Ultimate Guide to the TAG Heuer Grand Carrera

The launch of the Grand Carrera range in 2007 was a crucial one for TAG Heuer. Not only was it the first new series introduced since the S/el way back in 1987, but the new range had the tough task of pushing into a more premium segment of the market and to an older set of buyers, many of whom may have never owned a TAG Heuer before.

The importance of the series meant that it took four years to develop, with lead designer Christoph Behling telling Calibre 11 about the countless prototypes and variations that were considered before everyone was happy that they had the right look. We also know that finding the right name also took some time, with “Vanquish” being a contender until late in the development.

Four years on, I was keen to take a closer look at the GC series. I’d spent a couple of weeks with both of the Calibre 36 models last year, but this was the first time that I had test driven the other three models- from the basic watch through to the elaborate Rose Gold titanium model. And as often seems to be the case, the model that I liked the most was the one that I thought that I’d like the least when the watches first arrived.

TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Design theme

The design theme of the Grand Carrera is given away by its name- a watch that takes the simplicity and sportiness of the Carrera and “premium-ises” it. Each of the models features several key design touches:

  • Hand applied logo
  • Applied hour markers
  • Double sapphire case back
  • Rotating System disc
  • Extensive Côtes de Genève finishing
  • Double-crown

None of these features on their own are especially remarkable, but when combined do give that feeling of quality. A more premium watch than a Carrera, albeit one that is less sports-orientated.

Each of the models is available with either a stainless steel bracelet or a crocodile leather strap, with the Chronograph models also available on a great looking rubber strap.

Supporting the premium look is a premium approach to movements: The GC is the only series in the TAG Heuer range not to be offered as a quartz version. Not only are all models automatic, but all are Chronometers, meaning that their automatic movements have been COSC certified.


The Rotating System Disc

Perhaps the design signature of the series is the Rotating System, (“RS“) disc used across the range. The discs replace the traditional sub-dials and are decorated elaborately with semi-circular, polished frames.

So why bother with the RS disc? It does give the Grand Carrera series a unique look, which in some cases is more legible than the reading the elapsed units from a dial (although it’s less accurate than a traditional dial as the units are in larger increments, as you can see above).

In reality the real benefit of the RS disc is that it allows designers greater flexibility on the shape and size of sub-dials- you certainly don’t need a full circle, or even a half-circle to accurately read the time. The sub-dial windows could be half the size that they are and they would still be just as legible.

But there is a downside to the RS disc system- and it’s one of perception rather than any lack of accuracy.

Some buyers are surprised that the disc does not rotate as smoothly as they expected, and wonder if something is wrong. The answer is that nothing is wrong, but what you see is the limitations of a mechanical movement amplified by the use of a disc rather than a thin hand.

If you look closely at the seconds hand on your automatic watch you’ll notice that it too doesn’t sweep around the dial smoothly. The limiting factor here is the speed at which the movement vibrates. Traditionally, a movement that beats more than 18,000 times per hour is considered to be “High-Beat”. The Calibre 6, 8 and 17 movements used in the models you see here all beat at 28,000 beats per hour, or 4 hz, while the Calibre 36 models beat at 36,000 beats per hour, or 5 hz. The more beats per hour, the smoother the hand or disc will rotate, but there will always be a degree of “jerkiness”.

Grand Carrera Calibre 6 RS

The starting point for the range is the Calibre 6 RS watch. The Calibre 6 is a simple two-hand watch, with the RS disc showing elapsed seconds at 6 o’clock. The lack of the usual central sweeping second hand simplifies the dial, giving the watch an elegant look. Adding to this feeling is the moderate case size- the 40mm case is the smallest in the GC range.

The Calibre 6 RS dial features a thin inner bezel with minute markers, an outer-ring of circular textures and then a flat inner circle. The outer bezel is flat and quite plain- a look similar to that one the 300 SLR from 2010.

Close_up_Grand_Carrera_6_RSThe Calibre 6 movement inside the watch is a COSC version of  the ETA 2895/2, which itself is a derivative of the ETA 2892. In fact, while every model in the range uses a different movement, all except the Calibre 36 are derivatives of the ETA 2892.

I really like the combination of the black dial and black crocodile strap. Generally I think TAG Heuer over-use the crocodile leather straps. They give more of a dress-watch feel that often doesn’t fit with a sports-orientated watch, but in the case of the Grand Carrera I think it fits perfectly.

The red indicator on the sub-dial frame provides a nice contrast to the black and silver- a nice, subtle touch.

Grand Carrera Calibre 8 RS Grande Date GMT

The Calibre 8 RS takes the basic design and functionality and adds:

  • Grande Date function
  • GMT function
  • Larger case (42.5mm)

This time the RS disc window at 6 o’clock shows the second time zone, and so a central second-hand is added.

The movement in this model is the Calibre 8 GMT movement, which is a COSC-version of the ETA 2892-A2 but with complications added by Soprod, with its TT651 module adding the Grande Date and GMT functions.

To accommodate these additional functions, the dial of  the Calibre 8 is less pure than the Calibre 6, with the Grand Carrera script moving to the 9 o’clock position and the TAG Heuer logo moving to the 3 o’clock position. The Calibre 8 also has a more detailed inner-bezel to allow more accurate reading of elapsed seconds.

As someone who rarely uses the date function on a watch, I’m not really a fan of Grande Date function, as it gives too much space on the dial to something that I don’t use. I do however like the idea of having the second time zone read from the sub-dial, as its simpler than adding another hand.

Like all GC models, the case back has a two-piece sapphire window- each in the same shape as the sub-dials on the watch.

Grand Carrera Calibre 17 RS Rose Gold Titanium Chronograph

Finally, we have the Chronograph version of the series- the Calibre 17 RS. The Chronograph looks immediately different to the other models with its two sub-dials in the traditional bi-compax (3 and 9 o’clock) format. Again, this model uses a bespoke case, being 43.0mm- a fraction larger than the Calibre 8 watch.

The version you see here is the Rose Gold titanium model (CAV518), which uses a Grand 2 titanium case with Rose Gold highlights, the most obvious of which is the fixed tachymetre bezel, which is a little thinner than the bezel used on the non-Chronograph models. The Chronograph pushers are the screw-down variety, a feature that the Rolex Daytona made popular, but one that I don’t see as being all that practical.

The Calibre 17 movement is the ETA 2894-2, which is a Chronograph version of the ETA 2892 movement. The double sapphire case back has a smoked finish to match the stealth look PVD case, although its hard to be all that stealthy with all that bling Rose Gold on the watch.

Grand Carrera Calibre 17 RS2 Titanium

As well as the Rose Gold Calibre 17 Grand Carrera, there is this model- the titanium Calibre 17 RS2. This model is available with either the strap you see above, or with a plain black rubber strap, which I prefer. Note that the bezel on the Calibre 17 RS2 is unique to this model, having serrated edges.

Grand Carrera Calibre 17 RS150

To mark TAG Heuer’s 150th anniversary in 2010, TH released two special edition versions of the Calibre 17 RS2, called the RS150. 150 versions of each were made, with the Yellow model for Europe and the blue model for the UK.

Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS

Sitting at the top of  the tree is the TAG Heuer Calibre 36 GC that was reviewed in detail by Calibre 11 last year. Again you can see the design flexibility offered by the RS disc, as the dial of the Calibre 36 has a totally different look to the other models, even though its organised in the traditional tri-compax (3, 6 and 9 o’clock) arrangement. The Calibre 36 uses bespoke pushers and has a unique caliper system to read 1/10th accuracy.

In Summary

Grand_Carrera_cal_17_brown_seduction_catOf the three models that I wore for a week, my favourite was the simple Carrera 6RS. The size was perfect for me and its a very smart, elegant, well-built watch. I found the layout of the larger Calibre 8 GMT model to be too unbalanced. I don’t kow if it was the dial colour or the larger case size, but the outer bezel also looked too broad on this model- I think it would benefit from a slimmer bezel as used on the Carrera 1887, or even the one from the Calibre 17RS.

The Rose Gold GC Ti is a magnificent watch, but too bling for me. The Rose Gold is a truly beautiful colour that contrasts perfectly with the black titanium- its a statement watch that some will love.

The fact that I thought I’d find the Grand Carrera 6RS to be too dull, but ended up really liking it shows the value of actually trying on a watch before you commit. Yes, its great being able to buy watches on the internet, but in my view you won’t know whether you really love a watch until you actually see it on your wrist.

What’s next?

A refresh for the range can’t be too far away and I’ve also heard whispers that the GC will be the that the next watch that will use the Calibre 1887. Given that production of the Calibre 1887 movement is still ramping up, the Grand Carrera 1887 may be a year or more away. Until then, there are more than enough dial, case and movement variations of the series to keep everyone happy.