As one of the most visible luxury watch brands TAG Heuer is a name most in and around the industry will be quite familiar with. Their invention of the oscillating pinion is a vital milestone in sports timekeeping is still very much in use in the modern era, and they were the first brand to introduce a stopwatch able to measure to 1/100th second. With more than 150 years of innovation behind it, TAG Heuer represents the height of cutting-edge performance. Heuer, as the brand was originally known before its 1985 acquisition by a Luxembourg-based holding group (Techniques d'Avant Garde, or TAG for short), was known for enduring watch designs (such as the Monaco or Autavia), and the marketing savvy of its most famous CEO, Jack Heuer (who led the company between 1962 and 1982).
The arrival of TAG in 1985 saw the modernization of the product line and a huge investment in global advertising, resulting in a surge in sales and the brand being positioned front and center as one of the leading lights in the Swiss watchmaking renaissance.
The company was founded in 1860 by Edouard Heuer. Within a decade of commencing operations, Heuer was already filing for patents. In 1869 the company submitted a keyless-winding system for pocket watches, which was one of the earliest examples of the keyless work, which is now featured in almost all wristwatches. Massive developments were yet to come before the close of the 19th century, with the patent filed for the oscillating pinion (an enormous leap in the development of chronographs - effectively regular time-telling watches with a stopwatch function either integrated or grafted onto a normal movement). Given TAG Heuer's modern reputation as a master of chronographs, this is not all that surprising. However, 1895 saw Heuer patent a water-resistance pocket watch case, which is not as widely communicated as it might be. It would be another 30 years before Rolex revealed the Oyster case, and while the Oyster, and the subsequent automatic model (the Oyster Perpetual launched in 1931), were the first water-resistant watches that survived extensive testing, Heuer's advancements in this field should not be forgotten.
More significant from the brand's perspective was the release of the world's first wrist-worn chronograph watches in 1914. This ushered in a new era of excellence within the field of sports watches, with Heuer achieving the honor of being chosen to time events at the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920, Paris in 1924, and Amsterdam in 1928.
By 1939, Heuer had developed a water-resistant wrist-worn chronograph, paving the way for the ground-breaking release of the world's first water-resistant square sports watch 30 years later. However, before the Monaco would see the light of day, Heuer had its sights set firmly on the stars.
In 1962, a Heuer watch made it into space aboard the Friendship 7 mission. This amazing achievement came to pass in the year that Jack Heuer took control of the brand, having joined his family company four years earlier in 1958. Jack went on to oversee Heuer's most productive period. His eye for commercial products (whether they matched his tastes or not) was revered around the industry. Under his leadership, the company debuted the Carrera (in 1963), the Camaro (1968), the Autavia (1969), the Monaco (in 1969), and the Monza (in 1976).
Heuer ran into financial trouble in the early ‘80s due to the quartz crisis affecting the Swiss watch industry, and a series of unfortunate events (including the cancellation of a massive order from China that might have kept the company afloat had China not banned imports at the eleventh hour of the deal). Jack Heuer was forced to give up his family company; however, he left the industry to pursue a second (very successful) career in LCD technology. TAG stepped in and bought the brand, bringing a new, more brand-focused strategy to the table. The early era of TAG ownership did not see the creation of horological heavyweights like the Monaco, Carrera, or oft-overlooked Camaro, but it did see an aggressive accrual of ambassadors and the invention of the now-famous "Don't Crack Under Pressure" slogan in 1991.
In 1999, luxury conglomerate LVMH purchased TAG Heuer, creating the perfect environment for the return of the prodigal son. Jack would return to the brand as Honorary Chairman in 2001, under the direction of newly-installed CEO Jean Christophe Babin, who respected Heuer’s product vision and knew he needed the soul of the company back on board to push the brand forward.
What followed was more than a decade of intensive research and development into new movement technologies that put TAG Heuer back on the map as a serious player at the bench as well as on the billboards. Now, as the company prepares to enter its 160th year, the brand is firmly positioned as one of the major modern players in the luxury watch market.
2019 saw the 50th anniversary of the Monaco family. Perhaps one of watchmaking's most famous (and certainly enduring creations), the Heuer Monaco (as it was known then) was not all that popular upon its initial release. Jack Heuer is said to have doubted the Monaco's commercial viability but went with his gut instinct to break to the mold. Once again, Heuer's gut proved worth following and the world’s first water-resistant square sports watch grew into a cult icon that commands enough respect these days to drive an entire brand towards success.
Although it spent many years consigned to history, the return of the Autavia in 2017 was one of the brightest spots in a year plagued by market indecision and a crisis of consumer confidence. TAG Heuer made the wise decision to put the final design of the TAG Heuer Autavia reissue down to a public vote, in what has to be one of the most inspired and engaging public relations exercises the industry has ever seen. The winner of that competition (known as the Autavia Cup), which received more than 50,000 votes, was the 1966 reference 2446 Mark 3, otherwise known as the “Autavia Rindt”. The winning reference was given that nickname because it was often seen on the wrist of Austria's famous racing driver Jochen Rindt, the only man to be awarded the Formula 1 Driver's Championship posthumously.
Ironically named after the racetrack to which Jochen Rindt lost his life, the TAG Heuer Monza is another remarkable racing chronograph that first debuted in 1976 to commemorate Ferrari's constructors' title in 1975. The model that hit the shelves in the mid-seventies (and remained available until the dawn of the ‘80s) was a sleek, black chronograph that utilized a tonneau-shaped case with a subtle bezel. Its appearance was, for a mid-seventies racing chronograph, incredibly avant-garde. The modern follow-up bulks up the whole affair, with the dial given a more standardized layout. The almost egg-shaped tonneau case of the original gives way to a stocky case middle topped with a cushion-shaped bezel recalling more a long lost model dating to the 1930s rather than the actual Monza from '76. The boxy, cushion case places this piece somewhere between the silhouette of the Autavia and the Monaco, and gives it a distinct character that while nowhere near as well-known or popular as the Monaco, makes the Monza a nice alternative for either an avid collector of the brand or a customer looking for something a little bit off the beaten track for the brand.
The TAG Heuer Carrera is about as clean a looking sports watch as one could hope to find. The remarkable thing about the Carrera is really how unremarkable it is. With a design that deliberately flies under the radar, one could be forgiven for failing to consciously recognize the Carrera on the wrist, but the attention to detail and genuine build quality the watch tends to resonate on a deeper level, imbuing its wearer with a sense of style and status befitting the brand.
Defining a classic or an industry icon is difficult. While it is certainly easy to compile a shortlist of memorable models with mold-splitting aesthetics like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, or the Richard Mille RM59-01, it is just as possible for a quieter design to remain popular for long periods. Arguably, it is these quieter pieces that are the true "classics" of the industry, while those ballsier designs that pushed the envelope are the ones that better fit the "icon" label. If this is true then the Monaco would be an icon, while the Carrera a classic. That is no slight to one of the most versatile, wearable, and humble stalwarts watchmaking has ever produced, but rather a realistic explanation of how different.
|Retail Price (MSRP)
|Formula 1 Quartz
|Carrera Calibre 5
|Aquaracer Calibre 15
|Monaco Calibre 11
|Link Calibre 5
|Autavia Heritage Calibre Heuer 02
|Formula 1 Quartz Chronograph
|Aquaracer Calibre 5
|Carrera Calibre 16
Quite unusually for the modern luxury market, TAG Heuer has retained a strong offering of quartz timepieces while many of the brands that previously shared the same entry price point have ditched electronic technology in favor of a purely mechanical offering. In many ways, TAG Heuer's decision to stand pat with its quartz models has now resulted in a bit of breathing room for the entry point of a brand whose name carries a massive premium with collectors.
The F1 range from TAG Heuer features some very simple, easy-to-wear racing-inspired timepieces with several options powered by straightforward quartz movements. There are three TAG Heuer Formula 1 Quartz options priced at $1,000: References WAZ1110.FT8023, WBJ1312.FC8231, and WBJ1412.FC8233.
Further up the price scale is the TAG Heuer Aquaracer family, which caters for the dive watch aficionados. The ladies collection starts at $1,350 (references WBD1410.BA0741, WBD1411.BA0741, and WBD1412.BA0741), while the gents’ watches bottom out at $1,400 (reference WBD1110.FT8021). The automatic watches start at $2,200 and go as high $4,050.
Somewhat surprisingly, the costliest watches in the Aquaracer line are quartz-powered, with four references boasting diamond-studded cases, Mother of Pearl dials, and the option of bi-color elements. These run from $4,100-$4,700.
TAG Heuer has one of the strongest Smartwatch offerings from luxury brands. The TAG Heuer Connected seemed ahead of the game aesthetically when it launched, but it's operating system was already a bit outpaced by the competition. The updated version, however, took care of the original’s deficiencies while also giving customers the option of a smaller case size (down to 41mm from a hulking 45mm). The new TAG Heuer Connected watches start from $2,200. Cleverly, the watch head can be swapped out for a mechanical alternative should customers desire the same look but with different levels of functionality.
The quartz options in the Carrera range start at $1,550 for the ladies’ reference WAR1311.BA0778. The men’s watches in the Carrera collection are all powered by automatic movements, with several options at the entry point of $2,500. The top-end of the Carrera family (where the really interesting stuff can be found) retails for $74,750, but you can get much the same look (with less advanced hardware and humbler case materials) for around $6,000 - the sweet spot for this family.
The legendary Monaco is one of those watches that is so renowned throughout the Industry it can be identified by its family name alone. Think Seamaster, Submariner, Daytona, Nautilus, or Royal Oak - this is the level of visibility achieved by TAG Heuer’s leading light. Prices start at $1,750 for the time-only iteration, but the true meat of the collection can be picked up at just under $6,000. With several limited editions released to commemorate the model’s 50th birthday, 2019 is a good year to buy into one of the most famous racing chronographs ever created.
TAG Heuer has been incredibly active when it comes to event sponsorship and ambassador recruitment. In fact, you would be hard pushed to find a more visible watch brand. TAG Heuer's strength lies in the transferability of its slogan "Don't Crack Under Pressure." This four-word brand summary neatly applies to any career path that puts someone in the public eye. Sport, music, art, they're all covered. And TAG Heuer has made sure not to leave any bases unchecked. In brief, the brand has 3 cycling partnerships (including the Giro d'Italia), 1 lifestyle partnership and 4 lifestyle ambassadors (including the incredibly prominent Chris Hemsworth and Cara Delevingne), a whopping 11 motorsport partnerships and 3 ambassadors (counting the late great Ayton Senna, Steve McQueen, and Juan Manual Fangio among them), 9 football partnerships (including Manchester United) and 2 ambassadors, in addition to keeping time for the Next Gen ATP finals and sponsoring luminaries in other sports such a Kai Lenny in surfing, Petra Kvitova in tennis, Henrik Lundqvist in Hockey, and rugby player Dan Carter, one of the greatest All Blacks in history.
That's a pretty impressive haul, which has contained some ever more recognizable faces in the past. While the days of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tiger Woods, and Lewis Hamilton have passed for the brand, their legacies (and immense fame) still resonate.
Whenever dealing with a brand that has such a long and storied history, it is hard to look past the classics. The TAG Heuer Monaco has a dedicated following worldwide that makes any purchase likely to have its supporters and a potentially vibrant resale market should you wish to change models in the years to come.
However, if the Monaco is not to your taste, then the much more digestible Carrera series offers excellent value for money on the pre-loved market. The commonness of these models means they do not fetch a resale premium, which is good news for bargain hunters looking for classic, timeless sports watches that won't break the bank. Having a recognizable name on the dial like TAG Heuer is a massive bonus.
Some of the pre-TAG models, like the original Autavia and Monza models, are particularly attractive, but they do command enormous prices on the pre-owned market because of their provenance and popularity. If the brand name is more important to you than the reputation of the piece itself, check out the TAG Heuer F1 range (in glorious plastic) from the '90s for a fun, frugal way to rock your favorite mark for significantly less than four figures.
If money is no object, a lot of TAG Heue's most interesting work since the turn of the century has been focused on creating hyper-accurate chronographs. The 2011 release of the Mikrograph and Mikrotimer watches (chronographs capable of timing down to 1/100th and 1/1,000th of a second respectively) shocked the world. The following year in 2012, the record-breaking Mikrogirder (accurate to 5/10,000th of a second) set a benchmark that is yet to be matched.
Although the price tags (and scarcity) of the Mikrograph, Mikrotimer, and Mikrogirder watches are wildly prohibitive, they do offer something very different. It is perhaps the wisest branding move made by the brand post-1985. Associations with race car drivers, high-profile actors, and legendary sportspeople communicate the idea of excellence, but backing it up with ground-breaking technology goes a long way to validating TAG Heuer's laudable position in the market.
Today, names such as the Autavia, the Carrera and the Formula 1 are bywords for accuracy and robust elegance, while the Monaco remains one of the most radical reimaginings of a professional driver's watch to date-made famous by the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen.