Heading into the final few months of 2019 felt like the right time to check in with two of the key people driving TAG Heuer’s product and design strategy into 2020 and beyond- Guy Bove and Guy Semon. While Guy Semon is well-known to TAG Heuer collectors for his central role in introducing innovations such as the Monaco V4 and Mikro- platform watches, Product Director Guy Bove is closing in on his first anniversary with TAG Heuer, having joined in November 2018.
Bove joined TAG Heuer from Breitling, where he was the Creative Director, working on many of the watches that have been part of the rejuvenation of the brand under the direction of Georges Kern (who, for TAG Heuer aficionados, cut his teeth in sales and marketing at TAG Heuer in the late 1990s). His experience also includes stretches at Chopard and, most notably, six years at IWC.
While he arrived too late to shape the the 2019 watches, his influence on the future collection will be profound.
Our interview with the two Guys was wide-ranging, covering design, the future of the Heuer 01 (née Calibre 1887) movement and addressing the shortages of one of TAG Heuer’s big 2019 releases- the Autavia Isograph.
Calibre 11: Guy, you’ve been at TAG Heuer for almost a year now, what are some of the key design and product attributes that you wanted to focus on in your first Year?
Guy Bove: We set two main goals: one was to clearly differentiate each collection to express different facets of the TAG Heuer DNA, with each line having its own look, feel and raison d’être. The second one was to reinforce these brand attributes of each collection by working on the details of all the components of our watches – cases, dials, straps etc. to create incredible value for our customers.
C11: From the watches that we’ve seen this year, a couple of things stand out- firstly, much cleaner dials with less text (e.g. “100m Water Resistance”) and secondly a more unorthodox combination of dial colours and straps, such as the Calibre 16 Carrera with its blue dial matched with a brown strap and orange stitching. Can you share a little of your design philosophy?
GB: Although that model was already launched in production before my arrival, I agree with the idea of cleaner dials and less text – this is not a diving watch so water resistance on the dial is not necessary.
I appreciate dials where the details of the elements such as typefaces, indexes, hands, finishes and 3D feel of the dial are what carries the watch, not the wording or gratuitous decoration.
C11: In a similar vein, we’ve also seen that the tradition of TAG Heuer’s automatic watches carrying the Calibre reference on the dial seems to have disappeared. Is this a permanent change?
GB: Where useful the naming convention will still be used moving forward, however you will also have noted by now the introduction of less wordy dial designs in some cases, where appropriate.
C11: In terms of the design team, are all watches now designed in Switzerland, or is Christoph Behling still involved from London?
GB: Yes, Christoph is still involved in many of our projects.
C11: Last question on design: It’s quite noticeable that none of the 50th Anniversary Monaco watches are re-editions of historic models- what is your philosophy on this and what does it mean for the future of the “true” re-edition?
GB: The idea behind the decision to launch one watch per decade was to make sure that the Monaco remains a living collection and not one bound to the past, even if each of these models is reminiscent of the colours and style of each decade.
This does not mean that we will never do another reedition of a past model, just that we are continuing to design great watches that can be real Monacos even if they look nothing like models we’ve created in the past. You will notice, however, that the hands, indexes and design are based on the Calibre 11s of years past.
C11: Moving now to the changes on the product side of things, we’re hearing that the Carrera Heuer 01 range is being replaced by the skeleton Carrera Heuer 02 series. Is this the end of the line for the Heuer 01 Calibre, or will production of the movement continue?
GB: This is the end of the line! The Heuer 02 brings a host of new features to our customers, not the least of which is an 80-hour power reserve.
C11: Guy Semon, a question for you- often there can be a challenge in “industrialising” new technology. How was the process of turning the carbon hairspring from low-volume concept into high-volume production? Quantities of the Autavia Isograph in the market seem limited-is this related to the hairsprings?
Guy Semon: We definitely under-estimated the orders of the Autavia Isograph and it is not an easy task to scale up production on such new technology, however we are working on that as we speak. In the meantime we are limiting the delivery of the Autavia Calibre 5 Isograph to ensure that we only release perfect and reliable timepieces.
C11: The rumour mill says that there are challenges with pairing the new Isograph hairspring with the Calibre 5 movement. We’ve heard that all Isographs have been recalled from market and that the watch will be “relaunched” with a Chronometer grade Calibre 5 movement, but without the Isograph hairspring and at a revised price in early 2020. Is this correct?
GS: This is indeed the direction we have taken. While we were able to deliver a few early units of the watch to select clients, the success of the model generated high demand that is currently exceeding our production capacity for this new component integration.
We are evaluating the best course of action to continue to meet that excitement in all our markets and will keep you closely informed on the availability of the watch in the coming months. In the meantime you can look forward to the launch of the Autavia Chronometer Calibre 5, coming soon in early 2020.
C11: OK, but does this mean that existing owners of the Autavia Isograph should be concerned about reliability?
GS: Not at all. The Isograph technology works and the limited quantities of a few thousands we have produced have all passed the COSC certification. The challenge for this breakthrough technology, already in high demand, is that for higher volumes, the production and assembly processes have to be further fine-tuned in order to achieve the highest standards of quality we expect all our timepieces to meet.
C11: And what does this mean for the future of the carbon hairspring? Are there the same challenges with the Carrera Nanograph?
Guy Bove: We have delivered several hundred TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Nanograph timepieces with much success, however there is a notable difference in production scale vs the Autavia, and in fact between the escapements themselves on the two watches. As mentioned, Guy Semon is heavily focused on making sure the Isograph is a big part of our future.
C11: When we last spoke to M. Biver, he mentioned a desire to bring some of the TAG Heuer developed technology being used by other LVMH brands back to TAG Heuer, for example the proposed Grand Carrera with the Heuer 03-XT movement. Is this still part of the plan?
GB: It’s hard to predict things, especially when they are in the future…however I have not heard the words “Grand Carrera” this year!
C11: Finally, the Connected is now a mainstream part of the Smartwatch universe and has been in market for almost 5 years now. Has this experience showed TAG Heuer that there is a place in the Smartwatch world for established Swiss manufactures?
GB: Absolutely. As an avant-garde watchmaker, we have long been convinced of the relevance and importance of the Connected watch within our offering and will continue to invest heavily in the technology to support it for the future.
A lot of new news there for TAG Heuer collectors! Perhaps the one that is the most significant, if not unexpected, is the end of the Calibre 1887 movement- something that deserves its own dedicated article given its influence on the 2010s period TAG Heuers. And speaking of movements, the delays in bringing the Isograph to market will disappoint potential buyers, but longer-term the more important aspect is that the delays feel more short-term, certainly compared with the +2 year hiatus of the Calibre CH80 before it became the Heuer 02.
2020 will be a transformational year for TAG Heuer, as we see the first watches produced the a post-Jean-Claude Biver era. While 2019 has been the year of the Monaco, 2020 feels like the right time for the Carrera, Connected and Aquaracer lines to be upgraded, and of course we hope to see new Autavia Chronograph models.
There will no doubt be a few surprise in the last part of 2019, but it’s 2020 that will officially start the new era of TAG Heuer.