TAG Heuer Movements: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

It’s hard to remember a time when there has been so much focus on the movement that sits inside a watch- where it comes from, who designed it and who made it. It may sound strange to say that there was little focus on movements until around 2000- after all, they are not only an integral part of the watch, but are the actual components that deliver the primary function of a watch- keeping time.

I suspect that a big part of the reason was that by the 1990s no-one, putting aside a few Haute Horology brands and Rolex, knew how to make a complete movement- they all bought either ebauches (a “blank” or a collection of parts ready for assembly- normally including the main plate, the bridges, the train, the winding and setting mechanism and the regulator) or complete movements from ETA. This meant that there was little point promoting the movement inside your watch, because it was the same movement that sat inside your competitors watch.

movement_09But over the last 10 years this has changed. Partly because of Swatch’s strategy for ETA and partly because the market for high-end watches has returned strongly. Despite the fact that the idea of an in-house movements is very much a modern phenomenon, it is an undeniable trend, with customers expecting more from movements today than ever before.

Today’s customer not only wants to know that the Calibre 16 in their watch is a Valjoux 7750, but they also wants to know which grade of 7750 is being used. The movement is the centre-piece of  the watch again, which has caused all sorts of activity in Switzerland as companies work out how to deal with this new imperative.

TAG Heuer’s approach to movements has also changed significantly in the last 10 years, so lets look at how this approach has evolved over the last 40 years- and where it is heading tomorrow.


One of the most common myths in watchmaking today is the idea that a real, traditional watch company should design and manufacture its own movements. This has never been the case, and in fact quite the opposite- it was banned by law. The traditional Swiss watch-making industry was a classic model of industry specialisation- there were the dial makers, the case makers, the bracelet and buckle makers and the movement makers…and typically each of these was an independent small, family owned company. There is a great article that sets out some of the history of the ebauche market written by Carlos Perez, who says the following about the tendency of watch snobs to turn up their noses at a watch brand that only modifies ebauches:

“The interesting thing about this state of affairs is the contradiction inherent in its values. While “tradition” is often stated as an important and motivating value to those who collect mechanically automated watches, the new gourmand ethic precludes a traditional method of production based upon the use of third-party ebauches; a unique and fundamental part of the Swiss tradition of watchmaking”

Re-finishing Ebachues sourced from outside suppliers was the norm in the industry, even for Audemars Piguet, Breguet and Patek Philippe (supplied by Jaeger LeCoultre, Frederic Piguet and Lemania). This is because historically, a company either made watches or movements. In fact, Swiss laws set in place after the Depression forced members of Ebauches SA to stop making complete watches and members of Federation d’Horlogerie (“FH”) to stop making Ebauches. FH members had to buy ebauches from ESA. This created a division between the manufacturing of movements and the manufacturing of watches which lasted for almost fifty years before the two major Swiss Cartels  merged in 1983 (AUSAG- which included Ebauches SA, component manufacturers and watch brands Logines, Rado, Certina and Mido- and SSIH comprised of movement companies including Lemania and watch brands such as Omega and Tissot) eventually going on to create Swatch.

So what about Heuer? By the 1970s Heuer basically had three sources of movements- its own Chronomatic movement (Calibre 11, 12, 14 and 15), manual-wind movements from Swiss maker Valjoux and quartz movements from ESA. Heuer’s movement strategy was basically unchanged throughout the 1970s, and it wasn’t until the sale of Heuer in 1982 that Lemania 5100 movements and LWO Lemania/ Dubois Depraz movements were added…and the Chronomatic movements came to an end.

While the LWO movements continued into the 1980s, the Lemania 5100 was phased out in favour of ETA sourced movements- both automatic and quartz. ETA movements were so dominant, that by the time LVMH bought TAG Heuer in 2000, TAG Heuer made or modified precisely zero watch movements. Not one. This wasn’t that unusual, as ETA then supplied- and still does today- the majority of movements to the industry.


As Jean-Christophe Babin told us back in March, one of his first tasks when he started his role at TAG Heuer was to focus on rebuilding TAG Heuers reputation as a watchmaker. Starting from nothing, the company began a programme of investing in innovative movements which today has resulted in the following Calibres:

  • Calibre V (Monaco V4)
  • Calibre HR03 (Microtimer/ Monaco 69)
  • Calibre S (Quartz tractor, mechanical chronograph module)
  • Calibre 1887 (Carrera and 300SLR)
  • Calibre 360 (Chronograph module only).

In addition, there is of course the Pendulum movement that is in the early stages of being further researched. It’s an interesting mix of movements and skills, all the way from quartz to the highly complex, belt-driven V4.

So, who provides the rest of TAG Heuer’s movements?


Who? The giant of Swiss movement manufacturers that started life as the Ebauche business of Eterna watches. When Swiss laws in the 1930s mandated that you could not make complete watches and movements, Eterna split into two companies- Eterna Watches and ETA. ETA then because part of the giant Swiss watch components group AUSAG, which eventually became Swatch. Swatch then decided to integrate its many movement brands ( including ETA, ESA, Lemania, Valjoux and Unitas) into a single brand- ETA. This is the reason that the Valjoux 7750 movement of the 1970s is now known as the ETA 7750.

The strategic direction of ETA has perhaps been the major driver towards changes in the movement market- more on this later.

In which watch? Across the range- Calibre 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 12, 11, 16, 17 and 60 (discontinued)


Who? Swiss owned company who for decades have worked on complications and decorations for  a range of clients, including ETA. Now that several of the ETA patents have expired, Sellita have started to manufacture clones of the ETA original design, with a few changes (and extra jewel here and there) of SW-200 (ETA 2824-2), SW-500 (Valjoux/ ETA 7750)and SW-300 (ETA 2892). While its true that many people prefer the idea of an ETA movement to a Sellita clone, the reality is that Sellita have more than enough technical skill and experience to manufacture these movements to the same level of quality as as ETA. Remember, these are + 20-year old designs, and so the secrets of manufacturing these movements properly are well-known.

You might think of Sellita as producing “cheap” versions of ETA movements- not so. In some cases Sellita is able to charge a premium over ETA as the demand for movements in recent years has out-stripped supply.

In which watch? Some Calibre 5 models, including Aquaracer 500m watch.


Who? Zenith is better known as a watch brand that is also part of LVMH. What you may not know is that late last year TAG Heuer and Zenith merged from a corporate perspective, with TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Christophe Babin ultimately responsible for both companies. Zenith make one of the finest chronograph movements the world has seen- the venerable El Primero automatic chronograph.

There is a great story to the El Primeo. The Zenith Radio Corporation that owned Zenith watches decided in 1975 to end production of all Zenith mechanical movements and switch to quartz only. The directive from Head Office was to scrap all the machines and tools used for the production of automatic movements. The story goes that Zenith watchmaker Charles Vermot (below) began to hide the essential El Primero tools and components, including the cutting tools, presses and machines.

Because of the “initiative” of Monsieur Vermont, Zenith was able to re-start production of the El Primero Calibre in 1984 and supply movements and Ebauches to high -end clients, such as Rolex.

In which watch? Grand Carrera Calibre 36, Monaco Twenty-Four (Link Calibre 36 has been discontinued).

Ronda AG

Who? Ronda are a Swiss company founded in 1946 and based in Lausen. They specialise in quartz movements and make these both in Swizterland and in Thailand.

In which watch? Formula 1, Golf Watch, Aquaracer Grand Date

Dubois Depraz

Who? Family owned Swiss company who manufacture Chronograph modules and components. A long time partner of TAG Heuer, Dubois Depraz designed the original chronograph movement for the Heuer Chronomatic movement in 1969

In which watch? Chronograph modules for a variety of Calibres, such as 11 and 12

2010- and Tomorrow

At the launch of the Calibre 1887 last year, TAG Heuer commented that it expected to continue sourcing movements from a variety of outside suppliers, as well as increasing production of its own movements. Of the existing in-house movements, only the Calibre S and Calibre 1887 are mainstream Calibres, the rest are really for niche models. And this is the situation that I’d expect that to continue- in-house movements for high profile niche models, an expanded line of Calibre 1887 watches and a range of movements from outside suppliers.

So, what’s in the pipeline?

  • Pendulum: The Pendulum movement is at the concept stage, and its unclear yet whether it will ever make it to even limited production. The key issue appears to be the ability of the movement to keep accurate time in a variety of temperatures, which is a fundamental issue. Still, people said that the V4 couldn’t be done- and it has
  • Calibre 1887: There was speculation a while back that TAG Heuer would add a power-reserve version of the Calibre 1887- maybe something that we’ll see at Basel in March 2011
  • Mikrograph: This is the key new movement under development and few details are public yet, other than it’s basically an in-house replacement for the Calibre 360


What’s Been Driving  the Changes?

T1_WORKSHOP_(2)So what has led TAG Heuer and others to seek their own movement capability? There are two answers, and both involve Swatch.

The first was the push by Swatch to capitalise on the fact that it owned almost every traditional movement manufacturer. Swatch brands such as Omega began to promote the fact that they were using in-house movements- technically true, but as inaccurate as claiming that the Calibre 36/ El Primero movement is in-house to TAG Heuer just because Zenith is these days controlled by TAG Heuer. Omega now do have some in-house movements, but the majority of their line today- even the co-axial movements- still rely heavily on ETA technology and parts. Swatch might like to pretend that Breguet make high-end, in-house movements, but the truth is that they simply bought Nouvelle Lemania and sadly assumed that great company’s technology and capability as their own.

So after decades of ignoring movements in watches, the marketers began to see them as a key differentiator and began to promote the virtues of “in-house”. Wonder no more why your new watch has a clear case-back….

The second reason that has been widely publicised is that Swatch have threatened several times to cut supply of movements to the rest of the industry- specifically, the current intention is around limiting ebauches rather than complete movements (something 99% of people get wrong), but you can see the direction that Swatch are heading. Watch companies certainly did and so decided that they didn’t want to be hostage to Swatch and so they began to find other sources of supply.

Swatch do have a fair point- ETA is at full capacity and it’s not unreasonable that Swatch brands should be first in line for their sister brands’ movements.

But one way or another, in the last 10 years the race has been on to lessen reliance on Swatch and to have a nice marketing point of difference- the in-house movement.

In-house: Does it matter?

movement_06It has become a ridiculous trend in watch collecting circles to disparage ETA movements- the entire range of ETA movements are incredible value for money and bullet-proof- they’ve been made for a long time and have shown time and time again their quality over the journey. Of course, it’s nice to have something different- but different does not mean always better. A properly adjusted ETA movement is more than good enough for COSC certification, meaning its as good or better than most of the new in-house movements designed 30 years later.

Some people will tell you that they would never buy a watch without a in-house movement, which is rubbish given the famous watches from the past that relied on outside technology- even the Rolex Daytona (El Primero and Valjoux 72). But despite this, its fair to say that the marketing people have won the battle- today’s consumer does expect a degree of movement manufacturing/ finishing from watchmakers and places as much focus on the movement just as much as the other parts of the watch.

Tag Heuer - La chaux-de-fonds - 35.10.2010 ©Thierry Porchet

So, this does mean we are in another golden age of watch-making. It will mean increased prices and it will mean formerly unthinkable co-operations (TAG Heuer and Seiko) but the good news for TAG Heuer fans is that this new market dynamic has already produced the Calibre V and the Pendulum…and just wait until you see the new Mikrograph movement. Swatch may well regret the day that it changed a century of tradition and forced other makers to find  their independence.






TAG Heuer, OntheDash, Zenith

  • Even Patek Philippe used Lemania chronograph movements until a few years ago — believe it or not…

  • wynonie

    Fascinating. Great piece David. I hope the wider watch community read this and it helps to smash some of the myths and down right snobbery out there.

    I have to say though, if this movement war helped encourage crystal case backs, i'm all for it.

  • As expected from you DC, well researched, written and more importantly a very interesting read…

    • DC

      Thanks Rich. I'd love to know what a schooled watchmaker thinks of our precious Chronomatic movement- my guess is that they would see it as being farily agricultural.

      Still a hugely important movement and I've never had any problems, but you'd have to say that it didn't develop like the El Primero did


  • In my opinion bottom line is are they reliable…as you say rarely an issue with our 40 year old cal11s but am sure the ETAs are capable of the same. Im hopeful my cal11s will be running strong for another 20 years at least!

  • DC

    Exactly- mine have always been very reliable and they do have their own character and that classic, signature Heuer layout.

    The Valjoux 7740 is basically a manual-wind Heuer Calibre 11, so I wonder how much- if any- of the Chronomatic movement thinking or design made its way into other Valjoux/ ETA movements?


  • Nick F

    DC, thanks for shedding some light on this topic. It's certainly time for TAG to have it's own in-house movement to differentiate itself.

    However with the new in-house movements, I'm afraid these new breed of watches may be out of reach for most of us i.e. V4, Moncao 24, etc.

  • DC

    Yes, that's the danger Nick. And I guess its also the reason that TAG Heuer adapted Seiko technology for the Calibre 1887 rather than start from scratch. Its quite impressive that a Carrera with this new movement retails for less than the Day-Date Carrera.

    That simply wouldn't have been possible with a new bespoke movement.


  • Justin

    As always; an informative and educational read (summarised what I'd been reading from scattered websites and magazines into one simple to read article).

    Strategic marketing (brainwashing) in my opinion is to blame. As a result, many watch collectors are often misled or misinformed; hence often we encounter collectors 'brand bashing'.

    Almost all the top brands; Patek, Breguet, Audemars, Muller, IWC and even Rolex (a firm generally associated with making their own in-house movements); just to mention a few, have all sourced movement blanks from other Swiss movement manufacturers. Sometimes dont get what the ruckus is all about (especially about the 1887 recently).

  • Himawan

    Hi David, just wonder, if you said that ETA is as good and reliable for COSC certification, why don't we see many TAG Heuer have it certified? Would it be a pricing strategy to maintain competitive selling price compared to Omega or Breitling? But wouldn't it be great (from marketing perspective as well as give strong impression)to have Chronometer TAG?

    • DC

      Yes, there are quite a few Chronometer models with ETA movements (e.g. Grand Carrera)- but I get the feeling that the importance of being a certified Chronometer is diminishing- for example, the Calibre 1887 is apparently within COSC levels of accuracy, but there doesn’t seem to be an intention to go to the cost of having it certified. I’m sure certain models will continue to be certified, but only when its seen as being a marketing advantage.

      Remember that just because your watch doesn’t have a COSC certificate doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t pass the accuracy tests- it just means that it hasn’t been oficially certified.

      Don’t get me wrong- the ETA movements aren’t perfect or the best money can buy- but they are really, really good for the price-point and very reliable.

      The main crime of the ETA movements is that they’re common: everyone has/ had them, and so there is zero marketing advantage in saying proudly that this watch is powered by ETA..


  • James Wu

    Thanks for the tremendously informative article. I've been trying to figure out out what movement is inside my Grand Carrera Calibre 8. This calibre is not mentioned in your article. Any idea? Thanks again!

    • DC

      Thanks James,

      Calibre 8 = ETA 2992/A2 + Soprod GMT complication


  • James Wu

    Thanks, much appreciated!

  • montegoman

    Someone mentioned that is would be great to have a "Chonometer TAG/Heuer"


    There has been some models sold as such;

    I have an older S/EL TAG Heuer (Sport Elegance model) that sez Chronomter on the caseback. It of course is an automatic movement…

    Stainless Steel model with two-tone blue dial…

  • DC

    Correct- there were quite a few Chronometers in the 1980s/ 90s


  • Callum

    Hi DC, great article, but i was just curious if TAG Heuer adds any parts or does modifications to the ETA 7750 in their calibre 16 watches? Or doeas TAG Heuer simply decorate the movement and add their own rotor? And for example how would a TAG 7750 compare to a lower end brand such as a Tissot 7750?


  • DC


    I'm not 100% sure- but I would guess that any modifications are limited to finishing.

    Most, if not all, ETA movements are available in three grades, so not all 7750s are the same. Having said that, I don't know which grades TAG Heuer use in which watches- that info is kept pretty close.


  • Nikola Loncar

    Thanks a lot for this, nice read and something to learn today 🙂 Thanks again

    • DC

      Thanks Nikola

  • Andrew

    Is there any way to know the grade of a movement? I have a Calibre 17 Monaco and a Calibre 1 Carrera manual wind, and the ETA (Unitas) on the Calibre 1 is proudly displayed, and quite gorgeous. Both are extremely accurate, with the Calibre 1 gaining 2 seconds per day and the Caliber 17 losing 3.

    I am curious about "grade", is that cosmetic, or precision?

    • DC

      Hi Alan, apart from the Chronometers (that are Top Grade ETA), I don't know what TAG Heuer use. The different grades do have different components (Hairsping, balance wheel, etc) and some cosmetic improvements.

      Your watches seem to be keeping great time- well inside COSC spec. I've always assumed that its easy to pass COSC certification for a manual-wind movement rather than an Automatic, but will have to look into this more.


  • michael C

    really enjoyed your article! i have a Tag Link Calibre 36 with the El Premero movement. how different is this movement from the one used in the Daytona? it was purchased on ebay and sent directly to tag for a complete overhaul. it came back in close to "as new" condition. spendy($540) but well worth the peace of mind (and the 2 year warranty). do you know why this model was discontinued? i LOVE the watch! it's stylish and very accurate, coming in at -1 sec/day if i leave it resting crown up at night. i've got a couple more questions you might be able to answer. i read recently that one should avoid "excessive" movement such as tennis, dancing, running etc. while wearing an automatic. this was news to me as i was under the impression that one could not overwind a quality automatic movement. i've also heard and read varying recommendations as to how "adventuresome" one should/could be concerning water submersion and or spray. this model says 200m. the tag website calls that good for scuba diving. would you take this watch down to 42 meters? (deepest one would go without mixing gas)

    Thanks for the great article and any advice may you have!


  • JuanSinmiedo

    Hi David!

    How are you? I hope all is well…

    Very good article as always. In the seccion of ETA Mechanisms, one is missing. No wonder you dont mention it because it is very rare. In fact, only been used in one watch. This is…

    Calibre 24, or also known as "Calibre 312".

    Its based on Calibre 7, which means it is an ETA2892/A2, but this time with a module for Dubois Depraz only used this mechanism, wich controls the GMT by a button. In wich watch? WJF2115 Link Series.

    I always read your stuff David. A big hugggggggggggg!!!


  • JuanSinmiedo


    To the guy who asks differences between the 4030 Rolex Calibre vs. "El Primero" by Zenith.

    Like many brands, Rolex did not have a chronograph movement manufactured, and when they wanted to incorporate an automatic movement Daytona, it was decided to buy "The First" Calibre 400, a gauge of quality and that stood above the rest.

    To not use the same mechanism, the Department of Rolex modified it, ostensibly to try to improve it. According to them, some 150 modifications (!???) were made and named Calibre 4030 and was the one used in the first Daytona machines until 2000 … Since 2000, Rolex began manufacturing its own manufacture caliber 4130.

    Some changes were: Change all the regulatory body and the exhaust. Alternations were reduced. Lengthened the reserve to 54 hours, theoretically, reduce maintenance and avoid more wear of parts. Replace the entire system of calendar. The rotor is different. The rate, down from 36,000 to 28,800 Vph. Breguet Spring type, larger wheel system with different rules. Changes in the charging system and investor conference.

    Then they decorated the mechanism and …. Boala!


  • DC

    Hi Mooch,

    I guess my perpective comes from collecting vintage watches. In particular, I love the early Autavias from the 1960s and the Lemania 5100 powered series from the 1980s. Neither of these have in-house movements, and in fact while there is a lot of love for the Lemania 5100 out there, it’s a movement with some plastic parts.

    The point that I was trying to get across in this article is that sourcing movements from specialist movement companies (Like ETA and Valjoux) is the way that the Swiss watch industry has always worked- for better or worse.

    The good news for you is that this structure is being pulled apart piece-by-piece, as Swatch seek to stop supply, which I am sure will happen one day soon. I love that this will mean a new generation of watch movements, but am concerned about what this will do for prices.

    I don’t think this view is one that only suits TAG Heuer- IWC, Omega, Hublot, Panerai and Breitling (to name but a few) have historically all been reliant on ETA (sure Omega is part of the same company, but that hardly makes their ETA-sourced movements in-house, just as TAG Heuer using Zenith is not in-house). I’m not dismissing the debate, only pointing out that the view that in-house = “real watchmaker” is a new one that doesn’t have a historical basis, except at the very high-end.


  • It's difficult to read this without sensing some bias toward Tag Heuer. After all, it would be in their interest to dismiss movement debate as they source the majority of theirs from Swatch.

    As it goes, when I'm spending circa £1500 on a watch it irks me to know that the money does not mean that I should expect to purchase an in-house developed movement, after all, that is what differentiates it from the competition. The exterior is just window dressing.

    Put another way, imagine you paid for the top of the line BMW M5 to discover that the engine was that of a budget Skoda.

    Having fallen into the rabbit hole that is movements I feel that it's all a racket and I've become most disenchanted.

    "Oh, no it's a genuine Rolls Royce we just use engine blanks from Ford."

  • Hi DC,

    Thanks for replying to my post. I agree that the use of “blanks” by the industry is not limited to just Tag Heuer but I feel this makes it no less disingenuous.

    Furthermore, as I was looking to purchase a Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre 5 Automatic (which is what brought me to your site in the first place) I did a little digging to only discover that the movement in this watch was the exact same one as used in the entry level Hamilton “Khaki” model (the movement used in both is the: ETA 2824 for those interested, this is the entry level movement as cited by wikipedia).

    To put this into perspective, you’re looking at over $1k difference between the two and from what I can gather, merely for the Tag Heuer logo. How would you justify this?

    I think that the industry needing to look towards creating their own individual movements can only be a good thing. It’ll add the prestige and more importantly, provenance I expect of any watch retailing for over $1k and advertising itself based on “craftsmanship and heritage.”

    As for your comment: “I’m not dismissing the debate, only pointing out that the view that in-house = “real watchmaker” is a new one that doesn’t have a historical basis, expect at the very high-end.”

    I think the brand owners are a victim of their own marketing as they have looked to perpetrate this.

    Cheers and please consider this as a criticism of the industry whereby I’m using Tag as a case study.

  • DC

    Hi Mooch,

    Yes, the ETA 2824 is widely used- and for good reason. It’s a dependable, reliable movement that despite being ~40 years old can easily make COSC standards. One of the other points I was trying to make in this article is that despite the snobbery against ETA by many in the industry, their movements are unbeatable in terms of value.

    But I get your question, which is different: how do the watch brands justify pricing differences for two watches with the same movement? There’s no easy answer. Why is the Carrera $1000 more than the Hamilton? Probably due to a combination of some tangible differences (materials and finish, design, quality) and some intangible (the TAG Heuer brand gets a premium to Hamilton). People will have their own views as to how much is tangible vs. intangible.

    By the way, a short side-note: Heuer and Hamilton used to share the Chronomatic Calibre 11 back in the late 1960s/ early 1970s..so they’ve been sharing movements for a long time, and Heuer has always tended to sit at a premium to Hamilton..for whatever reason.

    Agree with you 100% that brands have pushed the in-house = better line and now have to deal with market expectations. I see the price point for watches with in-house movements as starting at around USD5000 by next year…that’s a big entry price.

    Not sure if you saw this post: https://www.calibre11.com/tag-heuers-movement-future/ but there is more about movements there and what is driving the change.

    So, in summary, I’d choose whichever watch you prefer- both have a bullet-proof movement. Even though many watches use the same materials and components (most brands use the same company for dials and hands too!), it’s the difference in style that tends to drive many people’s choices.

    Thanks for your interesting post


  • Hi David

    Thanks again for your in-depth response. It amused me to read that to expect an in-house movement the consumer should look to pay $5k+. Begs the question, what are we getting below that threshold, just brand "magic?"



  • DC

    Hi Mooch,

    And there lies the dillema- many people want in-house movements, but that will come at a premium- it has to, because of all of the new investment required to develop in-house manufacturing from scratch.

    What do you get below $5000? You still get a nicely designed and made watch with a precision movement that won't let you down…its just a movement that is shared by others.

    For what its worth, I'm not sure I would be prepared to pay a big premium for an in-house movement- not unless we're talking something very high end….but that's a personal judgement.


  • Dave

    I have a sel wg1133 I'd like to know what movement it is , I'm trying to find hands and a back seal for the watch , thanks.

  • Dave,

    Believe that its an ETA 955.112…but best to take the caseback off to confirm.