The TAG Heuer Kirium series was launched in 1997 and marked the end of one era and the birth of another. For more than 15 years TAG Heuer’s designs had been rooted in the “Six Features” look- steel sports watches with a rotating bezel and “Mercedes” hands. But the Kirium was the last new series to use this philosophy, with future TAG Heuer’s being more influenced by the success of the Carrera (relaunched in 1996) and Monaco (1997). Yes, the “Six Features” look continues to evolve with today’s Link and Aquaracer, but those watches trace their lineage back to the 1980s, when they were launched as the S/el and 2000 respectively.
The watch was also the first model released by an independent TAG Heuer, with the company having listed on the Swiss and New York Stock Exchanges in September 1996. Techniques d’Avant Garde (“TAG“) would remain part of TAG Heuer in name only.
So, the Kirium is a bridge in many ways- the “final” evolution of the “Six Features”and for the first time in more than 20 years, a new TAG Heuer series with a name rather than a numeric code or acronym.
Given its importance to the newly independent company, TAG Heuer could not afford to make a mistake with the Kirium, and so appointed renowned designer Jorg Hysek for the new watch. Hysek has designed watches for many brands, including Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, Cartier, Ebel, Boucheron, Seiko, HD3 and his own brand, Hysek.
The Kirium was to replace the TAG Heuer 4000 series, the mid-range watch that had been part of the range since 1990. As you can see below, the Kirium (Left) shares the same basic look as the 4000 (right), but with a more modern twist.
The Kirium has a “Liquid Metal” look, with the case, bracelet and bezel all flowing into a single shape, as if they were carved from the same block of steel. The bracelet was a return to simplicity, with its inter-locking links being far less complicated than the 6000-Series bracelet.
The dial design was very similar to the 4000, with even the “Professional 200m” placement and script looking almost identical. In place of the baton-shaped hour markers of the 4000 were circular lume markers, shaped like drops of liquid metal.
The Kirium was not a large watch, either in diameter or thickness. The largest case was 39mm (Men’s size), with a mid-sized model at 37mm and a Ladies model (28mm). All models came with a newly designed unidirectional bezel and domed Sapphire crystal, which gives the dial a more interesting feel than the flat glass used on other series of the day.
Two finishes were offered on the case and bezel- either brushed or polished steel, with some models using a combination of these finishes, as you can see on the watch below. By the late 1990s, combination Gold/ Steel cases had gone out of fashion- if you don’t like Silver-coloured watches, then the Kirium is not for you, as there were no Gold models offered.
Advertising for the Kirium emphasised both the connection to sport and the “liquid metal” design, with the tag line “Shaped by the Spirit of Sport“. To publicise the new range more broadly, there was also a series of fashion shoots by Herb Ritts that featured a range of athletes, including Boris Becker, Marion Jones, Colin Jackson and Marie-Jo Perec.
The Kirium also featured in a series of print ads in TAG Heuer’s “Inner Strength” campaign, again using the likes of Becker.
The Kirium Series
While the Kirium range was offered with a variety of movements- mechanical, quartz analogue and quartz digital- the basic Kirium shape never changed throughout its 11-year life.
To keep the look fresh, TAG Heuer made a series of running changes to each Kirium model, which we’ll take you through below.
Kirium Quartz Watch
At the heart of the Kirium range is the 3-hand quartz watch, perhaps the most elegant Kirium thanks to its clear, simple dial and thin case. The first watch models featured the traditional TAG Heuer “Mercedes” hands, and circular hour-markers, except at 6, 9 and 12 o’clock where applied numerals were employed.
The quartz watch is the only Kirium to offer a red and green TAG Heuer logo and so is quickly identifiable- beware, as many fake Kiriums have the coloured logo, even if they are pretending to be a Chronograph.
The design of the hands changed in 2000, with the quartz watch switching to the design used by the quartz Chronograph since launch.
More significant changes appeared in 2001, when the colour logo was dropped in favour of a monochrome look and the dial design was updated. A simpler inner-bezel was added with larger hash-marks to indicate the minutes, while larger applied numerals were added at 12 and 6 o’clock with lume circles at the other hours.
Kirium Quartz Chronograph
The 1/ 10th second chronograph has a 3-6-9 o’clock dial layout and offers a clean look- there is no outer-circle to mark out the sub-dials.
The design of the quartz chronograph changed little over its life, although in 2003, the word “Professional” on the dial was replaced with “Kirium”. The quartz chronograph was discontinued in 2005.
Kirium Automatic Chronograph
The automatic Kirium chronograph was launched in 1999, two years after the first Kirium models appeared. TAG Heuer had begun to show at least some interest in mechanical movements by this time, in no small part due to the success of the Monaco and Carrera re-editions.
The mechanical chronograph is easily distinguished from the quartz model with its different dial layout (3-6-9 o’clock layout; date at 6 o’clock) and the tell-tale “Automatic” script above the TAG Heuer logo .
In 2002-3 the word “Automatic” moved to the 6 o’clock position to make room for the addition of “Kirium” to the dial.
The automatic chronograph was discontinued in 2004.
Kirium Automatic Watch
The first version of the watch shared a similar design to the quartz watch- circular hour markers with numerals at 12, 6 and 9 o’clock and the then-traditional Mercedes hands. Apart from the obvious “Chronometer” marking on the dial, the mechanical watch also featured an applied monochrome logo rather than the printed colour logo of the quartz watch.
The hands were changed in 2001 when the Chronometer switched to the sword-shaped hands of the Chronograph. A more significant change came in 2002/ 3, with a re-designed dial, as you can see below. The new design uses larger numerals at the 12, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 o’clock positions, as well as adding the “Kirium” name to the dial.
Kirium Formula 1
The Kirium Formula 1 watch was added to the range in 2002/ 3 and features a combination analogue-digital dial. This allowed the watch to look like a normal 3-hand watch when the chronograph was not being used, with the dial lighting up to reveal a series of other functions.
The Kirium Formula 1 soldiered on for two years after the other Kirium models had been discontinued, and was part of the TAG Heuer range until 2008.
The Ti5 name refers to Grade 5 Titanium, which is an alloy of Titanium (90%), aluminium (6%) and vanadium (4%). The case is made from Titanium, as is the deployant clasp on the rubber bracelet.
Both the watch and chronograph were discontinued in 2005.
As with all TAG Heuers, there were a couple of special editions Kiriums, which ranged from the not-so-good (above, the jewel-encrusted Kirium Formula 1) to the very cool (the McLaren edition of the Ti5 Chronograph).
- Quartz Watch: ETA 955.112
- Quartz Chronograph: ETA 251.262
- Automatic Chronometer: ETA 2892-A2 (Calibre 7)
- Automatic Chronograph: ETA 2894-2 (Calibre 17)
- Formula 1: ETA E20.231 (above)
Looking Back on the Kirium
The Kirium was a significant sales success for TAG Heuer, and in many ways is the quintessential 1990s TAG Heuer, despite only being released in 1997. The design is perhaps the most successful of the 1990s designs, even if the watch does look a little too round by today’s standards. This watch could only be a TAG Heuer.
But, as mentioned in the introduction, it was also the end of an era. The success of the Carrera and Monaco re-editions, combined with the new strategy introduced following the acquisition of TAG Heuer by LVMH in 1999, changed everything. TAG Heuer set about reducing the number of series that it offered and began to focus more on mechanical movements and watches that echoed the heritage of Heuer.
In the end, TAG Heuer chose to continue with only two of the “Six Features” designs- the 2000/ Aquaracer and the Link. There was no room for the Kirium, which all of a sudden did not fit where the TAG Heuer range was headed.
Make no mistake, these are fine watches. The quality of the materials and finishes is several steps above the early 1990s offerings and the Kirium is still a favourite of many collectors, with prices still very reasonable.
When you think about 1990s TAG Heuers that might one day be offered as a re-edition, the Kirium stands out as a watch with that potential. It’s hard to think of a more iconic design from the period and interesting to consider how the Kirium series would have evolved had it not been for the (highly successful) intervention of LVMH.
To see more photos of this well-worn TAG Heuer Kirium quartz watch (still in great condition after 15 years of hard, daily use), click here.
Photos: Courtesy of TAG Heuer archives