TAG Heuer recently debuted a brand-new collection of its iconic Carrera sports watch family for everyday elegant wear. The Carrera watch began decades ago as a motorsports-themed chronograph and sports watch, but over the course of its complicated evolution, the product also took the form of dressier “office” or “dress” pieces, in addition to beefier chronographs and other sportier models. 2021 saw an overhaul of many TAG Heuer Carrera watches, including these Chronograph models here. The updated version catalog led by TAG Heuer designer Guy Bove is very much about capturing the classic essence of the Carrera while putting them into a wearable package meant for today’s enthusiasts. In this review, I check out two new TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5 watches that represent a big part of TAG Heuer’s “everyday elegance” focus. These two watches in the photo are the references WBN2111.BA0639 (Carrera Calibre 5 39mm on the bracelet) and the WBN2011.FC6484 (Carrera Calibre 5 41mm on the strap).
The larger new Carrera collection includes a fair number of models when it comes to dial colors and strap options (with more probably coming soon). I want to mention that in addition to the three-hand models pictured here (and the already discussed chronograph versions), TAG Heuer also produces the new Carrera Twin-Time, which is a GMT version in the 41mm-wide case. Dial colors are, for the time being, very conservative, with options including black (with silver or gold rose-toned hands and hour markers), blue, and this picture’s silver tone.
What do these entry-level Carrera watches mean to the TAG Heuer brand? While there is a lot of enthusiast interest for TAG Heuer’s more complicated or quirkier watches in the collector community, products like these roughly $3,000 Carrera models are for a slightly different audience. Recall that while TAG Heuer does make a lot of watches for timepiece collectors and aficionados, the brand’s bread & butter has always been mainstream luxury Swiss Made watches. That audience wants mostly conservative, versatile, and cosmopolitan products that can easily fit into today’s trendy lifestyle.
I was at TAG Heuer’s launch of these new Carrera watches at an event several months ago in Los Angeles. It also happened to be when TAG Heuer announced actor Ryan Gosling as its latest brand ambassador. Gosling’s first role was for a photoshoot campaign designed to promote exactly these new Carrera watches. So, what does that tell us? To me, it implies that TAG Heuer feels that classic yet stylish watches like the new Carrera collection are what it feels the mass market should be thinking about when seeing the TAG Heuer name. Its new star ambassador will be seen with them, and TAG Heuer dealers around the world will be stocked with them. These are today’s “Bar Mitzvah watches,” right of passage watches, first “nice” timepiece option, respectable business watches, etc… What does this imply about their design and wearability?
As I said, TAG Heuer is going for something highly versatile here, not only when it comes to who will want to wear these watches, but also what those wearers can do with them. The popularity of the “steel bracelet” watch in the enthusiast community, alone, proves that people today really value watches that can go with a lot of things. For a younger buyer or someone who owns just one nice watch, they need a product that will be casual enough for socializing and serious enough to lend something positive to their character. I’m merely discussing all of this so that TAG Heuer fans can understand what these products are meant for and what the company itself might be thinking during the development process.
Design-wise, we have a sort of “updated classic” of the Carrera, which has a lot of core Carrera elements (hands, hour markers) but some new things, as well, such as a revised case and bracelet. What Guy Bove does so well is make something new that actually looks like it was around all along to begin with. That’s very much the situation with these new Carrera 3-hand models. What I particularly like is the tight integration of the parts and the proportions. In other words, the visual lines of the new shapes are lovely, and the watches themselves feel constructed well.
As you can tell, TAG Heuer includes a day/date complication on the 41mm-wide Carrera, but the 39mm-wide version only has a date indicator window. That is the brand’s way of helping to differentiate these two different size options (though, for now, it appears only the 41mm-wide version has a strap option). Practically, the calendar complication differences are mostly superficial (unless you are the type of person who uses particular calendar complications a lot), and I recommend that people get the case size they prefer. Having said that, if you aren’t particularly interested in the day/date complication, then you’ll likely appreciate the more symmetrical dial of the 39mm-wide version, as it places the date window evenly over the 6 o’clock hour indicator.
Both of the watches contain the same “Calibre 5” movement, which is TAG Heuer’s way of relabeling Swiss Made ETA Movements such as the 2836 automatic. I’m actually not sure if the movements are the same or different and simply both bear the “Calibre 5” moniker. TAG Heuer could have easily used the same movement for the date-only dial model and removed the day of the week disc. In any event, the movements operate at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve.
The watches have a nice view to the movements through a sapphire crystal window on the rear of the case. The cases themselves are in nicely polished and brushed steel with 100 meters of water resistance and a slightly domed sapphire crystal over the dial. If you look closely at the case, you’ll see a lot of softening compared to previous generation Carrera cases that have traditionally had a very “sharp” look (especially when it comes to the lugs). With the 2021 Carrera watches, TAG Heuer did a lot to make the case feel a bit more hip, metropolitan, dressy, and overall a bit more elegant. TAG Heuer will not stop making the more traditionally aggressive Carrera case for a lot of applications, but this “modern suit watch” Carrera has been nicely updated to meet today’s more current style considerations.
Wearing comfort for the watches is high, with my preference being the Carrera on the matching steel bracelet with its solid yet simple push-button fold-over deployant clasp. The new bracelet is, indeed, a highlight of the watches, and they are available for most all the dial styles on either the 39- or 41mm-wide case size. Speaking of size, while I am normally into wearing larger cases, I really liked the 39mm-wide (11.5mm-thick) Carrera Calibre 5 on bracelet. The proportions are great, especially if you match it with sleeves, and I recommend this size watch for people with small- to medium-size wrists. The larger 41mm-wide (12.22mm thick) Carrera Calibre 5 is certainly less visually large on the strap, and for those with larger wrists, the 41mm-wide Carrera three-hand is a very solid option (unless you prefer the more symmetrical dial design of the smaller case). Note that the strap is real alligator leather, and it comes on a different, but equally comfortable, folding deployant clasp.
When people compare the Carrera Calibre 5 models to the competition, there will no doubt be a lot of opinions. Compared to products from other major luxury watch brand names, TAG Heuer will often offer the most affordable options. For a high-design suit watch from a cool name in high-end watches, the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5 is a good price. If you compare the watch to other “three-hand watches on steel bracelet) from a litany of lesser-known names, the value proposition becomes a bit fuzzier given the $3,000 or so price range of these models (many are under $3,000). Are people just being asked to pay a premium for the TAG Heuer name? I don’t think so.
What people pay a “premium” for is the fact that this is a very refined and well-thought-out product. Little things like the case polishing to the sapphire crystal are going to be better from TAG Heuer than most of the lower-priced options. When you take into account the edge TAG Heuer will have when it comes to design, construction, comfort, and notoriety, the pricing starts to make a lot more sense. I’ll say it another way. You could spend $1,500 for a similar “modern sporty dress watch” experience from a non-name-brand watchmaker. It might not have all the detailing and, for sure, it won’t have the brand recognition, but it is a real competitor. Do you get double the watch for the extra money with the TAG Heuer? No, but you will probably get 30% more watch. This is how it goes with luxury watches. As you step up the price ladder, you don’t get exponentially better quality or value, but rather small incremental increases in value that it often takes a seasoned enthusiast to appreciate, though once you care about these things, it is hard to go backward with your expectations.
For someone like me with a highly diverse watch collection with years of collected watches to choose from, TAG Heuer’s new Carrera Calibre 5 models don’t really add much where I have something missing. That’s OK because mature collectors like me are not the primary demographic for these watches. TAG Heuer has plenty of other stuff for people like me. This is the watch Ryan Gosling will be wearing and what will, for many mainstreamers, be the face of the TAG Heuer brand and possibly their entrance into luxury timepieces. For them, TAG Heuer has come up with an authentically beautiful update for the classic Carrera which stays true to the core brand DNA while offering the marketplace a nice competitive choice.
Prices for the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5 automatic watches are $2,700 – $2,900 USD for the 39mm models and $2,900 – $3,100 USD for the 41mm wide versions. Learn more at the TAG Heuer website here.