Recent years have seen an uptick in exotic gem-set designs throughout the watch industry, and at the same time, we’ve seen a rapid advance in the field of lab-grown gemstones. While some brands have taken the advancements in lab-growing technology to create full cases in materials like manufactured sapphire, others see an opportunity to combine both trends and substantially redefine the boundaries of what a gem-set watch can be. TAG Heuer stands at the heart of this second approach with the ultra-high-end, avant-garde Carrera Plasma series. First introduced at Watches and Wonders 2022 and reworked for 2023 with nearly 40 percent more diamonds (15.5 carats in total) than the first iteration, this design eschews traditional gem-setting techniques for a futuristic, raw approach that gives the impression of stones growing through the case itself. Cutting-edge, visually impactful, and impressively capable, the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm is a show-stopping, slightly mental, potential bellwether for the future of lab-grown diamonds in watchmaking.
There’s no escaping the fact that the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon’s 44mm wide black-coated aluminum case is an audacious, almost certainly polarizing design. While the basic case shape is recognizably a modern Carrera, with a broad smooth bezel and inwardly-beveled angular lugs, the matte black form fades into the background amid 6.8 carats of lab-grown diamonds created by partner brand Capsoul. Unlike the regularity and repetition of traditional gem setting techniques, the Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm takes on a chaotic, angular approach to placing its diamonds. It simultaneously gives the impression that the gemstones grew through the base metal of the case itself, à la J.G. Ballard’s classic novel The Crystal World, or that the watch was blasted by a shotgun loaded with diamond buckshot. In short, it’s deliberately, joyously non-traditional, and undeniably striking. Either the futuristic, sharply faceted mix of trapezoidal, rhomboid, and irregular diamonds speaks to you or it doesn’t, but the craftsmanship involved in creating flush mounts for each of these uniquely shaped diamonds (such that the Carrera silhouette is kept intact even as some diamonds wrap around case sides and cross chamfer lines) is extremely precise. Amid this explosion of lab-grown stones, however, one diamond stands above the rest.
The crown is a single, custom-cut diamond measuring in at a hefty 2.5 carats, replete with a crisply faceted gear-toothed edge and a signed TAG Heuer shield emblem. The Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm is far from demure on the wrist between its sizeable stance and its panoply of diamonds, but this crown shines like a beacon during normal wear, catching the light from nearly any angle and virtually demanding attention. Although the watch’s sapphire display caseback may seem tame compared to the view from the front, its capability is still deeply impressive. Despite all the brightwork and the irregular holes in the case to accommodate the diamond settings, the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm is every bit as capable as a standard production Carrera, with a sporty 100 meters of water resistance.
It isn’t often that a watch dial sporting an openworked tourbillon has something that outshines that luxe complication, but the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm achieves this both literally and figuratively. Here, it’s the dial surface itself that takes center stage visually, as nearly every flat surface under the sapphire crystal is coated with a contiguous layer of diamonds. The secret behind this glittering, textured look is a trio of polycrystalline plates — essentially, the main surfaces of the main dial and each of the two subdials act as a substrate to grow a complete layer of diamond crystals. Once the more traditional baguette-style diamond hour indices are added into the mix, this dial becomes a virtually unparalleled light-catcher — in almost any light, from almost any angle, there’s some sort of dramatic sparkle happening here. At 6 o’clock, the tourbillon escapement uses TAG Heuer’s straightforward, modernist approach to finishing, with light radial texturing on the carbon fiber arms of the tourbillon cage amid an otherwise unembellished display. Outside of the diamonds and the tourbillon, it’s a remarkably traditional take on the Carrera dial formula, with sloping subdial chapter rings, striped baton hands, and a classic-style Carrera logo printed directly onto the crystalline diamond surface.
TAG Heuer powers the Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm with its in-house Calibre Heuer 02T Nanograph automatic tourbillon chronograph movement. Although not exactly brand new as it was first introduced in 2016, the Calibre Heuer 02T Nanograph is still an immensely capable movement, thanks in part to updates like its high-tech carbon nanotube hairspring. Offering a solid 65 hours of power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate alongside COSC-certified chronometer grade accuracy, the Calibre Heuer 02T Nanograph is a true front-runner when placed into more standardized tourbillon versions of the Carrera. At the deep six-figure price point of the Carrera Plasma Daimant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm, however, it’s worth noting that the finishing can feel somewhat underwhelming. While the checkered-flag matte blasting and linear brushing along the skeleton bridges is novel and crisp, and the polished anglage does add a touch of brightwork to the layout, there are brands producing far more ornate and complex movement finishes in this price range. With that said, movement finishing is far from this watch’s central focus.
Like the case, the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm’s black-coated aluminum bracelet uses the brand’s futuristic approach to lab-grown diamond setting. Rather than the case’s uniform high concentration of diamonds, though, the bracelet’s sharp and eye-catching stones gradually thin out as the bracelet extends around the wrist. The reasons for this are twofold. On the one hand, even small-wristed wearers don’t miss out on any of the diamond drama as the removable links are totally diamond-free. On the other hand, it gives the already sci-fi-styled design a uniquely glitchy, computerized effect on the wrist, as if the pixelated edges of the diamond-encrusted layout were fading into pure black. Outside of these unique stones, the bracelet’s angular H-link design is modern and comfortable on the wrist, with a two-button folding clasp that wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else in TAG Heuer’s lineup.
At a time when lab-grown diamond technology grows by leaps and bounds, and watch industry interest in novel gem-set designs grows alongside it, the new TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm offers an audacious, futuristic, and thoroughly wild new perspective on what a gem-set watch can be. Its ultra-bold, shock-and-awe aesthetics and stratospheric price point may not suit the palates of all enthusiasts, but on the basis of sheer material innovation — not to mention immense fun — it’s a deeply impressive release. Although the watch is not strictly limited to a set number of examples, the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Diamant D’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon 44mm is exclusively available as a made-to-order piece through the brand. MSRP for this watch stands at 500,000 CHF as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.