TAG Heuer Carrera Tourbillon
You probably know TAG Heuer best as the entry-level Swiss luxury watchmaker famous for its big, square Monaco, but I expect you never thought you’d see the day when the following sentence was true: here’s a TAG Heuer that costs over £13,000.
It doesn’t take an industry insider to tell you that TAG Heuer’s been having a bit of a tough time of it lately. Here’s a brand that spearheaded the development of the automatic chronograph, worked with the coolest man to have ever existed, had a watch in space—yet you’re more likely to find it sitting with the Marc Jacobs and DKNYs than you are with Omega and Rolex.
Surviving modernisation came about—for those brands that did actually survive—in different ways for different watchmakers, and for TAG Heuer—Heuer at the time—it arrived in the form of holding company Techniques d’Avant Garde. In all honesty, it seemed like a good fit—motorsport’s attraction to Heuer was stronger than the buttery side of toast to the floor, and Techniques d’Avant Garde was a part owner in Formula 1 team McLaren, as well as financier of the turbocharged Porsche V6s that sat in the back of them.
The newly rebranded TAG Heuer celebrated its 80s rebirth by very much embracing the style of the period—something, with hindsight, that was a bit of a mistake. While there may be a few aficionados of the TAG Heuer design ethos from that era, it’s a pretty safe statement to make that most people find them, well, unsavoury. So much so, that’s it’s put a bit of a dent in the brand’s reputation that it’s still struggling to alleviate.
And when things get bad, who do you go to? Why, the same person who pulled Blancpain, Omega and Hublot back from the brink—Jean-Claude Biver. In 2014, after his work with other LVMH watchmaker Hublot, Biver was appointed CEO of TAG Heuer. His tenure had a bit of a shaky start, ending the 30-year relationship with McLaren after a spat with McLaren’s then boss Ron Dennis, realigning TAG Heuer’s motorsport affiliations with rival team Red Bull Racing.
It wasn’t the only thing Biver realigned in that time, with his main input being, of course, about the watches. His approach was the same as it was with the other brands he rejuvenated, a process of simplification and focus, an attempt re-stabilise TAG Heuer as a modern trendsetter.
Well, that’s the idea, anyway; it’s probably too early to tell if it’s really worked. But you can see the pieces in play, with the Connected smartwatch attracting a younger audience, and a clearer line between the heritage pieces and the brand’s more progressive designs.
And it’s in those progressive designs that we see Biver’s influences most, like we have here with the Carrera Heuer-02T, a flagship piece with a big price tag and a mission to tell the world that TAG Heuer is once again a watchmaker to be reckoned with.
Before we delve too far into why the Heuer-02T costs an eye-watering £13,650—rising to £17,000 for the most expensive non-precious metal variant—let’s investigate how TAG Heuer is bringing the design of its racing watches into the 21st century.
It’s a bit of a conundrum really, how to pitch a brand selling outdated technology in a contemporary environment. There are two extremes: the first being to stick religiously to the aesthetic of the period in which these mechanisms were most prominent, a bit like Omega’s Moonwatch, and the second being to carve a new look that’s fresh and challenging, like Hublot’s Big Bang.
Style over substance you might say, but vintage appeal isn’t for everyone, clearly, or every watch would be like that. So if it’s not to looking back, then it’s to looking forward, and that means taking a risk and trying something new.
For TAG Heuer, for better or for worse, that’s translated into a technical quality that finds inspiration in the modern art of building a Formula 1 car. That means clean lines, lightweight materials, pared-back structure. It all looks appropriately mechanical especially when it comes to the exposed chronograph mechanism visible through the case back.
£13,650 isn’t the sum of those parts alone, however, regardless of how in-house the movement is—this is A. Lange & Söhne territory after all. The extra £10,000 over what you’d probably expect is the price to pay for a single letter, the ‘T’ in ‘Heuer-02T’—which stands for ‘tourbillon’.
For a watch associated with a sport that seeks to push technology to the limit for no real reason other than the engineering challenge, the tourbillon is pretty well paired. It’s an engineering exercise in itself, offering little real-world practicality other than the enjoyment of its complexity.
This rather changes the conversation; a Swiss tourbillon usually demands £20–30,000 at the least, and yet here we have one a fraction of that cost. It represents the third string to TAG Heuer’s bow, after heritage and innovation—value. It’s a hell of a way to demonstrate that factor, but demonstrate it it does—to the point that even Patek Philippe Chairman Thierry Stern complained that it was too cheap.
Of course, there’s no wizardry going on here; TAG Heuer has employed modern construction methods and minimal hand finishing to achieve this astonishing price, but thanks to that technical, industrial look, it blends in well. Thierry Stern need not be too worried.
The tourbillon has always been a bit of a unicorn for watch collectors, a cost-prohibitive, unattainable feature forever destined to remain out of reach—until now. It may not be to your taste, and it certainly can’t be deemed cheap, but this is TAG Heuer demonstrating after all these years that it can still make an impression—regardless of what Patek Philippe thinks…
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