Ahead of the Baselworld kick-off later this week, TAG Heuer kindly invited me to La Chaux de Fonds to spend two days visiting their factory and head office. I last visited TAG Heuer in summer 2008, and so was curious to see whether much had changed. Certainly the weather had changed with postcard-perfect snow blanketing much of the Jura Valley.
What was immediately obvious was how much time and effort TAG Heuer has dedicated to this week’s Baselworld show- everyone was putting the finishing touches to different aspects of the exhibition. Of course, this would be the same for everyone in the watch industry, but there is a special focus at TAG Heuer to make the 150th anniversary something special.
To illustrate the scale of the effort, how many watches do you think that TAG Heuer will bring to Basel? 20? Maybe 100?
Actually, its 2,000- more than the annual production run of many boutique brands.
This number is so high because each country team selects its own national catalogue from the available watches, and so there is a complete set for each country team to review and show to its Authorised Dealers.
The first thing that I saw on arrival was the TAG Heuer Tesla Roadster, which had just arrived from the Geneva Motor show en route to Basel. There were two Roadsters- a standard red model accompanying the TAG Heuer-branded version.
Apart from the special paint job, the TAG Heuer version differed from the standard model in its use of carbon fibre (or at a minimum, a carbon-fibre-look material) parts, including the roof, rear spoiler and throughout the interior. The Tesla is a small car- built very low to the ground and it looked better in person than in the photos (although the panel gaps would give a Volkswagen engineer a heart attack).
Design, Prototyping and Quality Control
The focus of today’s visit was on the design, prototyping and quality control processes that TAG Heuer have in place for new watches. A new watch begins its life on a CAD (Computer Aided Design) screen, before being turned into a wax mould and then sent through to the prototyping area to be turned into a platinum/ steel/ titanium prototype case.
The prototype area was especially interesting, as it didn’t exist on this scale- if at all- in 2008. This new capability not only allows TAG Heuer to develop the first prototypes in-house, but can also be used for limited scale production of watches, such as the Monaco V4 which has its case and movement made right here.
The Quality control area is also significantly larger than when I last visited, with each new model undergoing between 60-100 tests over a one month period before it is approved for production. Once the model is in production, random samples are then put through the same tests to ensure consistency on quality is maintained throughout a model’s life.
The photo above and below shows a watch being shock tested, as it is dropped from various heights marked on the vertical metal beams.