disappointment, the memories are still positive for Nussbaumer:
“First of all, I was super happy to be able to work with TAG. I had been self-employed for two years when I started to work with them. They got my name because at the time I was working a lot for Calvin Klein- people were really looking at what they were doing, because it was very fresh.
The approach in terms of design was very different than the watch industry at the time. Honestly, not because I did it, but people were running at the Basel booth at Calvin Klein to see what was new, what was the trend. Everything was a bit daring, audacious, different, and honestly, this spirit of design watch has completely disappeared in the last 15 years, which I feel is a bit odd.”
Finally, while Barth and the Edge team never had the satisfaction of seeing their watch on the wrists of owners, Barth did meet someone wearing his watch, or at least a version of his watch:
I was once in the Copenhagen Airport, and it was at the beginning of the restriction of liquids in the planes. I was running around, running late with my girlfriend. Suddenly, I saw this woman working there. I said, “My plane leaves in 20- 30 minutes. Can you help me to get through?”
As I do all the time, I’m watching what people are wearing. I was like “What are you wearing? Are you wearing the Edge of TAG Heuer?” The girl was like “How do you know this watch?” I said “I designed it!”
Her husband had bought the watch on eBay, and so the dial was completely wrong, but the case was right. The strap was a rubber strap integrated into just the central part of the bracelet. She opened the gate for me. She was like “Oh, I’ll do it just because it’s you.”
There are a few out there, but I think very few of them are complete and right as they should be.