When Jack Heuer (distinguished former CEO) took control of Heuer (now TAG Heuer) in 1962, he set out to build a legacy. Luckily for the brand, he followed through on that goal soon into his tenure, with the 1963 launch of the now-famous Heuer Carrera. Since its release, the watch has often been near the center of any discussion of iconic chronograph watches. Its design was widely popular in the 1960s for its simplicity and functionality, and it became even more famous as the first watch powered by the Chronomatic Group’s Caliber 11, the world’s first automatic chronograph movement, in 1969. Today, even while its predecessors remain among the most sought-after vintage watches on the market, the TAG Heuer Carrera has proven itself not only a cool series, but a relevant one, too.
However, the TAG Heuer Carrera series, as we it know today, is in my view conflicted — it acknowledges its debt to Jack Heuer, the 1960s, and its historical success, but also includes watches that bear little to no resemblance to the heralded originals. As you’ll note in my analysis of the following two watches, many modern TAG Heuer Carreras have moved far from their mid-20th century designs — but still the collection manages to sprinkle in some notable odes to the past.
The first watch this week is one of those sprinkles: the TAG Heuer Carrera Caliber 18 (Ref. CAR221A.FC6353, below). Launched in early 2015, this is the most vintage-inspired piece the Carrera collection boasts today. This watch is housed in the familiar 39-mm steel Carrera case and has a sunburst silver dial with two black subdials, applied steel hour markers, and a 6 o’clock date indicator. It is powered by the TAG Heuer Caliber 18 movement, which is an altered Dubois-Dépraz module on a Sellita base.
The watch also has a vintage printed “HEUER” logo, and a telemetric scale. For those of you not familiar with the telemetric scale, it was a watch feature popular during World War II for measuring the distance of artillery fire, but has since gone out of fashion for obvious reasons. The piece fluctuates in price at various retailers for around $4,500.
I’ll be frank about this watch: it’s pretty sweet. I said a few months ago when writing about the TAG Heuer Monaco that I would pick this watch over the modern Monaco Caliber 12, and that still holds true today. The Carrera Caliber 18 is based off not any specific watch in the series’ past, but of its ’60s and early ’70s glory days. Outside of the vintage Heuer logo, which I always tend to enjoy, there is a lot to love about this piece. With a panda-esque dial, telemetric scale, vintage-style chronograph pushers, and plenty of other features, it would not be unreasonable for someone to mistake this for a historical model.
One of the only issues I would take with this watch is with the sapphire caseback; the Caliber 18 movement, on its own merits, is not that special visually, and it seems like the viewing window is more a feature added for its own sake than something that actually makes this watch stand out. I might have preferred for TAG Heuer to use the more historic Caliber 12 movement, as some of its other modern watches do, but I suppose this piece is quite unique either way. Overall, this watch certainly earns my “vintage eye” of approval.
The next piece we’ll be discussing is a part of the 10th generation of the Carrera series, the Carrera Caliber 1887 (Ref. CAR2A10.BA0799, below). The watch is cased in a 43-mm polished steel case housing TAG Heuer’s relatively recently produced in-house Caliber 1887 movement, which is also displayed through a sapphire caseback. The dial is black with red and white accents, and has three subdials for the chronograph’s 30-minute and 12-hour timers, as well as for the running seconds. At each hour marker is the corresponding Arabic minute time, and at the 3 o’clock mark is both the date indicator and TAG Heuer corporate logo. Surrounding the piece is a black tachymetric scale; large, black-accented crown; and chronograph pushers (one of which has a red-accented band). This piece is listed at $5,050.
As most of you can probably tell, this watch is very different from both the Caliber 18, which we previously looked at, as well as the historical models in the Carrera line. Outside of the integral Carrera case design, it is almost unrecognizable compared to any watch in this series produced before 2004 (the year this style was first launched). I also have to ask, how easy is the watch to both operate and read? It seems to me a lot is happening at once, all packed onto one dial, so I wonder about the true, dare I say, user-friendliness this watch boasts for its wearers.
All of this could be by design, and it is my guess this watch has not been designed for a small-wristed vintage aficionado such as myself, but instead for a more modern appreciator of TAG Heuer watches. Personally, however, I think this is unfortunate — I love vintage Carreras, and with the more recent success of vintage re-editions in the market, I can’t imagine them being ignored by the brand much longer in planning its future designs.
In the end, the TAG Heuer Carrera series continues its horological bloodline and continues to impact the world of chronographs. While the Caliber 18 recognizes this accomplishment and echoes it within its designs, the Caliber 1887 attempts to break new ground and develop another dynasty for years to come. Only time will tell where TAG Heuer goes next with its designs, and while I genuinely hope more watches with vintage inspirations appear soon; I’m sure the brand will find fans for its watches wherever it races to next.
For part 12 in this series, in which I discuss vintage and modern models of the Breitling Navitimer, click here.
Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage watch boutique theoandharris.com. Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.