The New “Flagship” Carrera Chronograph

It seems that just about every five years, TAG Heuer redesigns its most popular chronograph, the Carrera.  In 2005, the Carrera chronograph moved to a larger case with a fixed Tachymeter bezel; in 2010, we saw TAG Heuer introduce its in-house Heuer 01 movement in an entirely new Carrera; and in 2015, the Carrera became the first TAG Heuer model with a “skeleton” / open dial.  After five years of the current Carrera Heuer 01 / 02, the Carrera Sport Chronograph introduced today represents a complete restyling of the “flagship” Carrera.

While the use of a solid dial is the most obvious change in the new model, the style of the registers and hands also evokes the classic predecessor Carreras from the 1960s.  The across-the-dial measurement has increased from 43 to 44 millimeters, however, we can expect that a thinner case, shorter lugs, and a sleek bracelet should make the new model “wear smaller”.

TAG Heuer has introduced the Carrera Sport Chronograph with four models — black dial, blue dial, green dial, and black dial model with rose gold accents.  But TAG Heuer is just getting started with its 2020 releases, as we will see a second “flagship” (with four models) in September, and a couple of “special editions along the way.  These new Carreras, and those that will follow later in 2020, represent the most significant collection to date for the new leadership team at TAG Heuer.

From the Deep Freeze to Red Hot

If TAG Heuer was going to stick to its schedule of redesigning the Carrera every five years, it certainly faced challenges with the 2020 version. The COVID-19 pandemic virtually shut down the Swiss watch industry, with the cancellation of industry shows and the suspension of production, and triggered a worldwide recession. To add to the difficulty, this would be the first full collection designed by TAG Heuer creative director Guy Bove, and the senior leadership team also faced a transition, with Frederic Arnault moving to the CEO position as of July 1 and Stephane Bianchi moving from that position to the role as head of watches for the LVMH Group.

Against this backdrop, enthusiasts might have given TAG Heuer a “pass” on the introduction of new models for the first half of 2020. At LVMH Watch Week, in January 2020, TAG Heuer introduced the Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition, but it was quiet after that, with no new Carrera chronographs being seen until mid-June, when TAG Heuer introduced the second of the 160 Anniversary models, the Carrera Montreal Limited Edition. With its introduction today of the Carrera Sport Chronograph, TAG Heuer is declaring that it is back in business. An entirely new version of the Carrera goes into the catalog today, and by announcing that it will introduce another “flagship” Carrera chronograph in September 2020, TAG Heuer shows that it is making up for lost time.

Yes, we can say that the deep freeze on the TAG Heuer catalog was short-lived and has been lifted. But rather than a thaw to room temperature, the introduction of the new Carrera Sport Chronograph shows that the Carrera will be a red-hot model for the remainder of 2020.

Four “Sport” Models

The four Sport Carreras include two with black dials, one a more traditional looking chronograph in an all steel case and one in a stainless steel case with rose gold accents (pushers, crown, bezel, markers and hands).

The two colored models include one with a deep blue dial and bezel and one with an olive green dial.  The olive green model has a stainless steel bezel, with ceramic bezels used for the other three models.  All bezels are fixed in place (non-rotating), which has been the style for TAG Heuer Carreras since around 2005.

The dials have a distinctive “circular brushed finish”, which looks very different from the “starburst” finish we see on many vintage models.  The two chronograph registers (hours on the left and minutes on the right) have the “azurage” finish, concentric circles that Heuer used on many models in the 1960s, while the running seconds register (at the bottom of the dial) has a flat, opaline finish.  To emphasize that the Carrera is a tool for timing, the chronograph registers across the center of the dial are oversized, with the running seconds being smaller.

The time-of-day hands also evoke those used in the late 1960s, stick style hands with luminous inserts covering most of the hands and painted black stripes at both ends of the hands.  In a new package we are seeing from TAG Heuer on the Heuer 02 models, the numerals 4, 8 and 12 on the hour recorder match the placement of the 10, 20 and 30 on the minute recorder.  At the bottom of the dial, we see “Heuer 02” between the markers for six and seven o’clock and “80 Hours” between the markers for five and six o’clock.  The printing on the dials seems to be of excellent quality, with fine detail as on the vintage models.  The Carrera Sport comes on a new H-shaped bracelet that is is thinner than previous bracelets, making it slightly lighter and more ergonomic.

Comfortable in Its Own Skin

Rightly or wrongly, the current line-up of skeleton-dialed Carreras suffers from whispers about being a “wanna be” watch.  Yes, a Richard Mille with its open dial and movement would be nice, but if you can’t afford that one, how about a Hublot?  And if you want to take a step down from there, perhaps a Zenith will fill the bill.  But if you want an “entry-level” chronograph with an open dial, the last stop on that train may be the TAG Heuer Carrera.  Yes, we can defend the current Carrera Heuer 02 as being responsive to current customer preferences, but it can be difficult for the vintage enthusiasts when the only real connection to the legendary models from the 1960s is the geometry of the lugs.  Even the name “Carrera” can be lost with all the activity of the skeleton dial.

The Carrera Sports Chronograph shows the ability to span the decades, combining some very recognizable elements from the first Carreras (hands, registers, case geometry) with features that buyers want in the year 2020 (for example, the ceramic bezel and updated pushers and crown).  TAG Heuer first used the Heuer 01 movement to power a Carrera in late 2010, with the limitation that the registers were at the 6-9-12 positions.  With the Heuer 02 movement, TAG Heuer is able to offer the traditional 3-6-9 placement of the registers (which some collectors call “tri–compax”), which is the layout of the vintage Carreras.

The new Carrera Sport Chronograph manages to bring forward defining elements of the 1960s Carrera in a watch that looks entirely at home in the current Carrera family.  Fittingly, the “Carrera” name returns to the top dead center of the dial.  It was a lot most difficult to spot the “Carrera” on the skeleton dial of the current models.

On the Wrist – 44 is the New 42

While the new Carrera Sport Chronograph measure 44 millimeters across the dial, compared with the 43 millimeters or 45 millimeters of the current Carrera Heuer 02 models, we can expect the new Carrera Sport Chronograph to “wear smaller” than even the 43 millimeter predecessor.

The critical measurement may be the thickness, where we see the new model coming in at 15.3 millimeters, compared with 16.6 millimeters for the current model.  A drop of 1.3 millimeters is noticeable on the wrist, especially with the other changes made to the case geometry.  Other elements that may give the Carrera Sport Chronograph case a smaller feel include its beveled edges and shorter lugs, and the new bracelet may also offer a thinner fit under the cuff.

Another Flagship Coming in the Fall

TAG Heuer’s press release for the Carrera Sport Chronograph indicates that the collection of these four models will be followed in September 2020 by the introduction of four more “core” or “flagship” models.  (There will also be two “special editions” released before the end of 2020.)  With the use of the “Sport” adjective for the four-model collection introduced today, we are left to wonder what adjective / descriptor will be used for the next “core” collection? Thinking of adjectives that could be used for Carrera chronograph as complements to the “Sport” collection, and knowing that TAG Heuer already has collections for Adventure (Autavia), Tool (Aquaracer), Racing (Formula 1), and Avant Garde (Monaco), we can imagine words like “dress”, “classic” and “style”.  Once upon a time TAG Heuer had the SEL models, which stood for Sport and Elegance, but this model line became the “Link”.

In terms of what the next core collection might look like, with the Carrera Sport being 44 millimeters, we have to imagine that the next collection will delete the bezel, to offer a smaller case.  And while the Carrera Sport strips away many of the decorative elements of the predecessor Carrera Heuer 02, if TAG Heuer wants to offer a smaller Carrera chronograph, we can imagine the hands and markers all being reduced from what we see in the Sport model.  Looking back to 2010, TAG Heuer launched the Heuer 01 Carrera in a simple 40 millimeter case, with clean, simple dials and hands, and 10 years later we can imagine the Heuer 02 finding a good home in a similar case.  This would be a good way to fill out the Carrera collection — the Sport Chronograph, with its Tachymeter bezel, coming in at 44 millimeters and the yet-to-be-named second flagship Carrera Chronograph deleting the bezel to get a size in the 40 millimeter range.

 . . . and Two “Special Editions”

The press release announcing the Carrera Sport Chronograph indicated that TAG Heuer would be introducing two “special editions” of the Carrera in the second half of 2020.  With the success of two “160 Years” models introduced in the first half of the year, the quick assumption is that these special models will be additional “glassbox” models.

We have seen the Montreal colors in a glassbox Carrera, so the simplest approach would be to select another color scheme from the 1960s / 1970s, and give it the glassbox treatment.  Another possibility is that TAG Heuer will use the new “Sport” case, but do something creative with the color scheme.  A third possibility is that TAG Heuer will use the case from its new September 2020 “flagship” model to house either or both of the special editions.  Vintage enthusiasts will be happy with any of these approaches, as long as we get a “Panda” and a “Reverse Panda”.

The New Team Opens with a Huge Win

In March 2019, I chatted at length with Guy Bove, who had become Creative Director at TAG Heuer a few months earlier.  It was clear that Guy had a vision for how the six models in the TAG Heuer catalog should be positioned, the Autavia, Carrera, Monaco, Aquaracer, Formula 1 and Link.  With the executive team at TAG Heuer also being new to their positions, however, Guy was not ready to go public with his vision.  In 2020, TAG Heuer has introduced six new Carreras, the two 160 Year Limited Edition models and the four Carrera Sport Chronographs, with six additional models in the queue for the second half of the year.  Based on the watches we have seen so far, Bove’s vision seems to have taken hold, and given TAG Heuer strong momentum.

The six Carreras we have seen so far in 2020 represent a huge win for the new leadership at TAG Heuer and for brand enthusiasts, with TAG Heuer back at “race pace” after the suspension of competition earlier in the year.  With the four Carrera Sport Chronographs introduced today, TAG Heuer enthusiasts can be excited about TAG Heuer’s prospects for the remainder of the 2020 racing season.


Specifications – TAG Heuer Carrera Sport Chronograph

References — Black dial is Reference CBN2A1B; Blue dial is Reference CBN2A1A; Green dial is Reference CBN2A10; and Black dial with rose gold accents is Reference CBN2A5A

Movement — TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 02; built with column wheel and vertical clutch; frequency 28,800 bph (4 Hz); thickness is 6.9 millimeters and a diameter of 31 millimeters (13-3/4 ligne); power reserve at least 80 hours; offers hacking to synch the watch to a reference time.

Case —Stainless steel, 44 millimeter diameter; fixed bezel marked with Tachymeter scale, made of ceramic (except stainless steel for model with green dial); sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment, water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar)

Dial — Blue, black or green, with circular brushed finish; chronograph recorders ( at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock) have “azurage” finish and running seconds display (at 6 o’clock) has opaline finish; rhodium-plated indexes and hands filled with SuperLuminova®; rhodium-plated TAG Heuer applied logo; date display at 6 o’clock.

Strap / Bracelet — Stainless steel H-shaped bracelet; steel folding clasp with double safety push-buttons; Model with rose gold accents has black alligator leather strap.

Price / Availability — black, blue and green models — $5,750 (United States) / 5,450 euro (Europe); black dial with rose gold accents — $6,550 (United States) / 6,200 euro (Europe); available July 2020


Jeff Stein
July 9, 2020