Ultimate Guide to the TAG Heuer Aquaracer

While much of TAG Heuer’s range is focused on motorsport, the Aquaracer range stands apart as TAG Heuer’s water sport and diving watch range. The origins of the Aquaracer stretch back to 1982 when Jack Heuer launched what would be the last model introduced under his stewardship: the Heuer 2000. Like many of TAG Heuer’s watches, the range was renamed in the early 2000s as part of the move away from the 1000/ 1500/ 2000/ 3000/ 4000/ 6000 nomenclature of the 1980s.

But while the name may have changed, the Aquaracer is the single watch in today’s TAG Heuer line-up that has continuously maintained the “Six Features” since launch (the early Formula 1 watches didn’t have all six features, missing the sapphire crystal) and remains a direct descendant of the TAG Heuer range of diving watches that started with the 844/ 1000 of the late 1970s. While we think of the Monaco and Carrera as being the heart of Heuer/ TAG Heuer, the reality is that the 2000/ Aquaracer has been just as important a part of the collection, marking 36 years of continuous service.  

Before you dive into the story of the Aquaracer, make sure that you catch up on the first chapter in this story, with the Ultimate Guide to the TAG Heuer 2000 series.

The 2000 Aquaracer

The 2004 2000 Aquaracer

The Aquaracer story began in 2004 when TAG Heuer launched a new model in the 2000 range called the 2000 Aquaracer, a quartz-powered 38mm/ automatic 41mm steel model rated to 300m water resistance. The two unique aspects of the 2000 Aquaracer were the use of circular lume-filled hour-markers (the 2000 range at the time all featured rectangular shaped markers) and the use of a coloured aluminium bezel.

The 2000 Series Place in TAG Heuer’s Product Strategy

But why did TAG Heuer introduce a coloured bezel on the 2000 series, given that this feature was historically more commonly found on the 1000 and 1500 series?

The answer is found in the strategy of the re-launched 2000 series in 1998, as the TAG Heuer Annual Report from the same year explains (see above and click to enlarge).

When the 2000 was refreshed, the new series effectively replaced three stand alone series- the old 2000, the aluminium bezel 1500 series (itself a replacement for the beloved 1000 series) and the steel bezel sports 4000 series.

To cover all the segments filled by these three models, the new 2000 series was split into three “sub-series”:

  1. 2000 Classic: 3-hand watch in the style of the 2000 series
  2. 2000 Exclusive: Bolder, more modern design with new hands, large “12, 6 and 9” dial markers
  3. 2000 Sport: coloured aluminium bezel with lume-filled numerals

Fast forward to 2004 and the 2000 Sport series was long since discontinued, having only been part of the range for two years,  leaving all models in the 2000 series with a steel bezel and TAG Heuer missing a niche in the market.  At the launch of the 2000 Aquaracer in 2004 TAG Heuer’s stated aim for the watch was simple:

To regain market share in the aluminium ring diving watch segment. A segment with great potential, in which TAG Heuer has not been present the last 4 years“.

TAG Heuer Aquaracer Launch Catalogue

And because of the success of that first 2000 Aquaracer, the entire 2000 range was relaunched with the new Aquaracer name from 2005.

Generation 1: 2005- 2009

The decision to re-brand the entire 2000 series was consistent with LVMH’s strategy of renaming the legacy TAG Heuer watches (think S/el- Link) in line with the introduction of more premium finishing and materials and the use of more mechanical movements to supplement the quartz options.

The naming convention was applied as follows: 

  • The 2000 Aquaracer became the Aquaracer 300m
  • 2000 Aquagraph renamed “Aquagraph”
  • 2000 Classic and Elegance renamed as “Aquaracer”
  • New Aquaracer models launched

There were two case sizes offered for the new Aquaracer range- 38.4mm (principally the quartz watches) and 41mm (mainly the automatic range).

Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph

The first of the Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph watches came in a 41mm case in 2005 (above left) in three dial colours: black, blue and silver. TAG Heuer added a second Calibre 16 Chronograph (above right) to the range in 2006/ 7, this time with a Day-Date feature and a circular pattern on the outer edge of the dial. The Day-Date model uses a 43mm case, while the date-only model stuck with a 41mm case.

In addition to their different dials, the two Calibre 16s feature different chronograph pusher designs: round pushers on the 41mm model and rectangular on its larger brother.

Aquaracer Quartz Watch and 300m 1/ 10th Chronograph

The 38mm Quartz model was the closest in design to the previous 2000 series and featured an updated dial design, new hands and hour-markers, as well as a new bezel which had larger 10-minute markers and larger, highly polished bezel studs. While the basic case shape stayed the same, in fact tracing its origin back to 1982, the size increase slightly from 37.2mm to 38.4mm. You can see a lot of 2000 in this watch.

Another quartz option is the range was the 1/10th Chronograph model, which used the same case design and pushers as the 41mm Calibre 16 chronograph.

As was the generally the case on all TAG Heuer watches from this period, the coloured TAG Heuer logo is used on Quartz models, while the monochrome logo is used on automatic watches.

Aquaracer Automatic

The Aquaracer automatic continued to use the Clous de Paris dial pattern of the automatic 2000 series, but with the upgraded hour-markers, hands and bezel in line with the changes made to the quartz 3-hand watch. All watches in this range use the Calibre 5 movement (although not noted on the dial) and shared the same 38.4mm case.

Other Generation 1 Models

Over the four years of the first generation Aquaracer, we saw several niche models launched, many of which used the the Calibre 16 Chronograph case. For example, we have two Grand Date models  from 2008, with sub-dial designs echoing that seen on the Carrera Calibre 1.

The innovative Calibre S movement found its way into the Aquaracer, as did a Quartz/ Analogue ETA movement in the Aquaracer Chronotimer shown below left. The Chronotimer was also available with a bright yellow dial (CAF1011), which is a fantastic buy as this usually go for just over USD1000.

Movements

TAG Heuer Calibre S

The range of movements offered across that first Aquaracer series is in most cases the same as you will find it today’s Aquaracer, in some cases the use of ETA movements has been replaced by the supply of the equivalent Sellita clone.

  • Aquaracer 300m: ETA F06 111
  • Aquaracer Calibre 16 Chronograph: Valjoux/ ETA 7750
  • Aquaracer Calibre S: TAG Heuer Calibre S
  • Aquaracer Quartz Chronograph: ETA 251.262
  • Aquaracer Automatic: Calibre 5 (ETA 2824-2)
  • Aquaracer Chronotimer: ETA E20.321

 

One of the more interesting movements offered in later series was the automatic Calibre 72 movement, which is the Dubois Depraz DD2140 Calibre- a Sellita Sw300 base and a DD Chronograph/ Countdown module.

Generation 2: 2009-2012

The second generation Aquaracer series saw the Aquaracer range divided into two. The traditional “soft” case design continued with a variety of movements and designs, while a new sharp-edged case was introduced to support a new collection: the Aquaracer 500m.

Aquaracer 500m Calibre 5 and Calibre 16

Ever since the fabulous Aquagraph was discontinued the Aquaracer range has lacked a “hard core” dive model, a gap that was filled with the Aquaracer 500m, the name indicating its enhanced depth rating above the standard Aquaracer 300m.

In our eyes, this first Aquaracer 500m is a modern classic- a bold new case, eliminating the curves of the original 2000, with an innovative rubber-ridged bezel with applied metal numerals, an over-sized crown, helium escape-valve and- on the Calibre 5 and quartz models- the date window shifted to 9 o’clock with a cyclops.

The changes extended to the newly designed rubber straps, which were now fitted with end-pieces featuring ornamental bolt-heads.

Sitting atop this new range was the Aquaracer 500m Full Black, a blackened titanium case and dial offset by the brilliant yellow/ lime lume on the hands an hour-markers.

Aquaracer 500m Calibre 5 Full Black Ref. WAJ2180

We love the boldness of this design, which offered a completely fresh take on the Aquaracer line across both the 3-hand watch models and the later 500m Chronograph.

Aquaracer 300m Range

Alongside the new Aquaracer 500m was the 300m series, which extended across quartz and mechanical 3-hand watch models, as well as an alarm variant, a Calibre 16 Chronograph and a Grand Date offering.

These models continued the traditional Aquaracer look, offering a more sober and sophisticated design in keeping with the series’ heritage.

Generation 3: 2012-2014

Aquaracer 500m Calibre 5 Ref. WAK2110

Despite the success of the Aquaracer 500m, TAG Heuer seemed to lose its nerve on the series, because in 2012 we saw a new Aquaracer 500m, which in our view was something of a disappointment.

There is nothing wrong with the Generation 3 500m family- it’s an attractive development of the 300m range, but fitted with a deeper caseback and- for the first time- a ceramic bezel insert.

The new model was a very conservative development of the 500m series, losing almost all of those unique aspects of the designs- including the new case shape- and instead offering a formulaic, “standard” dive watch. Had we not seen the original 500m, then we’d likely be praising the sophisticated design touches of the Generation 3 model, but following on from the boldness of its predecessor, the 2012 model was a let down. As you can see below, even the bright lume on the Full Black model was toned down.

2012 Aquaracer 500m Full Black vs. 2010 Aquaracer 500m Full Black

Aquaracer 500m Chronograph Calibre 16 and Calibre 72

There were two automatic chronographs available in the third generation Aquaracer range, the “traditional” Calibre 16 and a new Calibre 72 Countdown Chronograph, both using a 43mm steel case.

Generation 4: 2014- Present

The fourth generation Aquaracer series saw the end of the 500m series, with two newly designed Aquaracer 300m families- one with a steel bezel and the other with a coloured ceramic bezel.

Perhaps the biggest change in the Generation four series was a new bezel design, which replaced the pointed ends of the original, with a flat finish. Moving to the dial, the new 300m family featured enlarged polished triangle-shaped indices and a new, larger hand-set with a coloured end on the sweeping seconds hand.

Aquaracer 300m Calibre 5 Steel Bezel

The first model to introduce this new shape was the 2014 Aquaracer Calibre 5 watch, which carried over the patterned dial of the previous model. The Aquaracer 300m used a 40.5mm steel case, with a combination of brushed and polished finishes.

There was a freshly designed rubber strap on offer, as well as the TAG Heuer “H-Link” bracelet first introduced on the Grand Carrera series.

In 2017, a second Calibre 5 model was added with the same hour-markers and hands as its ceramic-bezelled brother (see below) and is distinguished by the use of coloured “Calibre 5” . Note also the addition of a cyclops over the date window.

This watch introduces a new naming system, with the watch below having the reference number WBD2110 rather than the former WAY2110 and has a 41mm case. We expect that over time, the new WBD series will replace the WAY series.

The Updated WBD2110

Aquaracer 300m Chronograph Steel Bezel

The look of the Calibre 5 model extended into two chronograph options- the quartz 1/ 10th Grand Date model and the ubiquitous Calibre 16 model, both in a larger 43mm steel case.

There is also a new 3-6-9 mechanical Chronograph option, the Calibre 45.

Aquaracer 300m Calibre 5 Ceramic Bezel

In 2015 the new Ceramic Bezel 300m replaced the Aquaracer 500m series. Based on the steel-bezel watch, the 300m Ceramic received even larger hour-markers. 

The Calibre 5 series was initially available in a 41mm case, with a larger 43mm option added in 2016.

Aquaracer 300m Calibre 5 Ceramic Bezel- Sports Models

One of the other changes we saw in 2017 was the introduction of what we’ll call a sports series of Aquaracer Calibre 5 watches- all with fashion driven features, such as camouflage-pattern dials, or bright vibrant colours, including matching straps. Above are a few of our favourites, including the 2018 Carbon-fibre bezel model.

Aquaracer 300m Calibre 16 Ceramic Bezel

Also in the ceramic-bezel Aquaracer 300m family is the 43mm Chronograph range, which adds the design flourishes of the Calibre 5 watches to the larger chronograph case.

The Calibre 16 option continues, as does the Quartz 1/ 10th second model, Ref. CAY111A.

Looking Back at the Aquaracer

The Aquaracer stands apart in the TAG Heuer range, both as the longest continuous serving model in Heuer/ TAG Heuer’s history (if you consider the 2000 and the Aquaracer as a single family) and the only current model with a nautical/ diving heritage. Those style of those great Heuer dive watches of the late 1970s can still be seen in today’s Aquaracer, even as the range has been modernised and improved.

Perhaps the only surprise from our perspective has been that TAG Heuer has never fitted an in-house movement to the Aquaracer series- we’ve long been of the view that a modular Heuer 01/ 02 version of the Aquaracer would be a huge hit, but it seems unlikely in the short run.

While the success of other TAG Heuer model families has ebbed and flowed (think TAG Heuer Link, Grand Carrera and Formula 1), the Aquaracer has been a consistent top-seller throughout its history and is as relevant today as it was when first launched by Jack Heuer in 1982.


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