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TAG Heuer: Changes through the ups and downs of history

From the watch brand for sporting events to the symbol of high-end watch

TAG Heuer is not only one of the world’s oldest watchmakers but also the leading luxury watchmaker in the market today. TAG Heuer has been asserting its position convincingly since it was founded by Edouard Heuer in 1860 with the initial name “Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG” and later “Heuer” [1]. Having been merged by TAG Group (Holdings) SA – a consortium of aerospace, sports, hospitality in 1985, and  LVMH – the leading French luxuries company in 1999, TAG Heuer has grown gradually to become a well-known watch brand nowadays [2][3].

Edouard Heuer. Photo: TAG Heuer.

For more than 150 years, TAG Heuer has faced down every challenge, and then pushed past it. By defying the time-honoured conventions of Swiss watchmaking, it has led it to ever higher levels of precision and performance.
It makes its own rules, chooses its own path, never quits moving forward, never compromises, never cracks under pressure [4]. “Do not crack under pressure” was an advertising campaign of the company from 1991-1994 associated with international sports competitions. This demonstrates determination, fighting spirit and requires the high concentration of athletes under competitive pressure.

This is also a message for TAG Heuer itself to never fall down or “crumble” under the tremendous pressure from the achievements of his previous generation. Jack William Heuer, also known as Jack Heuer, who ran the TAG Heuer 4th generation from 1958 to 1982 and served as an advisor from 2001 to 2005. He was struggling to make every effort to bring further breakthroughs to the company. “Do not crack under pressure” seems to have become the development and business tradition of TAG Heuer until now.

Jack William Heuer. Photo: TAG Heuer.

Prior to 1999, TAG Heuer was referred as one of the world’s leading sports watch manufacturers in terms of performance and accuracy. Its famous products are chronographs and waterproof watches. Heuer was chosen as the chronograph supplier for Luftwaffe pilots of German air force during World War II. The company also provides timers, official chronograph watches for international sporting events: Olympic Games, FIS Ski World Cup, Formula 1 World Championship, 500-Mile Indianapolis Race, Indy Racing League and other major events.

By the time TAG Heuer joined LVMH, the company had a robust development in the early 2000s, extending its reach beyond the limits of sporting events to become a luxury watch brand emphasizing on fashion. TAG Heuer opened its first store in New York in 2002 and achieved sales of € 496 million ($ 560 million) in 2004, announced by LVMH [7]. One year later, it introduced the high-end fashion watches collection, including the sophisticated Diamond Fiction watch, which has about 900 diamonds and LED hour displays. These steps helped firmly assert its potential capability in luxury. Nevertheless, despite the change of business orientation, all of TAG Heuer’s collections are always assured of two distinct elements: Precision Technology and Sporty Style.

Diamond Fiction. Photo: TAG Heuer.

The golden period with chronograph

Heuer marked its first step into the watchmaking industry with mechanical chronographs. These gadgets have had their golden age in the 1960s. They are also the pride of the company until today, as the company develops its own chronograph technology in wrist-watch. Back in the history, in 1882, Edouard Heuer invented the first mechanism called “oscillating pinion”, which is an axial module used in chronographs for mechanized stopwatches. This mechanism is so important that it is still widely used by the world’s leading manufacturers of mechanical chronograph parts nowadays. Following this success, four years later, “Time of Trip”, which was the first watch designed for aircraft and automobiles, was also patented by Heuer. With a diameter of 11cm, it has the right size for installation on all panels. In addition to the large display of hours and minutes, the small side at 12h can display the number of hours for trips. The timer function is activated or paused by the top button [4].

“Time of trip”. Photo: TAG Heuer

Two years after the wrist-watch was launched (1912), the first watch with a chronograph function of Heuer was introduced with a silver enamelled shell. This watch adapted from a chronograph pocket watch that had the same operating mechanism. The knob at 12 o’clock position is functional as a timer. This watch was born as a natural result in the development of the wrist-watch. In 1930, pilots’ watches were also produced.

The first wrist-watch from TAG Heuer. Photo: TAG Heuer

The strength of the Heuer timers was probably the invention of “Mikrograph” and “Microsplit” in 1916. They were the first timers for the world’s sport with the precision of 1/100 sec. These two inventions are revolutionary and have a great influence on science as well as the watchmaking industry. With this achievement, Heuer was honoured to be selected as a supplier of timing devices for the 1920s Olympic Games [4].

1916 Mikrograph. Photo: TAG Heuer

Heuer became the first Swiss watch brand to fly into space in 1962. The launch of the chronograph, named “Carrera” was designed by Jack Heuer a year later. It made a turning point with a simple but sophisticated design to become the best-selling watch in the world at that time.

At present, Heuer’s strategy is to specialize in its design as a key role in the Swiss watchmaking industry by co-operating with Breitling and Hamilton to compete with the alliance of Seiko and Zenith for introducing chronograph watches using automatic movements in Geneva and New York on March 3rd, 1969. The first series was equipped with the automatic engine of Heuer is Autavia, Carrera, and Monaco. These models included Cal. 11 and Cal. 12 (12-hour timer function); Cal. 14 (12-hour clock and GMT function) and Cal. 15 (30 minutes chronograph mechanism). They were all manufactured by Valjoux, a Swiss watchmaking company belonging to ETA. This was the golden period of Heuer as they become the leading manufacturer of the chronograph. It comes up no surprise that Heuer is now considered as a watch brand associated with both professional and amateur racers [4].

Quartz Crisis and Depression

In 1970, when the quartz watch appeared and dominated the market, the Swiss watch industry was on the verge of bankruptcy. Middle tier companies like Omega, Heuer and Longines could be said to have suffered the most. While their cheaper competitors were given a quick death, these bigger brands were stuck in a dreadful limbo between pricing themselves out of the average market or losing their reputation by succumbing to quartz [8].

Seiko Quartz Astron in 1969. Photo: Seiko Time Corp.

From 1970 to 1983, before the Swiss watch industry recovered, Heuer finally decided to use a quartz. Having the advantage as a timer and chronograph manufacturer, it was not surprising that Heuer was highly focused on the accuracy of quartz oscillation. Although a quartz mechanism would never be as attractive as a Valjoux, Heuer made the right choice in line with the philosophy of ensuring its own accuracy.

During this time, Heuer released a series of quartz wrist-watch including Chronosplit, Chronosplit LCD, Chronosplit Manhattan, Kentucky, Carreras, Carrera Twin, etc. They soon achieved good results when becoming the supplier of chronographs in the Winter and the Summer Olympic in1980 [9].

Nonetheless, the Heuer’s growth ratio fell down dramatically. It was understandable in this context of the entire Swiss watch industry. The choice of using a quartz partly helped Heuer overcome the crisis. After this difficult period, TAG Heuer might obviously expect for a revitalization.

Spectacular revitalization

In 1983, thanks to Swatch’s support, the restoration and reconstruction opened up a hopeful beginning for existed watch brands. Heuer was acquired by TAG (Holdings d’Avant Garde) (Holdings) SA and changed its name to TAG Heuer. TAG Heuer came back to the market by releasing a Professional Sports Watch version (200 meters water resistance, lace threaded knob, acrylic bezel, sapphire glass, optical needle). This watch has proven its technical competitiveness when all the specifications reached the perfect [10]. The advising campaign “Don’t crack under pressure” in 1991 clearly determined that TAG Heuer was back and would remain strong [11].

Professional Sports Watch. Photo: TAG Heuer.

After joining LVMH in 1999, under the management of Jean-Christophe Babin, TAG Heuer has built up its position in the watchmaking industry as well as brand positioned in the eyes of consumers. Jean-Christophe Babin’s first task as the leader of TAG Heuer was to rebuild the brand’s reputation as a watchmaking pioneer. This strategy led to the promotion of research and development of in-house movements [12]. The self-development of the in-house movements has opened the revolution for TAG Heuer. It offered the hope of ending dependence on movements supplied by ETA or Lemania. Currently, as ETA’s policy is to gradually reduce the number of movements supplied to brands outside of the Swatch Group, this seems to be a promising direction. Furthermore, because of the need to maintain many competitively-priced models, TAG Heuer employs quite a large number of movements from ETA and Sellita, another supplier [12].

Sellita appears quite suitable with TAG Heuer’s criteria. At present, some of TAG Heuer’s new movements are fully developed upon the Sellita’s model such as Caliber 9 (based on SW1000-1), Cal. 11 or Cal. 12 (now replaced by SW300-1).


                      ETA and Sellita’s comparison. Photo: Christopher ward.

Back to TAG Heuer’s in-house revolution, we should examine and evaluate some of the typical calibres from the 2000s up to now. In each period of time, each machine has given a certain value to help TAG Heuer regain its position as the manufacturers of quality in-house movements.

1. TAG Heuer V4 (Calibre V):
The Monaco V4 is a real breakthrough product that has drastically changed the history of Tag Heuer and opened a new chapter in the watch industry by showing completely reinvented basic rules of movement making to the world. Instead of traditional components, such as a gear transmission, pinion and oscillating weight, the best Tag Heuer’s engineers used belts, linear mass, ceramic ball-bearings and four V-mounted barrels in order to create an in-house movement that would eventually rebuild the brand’s reputation as a manufacturer of the highly advanced mechanisms. Tag Heuer had spent five years until it finally accomplished its revolutionary task. More precisely, it needed more than 14200 days for researching and developing additional 165 hours for putting the 259 components of the movement together. The Monaco V4 concept was introduced in 2004 and five years later, the production of the first limited edition started. This watch provides 42 hours of power reserve. Tag Heuer radically re-designed it to showcase the amazing construction of the mechanism through sapphire crystal front and back of the watch. So far, the Swiss brand has launched three limited series of the Monaco V4 series – the first one made in platinum, followed by the rose gold edition and finally, with the Monaco V4 Titanium [14].

Limited edition of Monaco V4. Photo: TAG Heuer

2. TAG Heuer Caliber 360 – The first mechanism with 1/100 second accuracy:
In 2005, Tag Heuer presented Carrera Calibre 360 concept watch, with the revolutionary mechanism inside the case. The Calibre 360 was the first mechanical chronograph to count time with 1/100th-second accuracy. Besides the fact that just a chronograph module had been developed in-house and mated to an ETA base (TAG Heuer Calibre 7) movement.This mechanical movement beats with two hearts (2 series of entirely separated escapement mechanisms) – ETA base and Tag Heuer’s Chrono module. This chronograph that works independently of watch functions, incorporates a high-frequency balance wheel (50 Hz), oscillating with 360,000 vibrations per hour (hence the name). The Calibre 360 has two cylinders that provide the separated storages of power for the chronograph (100-minute power reserve) and for the watch (42-hour power reserve).The serious production of the Calibre 360 started in 2006, when Tag Heuer launched four limited editions of the Carrera Calibre 360, in white gold, rose gold, stainless steel, and black PVD. The Calibre 360 was the milestone for the Swiss watchmaker that tried to rebuild the reputation of the movement maker [14].

Tag Heuer Carrera Caliber 360

TAG Heuer Carrera Caliber 360. Photo: TAG Heuer

 3.TAG Heuer Mikrograph:
Inspired by the Calibre 360, Tag Heuer developed another “world’s first” – incredible Mikrograph dual assortment mechanical movement. It was presented as the world’s first column wheel integrated mechanical chronograph, using such a powerful mechanism which was capable to count elapsed time with the fantastic accuracy of 1/100th second. Unlike the Calibre 360, which was modular, the Mikrograph 1/100th is a fully integrated COSC certified movement, completely designed, patented, developed and manufactured by Tag Heuer. It features two separate balance wheels, with separate escapements and transmission systems, allowing the chronograph to work independently of watch functions. The central part of the watch is a high-frequency balance wheel for the stop-watch that oscillates with 360’000 vibrations per hour (50 hertz), which provides stunning precision, ten times higher than any other chronograph does. The balance wheel for the watch moving oscillates at 4 hertz (28’800 vibrations per hour). The Mikrograph is a true masterpiece of “Haute Horlogerie”. It comprises 62 jewels and 396 components. When winding the crown manually, power goes through two separate cylinders – a chronograph barrel storages power for maximum 90 minutes of work, while the watch can operate up to 42 hours, when it is fully wound [14].

TAG Heuer Carrera-Mikrograph mechanism.                               Photo: TAG Heuer

4. TAG Heuer’s Calibre 1887 automatic chronograph movement:
The Calibre 1887 is an in-house automatic chronograph movement that represents a milestone for TAG Heuer, positioning this renowned brand among the largest movement makers in Switzerland. After three years of work, it was finally presented in 2010, as the 3rd Millennium chronograph in terms of quality, size, precision, and performances. Launching of the Calibre 1887 has been followed by controversies as well as caught great appeal from specialists (see an article about Calibre 1887).

Tag Heuer Calibre 1887. Photo: TAG Heuer

5. Tag Heuer Calibre S:
Calibre S presents a new method of timekeeping, with two mechanically autonomous, but synchronized systems that show elapsed time and a date function in a practical and unique sporty way. By combining the accuracy of quartz watches with the complexity of mechanical movements, the Calibre S perfectly represents the new generation of Tag Heuer’s hi-quality movements.  In order to reach the precision of quartz watches, Tag Heuer’s engineers gave a special effort to minimize the weight of 230 components and materials, spending 12,000 hours for testing movement’s performances, including shock and temperature resistance. It was a long and arduous journey, but the TAG Heuer did not compromise on the quality and performance of the Caliber S. That is the way how this interesting movement found its position in several Tag Heuer’s collections, from the highly elegant Link Collection, through the lines inspired with the world of racing, such as Formula 1, SLR and Carrera to the diving Aquaracer Collection [15].

Carrera Laptimer using Calibre S, Photo: TAG Heuer

6. TAG Heuer Caliber Heuer 01:
In October 2015 in New York City, Tag Heuer celebrated the launch of their Carrera – Heuer 01 chronograph with a spectacular event featuring new brand ambassador Tom Brady. The Carrera – Heuer 01 is a milestone watch for TAG Heuer. The base movement for the new Calibre Heuer 01 is the Calibre 1887. They have the same dimensions, same features (50 hours power reserve, column wheel, oscillating pinion, chronograph functions…). The difference lies in the aesthetics. We can see the movement through a layer of sapphire glass and the unique skeleton sub-dial. The main bridges are more open than on the Calibre 1887 and the column wheel is red, fitting better with TAG Heuer spirit and DNA [16][17]. Hence, the Caliber Heuer 01 was far beyond collectors’ expectation for its sophistication and creativeness.

TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 Chronograph. Photo: TAG Heuer.

7. TAG Heuer Caliber Heuer 02:
It can be considered as the new version of TAG Heuer for being launched and produced this year (2017). Tag Heuer is fully-developed from the Caliber 1969 which comprises 33 jewels, 233 components, and 80 hours power reserve. Remarkably, the Caliber Heuer 02 is used for the TAG Heuer Autavia. It is regarded as the deserved outcome for the intention of restoring one among 16 Autavia watches designed in 1966 [20]. Now, enthusiasts will no longer easily own this modern and sophisticated Tag Heuer Autavia 02 watch.

TAG Heuer Autavia 2017. Photo: TAG Heuer.

8. TAG Heuer Caliber Heuer 02T:
It is the latest in-house calibre up to now (September 2017). What is clear, however, is the brand’s intention to release a tourbillon movement that is verifiably sound, and able to pass the COSC certification (a 21-day independently administered test that’s required for any Swiss-made watch that calls itself a chronometer). Calibre Heuer 02-T movement, which beats at 28,000 vph, is based on the abandoned CH-80 Chronograph. Two variations of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T will be available; a non-limited model priced at $15,950, and a “Black Phantom” edition of 250 pieces priced at $23,100.

TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T. Photo: TAG Heuer.

Epilogue 

For 157 years, TAG Heuer has gone through a long and difficult journey with revolutionary milestones. Tag Heuer has an impression on us a big brand in the Swiss watch industry. From time to time, whether it’s a sport watch, a chronograph, or a luxury watch, TAG Heuer never compromises on quality, accuracy, and craftsmanship. The period of ups and downs has helped us see the extraordinary efforts of TAG Heuer to acquire a good reputation as nowadays.

Nova @ Novatime Lab.

This article was written in Novatime Lab’s Technical Report (Watch Research). It can be updated in the future for better quality.

 

References:

[1] TAG Heuer, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAG_Heuer

[2] Techniques d’Avant Garde, Wikipedia, URL:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techniques_d%27Avant_Garde

[3] LVMH, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LVMH

[4] TAG Heuer History, TAG Heuer, URL: https://www.tagheuer.com/en/history

[5] TAG Heuer, Jack William Edouard Heuer, Worldtempus, URL: http://en.worldtempus.com/article/tag-Heuer-jack-William-Edouard-Heuer-14321.html

[6] Luftwaffe, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luftwaffe

[7] Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on TAG Heuer S.A, Reference for business, TAG Heuer S.A., URL: http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/92/TAG-Heuer-S-A.html

[8] The real impact of the quartz crisis, Timepiecechronicle, URL: https://www.timepiecechronicle.com/features/2016/6/14/the-real-impact-of-the-quartz-crisis

[9] The Quartz Watch Revolution, Calibre11, URL: https://www.calibre11.com/heuer-quartz-revolution

[10] 1987 – Six Features, TAG Heuer, URL: https: //www.tagheuer.com/en/history/1987-six-features

[11] 1991 – Don’t crack under pressure, TAG Heuer, URL: https://www.tagheuer.com/en/history/1991-dont-crack-under-pressure

[12] TAG HEUER MOVEMENTS: YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW, Calibre11, URL: https://www.calibre11.com/tag-heuer-movements

[13] TAG Heuer, Watch base, URL: http://watchbase.com/tag-heuer

[14] Tag Heuer Movements, Watchalyzer, URL: http://www.watchalyzer.com/education/movements/tag-heuer-movements/#v4-mechanical-movement

[15] Hands-on review- TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre S, Calibre11, URL: https://www.calibre11.com/review-tag-heuer-carrera-calibre-s

[16] The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T, The Most Affordable Swiss-Made Tourbillon Chronograph (Ever), Hodinkee, URL: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/The-TAG-Heuer-Carrera-Heuer-02T

[17] A Look At The Carrera – Heuer 01 Chronograph With TAG Heuer’s Head Of Product, Hodinkee, URL: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/a-look-at-the-carrera-heuer-01-chronograph-with-tag-heuers-head-of-products

[18] TAG Heuer Autavia Heuer 02 Watch Hands-On, Ablogtowatch, URL: http://www.ablogtowatch.com/tag-heuer-autavia-heuer-02-watch

[19] TAG Heuer Autavia Heuer 02 Watch Hands-On, Ablogtowatch, URL:  http://www.ablogtowatch.com/tag-heuer-autavia-heuer-02-watch

[20] The 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia, Hodinkee, URL: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/tag-heuer-autavia-2017-introducing

Author: Hoan Nguyen

” Winners never quit & quitters never win ”

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