March 30, 2022
by Ariel Adams
2022 will see a return to the ultra-high-end TAG Heuer timepiece that a decade ago used to be a staple of the brand’s larger product catalog. Several years ago, TAG Heuer started to wind down development of its more mechanically complicated high-end watches and expressed a focus on more marketable products and entry-level models. That resulted in wonderful products like the TAG Heuer Connected smartwatches and all the attention that has been given to the sub-$5,000 TAG Heuer watches. For Watches & Wonders 2022, however, TAG Heuer brings a new version of its otherwise “affordable” tourbillon watch series with a story about materials innovation and modern forms of masculine jewelry in this one-of-a-kind timepiece. The piecé unique watch is somewhat awkwardly known as the reference XCBN5A90.FC8315 TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Tourbillon, and it is produced from ceramic, aluminum, and various forms of lab-grown diamonds.
The watch world is hot on synthetic sapphire crystal — which is very similar to synthetic diamonds — but also chemically different, e.g., not quite as hard. A logical next step is to create watch cases out of lab-grown diamonds. This Carrera Plasma Tourbillon watch is a step in that direction. At least one part is produced entirely from lab-grown diamonds, and that is the crown. TAG Heuer worked via parent company LVMH with a new company called Capsoul, which is trying to create more uses for the lab-grown diamonds it produces. A popular use for such diamonds is as alternatives to natural diamonds, as they can be cut into forms suitable for jewelry. Here we see such facet-cut lab-grown diamonds used as parts of the case and dial, as well as for more decorative forms such as the many stones set in the case. Overall, the 44mm-wide case and dial have over 11 carats of lab-grown diamonds.
Lab-grown diamonds don’t have the negative PR that is often associated with natural diamonds. Terms like “blood diamonds,” and “conflict-free diamonds” are now popular because of the various human rights abuses that occur in the places where diamonds are mined. Lab-grown diamonds don’t come with the guilt of knowing that an impoverished local population might have been oppressed so that you can have a new shiny object on your wrist. Lab-grown diamonds are chemically more or less the same, from my understanding, and are produced by well-paid workers who probably aren’t being commanded around at gunpoint to go back into the mines and toil some more. Lab-grown diamonds still take time and effort to produce, so while they are less expensive than natural diamonds, they aren’t exactly a cheap knock-off or anything.
The Carrera Plasma Tourbillon case is made from anodized aluminum that is then set with 48 large diamonds. The sandblasted case is then DLC-coated in black, which adds a lot of scratch resistance. The diamonds are either masked or later cleaned off after the case-coating process is done. To further enhance durability, the tachymeter bezel component is produced from black ceramic, another very scratch-resistant material.
Lab-grown diamonds are also used for the watch dial, including the hour markers but also the face itself, which is a polycrystalline diamond plate. The plate is lighter for most of the dial, and a darker-toned set of plates is used for the chronograph subdials. As someone who likes otherwise masculine watches with diamond decoration, it is hard not to be incredibly intrigued by how this Carrera Plasma Tourbillon will look on the wrist. Given the mixture of technical reasons the diamonds are interesting, plus the visual aesthetics, this is sort of the perfect high-end TAG Heuer for the brand’s popular Japanese market. It isn’t always easy to pull off a handsome and modern-looking men’s jewelry watch, but TAG Heuer has managed to do it well — but there will only be one in existence, and it is wildly expensive.
The movement inside the XCBN5A90.FC8315 watch is TAG Heuer’s in-house caliber Heuer 02 Tourbillon (sometimes known as the Heuer 02T). TAG Heuer first introduced its tourbillon watches in 2015, and I was able to review the first TAG Heuer Tourbillon watch here. Later in 2019, the brand updated the movement to include the nanograph in-house (via LVMH) hairspring technology with a version called the Nanograph. It uses a carbon-based hairspring that TAG Heuer wanted to call the Isograph prior to learning that they were having problems industrializing it at scale. For now, the TAG Heuer watches with their proprietary non-metal hairspring technology are still rare and at the high-end level. This HEUER02 Tourbillon Nanograph movement has that special technology and is also a certified COSC Chronometer.
The automatic movement is lovely to look at with a spirited industrial architecture and features the time with a 12-hour chronograph. The open tourbillon window doubles as the subsidiary seconds dial. The movement operates at 4Hz and has about 65 hours of power reserve. This is among the more accurate and reliable tourbillon movements out there and is more designed to be like an industrial workhorse as opposed to a pretty and delicate mechanism with hand-finishing and decoration.
TAG Heuer is always wise when it focuses on both the high-end and the entry-level market at the same time with different products. While debuting an ultra-luxury diamond watch, the brand will also be debuting new affordable quartz watches, and a lot in between. TAG Heuer is returning to a form that we have always loved: celebrating the past while also trying to help invent horology’s future. I look forward to spending some time soon at Watches & Wonders 2022 with the reference XCBN5A90.FC8315 TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Tourbillon Nanograph. Price is 350,000 Swiss Francs for this unique creation. Learn more at the TAG Heuer website here.