Over the years that I have been fortunate enough to cover, see, touch some of the latest and most important watches released, there have hardly been any other that raised so many questions in me - and much more importantly, in the fans of the brand - as did the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01. This sporty, modern looking chronograph bears the logo of a hugely important brand on its crystal (yes, there), while it is dressed in a way that made some feel a bit confused about its true origin and purpose...
But all that's because: it's new! And while that is exactly what TAG desperately needed, because it is new and important, it raises a number of interesting issues that are larger than this (not-so-)innocent looking automatic chronograph. Let's start with... Issue 01.
Issue 01 – Concept
"The problem is that the young millennial demographic that TAG Heuer is seeking to attract has no idea (nor do they care) who Steve McQueen is or what TAG Heuer was doing in the 1960s." This is one of the key take-away messages from our hands-on article with the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 – a watch so Heuer, it has Heuer twice in its name (here's one more time for you: Heuer). But we wrote that at the time of its debut, in March, at BaselWorld 2015, and now it's time for a super early review to once again address some of those questions and see just how much TAG, how much Heuer, and how much Hublot this new watch is – and what it means for the old and new fans of the brand.
Many die-hard Heuer fans will be familiar with the direction TAG had taken in recent years: first, it remittently kept its prices on the rise in most all of its collections, pricing itself largely out of the market segment that was its bread and butter, and second, it somehow repeatedly failed to bring something genuinely new to the table – other than with its stratospherically expensive haute horlogerie collections. Long time fans have already purchased most of what they wanted, they had their Monacos, Carreras, and/or Aquaracers; while new fans were difficult to acquire, with nothing new to catch their attention.
Changes had to be made, and the the most important one was what we were first to report in late 2014: TAG Heuer has a new interim CEO with the highly dynamic Jean-Claude Biver taking the helm at the brand. His primary goal was and still is to shake TAG up and define new goals for it; specifically, to attract new target demographics with new pricing and product strategies... and voilà:
The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 comes with a new case, new construction, new movement, and a new overall design for TAG. The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 is, of course, much more than just a new watch: it is the first to bear key design elements that will define a number of crucially important new releases from the brand, including the Heuer 02 Tourbillon Chronograph with a previously unheard-of price tag for a Swiss tourbillon watch of around $15,000, as well as the reported smartwatch that TAG has been working on with Google and Intel. The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 means a vital new chapter – and so our expectations are very high indeed.
Issue 02 – What's New
So, just how new is the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 really? Well, the 45-millimeter-wide case is what stands out first: in bare or titanium carbide coated steel, it is certainly is a novel design for the brand, and with its perfectly round dial and rather long, straight, angular lugs – if you squint hard enough – may remind you of the Carrera (reviewed here). I would recommend that hardcore fans of the brand do a side-by-side comparison with the images in the review I linked to just there to see how closely the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 actually comes to the design of some of the Carreras from recent years – while the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 seems "shockingly new" at first, there's good reason why it has "Carrera" in its name.
It wears large, even for 45mm wide, as the lugs extend quite far away from the case – and because of this property, it looks sporty and borderline aggressive. What renders it truly new, though, is its 12-piece case construction, which includes the lugs, middle case, bezel, case back, crown, push-pieces, gaskets and the crystals on its front and back. TAG went with a metal-black-red colorway for the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01, but the modular case construction will allow them to easily create new designs and color combinations without costs skyrocketing.
For the time being, however, this rather dark look is what TAG opted for, and with its dark dial, black bezel and strap, and shiny and completely flat lug surfaces, the balancing of the colors on the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 looks a bit off under some circumstances. It took me quite a bit of time to figure out what appeared – to my eyes – a bit off structurally: the long, shiny lugs with their large, flat surfaces have pitch black metal inserts between them, so dark, in fact, that it often seems as though the strap is extended between them, all the way to the bezel. In reality, the strap only extends from close to the outer ends of the lugs and wraps around them by widening as the lugs end.
This not only makes the strap (and hence, the watch) appear rather wide, but also makes it about impossible to use aftermarket straps on the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 – sure, the demographic targeted by it may not be largely into experimenting with changing the straps on their watches, but there are some of us who would prefer a more traditional lug structure and the ability to change straps to an integrated design.
Issue 03 – Calibre Heuer 01
We are not leaving the question of "how new it really is" behind entirely: TAG says that the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 comes with a new caliber (under the same name) while, simultaneously, also communicates that the backbone of the Heuer 01 caliber is actually the caliber 1887. In any case, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 is an automatic chronograph watch with indications for the hours, minutes, running seconds at 9, central chronograph seconds, with 30-minute counter at 12, 12-hour counter at 6, and the date at 3.
UPDATE: TAG Heuer – proving that they do pay very close attention to the feedback of watch enthusiasts – has confirmed that the date aperture will be moved over to the 4 o'clock position for improved legibility and the Heuer logo will also be removed from the underside of the crystal and instead will be a small applied logo at the 3 o'clock position – see the images further above to see how the final TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 will look like.
The Heuer 01 movement runs at 4 Hertz (28,800 vibrations per hour) and provides 50 hours of power reserve. There's no way around it, the Heuer 01 caliber looks absolutely fantastic. It has most properties all great movements feature: the components are beautifully machined and plated to a rich black or shiny metallic color; the architecture of it allows for a deep look into the movement, through its numerous layers, all the way down to the balance wheel ticking away in the bowels of it, while the ample size and silent operation (loud movements do get really annoying sometimes) render it a complete package.
Thinking back about some of the feedback the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 received from some long-time fans of the brand, one (major) part of the watch deserves high praise from all: TAG has clearly put a lot of effort into making the Heuer 01 movement look stunning from both the dial and case back sides – this movement is of a quality that would have necessitated a $7,500-8,000 price tag a few years ago.
Issue 04 – The Complete Package
The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 is clearly intended to be marketed to two key demographics: first, fans of the brand who have been looking for something new with a new design from TAG but at a price that is at last more reasonable; and second, to that vast number of younger generation watch buyers who are getting into purchasing more high-end timepieces, are looking for a brand with a strong and relevant modern identity, but at a price level that is more affordable than the brand they wanted to enter previously... Not sure if from all this you could sense where this is going but, yes, TAG Heuer has every reason (and interest) in becoming the same success story as Hublot – but backed up by a much more competitive price point...
...and with this, we have arrived back to where we left off from – is there enough TAG Heuer left in the midst of all of this? I think there is, and here's why: looking at the larger picture when it comes to the history of the brand, TAG Heuer crafted its own success through some of its legendary collections (Autavia, Monaco, Carrera) and the reason it started to fade is because it stopped doing that. I will go out on a limb here and say that all Swiss luxury watch brands should have the guts to try and introduce something new that would interest a new audience and emotionally move the die-hard fans of the brand, and TAG has the guts to do so with the new Heuer collection.
Quality of execution, competitiveness of pricing, power of design are all present in the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 (and for that matter, in the Heuer 02 Tourbillon, as well) – now, TAG just needs to concentrate and not forget to keep on making some of the historic collections to keep fans happy; while forging its new chapter from the Heuer collection. Price for the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 is $5,250 USD or 4,900 Swiss Francs. tagheuer.com
>Brand: TAG Heuer
>Model: Carrera Heuer 01
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The one who wants the latest and greatest of everything, but is discerning enough to find the stuff with beauty that's not just skin deep.
>Best characteristic of watch: Great looking proprietary movement and interesting modular case design at a truly competitive price.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The rather "look-at-me design" (large size and skeletonized dial) might not age too well.