The Link is one of the most important TAG Heuer series, having been a critical part of the TAG Heuer collection since 1987 when it was launched as the S/el. When the watch was revamped in 1999, it was decided to change the name of the S/el, with the new name “Link” chosen to reflect the watch’s defining characteristic- the distinctive “double S” shaped links in the bracelet. Despite the change in name, the positioning of the watch remained consistent: “Sports Elegance”, which is where the “S/el” originally got its name.
In the first 20 years of the models life more than 2 million Links and S/els were sold, making it one of the most iconic watch series from any brand and at the time the most important TAG Heuer series- remember that back in 1999 the Carrera was a low volume retro novelty rather than a full-scale range.
Yet by 2013/14 it appeared as though there was no longer a place for the Link in the TAG Heuer line-up. The Carrera had expanded into the Link’s sophisticated-yet-sporty sphere, and other models such as the Grand Carrera were also crowding out that space. There had been few new Link models since 2011 and no sign of any impending redesign.
The revival of the Link quietly began in 2016 when TAG Heuer decided to launch a new women’s series featuring an entirely new case. Even then there wasn’t enough confidence in the new range for it to be a global launch, with the 2016 Link Lady only launched in a few markets.
But the success of the Link Lady not only led to the expansion of that range- both geographically and with new dials and finishes- but the expansion of the new design language into the men’s series with the 2017 series launched last month at Baselworld. While it’s too soon to know whether this will signal the revival in sales, it’s a major new chapter in the life of the Link series and the inspiration to look back across the almost 20 year history of the TAG Heuer Link. And if you’d like to read up on the S/el before you get started, then take a look here.
First Generation- 1999
The 1999 Link was the last watch launched by TAG Heuer before its acquisition by LVMH in September 1999. Yes, the Link used the same basic case shape as the 1998 S/el, but the pebble-like rounded nature of the S/el and its bracelet began to be squared off slightly, with flatter bracelet links and a redesigned crown guard and crown.
The most obvious changes to the Link were to the dial:
- Mercedes hands replaced by sword hands
- Oversized 12, 6 and 9 applied numerals
- Stick hour-markers replace the oblong lume markers
At launch, there were four models in the Link range:
- Calibre 7 Chronometer
- Quartz watch
- Automatic Chronograph
- 1/10th second Quartz Chronograph
Second Generation- 2004
The second-generation Link followed in 2004 and reintroduced an S/el design feature- a two-part dial. The new Link had a starburst small centre circle, while the outer circle featured a azurage pattern. The over-sized 3-6-9-12 numerals were dropped, as were the stick hour-markers, which were replaced by triangular-shaped applied markers. Completing the new-look dial were newly designed hands that were smaller and sleeker than the previous look.
The Chronograph models- such as the quartz model below- also gained newly styled pushers, dropping the cylinder-shape parts carried over from the S/el.
Completing the new look was an updated bezel design- larger and flatter than the previous models and with a polished finish and smaller flat teeth (as against the triangular shape that had been a hallmark of the series back to the first S/el).
There were more significant changes to the Calibre 16 Chronograph, even though the first generation model stayed in the range with a single reference Chronometer model (below- Ref. CT5110).
The 2004 Link Calibre 16 launched a new look with a smaller, flat fixed bezel, as shown on Ref. CJF2110 below with the black dial.
Overall the second-generation (the first developed by LVMH) was a significant departure for the Link. While the first Link can be seen as an S/el with a new name, the 2004 Link was much more thorough redesign with the ambition to move the Link series further upscale.
Third Generation- 2006/ 2007
The redesigned flat bezel of the second-generation Calibre 7 and 16 models was adopted across the Link range for the third-generation series. In 2006 TAG Heuer rolled out the first of the new models, including another fresh look for the 42mm Calibre 16 Chronograph and a range of new 39mm Calibre 6 (ETA 2895) watches which have running seconds displayed in a small sub-dial at 6 o’clock.
The hallmarks of the third generation models are:
- Slimmer polished fixed bezel
- Slimmer, more shapely crown guard with square-end crown
- Vertical streak dial design for all models except the Calibre 16
The 2006 Calibre 16 Chronograph saw a fixed polished bezel with a tachymeter scale (formerly on the inner flange) and an intricate new dial design. The silver rings surrounding the sub-dials were removed, while two new colours were offered- anthracite and blue.
- Running changes to the Link Calibre 16
- New Calibre S Chronograph
- New Link Calibre 5
- New link Calibre 5 Day-date
Despite the anthracite and blue Calibre 16 models being only a year old, the 2007 black dial Calibre 16 model was subtly changed, with silver rings added to the sub-dials…adding and then removing these rings seemed to be a popular strategy of the TAG Heuer designers to mark a new model.
While the quartz Chronograph model remained in the range in 2007, it was phased out in 2009 when a more radical battery-powered Chronograph arrived- the Link Calibre S
Link Calibre S
The Link was the first series to use the new in-house TAG Heuer Calibre S movement. You can read all about the movement here, but essentially the Calibre S is an electro-mechanical movement. It has 230 components, yet is powered by a battery.
As former CEO Jean-Christophe Babin told Watch Time’s Joe Thompson in October 2006
Fourth Generation- 2011
By the time the fourth generation Link arrived in 2011 TAG Heuer’s range had changed significantly. From 2005 onwards, the focus of TAG Heuer became the Carrera, which moved away from being simply a retro-themed chronograph to cover some of the territory that used to be the Link’s exclusive domain.
So the 2011 redesign focused on making the Link a more sophisticated design. You can see the evolution of the Link design below
- The case has been updated, with slightly shorter lugs, a shorter crown and re-designed, smaller Chronograph pushers
- Dial now features vertical streak effect, including the Calibre 16
- Thinner hour markers and inner flange
- Flatter S Links on the bracelet
The design sketches below highlight these new features, especially the revised cushion-shaped bezel.
While the Calibre 5, 6 and 7 watch cases remained at 41mm, the Chronographs increased in size to 43mm. The case no longer had a fully brushed finish, now featured a contrast of fine-brushed horns and polished and rounded sides.
2013 Calibre 18
Following the launch of the fourth generation series, there were few new models or changes in the years that followed. However one of the more interesting Link models was launched in 2013- the Link Calibre 18, shown above next to the Calibre 16 Chronograph. The Calibre 18 was the first two-register Link Chronograph and offered a new look for the series, especially with its smaller case (40mm vs. 43mm for the Calibre 16) and thinner bezel.
Fifth Generation- 2017
In March 2017 we saw the new men’s Link series, which for the moment consists of a single Calibre 5 watch offered with three dial colours. The new 41mm case is a totally new design. Yes, the cushion-style bezel has been enlarged and now is a dominant design feature, but that and the (again re-designed) iconic Link bracelet are the only nods to the heritage of the series.
Notable Models & Limited Editions
2002 Calibre 36 CT511A/ CT511B
One of the best-loved Link models is this Calibre 36 (El Primero) model launched in 2002-3. The design is based on the Calibre 16 Chronograph of the day, and while that model was updated in 2006, the Calibre 36 versions stayed basically unchanged in the range until 2008. There were two variants- the black and white dial options you see here.
The Calibre 36 models have the classic 3-6-9 sub-dial layout and feature skeletonized hands and a clear sapphire caseback.
2011 Roman Numerals Models
There were a number of Roman Numeral models made, many for the Japanese market. The watch above is from 2011 and was available globally. The 2011 fourth-generation series had a couple of models with roman numeral bezels.
2012 Link DiCaprio Edition
As part of Leonardo DiCaprio’s marketing deal with TAG Heuer, a limited edition of 2000 was produced in 2012. Reference CAT2015 is a 43mm Calibre 16 Chronograph with the actor’s name marked on the sapphire caseback.
Ayrton Senna Link Collection
While the first of the Ayrton Senna edition TAG Heuer’s was a 6000 series, the remaining four watches from the original collection are based on the Link. You can see the full collection here. Shown above is the 2003 Link Senna, while below is the 2004 model, the last of the original TAG Heuer Senna series.
While today’s Senna collection is based on the Formula 1 and Carrera series, the bracelet offered on both watches is based on the Link design as a nod to the original series.
The Searacer is one of the better looking Link variants, even though it’s not officially a Link model. The quartz-powered watch was launched in 2001 and marketed as a yachting watch.
2002 Link Oracle Racing Ref CT1118
Tiger Woods Editions
The face of the Link series was golfer Tiger Woods. TAG Heuer began working with Tiger back in 2002, and over the next 9 years there were six limited edition Tiger Woods Link editions. While the first four are well-known, the last two models didn’t have the same level of publicity, due to Woods’ well documented problems that began in 2009. At that time TAG Heuer began to scale back the marketing of Woods, dropping him from US marketing. The partnership was finally terminated in August 2011 when the contract expired.
Each of the watches is finished with “Red Burgundy” highlights, apparently Wood’s favourite colour.
2003- Link Tiger Woods Calibre 6 Ref. WJ2110
2004- Link Tiger Woods Calibre 7 Ref. WJF2113
2006- Link Tiger Woods Calibre 6 Ref. WJF211D
2009- Link Tiger Woods Calibre 7 GMT Ref. WJF2115
2010- Link Tiger Woods Grand Date Quartz Ref. WJF1010
2011- Link Tiger Woods Calibre 16 Ref. CJF211C
Limited edition of 4000.
Link Mobile Phone
One of the lesser known Link models is this Android smartphone. When the fourth generation Link series was launched in 2011, part of that collection was a Link-branded mobile phone and Link-branded sunglasses.
Looking Back on the Link
The Link holds a unique place in the TAG Heuer range. While the Carrera, Formula 1 and Monaco are clearly linked to Motorsports, the Link has no such cool linkage and has to live with being the “sensible” watch in the TAG Heuer range. No colourful limited editions, no skeletonized dials and no headline grabbing concept watches. The more sombre positioning of the Link, combined with a “love it or hate it” bracelet means that for many enthusiasts it is the forgotten part of the TAG Heuer range.
But it is a vitally important part, because with the ever-growing Carrera line heading more towards the avant-garde, the Link now has the right design and size to be successful in the dress watch segment of the market, which is especially strong in Asia.
Has this article been written two years ago it would have been looking back on a series that seemed to have no future, but with the fantastic redesign of the fifth generation series, there’s a great opportunity to create a new chapter in the story of the TAG Heuer Link.