TAG Heuer Carrera 1887: The Inside Story

The story of the TAG Heuer Carrera 1887 41mm has been one of the more interesting tales in TAG Heuer’s recent history. First, there was the controversy over the origins of the movement, then there was the prototype Carrera 1887 (V1) shown at Basel 2010. This model never made it into production, but a modified version did have limited release (V2). Then photos of a third version (V3) began to circulate- was this a fake? A separate model?

There has been some confusion on the changes: why they happened and which markets would be getting which version. We asked Carrera designer Christoph Behling for his take on the changes when we spoke with him a few weeks ago and today we can bring you the view straight from TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Christophe Babin.

They key pieces of news are that 1) “Version 3” of the watch is for all markets and will be introduced as a “running change” progressively from mid-year and 2) that this watch will be sold in five combination’s  sold- white and black dial with either a black leather strap or bracelet and a white-dial with a brown leather strap (Ref. CAR2111.FC6291).

Interview

Calibre 11: The Carrera 1887 has changed twice from the initial design shown at Basel last year- can you take us through the reasons for the changes?

Jean-Christophe Babin: It’s very simple. Initially with the first version that was shown at Basel, it was not yet the production version, and so we received a lot of positive feedback , but also some retailers pointed out that  it was a bit close to the basic Carrera Tachymetre, especially with the bezel design. Some were afraid that it would make it hard for consumers to identify which Carrera had the Calibre 1887 from a normal Calibre 16 Carrera.

So, in response we decided to make some small changes- we wanted to move the tachy scale inside to the flange rather than outside and we would make the bezel slimmer to make it stand out more- but of course this was not possible overnight. Yes, we could move to a slimmer bezel overnight but not the tachy scale on the flange.

So, we decided to launch the product anyhow because the response was so strong and it offered a very elegant Chronograph more elegant, much more “open” with the slimmer bezel. This created a Carrera with a feeling of simple elegance- quite different to the rest of the Carrera line-up. But, of course the spirit of the Carrera is racing, so we did want to eventually bring back the Tachymetre..it just took some time.

So, now we will have the Carrera with the tachymetre on the flange for the final look- so, the elegance of the slimmer outer-bezel without any markings, but a true TAG Heuer Chronograph with a Tachymetre scale inside.

C11: So this new version is the one that will go on sale in the US?

JCB: The US will start [In first Quarter 2011– C11] with the one on sale in other countries (“Version 2”) and we’ll make a running change, because it’s too complex and would take too long to accumulate volume of stock of the next one (“Version 3”) for the US market. Having said that, the people who manage to buy an early watch (“Version 2”) will have almost a Limited Edition watch and so a chance to improve the value and be a collectors piece, because their version will always have been the first and “original”.

C11: My sense is while some people like Version 2, some people like Version 3, there is confusion about which version they will actually be able to buy…

JCB: Yes, I think you’re right, and that’s fine [people liking different versions-C11], because you can imagine that in the future we may offer the two versions. Not initially of course, this is a major new line for us, including new movements, so we can’t afford to have too many versions today, but as we build volumes we could offer more variety, so you can decide which version you want.

C11: And has production of the Calibre 1887 now ramped up fully?

JCB: No, not yet- it can take 5-6 years to ramp up to full capacity, because regardless of the machinery you have the experience curve that you have to get through- it’s not just producing movements, it’s producing quality movements that don’t come back to after-sales after a few months. So this is why we have taken out time.

The project was initially supposed to go to the market in 2009, but was released in 2010 and there were good reasons for that- focus on quality. Basically, we’re equipped now to produce up to 50,000 per year. Last year in 6 months we made 8,000 and this year we’re shooting for 35,000…but still we’re missing people. We have 40 open positions at the moment,  not all for Calibre 1887, but in total we have 40 technical positions open.

And 50,000 is a big number- don’t forget that apart from ETA and maybe Rolex with the Daytona, no-one in Switzerland is making 50,000 chronograph movements- Chopard and Zenith make far less. So, when it happens we will have gone from making a few hundred movements a few years ago to 50,000, which will be a big industrial achievement.

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