Last Updated on July 2, 2019 by Calibre 11
Thanks to the increased focus on TAG Heuer’s rich heritage, there aren’t too many generalist watch collectors today who don’t know the story of the Carrera, Autavia or Monaco. And people who follow TAG Heuer and Heuer closely can go into more detail, knowing the deeper range of lesser-known watches such as the Super Professional, the Heuer Daytona and 300 SLR. But the 1980s Heuer and TAG Heuer Executive series? Now that’s one only known by the most ardent Heuer and TAG Heuer collectors, which of course is exactly what makes it perfect for our readers.
The Heuer Executive was launched in 1985- the last year of the Heuer brand before the switch to TAG Heuer and the last of the watches developed under Piaget/ Lemania ownership. The watch became the TAG Heuer Executive from 1986 and remained in the range until 1989 when the series was quietly dropped.
The Executive was positioned at the premium end of the Heuer range, and in many ways is a precursor to the S/el series- an attempt to steer towards the “dress watch” side of the market rather than being a pure sports watch. And the pricing reflected this- going back to September 1985, the steel chronograph Executive was priced at DM2,280 (US$820) in Germany. To put that price into context, you could have bought five 1000 quartz divers for this amount, or two Lemania 5100-powered 510 series chronographs.
Today, the Executive is almost entirely forgotten when people look back on the 1980s TAG Heuer range, but there’s still an interesting story to tell about the watch that briefly sat towards the top of the Heuer and TAG Heuer range history, very much a watch of its era.
The Executive is a pure piece of 1980s design, from the extensive use of “bi-metal” plated gold and steel finishing to the elaborate bracelet design, you won’t mistake this watch as coming from any other decade. While there are a range of different finishes offered, every watch in the range has gold highlights, befitting of its status as the Heuer watch for Executives.
It was a bold design for the time, remembering that most of the contemporary watches in the Heuer range were fairly conventional quartz dive watches.
The case has a bowl-shaped design with a single integrated central lug. You can see that the case depth varied significantly depending on whether you chose the modular quartz or mechanical chronograph movement (top left and top right above), or the slimmer 3-hand quartz movement (above).
And it’s the thinner case of the quartz movement that feels more in keeping with the intended sleek design of the watch, slipping gently under the double cuffed shirt of its intended owner.
Dial & Bezel
The dial on the Executive is quite detailed, with three distinct elements: the outer edge of the dial with minute/ 30 second hash markers, the banked second element hosting the hour lume plots and then the flat round centre section. This gives the dial a nice depth, a sense emphasised further on the Chronograph by the date cyclops and deep-set date.
Cutting across the dial on the 3-hand watch model are four raised trapezium sections, at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, while on the chronograph, we have three sub-dials at 12, 6 and 9 o’clock.
This sub-dial layout was typical of the era. Whereas the 1960s and early 70s was dominated by traditional 3-9 or 3-6-9 chronograph layouts, the 1970s saw the introduction of two new, sharply priced Chronograph movements with 12-6-9 layouts: the Valjoux 7750 and the Lemania 5100. As these watches became popular, so too did the “new” dial layout, a clear step forward from the old. As it turns out, the Executive Chronograph uses neither of these two movements, instead opting for the LWO 283 modular calibre, which was the main mechanical chronograph movement used across the Heuer range at the time.
Note that different hands are used on the 3-hand watch and chronograph models. The Chronograph features sword shaped hour and minute hands with a needle central chronograph hand, while the 3-hand watch has a Mercedes-style hour hand and a lollipop sweeping seconds hand.
Unusually, the dial doesn’t extend to meet the bezel, with a coloured large flange (sandblasted steel, gold-plated or black PVD) sitting between the two. And speaking of the bezel, this is one of the innovative features of the Executive as TAG Heuer (initially written as TAG-Heuer) highlighted in the catalogues of the day:
The turning bezel, a vital function in any professional watch, is the original and innovative element in the new TAG-Heuer Executive collection. The new bezel was specially developed by TAG-Heuer and pivots around the middle of the watch”. This internationally patented system gives TAG-Heuer Executive watches their avant-garde shape and greatly reduces the thickness of this professional watch1987 TAG Heuer Catalogue
The notched bezel is a one-piece construction (rather than a bezel insert fitting inside a turning bezel), with Series 2 models featuring a mineral glass covering.
These later Series 2 watches would also use an updated, simpler flat dial.
More pure 80s-ness design is present on the chain bracelet thanks to the large pins (gold-plated or PVD depending on the model), which allow links to be removed or added easily. Rather than being discreetly concealed, these pins are instead a feature of the bracelet design.
As with many integrated bracelets of this era, the bracelets are vulnerable to snapping and an alternative aftermarket replacement is hard to find thanks to the central lug (see below).
Series 1: Heuer/ TAG Heuer Executive Range
The Heuer Executive range was relatively straight forward, with nine models available at launch- 3 different designs, each available in three sizes:
- xxx.x06: Mens
- xxx.x13: Mid-size/ Boys
- xxx.x08: Ladies
Note that the men’s size was only available as a Chronograph, featuring either the LWO 283 mechanical chronograph movement, or the Calibre 185 quartz chronograph movement. All other sizes are quartz 3-hand watches only.
What we’ll call the Series 1 watches were all available with either a Heuer or TAG Heuer logo, and apart from this change in branding, are otherwise almost identical.
Steel case/ Champagne dial
The first model features a sandblasted stainless steel case, with a matching steel and gold-plated bracelet. The dial has a gold/ champagne finish with matching hands and contrasting silver subdials on the chronograph.
As with all Series 1 watches, the 0-15 minute section on the integrated bezel has a “tritium zone” that lights up in the dark.
This colour combination was available as a Heuer in the 1985 Catalogue and continued on as a TAG Heuer model.
Black PVD case/ Champagne dial
The second colour option had the same coloured dial ( without a contrasting colour for the chronograph registers) but this time with a black PVD case and bracelet.
As with all models, the inner flange matches the colour of the case, in this instance black PVD. This design feature is perhaps the most effective on this gold and PVD model, as the strong contrast between the gold dial and the black flange gives the appearance of the dial floating inside the case.
Gold case/ Black dial
The last colour option was the all-gold model, which offered a black dial with gold-plated case and bracelet. Note that the bracelet pins on these watches are also black.
Series 2: TAG Heuer Executive range
Next we come to three colour options that were only available as TAG Heuers, joining the Executive range a year later in 1986. Each of these watches has a simplified dial, with the Skipper gaining a bespoke look of its own. Unlike the Heuer Executive models available from launch, each of the newer watches was only available in two sizes, with no chronograph option.
Steel case/ Cream dial
The first of these Series 2 watches has a cream dial with gold-plated hands and inner flange. As noted earlier, these dials are far simpler than the Series 1 watches, with simple circular hour markers with a triangle-shaped marker as 12 o’clock and rectangular markers at 6 and 9 o’clock.
The bezel here is a little different- a chromed blue base covered by mineral glass with gold-plated lettering- there is no “tritium zone” on these bezels.
Steel case/ Blue dial
The next option is essentially the same as the cream dial watch above, but this time with a blue dial.
Finally, we come to the most unusual watch in the Executive range- the Executive Skipper, a model obviously targeting those Executives who sailed. This model is not always referred to as a “Skipper”, but we do see this branding in the 1989 TAG Heuer Japan catalogue shown below
The most distinctive element of the Executive Skipper is the bezel, which features a series of flags- nine single flags and three double flags. Don’t be confused by what these flags mean- they are simply the maritime numeral pennants shown below, which count from 1-12, with two flags used for double-digit numbers.
Executive Skipper Special Edition- “Formule TAG”
There is also a special edition Executive Skipper, ref. 915.813, which features a boat with a single white sail and a blue spinnaker and the word “TAG” in place of the usual “Executive” and “Professional” text.
We have also seen this logo on the Formula 1 series, a special version of Ref. 387.513 which has its own reference number- 386.513
While there is no official documentation on these watches, the logo likely represents Formule TAG, a special catamaran backed by TAG (TAG Heuer’s owner from 1986) with an interesting history.
Formule TAG (“Formula TAG”) was an innovative catamaran project, begun in 1982 as the brainchild of Canadian skipper Mike Birch with support from Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG).
The catamaran had twin 80-foot carbon fiber/Kevlar hulls built by Canadair in Montreal using aerospace technology, similar to the ideas being pursued by the TAG-owned McLaren in Formula 1, which developed the first carbon-fibre-composite monocoque in conjunction with Hercules Aerospace- the 1981 McLaren MP4/1.
Formule TAG was the first multihull—and the first racing sailboat—to beat the 500-mile-a-day barrier, clocking 517 miles in 24 hours during the 1984 transatlantic Quebec-Saint-Malo race. This was one of the most innovative catamarans ever built, racing under several names and today is known as the Energy Observer, the first hydrogen-powered/ zero emissions vessel.
The boat raced in TAG colours from its launch in 1983 through to 1985 and then raced during the 1986 season in TAG Heuer colours, the same year as our two special edition TAG Heuers.
Looking back on the Heuer/ TAG Heuer Executive
Searching Google today for the TAG Heuer Executive is far more likely to yield articles about the senior management of TAG Heuer than links with collectors discussing the ins-and-outs of the watch. And because the retro fashion wheel has yet to return to watch designs of the 1980s, the Executive remains a curiosity rather than an undiscovered gem.
In many ways, we see the Executive as the prototype for the S/el, which followed in 1987. That watch was also aimed at the business end of the market, offering a single lug and integrated ornate bracelet and extensive use of bi-metal. But in many ways, the S/el was less bold than the Executive, with TAG Heuer adapting as the Executive failed to hit the mark with buyers.
You will find several Executives available on eBay, all at reasonable prices, starting at a few hundred dollars and stretching into just over US$1000 for the mechanical chronographs.
Is this an opportunity for collectors? All depends on your view on the 1980s. If the watches of the 1980s ever becomes fashionable, then the Executive will become one of those unknown gems. But if tastes remain as they are today, the Executive will be enjoyed by the small number of owners who like the design and firmly under the radar for mainstream Heuer and TAG Heuer collectors.