In our first “From the Vault” article last month, we brought you the story of an unknown blue dial version of the vintage 1960s Heuer Carrera. Today, we fast forward to modern times to tell the story of a watch that was almost released on two occasions- the second-generation of the TAG Heuer Grand Carrera.
The Grand Carrera series was a major milestone for TAG Heuer, being the first all-new new series released in almost 20 years. Launched in 2007 after four years of development, the Grand Carrera was designed to appeal to an older, more affluent demographic (35-50 years old; push TAG Heuer into new price levels (CHF4000- 6000 for the main range and almost CHF11,000 for the Calibre 36).
While the core range was launched in 2007, and the high-end Calibre 36 Chronograph came in 2009, we have never seen a second-generation Grand Carrera series. Today we can bring you the story of two stillborn second-generation Grand Carrera series that were planned and an exclusive look at what would have been the flagship of the TAG Heuer range- the planned Grand Carrera Calibre 360.
2007- 2009: Grand Carrera Generation I
Before getting into the second-generation Grand Carrera that never was, let’s recap the first generation that was first launched in 2007 following four years of development. In 2007, the range consisted of three models:
- Calibre 6 RS
- Calibre 8 Grand Date GMT RS
- Calibre 17 RS
In 2008, the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS Concept watch was shown at Baselworld, with the production watch following in 2009.
Following the Grand Carrera Calibre 36, there were no further variants of the Grand Carrera launched, the series continued unchanged as part of the TAG Heuer range until 2013-14, but things could have been very different.
2009- 2013: Work Commences on Generation II
The Grand Carrera Calibre 360 was planned to be the flagship of the TAG Heuer range, and a development of the Calibre 360 movement first launched in 2005. The photo above has never been published before, and we thank TAG Heuer for allowing this look into their design vault.
The Grand Carrera Calibre 360 was to have the same basic dial layout as the Carrera 360, meaning 60 seconds sweeping time at 3 o’clock; 30-minute chronograph register at 9 o’clock; and 1/ 10th and 100th second chronograph at 6 o’clock. Across the top of the dial is the power reserve for the Chronograph, which must be wound by hand via the crown.
It’s a handsome watch that would have been a worthy successor to the Carrera 360 and flagship to the TAG Heuer range back in 2010/ 11 when this watch would have been launched had development continued.
So why was the Grand Carrera 360 cancelled? The answer is the TAG Heuer Mikrograph movement. Reliability concerns over the Calibre 360 saw TAG Heuer commission a new, 100% in-house 1/ 100th second movement (the Calibre 360 was a TAG Heuer developed Chronograph module sitting on a Calibre 7/ ETA base movement)- the Mikrograph.
In 2009 the small development team that turned the Monaco V4 concept watch into a production watch finished their work on the V4 and were moved to the Mikrograph project. Given the decision to replace the Calibre 360, it made no sense to roll out new models, and so the Grand Carrera 360 was cancelled.
But those weren’t the only Grand Carreras models that were in development during this period, with work beginning in 2010/ 2011 for the second generation planned for 2013. The Grand Carrera II would have replaced the Calibre 17 Chronograph with a Calibre 1887 RS Chronograph, with the design said to feature a similar polished metal bridge on the dial as the Grand Carrera Calibre 36.
We only also understand that a carbon-cased Grand Carrera Calibre 36 was developed around 2010, but the complexity of the manufacturing process meant that TAG Heuer didn’t take the risk.
In the end, the second-generation Grand Carrera was cancelled. The sales performance of the first series was less than expected (although strong in some markets), and the arrival of a new management team in 2013 saw the project de-prioritised in favour of continuing to develop the Carrera range, with watches like the Carrera Calibre 36 Flyback filling the gap.
2018: The Return of the Grand Carrera…almost
Back in 2018, a small comment by then TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver went largely unreported- the Grand Carrera was coming back. Biver was interviewed by the official Baselworld website in early 2018 and offered the following:
Q: “What important premieres will we experience at Baselworld 2018”?
Jean-Claude Biver: “Zenith’s Defy Inventor, Hublot’s Ferrari Techframe II and TAG Heuer’s Grand Carrera 2018“.Baselworld Official Website
But come March, the Grand Carrera was nowhere to be seen. So, what was the Grand Carrera 2018? We believe that the watch would have used the same movement as the Zenith Defy Lab, a movement in fact developed by Guy Semon at TAG Heuer.
In fact, we spied a prototype of this watch on JC Biver’s wrist, where the movement was referred to as the Calibre 03 XT. Biver told us a little about the Heuer 03XT back in our 2018 interview:
C11: Speaking of the Autavia, that watch was also the chance for you to re-introduce the Heuer 02 movement. During the last few years you also experimented with the Heuer 03-XT (X-Time) movement, which was developed by TAG Heuer but ended up in the Zenith Defy Lab. Will we see an in-house 3-hand movement in a TAG Heuer?
JCB: Yes, the strategy is clear. We are going to develop a three-hand movement. And we will also concentrate much more in the future on the X-Time and the new escapement. So I think that is an enormous development because the new escapement, the new system called X-Time, is extremely important. They will really put TAG Heuer on the map and put TAG Heuer in the history. I think our movement department is in better shape and is more important than it has ever been.
But in the 18 months since this interview, there has been no further news on the Heuer 03XT, and our assumption is that LVMH decided to keep the technology solely for Zenith.
And so, for a second time, a new generation Grand Carrera came close to being released before being put back on ice. Will it be a case of third-time lucky for the Grand Carrera Series II? The answer to that question will sit with new TAG Heuer CEO Frédéric Arnault, who was appointed earlier this week. It will take some time for his new strategy to play out in terms of product, meaning that fans of the Grand Carrera will have to wait a little longer to see what the future holds.