In the last couple of months, I have celebrated my 65th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the start of my legal career. I wasn’t necessarily looking to mark these two occasions with the traditional gold watches, but as fate would have it, two 18 karat gold Heuer chronographs arrived recently, to coincide, more or less, with these events. One is a Reference 416 chronograph from the 1950s (shown below, on the left) and the other is a Camaro, Reference 7228, circa 1968 (shown on the right).
With my new-found interest in gold chronographs, it was exciting to see TAG Heuer introduce a new 18 karat gold Carrera this morning. The new Carrera celebrates the 88th birthday of Jack Heuer, who joined the family business in 1958 and continued there until 1982, and has then served as Honorary Chairman of TAG Heuer since 2003. TAG Heuer has previously marked Jack Heuer’s birthdays and related milestones with a variety of “Jack Heuer” limited edition watches, but this is the first time that TAG Heuer has marked such an occasion with a gold watch. We’ll take a look at how gold watches have figured in the history of the Heuer and TAG Heuer brands, and then focus on the newest of these watches.
A Brief History of Heuer’s Gold Chronographs
With the Heuer brand being deeply rooted in chronographs and other timepieces for sports events (for example, stopwatches and dashboard timers), it’s not surprising that we see relatively few gold chronographs in historic Heuer catalogs. Heuer’s chronographs are the ultimate “tool watches”, and you just don’t see many tools being made of gold.
A catalog from 1942 shows that Heuer offered several chronographs in 14 or 18 karat gold, with a choice of two or three register models, but these watches are not featured prominently and experience in collecting vintage Heuer chronographs suggests that few customers chose the gold models. Catalogs from the 1940s and 1950s continue to list the gold chronographs, but there is little evidence to suggest that these models enjoyed much commercial success. Perhaps the greatest success of the gold chronographs came with the triple calendar chronographs from the 1940s, where we see relatively strong representation of the 14 and 18 karat gold models in the vintage market.
Heuer introduced the Carrera chronograph in 1963, and a 1966 brochure lists a version in 18 karat gold (Reference 2456). The Camaro line of chronographs came in 1968, with gold-plated and 18 karat models (Reference 7228) being included in the line-up. As with the earlier models from the 1940s and 1950s, the scarcity of the 18 karat gold chronographs in today’s vintage market suggests that Heuer sold relatively few of these models.
It was only around 1970 that we begin to see any real supply of 18 karat gold chronographs from Heuer. Jack Heuer had entered into a venture with the Ferrari racing team, with the Heuer decal going onto the red race cars and 18 karat gold chronographs going onto the wrists of the drivers.
Heuer would serve as the official timekeeper for the Ferrari racing team, supplying both the equipment and the personnel to provide this technical edge to the team.
Jack Heuer presented an 18 karat gold Carrera to each of the Ferrari drivers, with this line-up including Mario Andretti, Clay Regazzoni, Niki Lauda and Jacky Ickx, among others.
In addition to these Ferrari drivers, Jack Heuer presented 18 karat gold Carrera chronographs to other racers who were friends of the brand. so we also see Jo Siffert, Ronnie Peterson and Emerson Fittipaldi wearing the gold chronograpgs. Another VIP in the world of racing who wore a gold Carrera was Mauro Mauro Forghieri, designer for the Ferrari Formula 1 team (shown below, with Niki Lauda).
With the Reference 1158 Carrera, it appears that Heuer finally had a gold chronograph that would be popular with enthusiasts. Over the decade of the 1970s, Heuer offered eight versions of the Reference 1158. There were three basic versions of the dial – a silver (white) dial with matching registers (Reference 1158 S), a champagne dial with matching registers (Reference 1158 CH), and a champagne dial with contrasting black registers (Reference 1158 CHN).
Other variations in the Reference 1158 Carreras included the numerals shown on the hour recorder (3-6-9-12 being used on the earlier models and 1-through-12 on the later models) and the color of the date disc, being black on one of the champagne / black models. For additional information, see our our Definitive Guide to the 18 Karat Gold Carrera.
Beginning around 1974, the Reference 1158 Carrera was offered with a special 18 karat gold bracelet, constructed in “Maglia Milanese” style. This bracelet was comprised of hundreds of small links of gold, assembled into a thick mesh. The case of a Reference 1158 Carrera (without the movement) weighed 48 grams, and this special bracelet weighed 73 grams, so when you consider the workmanship of the bracelet we can understand why the bracelet was priced at over twice the price of the watch itself ($2,850 for the bracelet in 1976, compared with $1,280 for the watch alone).
In addition to seeing these 18 karat gold chronographs in the Heuer catalogs of the 1970s, we see them on the wrists of the leading Formula 1 racers of the era. We see Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni wearing the Reference 1158 CHN models, with Mario Andretti often wearing the Reference 1158 CH while he raced. Almost 50 years after the fact, it is difficult to be certain about cause and effect, but we can suggest that the visibility of the Formula 1 drivers and their gold Carreras contributed to the popularity of the models among other enthusiasts and sportsmen of the decade. Thirty years after Heuer offered its first gold chronographs, all of a sudden, in the 1970s, the racers and the race fans were wearing them.
Among today’s collectors, the Reference 1158 Carrera with the champagne dial and contrasting black registers is the top prize, and these watches fetch a premium over the models with the all-silver or all-champagne dials. Serial numbers suggest that the last of the Reference 1158 Carreras was produced circa 1980, so the success of Heuer selling 18 karat gold chronographs seems to have been confined to the decade of the 1970s. Analysis of serial numbers, production batches and “survival rates” suggests that Heuer probably produced 300 to 500 of these watches, from start to finish.
Commencing in the early 1980s, TAG Heuer catalogs were dominated by dive watches, and while solid gold models were included among the collections, they do not appear to have been popular models. So too, we see 18 karat gold watches and chronographs among the re-issues of the Autavia (2003), Carrera and Monaco, as well as some of the “haute horlogerie” chronographs offered by TAG Heuer from 2004 to 2015. Looking back over the last 80 years, from 1940 to 2020, it’s fair to say that the 1970s were the “golden era” for Heuer’s golden chronographs.
The Watch — TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer Birthday Gold Limited Edition
TAG Heuer has refreshed its catalog of Carrera chronographs significantly in the year 2020. In June, we saw the introduction of the “Carrera Sport” line of chronographs, 44 millimeter chronographs with prominent Tachymeter bezels. In September, TAG Heuer introduced a 42 millimeter version of the Carrera, known simply as the “Carrera Chronograph”, with the smaller size achieved by the deletion of the external bezel. Both these models are powered by the Heuer 02 movement, and are offered with choices of leather straps or stainless steel bracelets.
The new Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer Birthday Gold Limited Edition (which we will simply call the “Jack Heuer 88th Birthday LE” or the “JH 88”) is an extension of the 42 millimeter Carrera Chronograph line-up, with two significant difference – the new Limited Edition uses an 18 karat rose gold case and the dial has large registers, which contrast with the color of the dial.
The case follows the basic geometry of the stainless steel version, but there is no overlooking the bright rose gold. TAG Heuer uses a combination of polished and brushed surfaces, with the gold offering a rich, warm tone, which cannot be mistaken for either the ordinary yellow gold or the stainless steel models.
While TAG Heuer has used starburst or other metallic finishes for some of its recent Carrera models, the finish of the Jack Heuer 88 LE is flat, in a soft, cream tone (described by TAG Heuer as “silver opaline”). The markers on the dial are rose gold, and the warm cream color complements the gold very well. The dial is marked “TAG Heuer”, rather than having only the “Heuer” name. The Heuer-only mark would indicate that the watch is a re-issue of a historic model, whereas the use of the TAG Heuer shield indicates that the watch is a new timepiece that draws inspiration from a heritage model.
While the 42 millimeter Carrera Chronographs have all featured dials where the registers match the color of the dial, the Jack Heuer 88 LE offers a look cherished by vintage Heuer enthusiasts – contrasting registers.
The registers on the Jack Heuer 88 LE are a deep gray / anthracite, ranging between charcoal and chocolate (depending on the light and angle), with a strong “sunray” finish. With few other models available in the TAG Heuer catalog for comparison, it is difficult to label the registers as “oversized”, but there is no doubt that the registers are very prominent. Other accents on the dial that incorporate the rose gold include the TAG Heuer shield at the top of the dial, the window around the date display and the numerals “88”, just below the center pinion.
While recent chronographs from TAG Heuer have typically been offered with either padded leather straps or stainless steel bracelets, the strap on the Jack Heuer 88 LE is distinctive. The strap is black, in an alligator grain, with a simple pin buckle, also finished in rose gold. The strap is relatively thin, feeling strong enough to “handle” the large, heavy watch, but being thin enough to fit easily under a standard cuff.
Happy Birthday, Jack Heuer – 88 is Looking Great!!
TAG Heuer offered the first Jack Heuer Limited Edition Carrera back in 2004, to mark the 40th Anniversary of the first Carrera. This Carrera incorporated what came to be known as the “Jack Heuer colors” – dark and light shades of gray, with red accents and bright white lume.
In the intervening 16 years, we have seen a variety of “Jack Heuer” limited edition Carreras, at least one “Jack Heuer” limited edition Autavia and even a Silverstone (limited to one piece) with the dial bearing the Jack Heuer autograph.
To celebrate his remarkable career, we have seen Jack Heuer’s autobiography, a steady stream of interviews and videos, and the Heuer family shield has even been incorporated into various models.
But somehow, just when we thought that we had celebrated every chronograph that Jack Heuer ever created, and every color that he might have enjoyed, along comes the 88th Birthday Carrera LE to capture another exciting era of Jack Heuer’s life, another chapter of his remarkable career in the family business. This new 18 karat gold Carrera captures the 1970s, the decade when the racing Ferraris had the Heuer decals and the Ferrari racers wore the gold Carreras. As much as anything, what Jack Heuer contributed to the Heuer brand was a constant stream of marketing and promotional campaigns and smart joint ventures. Whether it was McQueen at Monaco, the $88 Viceroy Autavias, or putting gold chronographs on the racer’s wrists, Jack Heuer was always selling, in interesting ways.
Jack Heuer came to the United States in 1958 to sell $50 stopwatches to weekend racers and by the early 1970s he was selling gold chronographs to Enzo Ferrari. In the mid-1970s, the Carrera Reference 1158, on its special gold bracelet, had the same retail price as the average automobile. Not bad for the young man who came to peddle the stopwatches at local racetracks!
It is also notable that the Jack Heuer 88 Limited Edition is the first gold chronograph to pay tribute to the life and career of Jack Heuer. (There was a three-hand version of the Carrera watch produced in 18 karat gold.) Over the last 16 years, we have seen an array of whites, grays and charcoals, all residing in stainless steel cases, but perhaps TAG Heuer is saying that it’s time for Jack Heuer to receive the “lifetime achievement award” and this award should be cast in gold. The top medals at the Olympics are gold, the medal for the Nobel Prize is gold, and most cultures and civilizations have used gold objects to celebrate permanence and eternity.
Abel Court, a fourth generation goldsmith and the most sought-after watchmaker for vintage Heuer chronographs, describes gold as representing durability, consistency, wealth and beauty. He points out that the Jack Heuer 88 Limited Edition Carrera demonstrates that there is much more to gold than the material found in nature. 18 karat gold will always include 750 units of pure gold, but it is alloyed with 250 additional units of different metals (for example, silver and copper) to produce the exact color desired by the goldsmith. The rose gold used for the Jack Heuer 88 Limited Edition presents a sharp contrast to the gold that Heuer used for the Carreras in the 1970s. The rose gold is richer, more sophisticated, more nuanced than the yellow gold used in the 1970s.
In 1970, at age 38, we can imagine that yellow gold might have been the only material that Jack Heuer and his colleagues could have used to produce chronographs. Fifty years later, with Jack Heuer celebrating his 88th birthday, we can see the newest Carrera, with its rose gold case, as embodying the richness of experiences and sophistication gained over the years. The rich color of the rose gold suggests that this metal has lived some life.
Sunrise or Sunset?
My six weeks with two 18 karat gold chronographs has also shown me how the same piece of metal can take on very different looks, based on the lighting and angle to the eye. At times, my 18 karat gold Camaro looks like the calmest, quietest, most elegant watch in my collection, but then the sunlight will hit it in a way that gives it a blazing presence on my wrist. The brushed finish of the gold does strange and unexpected things with whatever light it encounters.
So rather than seeing the Jack Heuer 88 LE Carrera as reflecting remarkable career of Jack Heuer, seeing the metal reflect the light at sunset, we can see the newest Carrera as marking the beginning of a new era for TAG Heuer. The symbol for gold is “AU”, derived from the Latin “aurum”, which means “shining dawn” or the “glow of sunrise”, and Abel Court points out that gold has often been associated with the sun. The variations of color in a gold watch can remind us of the sun itself, as the color of the first light of the day often has a very different look than the fiery light of sunset.
For those of us who have been following along for the past 15 years as TAG Heuer has addressed the brand’s heritage portfolio and legacy of Jack Heuer, we can see the 2020 Limited Edition Carreras as the dawn of a new era. As 2020 comes to its close, TAG Heuer is led by its new CEO, Frederic Arnault, and its new Creative Director, Guy Bove, and over the past year they have reshaped the Carrera collection.
So we’ll look at those rose gold “8s” at the center of the dial and say that one “8” is to mark a remarkable chapter in the career of Jack Heuer, the decade in which Heuer, Ferrari and other friends of the brand brought the 18 karat gold Carrera to the world of racing and racers. And the other “8” can be for the new team at TAG Heuer that is just getting started. Yes, it is a small gold “8”, but it is also the symbol of infinity, reminding us that this Jack Heuer 88 Limited Edition Carrera celebrates the beginning of a new era for TAG Heuer. With the Carreras that we have seen so far in 2020, this future is looking bright.
Specifications – TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer Birthday Gold Limited Edition (Ref. CBN2041.FC8306).
Case —18 karat rose gold case; polished and brushed finish; 42 millimeter diameter, 14.7 millimeter thickness, 48.3 millimeters lug-to-lug; sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment, water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar); weight of the watch is 84 grams, with the strap removed.
Dial and Hands — Silver with opaline finish; charcoal (anthracite) chronograph recorders (at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock), with sunray finish; rose-gold-colored indexes and hands filled with white SuperLuminova; rose-gold-colored TAG Heuer applied logo; date display and running seconds at 6 o’clock.
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.
Strap — Black alligator leather strap, with black lining; 18 karat rose gold pin buckle.
Availability / Price —Limited to 188 watches; available February 2021; priced at $18,450.
Additional References / Resources
Jack Heuer’s Autobiography — The Times of My Life
The Definitive Guide to the 18 Karat Gold Carrera — covers all the models and variations of the Carrera, Reference 1158.
Special thanks to Abel Court, of HeuerTime.com, for his insights into the use of gold in watchmaking. Thanks to Timeless Luxury, in Atlanta, Georgia, for the use of the Carrera Reference 1158 S, shown in this posting. The watch is available for sale.
November 19, 2020