Last Updated on June 27, 2021 by Calibre 11
The Indy 500 stands as one of the three iconic global motor races, known as the Triple Crown– in addition to the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Graham Hill is the only man to win the Triple Crown, although Fernando Alonso has won two of the three and is on the Indy 500 grid tomorrow hoping to add the third leg, although his practice times suggest that this year won’t be the year that he does.
Held annually since 1911 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), the race has become so iconic that today the leading open wheel category of motorsport in the US is known “Indy Cars”, following the Indy Racing League/ CART wars of the mid-1990s. While there are a range of other events held at the IMS, including the NASCAR Brickyard 400 and, from 2000-2007, the US Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Indy 500 unquestionably sits as the jewel in the Speedway’s crown.
Given the importance of the Indy 500 in global motor sport and the United States as a key sales market for watches, it’s no surprise that TAG Heuer has been closely linked with the Indy 500 as the Official Timekeeper and Scorer since 2004. And, as always seems to be the case in the watch world, a partnership like this means one thing: special edition watches.
Since 2004, we have seen 17 special edition watches, the most recent of which we recently reviewed. For the first 12 years of the partnership, all of the Indy 500 special editions were based on the TAG Heuer Formula 1 series, with Indy 500 Edition Carreras being added to the range in 2016.
Many of these watches carry the iconic “Wings and Wheel” logo of the IMS, a logo that has changed subtly over the years, while others simply carry “Indy 500” branding.
But while the modern iteration of the IMS- TAG Heuer partnership began in 2004, the ties between the two companies stretch back almost 40 years earlier than this, with a trio of classic Heuer chronographs that today are amongst the most coveted vintage Heuers.
The Heuer Indy 500 Years
The three vintage Heuer Indy 500 watches were different to the modern TAG Heuer watches, in that it appears as though these were special orders made by IMS for their own promotional and retail purposes, rather than being watches made broadly available for public sale.
Heuer Autavia 3646 Indy
The IMS branded Heuer 3646 Autavia is unique in that it not only features the IMS wings and wheel logo, but it’s also the only first-generation Autavia (other than prototypes) to feature a silver dial. The watch is based on the standard Autavia 3646, meaning a two-register chronograph layout powered by the Valjoux 92 hand-wound movement.
But before you fall in love with the Indy Autavia, it’s worth knowing that these are not only very rare, but also priced into the stratosphere- Christie’s sold one for US$199,500 in June 2017, while the version that you see below would likely be even more valuable thanks to its superior condition and the earlier and more desirable (albeit re-lumed) hands.
There is a second Autavia Chronograph associated with the Indy 500, with US monthly trade magazine Motor Age awarding these Heuer Autavias to the Pole-sitter and winner of the 1966 and 1967 races. The watches that you see below were awarded to Mario Andretti, who discussed the watches in his “Talking Watches” interview with Hodinkee back in 2018. These watches don’t have the IMS logo, but instead carry the “Motor Age” logo on the dial and a special inscription on the caseback.
Heuer Carrera 3147 Indy
The other two IMS-branded Heuers are both Carrera 45 Datos, which have the same 45-minute chronograph register as the Autavia 3646, but this time with a Landeron 189 movement and featuring a date window. The first Carrera 45 Dato has two registers and the date window as 12 o’clock, as shown below.
The second series of the Carrera 45 Dato moved the date window to 9 o’clock, at the expense of the sweeping seconds register. This Carrera IMS watch has a black dial, again with the famous IMS logo across the bottom of the dial.
1991 TAG Heuer 2000- 75th Anniversary
Before we get into the modern TAG Heuer collection, it’s worth mentioning one more watch- this 1991 TAG Heuer 2000 watch that was given to drivers in the 75th Indianapolis 500 race in 1991. The watch was not available for public sale, making it one of the rarer TAG Heuer Indy watches, but perhaps not one of the better-looking ones.
TAG Heuer: 2004-2010
The partnership between TAG Heuer and IMS was announced back in 2004 through the press release below.
Time Races On with TAG Heuer Named Official Timekeeper and Scorer of Indy Racing League and Legendary Indy 500 Race
Feb. 3, 2004–TAG Heuer, the fourth leading luxury watch brand worldwide, has been named the Official Timekeeper and Scorer of the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500-mile race. The announcement was made at a press briefing today by Tony George, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League and Jean-Christophe Babin, President and CEO of TAG Heuer.
“Our partnership with the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway marks a new milestone in our 144-year history, as we are offered the opportunity to work with the IRL team in advancing their 1/10,000th of a second time measurement technology to new levels in unique and compelling applications,” said Mr. Babin. “This association with IRL/Indy 500 validates TAG Heuer’s ability to provide the most accurate time measurement to sporting venues, where precision timing is critical to the outcome of the event.”
“Appointing TAG Heuer as our official Timekeeper and Scorer was a natural choice for us,” added Mr. George. “No one can guarantee the ultimate accuracy and reliability in the fastest motorsport on earth better than TAG Heuer, which for more than a century has demonstrated its superior ability to master time, as well as an unsurpassed expertise in the design and development of the most accurate timekeeping systems and prestigious timepieces. We believe that TAG Heuer’s exclusive technology and experience will be a greater addition to the unique thrill that our competitions provide.”
Having pioneered 1/1,000th of a second measurement in 1966, TAG Heuer now has more than 38 years of ultimate precision experience, including the timekeeping for more than 190 Formula 1 races in the past 13 years. To commemorate its partnership with IRL, TAG Heuer will introduce a new special edition TAG Heuer Indy 500 wrist chronograph, which will be available at TAG Heuer authorized retailers in April 2004.
TAG Heuer, the world leader in prestigious sports watches and chronographs since 1860, will now become the official Timekeeper and Scorer of all the races of the Indy Racing League, including the renowned Indy 500 Race, the world’s most prestigious open wheel race run since 1911 on the Indianapolis Brickyard Speedway. This long-term agreement between TAG Heuer and IRL/Indy 500 raises the bar for accuracy in sports timekeeping. IRL and Indy 500 races are both the fastest and most competitive motor races in the world, with average speeds surpassing 200 miles per hour and time differences in qualifying and racing of less than 1/1000th of a second. The IRL races are the only events that are monitored at 1/10,000th of a second, a precision that is 10 times more accurate than other world-class races such as Formula 1.
Since patenting the oscillating pinion in 1886, still a major component of today’s high-end mechanical Chronographs, TAG Heuer has been the undisputed leader in timepieces offering the ultimate in accuracy and reliability. Its reputation was solidified by such additional breakthroughs as the patenting of the Micrograph in 1916, the first 1/100th of a second Timekeeping system, and the Microtimer in 1966, the first 1/1000th of a second Timekeeping system. This ability to master time has allowed TAG Heuer to play an important role in some of the most prestigious sporting events of the past century, including a number of Olympic Games, the Scuderia Ferrari, and the FIA Formula 1 World Championship and McLaren F1 team.
These partnerships with the world’s most demanding and prestigious sporting events have helped TAG Heuer’s watchmakers in developing the most advanced timepieces, which combine style, functionality, accuracy, and reliability. Today, TAG Heuer is the fourth largest luxury watch brand worldwide and the third leading brand in the US. The company is also the undisputed leader in prestigious sports watches and chronographs. The Microtimer – launched in 2003 as the first-ever wrist chronograph and timekeeping system accurate to 1/1,000th of a second — reflects TAG Heuer’s capacity to draw watchmaking inspiration from avant-garde timekeeping without compromising on aesthetics. The Microtimer shape won the prestigious Geneva Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie in the Design category.
TAG Heuer, the benchmark in prestigious sports watches and chronographs since 1860, is the fourth-largest luxury brand in the world watch market. This Swiss watchmaking legend draws from its active involvement in the world of sports to create the most accurate measuring instruments and sports-inspired timepieces ever made. TAG Heuer has always relentlessly pursued innovation and excellence – the summit of performance, the summit of prestige – from the Olympic Games in the 1920s to the best in modern Formula 1 with Team West-McLaren Mercedes and from America’s Cup and the Moet Cup with Oracle-BMW Racing to the peerless golf of Tiger Woods, the PGA’s world No.1 golfer.
TAG Heuer is present in IRL and Indy 500 since 2002 as partner of Sarah Fisher, the young open wheel cars driving star and IRL MPDA winner 2002 and 2003. TAG Heuer is a fully owned Company of LVMH Group (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton), the world leader in Luxury Goods.
The first pair of watches in 2004 and 2005 use a 43mm sand-blasted stainless steel case, with a black bezel on the 2004 model and a chrome-plated bezel on the 2005 edition. Both watches feature the IMS/ Indy 500 logo on a black-dial and “Indy 500” text on the bezel. These watches are “Special Editions”- that is, they were on sale for a short period time, but they are not numbered limited editions
The second F1 Indy duo (CAH101A and CAH101B) are based on the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Grande Date Chronograph, a new model introduced by TAG Heuer in 2008 with three registers- two prominent registers at 6 and 9 o’clock) and a much smaller sub-dial at 3 o’clock. Each of these watches carries “Indy 500” on the dial and bezel, as well as the IMS logo. These watches carry forward the polished/ chrome look on the tachymeter bezels and have the most complex/ busy dials of the Indy 500 TAG Heuer series.
TAG Heuer 2011- 2015
The White-dial Grande Date F1 was replaced by the first of the limited edition models, CAH101C, which was a limited edition of 1,000. The anthracite dial here has a brick pattern in a homage to the “brickyard” nickname for the Indianapolis track, which was once paved with bricks. This model has the same Grand Date layout as the 2008-2009 watches, but with more conventional registers.
The 2012 and 2013 watches moved away from the Grande Date Formula 1 case, and were based on the revamped 2012 F1 series. A more classic, simple pair of Anthracite dials, the watches featured a large “12” at the top of the dial and contrasting white sub-dials. For the first time, a non-chronograph version was offered. Both watches feature “Indy 500” on the bezel, but the IMS wings and wheels are missing from the dial, but are found on the caseback.
The 2015 model- a limited edition of 3000- has a similar dial to the 2012 Chronograph, but with the addition of a chequered flag pattern and stripes on the left-hand side of the dial. But the big change was the case, with the watch using the new-generation Formula 1 case that was based on the 1970s Autavia design.
TAG Heuer 2016- 2020
2016 saw a major change to the Indy 500 watches, with a Carrera Chronograph added for the first time, being sold alongside the Formula 1 editions.
Indy Carrera Collection
The first Carrera Indy 500 watch was the 2016 CAR2A1V, a limited edition of 100 watches each based on the 45mm modular Carrera Heuer 01, with the Indy logo on the 9 o’clock register and with “Indy 500” on the bezel. Why 100 watches? Because 2016 marked the 100th running of the Indy 500, which started in 1911, but with no races held during the two world wars.
This was followed in 2017 with a design TAG Heuer called the “Drive Timer“, which had an anthracite dial plate with double numeral minute markers on the dial. The 2017 Carrera was a limited edition of 101 watches (marking the 101st running of the race), again with a 45mm case.
The Drive Timer concept stayed for 2018, but this time with a 43mm case and a blue ceramic bezel. As you can probably guess, this was a limited edition of 102 watches.
The last Carrera Indy 500 came in 2019, with the design this time based on the Calibre 16 Chronograph., which featured a classic Carrera 41mm case. Unlike the other Carrera Indy 500 watches, this was a Special Edition rather than a limited edition.
Indy Formula 1 Collection
The series of Indy 500 Formula 1s continued alongside the Carreras, with all models using the same 43mm steel case and 3-register chronograph layout. Starting in 2016, the CAZ1016 was a limited edition of 1000 watches and has an anthracite dial with red highlights, including red “Indy 500” script on the fixed bezel. The following year’s offering is a similar design, but with the registers flipped from black to white and the addition of a white inner flange with red highlights.
The 2017 model also introduced an applied “60” marker at the 12 o’clock position to align the dial markings to that of the Drive Timer Carrera. 500 of these watches were made.
The 2018 design was essentially the same as the 2017 watch, but with a blue aluminium bezel and was again limited to 500 watches. The 2019 model is CAZ101V, which is very similar to 2017’s CAZ101D, but with a black dial rather than anthracite.
The 2020 Formula 1 Indy, a limited edition of 1,500 watches, is a major departure from the series, in that a PVD case is used for the first time with a matching black dial. The strip of bricks, mimicking the start line at IMS, features on the dial, and looks fantastic, You can read more about the 2020 edition here.
Indy 500 Connected Dial
Perhaps not a separate model, but one worth noting is that TAG Heuer did also release a special Indy 500 dial for Connected back in 2016. It wasn’t a distinct watch, but still deserves a place here in the list of TAG Heuer IMS collaborations.
What Comes Next?
The Indy 500 series has been the longest-running special edition collection made by TAG Heuer, with one of their distinguishing features being that they are affordable. Typically, special/ limited edition watches sit toward the top of the pricing tree, but by basing the series on the Formula 1, TAG Heuer has made the Indy 500 watches far more accessible.
But that leaves the obvious question- why not make a re-edition of the Heuer Carrera/ Autavia from the 1960s that are so beloved? We did hear strong rumours that an Indy 500 edition of the Autavia Heuer 02 Chronograph was planned a couple of years ago, but that strategy changed when the Autavia was relaunched as an aviation-themed series. In the medium term, it seems as though an Autavia Indy 500 won’t happen
We’d love to see the Formula 1 editions continue, but with the next series including a 39mm Carrera Heuer 02 with the famous IMS wheel and wings logo, and expect that it would be a hit- a huge hit- with collectors.
The Indy 500 continues to be a significant part of TAG Heuer’s North American sponsorship programme, which will hopefully mean the association continues, linking TAG Heuer with America’s most iconic motor race.