October 13, 2022
by Jake Witkin
There is a certain amount of nostalgia inherently associated with watches, and brands like TAG Heuer are acutely aware of this. Whether it be the romanticized art of traditional horology, or simply remembering the days when we didn’t have dozens of screens shouting alerts at us when we only want to know the time. It is part of why many of us love watches. They give us a special feeling that our day-to-day lives don’t provide. For some, it’s the thrill of adventure, diving, or driving embodied on their wrist, but, these experiences aren’t limited solely to watches. Thousands achieve the same adrenaline rush associated with these activities through video games every day. The thrill of crossing the [digital] finish line in a hypercar or knocking your friend out of first place with a red shell in Mario Kart is unrivaled in its ease and lack of true danger. While at first glance it may seem an unlikely collaboration, Swiss luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer and Japanese video game giant Nintendo partnered for the first time in 2021. Both are icons of their industries with well over a century in operation that has led them to become household names across a multitude of cultures.
The first result of the TAG Heuer x Nintendo collaboration came in the form of the TAG Heuer Connected x Super Mario Limited Edition, which focused on the incorporation of video game-style achievements into the interactive fitness tracker with a touch of classic Mario-inspired features. The long-awaited second collaboration is here in the endlessly fun form of two limited-edition chronographs. The TAG Heuer Formula 1 x Mario Kart Chronograph and Chronograph Tourbillon are pure unadulterated playfulness blended seamlessly into the celebrated racing chronograph platform.
At first glance, both chronographs are rather unassuming. They feature bold colors and textures in a robust tool-watch package. However, the longer you look, the more you begin to notice the “easter eggs” that make these quirky chronographs bring a smile to your face. Both chronographs share the modified(and upsized) tonneau-style case of the Heuer Autavia 1163. The cases are topped by a fixed gear-toothed tachymeter bezel with a polished black ceramic insert emblazoned with “Mario Kart” and are filled with Swiss Super-LumiNova®. The inserts are graduated to 400 kph and 240 kph for the tourbillon and standard chronographs respectively. Dark asphalt gray dials with red and white accents (primarily) are present on both models; however, this is where the similarities end.
The smaller, albeit still-large Formula 1 Chronograph comes in a 44mm-wide stainless steel case, with a solid steel caseback, and a checkered texture dial the brand states is inspired by a racetrack but has a stamped carbon-fiber look, in reality. A familiar Calibre 16 vertical chronograph display is present with the minute totalizer at 12 o’clock, hour totalizer at 6 o’clock, and running seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. The first and most prominent of easter eggs is found in the running seconds subdial. In place of a 60-second index is a vibrant applied marker featuring Mario himself racing The Toad Kart. The second easter egg can be spotted on the date wheel. Every fifth day on the date wheel is replaced with a different power-up, ranging from Starman to the frustrating banana and other recognizable characters. While hilarious and surprising upon discovery it does completely remove the utility of a date function for a few days each month — I suppose it is just the real-world equivalent of spinning out when you hit a banana after you go to check the date. The Calibre 16 is an automatic chronograph that operates at 4 Hz (28,800 vph) and has a 42-hour power reserve and this limited edition has a water resistance rating of 200 meters. The screw-down crown has a bright red lacquered Mario ‘M’ and a matching lacquer ring around the 2 o’clock pusher. The same M can be found on the deployant clasp without the lacquer filling. The solid steel caseback features an engraved Mario racer silhouette similar to that on the seconds subdial and limited-edition text.
While the standard chronograph is punchy, unique, and entertaining, the chronograph tourbillon is where the real fun can be found. Rendered in a 45mm-wide grade 5 titanium case, it is surprisingly wearable. Both watches may look fairly unwieldy on my small 6.5” wrist, but the tourbillon felt much more manageable due to the weight reduction benefits of titanium. The crown has the same lacquered “M” found on the standard chronograph variant and is made of steel along with the pushers. The pushers provide a crisp and tactile activation of the red lacquered seconds hand. A black skeletonized dial features vibrant red bevels that give way to a matte asphalt-gray plate providing high contrast and depth. Behind a bright applied TAG Heuer shield logo at 12 o’clock is a wheel motif reminiscent of the dial skeletonization. The real treat, of course, is the tourbillon.
The Calibre Heuer 02T is a COSC-certified chronograph tourbillon with a minute totalizer at 3 o’clock and an hour totalizer at 12 o’clock. At 6 o’clock is the star of the show, or shall I say race? Applied to the tourbillon cage are three well-known subjects of the Mario Kart franchise — Bullet Bill, the dreaded Spiny (Blue) Shell, and Mario himself. The level of detail here is wonderful, as it should be at this level of watchmaking and this elevated price point. While the materials used for these animated characters are not listed, they do contain a pleasing amount of depth and vibrancy even when viewed without any magnification. The same attention to detail is prominent throughout the dial with highly polished rhodium-plated hands and markers. Flipping the watch over you are treated with an equally fun and impressible view of the movement through the sapphire caseback. A bright red column wheel stands out against the monochrome finish of the movement and the rotor features a deep engraving of Luigi, Mario, and Princess Peach in their Karts. This in-house chronograph tourbillon movement runs at 4Hz allowing a power reserve of 65 hours and is rated for 100 meters of water resistance.
Both MarioKart limited editions come on a padded shell-patterned calfskin strap with red contact stitching. The same style deployant buckle with a Mario “M” is on both, however, the tourbillon clasp is titanium while the standard chronograph is made of steel. These deployant buckles are some of the best for overall comfort, as they can be infinitely adjusted along the length of the tail — however, the padding on the straps made for a very stiff on-wrist experience. Overall, the familiar texture rounds out the package nicely, though when worn for the deployant to fold inward to the wrist, the Mario “M” is upside-down for the wearer.
When the TAG Heuer x Super Mario Connected watch was released last year, it was unclear whether the collaboration with Nintendo would make its way into the mechanical watch collection. After all, keeping the video game characters in the most technologically advanced watch offered by TAG Heuer made plenty of sense. These new limited editions may not make sense in the same way the first edition did, but they are undeniably fun and nostalgic. One of the greatest parts of the Mario franchise is its multigenerational appeal. Since his first appearance in 1981, Mario has been prevalent in entertainment and video game culture around the globe, and now fans of the game may feel too old to play it but can still get the same adolescent rush when they look at their wrist.
If I said the words “Mario Kart Tourbillon” a few years ago, you might look at me like I have two heads — you may even now — but this type of pure fun is exactly what the current collaboration culture is about: bringing together two very different themes into one cohesive and limited product. TAG Heuer and Nintendo are two giants in extremely different industries that have come together to bring the horology world a load of joy in a small, wearable package. The watches may not be for everyone, and that’s okay, because the TAG Heuer Formula 1 X Mario Kart Limited Edition (Chronograph) is limited to 3,000 pieces and is priced at $4,300 USD, and the TAG Her Formula 1 Mario Kart Limited Edition (Chronograph Tourbillon) is priced at $25,600 USD. Both watches are available only through TAG Heuer boutiques and e-commerce platforms starting on October 20, 2022. Visit TAG Heuer’s website for more information on these new limited editions.