The TAG Heuer 300 SLR due in October will be the fifth SLR-branded TAG Heuer, a series that began as a limited edition watch only available if you also bought a Mercedes SLR McLaren, which at least gave you a way of getting your watch home fast.
The partnership with Mercedes-Benz grew from the shared association that TAG Heuer and Mercedes-Benz had with the McLaren F1 team, which in the early 2000s had sealed a deal with Mercedes-Benz to produce a Supercar that would be the spiritual successor to the famous Mercedes-Benz 300SLR of the 1950s.
The first SLR Calibre 36 was released in 2004 to mark the release of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, the first McLaren car since the famous McLaren F1, although one that was developed without the genius of Gordon Murray.
The car was nowhere near as focused and pure as the McLaren F1 and through a series of engineering compromises ended up as a somewhat confused GT- Supercar hybrid and one that apparently proved once and for all that the boys from Woking thought about making cars in a very different way to their colleagues from Stuttgart.
Series One: TAG Heuer SLR Chronograph Calibre 36
The watch itself- much like the car- was a controversial design. The black dial featured five inter-locking circles, which apparently mimic the design of a sportscar dashboard, but to my eyes looks a bit of a mess. The 40mm watch was designed by Jean-François Ruchonnet, who is better known today for being the father of the TAG Heuer V4 Movement.
What you notice when looking at the watch in detail is that the watch is a Regulator with the hour and the minute hand not placed together on the centre stem. For reading the time, the hour hand has been shifted to the counter at 12 o’clock, while the counter at 9 o’clock displays seconds. For chronograph functions, the 6 o’clock counter displays hours, the 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock displays minutes and seconds sweep by on the central hand. The watch is powered by the Calibre 36 (El Primero) movement.
Another innovative design features of the SLR Calibre 36 was the placement of the chronograph pushers on top of the case, which is really the only design feature to carry through each of the SLR watches that followed. Perhaps the most successful part of the design is the side view below, which features three gills- reminiscent of those found on the car- and the large crown with the famous Mercedes-Benz star.
For the privilege of paying the USD14,000 asking price of the watch, you first had to plonk down USD400,000 for the car, similar to the way that owners of the McLaren F1 received a Platinum TAG Heuer 6000. There have not been too many TAG Heuer SLRs come on to the second-hand market, but the one featured in the photos here was available in 2005 for USD10,000.
It’s hard to assess the TAG Heuer SLR Calibre 36, because its purpose in life was not really as “just” a watch, but as an add-on to the car itself. The dial layout seems pointlessly complicated, but the purpose is to provide something unique and different to the new owner of a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, who probably already has an extensive watch collection sitting at home.
Series Two: TAG Heuer SLR for Mercedes-Benz Limited Edition
The Second series of the SLR series was a far more mainstream design released in 2006. The 43mm case design was an entirely new design and unrelated to any other TAG Heuer model. The themes carried over from the Calibre 36 SLR are:
- Placement of the chronograph pushers (Now at 45 degrees and not directly on top of the case)
- Use of the double hour markers
- Minute hand design (now with the hour hand placed on the centre-stem)
- Date at 7 o’clock
- Mercedes-Benz logo
The watch features the Calibre 17 (ETA 2894-2) movement and an internal bezel with its 60-minute gradation which can be rotated using the second crown beside the 9 o’clock position.
The Series two SLR is a much more conservative- and successful- design as it manages to combine a fairly classical case with enough unique features to make it stand out from other TAG Heuer models. The watch was available as a limited edition of 3,500 watches and sold for USD4,000.
Series Three: TAG Heuer SLR for Mercedes-Benz Limited Edition
Following the success of the second series, TAG Heuer released a third SLR watch the following year in 2007. The third series uses a similar case design, but now in a 45mm case and a bezel finished in black fine-brushed titanium carbide and not polished stainless steel. The double crown and 45 degree chrono. pushers are also carried over, but the watch featured only two sub-dials.
The dial is where the third series stands out, with single-block hour markers, a red-tipped second hand, a “triple-date” window and with a circular patterning on the dial. The watch featured a sharp-looking rubber strap, with ridges that again mimic the shape of the side-gills of the SLR, or a stainless steel bracelet.
The third series is my favourite of the SLR series- in fact, the only aspect of the design that I don’t like is the Mercedes-Benz name on the dial, which I guess many people would see as a plus. Not sure why I don’t feel the same way about the AudiSport name on the AudiSport Heuer of the early 1980s, but I’d prefer the watch without the “Mercedes-Benz” on the dial- perhaps instead engraving the logo on the back of the watch.
The third series was also sold as a limited edition of 3,500 watches.
Today a version of the watch is still available as a standard production model, although with some small cosmetic changes …maybe TAG Heuer were reading my mind, because the “Mercedes-Benz” has disappeared from the dial. Scroll down to the comments section of this post for a photo of the “Non-LE” Series three.
Series Four: TAG Heuer SLR Calibre S
By the time that the fourth series of the TAG Heuer SLR was released in 2008, production of the Mercedes McLaren SLR had begun to wind down and so the Mercedes-Benz script did indeed disappear from the dial. TAG Heuer decided to again increase the size of the case, pumping up the SLR to 47mm- the largest TAG Heuer available. This was also the first SLR that was not a limited edition, but instead was a permanent part of the TAG Heuer catalogue.
The circular patterning on the dial was replaced with vertical ridges, but the largest difference is the use of the in-house TAG Heuer Calibre S movement, which is a quartz movement that allows accuracy to 1/100th of a second and dictates most the of the design changes made to the watch.
The Calibre S SLR was available in Silver as well as the trademark SLR-Black
The SLR series started life as an exotic piece of art designed as a trinket for those able to spend USD400,000 on a car and through two series of limited editions arrived at the fourth series as a mainstream and much more conservative TAG Heuer model. The relationship between McLaren and Mercedes is all but over these days, with Mercedes having recently sold its shares in McLaren, and like the fouth series SLR watch, the up-coming Heuer 300SLR does not carry the Mercedes-Benz name on the dial.
I suspect that the Heuer 300 SLR marks the final chapter in the TAG Heuer SLR range, or at least a major change in direction. The limited edition Heuer 300 SLR is a special version of the Carrera Calibre 1887 and not being a unique model in its own right and features none of the signature SLR design elements.
None of the SLR watches are all that common- especially the first series- and have enough unique design features to make them an interesting addition for any collector. For me, it’s the third series that is the most pleasing design, but if you’re looking for something really different, its hard to go past a watch that doesn’t even have its hour hand fixed to the same point as its minute hand.
1) TAG Heuer