Tag Heuer and Zenith are both part of the LVMH group and, with that connection, comes certain benefits. The new Tag Heuer Calibre 36 Chronograph Flyback models offer a prestigious alternative to TAG Heuer's 1887 in-house chronographs by employing a Tag-modified Zenith El Primero chronograph movement. The Zenith El Primero is one of the most historic chronograph movements in existence and Tag Heuer has found an advantageous position in their connection with Zenith, allowing them to launch a new line that combines the Carrera's racing ethos with a fantastic and recognizable movement like the El Primero. The Calibre 36 is the top-of-the-line Carrera to own this year.
The Carrera Calibre 36 comes in two fairly similar models, offering either steel or titanium construction. Regardless of the model, all of the Carrera 36 Flyback watches are 43mm wide and feature a Tag Heuer-modified version of Zenith's El Primero chronograph movement, likely the caliber 405 flyback (as seen in the Stratos Flyback). El Primero movements beat at 36,000 vph, from which the "Cal 36" designation is derived. In these Carrera models, the layout is bi-compax with a maximum measure of 30 minutes (on the right sub dial). Running seconds are shown on the left sub dial and chronograph seconds via the central seconds hand. There is also a nicely subtle date display at six o'clock.
The dial design is inspired by vintage Heuer stopwatches and features a large outer dial seconds track and and a central dial with markings for standard time (note the short minute hand design for the steel models) and the sub dials for the chronograph. The standard versions are executed in steel with the option for either a bracelet or a leather strap and the buyers choice of an anthracite/black dial (model CAR2B10) or an anthracite/white dial (model CAR2B11). In addition to the steel versions, they are also offering an all-black titanium model dubbed the Racing Chronograph Flyback. The Racing model's 43mm titanium case is coated in a black titanium carbide finish and it features a distinct crown and pusher design and a tachymeter scale printed on the dial rehaut.
While all three variations of the Cal 36 Flyback fall well within the design language for a modern Carrera, the Racing model manages to shine among the range. The careful mix of the matte black case, the sunburst anthracite dial and the oversized and inlaid dial markers make for a watch that is a lot of fun on wrist and interacts beautifully with light. Legibility is very good and all three versions offer the feeling of a stopwatch but in the packaging of a modern Carrera. The white model (CAR2B11) has a charm that is all its own, with a high contrast dial that can be seen from afar but easily enjoyed on wrist.
In hand, one can flip the Cal 36 Flyback over and view its Zenith-sourced heart via a display case back. As with every Carrera I've ever seen in person, these are best worn on a leather strap. The very sporty Racing model comes fitted to a cool perforated black leather strap while the steel models can be had with a black alligator strap or a steel bracelet. It was great to see these new models in person and while they seemed to wear a bit larger than their 43mm sizing might suggest, comfort was not an issue and none of the versions are especially blingly. The Racing model, with its titanium construction, feels surprisingly light for its size.
Holding the Carrera Calibre 36 Racing, my mind considered a similar connection between Audi and Lamborghini, both of which are part of the Volkswagen Group. Tag Heuer, like Audi, makes has a solid stable of engines available for their many models, but when they went to make something special, like the R8 V10, they borrowed a 5.2L V10 from Lamborghini. There are a number of reasons to do this, but I feel that the decision was as much about the connection to Lambourghini as it was about availability, power, and technical considerations. I think Tag Heuer was in a similar situation, while they could achieve a similar set of goals with one of their own movements, there is something almost magical about the El Primero.
Pricing for the steel versions will be around 7500 CHF, with the titanium Racing model (CAR2B80) listing for 8500 CHF. With pricing that befits an El Primero, many buyers may opt for a model from Zenith, given that they run in a similar price range. I think these new Cal 36 Carrera models do a good job of exhibiting a certain legacy charm without being necessarily vintage-inspired. If you want a vintage Heuer, there are plenty of actual-vintage examples available, these Cal 36 Flyback models offer the distinct look and feel of a modern Carrera with the interesting, prestigious and desirable El Primero movement. tagheuer.com