The inaugural LVMH Watch Week is being currently being held in Dubai, with the four LVMH watch brands introducing their first new watches of 2020.  Today, January 15, TAG Heuer took the spotlight, introducing a new Carrera chronograph, to celebrate the 160th year of the Heuer / TAG Heuer brand.  The newest Carrera is called the “TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition”, and it represent a huge achievement for the brand.  In this posting, we will describe the basic features of the new Carrera and suggest why this watch is such an important introduction for TAG Heuer (and its community of collectors).   In the final section of the posting, we present an excerpt from an article that appeared recently in The New York Times, focusing on Stéphane Bianchi, the CEO of  TAG Heuer.  This excerpt serves to put the new Carrera into its proper context, within the strategy of the TAG Heuer brand.

Heuer 160th Anniversary Carrera (Silver LE) — The Basics

TAG Heuer has introduced the Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition (which we will call the “Carrera 160 Silver LE”) to kick off the brand’s celebration of its 160th anniversary.  We can expect TAG Heuer to celebrate this anniversary throughout the year 2020, with this Carrera being the first chapter of the celebration.  This new Carrera is presented as a re-edition and so is branded “Heuer”, rather than TAG Heuer.

 

The Carrera 160 Silver LE is patterned after the three-register Carrera, Reference 2447, which Heuer offered in 1964.  Keen collectors will note that TAG Heuer didn’t choose the very first execution of the Carrera, from 1963, as this first model had a white dial (which collectors call “eggshell”).  Rather, TAG Heuer has used a silver starburst dial, as used on the 1964 model of the Carrera, likely seen as more fitting for an anniversary celebration.  This predecessor model is shown below.  [Photo courtesy of Paul Gavin (HeuerWorld); order his book of amazing Carrera photos HERE.]

The dial of the Carrera 160 Silver LE is super clean, as it was in 1964 — with the words Carrera and Heuer, and “Swiss” at the bottom, with no additional lines of text.  Consistent with the vintage predecessor, the dial features long, thin applied metal markers, with lume dots at the outside edge.  The registers are small and sunken, with azurage (narrow concentric circles), again consistent with the 1964 predecessor.

Powered by the Heuer 02 movement, the Carrera 160 Silver LE offers the traditional three-register layout, with registers at three, six and nine o’clock.  On the Heuer 02, we have the chronograph hour recorder at nine o’clock, the chronograph minutes recorder at three o’clock and the running second below, at six o’clock.   Perhaps the most distinctive detail of the new Carrera dial is the use of numerals on the hour recorder. Rather than the traditional 12-3-6-9 (four numbers) from the 1960s chronographs or the 1-through-12 (12 numbers) that we see in the 1970s, we have the numerals 4-8-12.  This is an unusual approach, but provides the perfect balance to the placement of the 10-20-30 on the chronograph minute recorder.  The date display has been deleted from the Heuer 02 movement, consistent with the style (and capabilities) of the first Carreras. The movement is automatic, with the rotor decorated with the TAG Heuer logo and “160 Years of Avant-Garde”

The case incorporates TAG Heuer’s “glassbox” architecture.  With this approach, the modern, sapphire crystal provides superior durability, while replicating the geometry of the domed crystals used on the original vintage models.  TAG Heuer has used the glassbox on the Fragment Design Limited Edition Carrera, the Skipper LE for Hodinkee, and the Carrera Calibre 18 Telemeter.  The glassbox architecture has been well-received on these models, while vintage enthusiasts who are accustomed to plexiglass may have issues at certain angles.

The case of the Carrera 160 Year LE measures 38.3 millimeters across the dial (which TAG Heuer rounds up to 39 millimeters), with a thickness of 14.5 millimeters.  The across-the-dial measurement places the watch about halfway between the vintage predecessor and the TAG Heuer Autavias, which measure 42 millimeters.

The Carrera 160 Years Silver LE will be sold in limited edition of 1,860 watches, with a retail price in the range of $6,450 and availability in June 2020.  Each case-back will be marked “One of 1,860”, a formulation recently used by TAG Heuer on certain limited edition Monacos.

The Carrera 160 Silver LE — Why It Matters

The First Heritage Model from the New TAG Heuer Team

The use of a brand’s heritage and portfolio of vintage watches in the development of new watches for its catalog can be a vexing topic.  We see brands that draw heavily from their heritage in creating new watches and other brands that pay little attention to their old watches in building out their current catalogs.  Some collectors love the re-editions, while others wonder why the brands are unable to develop interesting new watches.  This topic is especially critical for TAG Heuer, in view of the brand’s rich vintage portfolio, with the genuine themes and imagery of motorsports, aviation, sailing and diving.  These segments of the market remain vibrant today, with the romantic imagery of the 1960s and 1970s having appeal to today’s adventurers.

Even for the brand that will go “all in” on its heritage portfolio, there is the question of how the new watches should relate to the old ones.  Will the brand make one-to-one copies of its old models, with the exception of technical improvements in the movement and other materials, or will the new models only be “inspired” by the predecessors?  How much latitude can the brand take, under the license of “inspiration”?  Again, collectors of the heritage models complain when the only connection of the new watch to the old watch is the model name on the dial.

Add in the question of which price point is best for the vintage models, and it gets even more complicated.  Should be re-editions create a “halo” for the brand, incorporating the best components at a higher price point, or does the brand entice the first-time buyer with images of adventure and accomplishment from the “golden era” (and entry-level pricing).  The best use of the brand’s heritage is a critical question of brand positioning and strategy.  Inevitably, this is a strategic decision made by the brand’s senior management.

In September 2018, Jean-Claude Biver stepped down as CEO of TAG Heuer and a new leadership team was appointed.  Stephan Bianchi became CEO of TAG Heuer (and head of the LVMH Watchmaking Division), and Frederic Arnault was appointed as head of strategy and digital at TAG Heuer (in addition to his role as head of Connected Watches).  In November 2018, Guy Bove was appointed Creative Director for TAG Heuer, which includes overall responsibility for the design of new timepieces.  And so people wondered — how would the new TAG Heuer leadership team think about and perhaps leverage the glorious Heuer heritage?

The introduction of the Carrera 160 Silver LE represents the new leadership team’s first use of the brand’s vintage portfolio in the creation of new watches for the TAG Heuer catalog.  (While the team was responsible for the series of 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Monacos, this was a different undertaking, never designed to add watches to the brand’s catalog or retail stores.)  And while it is difficult to move from four photos of a single watch to a full understanding of a brand’s strategy, I am optimistic that the new team is on the right path.  The Carrera 160 Silver LE is faithful to the original 1964 Carrera, while incorporating a sophisticated, reliable movement into a case that will appeal to vintage Heuer enthusiasts as well as new TAG Heuer customers.

The new Carrera has only been rumored for a couple of days, and already we hear of vintage Heuer guys considering their purchases.  A few years ago, I giggled at the suggestion that vintage Heuer collectors could become TAG Heuer collectors.  The quality and design that drew us to the vintage Heuers were just not there.  Now, vintage Heuer enthusiasts are trying to figure out whether to grab one of the new Carrera 160 Silver LEs or maybe wait for a “Panda”.  That, my friends, is a “home run”.

Sweating the Details

Hiroshi Fujiwara designed the Fragment Carrera, released by TAG Heuer in November 2018, and I praised the design for getting the accents right.  The oversized registers, the placement of the Fragment name and thunderbolt logo, and the beautiful lume dots created a fantastic visual package.  [Yes, I wore mine yesterday; serial number 098.]

With the Carrera 160 Silver Limited Edition, we have a different design team that was operating under a different mandate.  While Hiroshi Fujiwara was at liberty to add or delete elements of the predecessor, the mandate for the new Carrera was to produce a watch that would mimic the 1964 Carrera, to the extent feasible.  While this may sound restrictive, the new Carrera incorporates accents and seemingly minor design elements that serve to complete a beautiful design.  Whether it’s the numbers on the recorders, the precise shade of the faux lume, or the sunburst finish of the paint, the newest Carrera shows the attention to detail required to make a re-edition collectible, as a fitting member of the Carrera family.  Since 1996, we have seen a lot of TAG Heuer Carreras; to my eye, it’s the details of the Carrera 160 Silver LE that make it a worthy addition to the Carrera family.

First of a Series

Almost six years ago, at Baselworld 2014, TAG Heuer played a cruel trick on us.  TAG Heuer showed its revolutionary new movement, the CH80, but more interesting than the movement were the four prototypes that were powered by the movement.  We saw two different Carreras, powered by the CH80 movement, one with a black dial and white registers and one with a white dial and black registers.

And guess what happened a few months after TAG Heuer showed these watches at Baselworld?  The company decided to suspend development of the CH80 movement, and with that, the enthusiasts lost the beautiful new Carreras.

Six years later, the CH80 movement has become the Heuer 02 movement, the TAG Heuer logo on the dial has been replaced with the Heuer shield, and we see the Carrera 160 Silver LE going into production, with deliveries promised for June 2020.  Interestingly, we have TAG Heuer CEO Stéphane Bianchi telling the world that the new Carrera collection will be a huge launch for the brand.   New Carrera . . . huge launch . . . people going nuts about the watch that Matt Damon wore in Ford v Ferrari.  It doesn’t take much courage to predict that TAG Heuer will be introducing some Carreras with contrasting registers, soon.

We know the flow of the 1960s Carreras – the first ones used single colors on the dials, white dials with white registers or black dials with black registers.  Later in the decade, we saw the contrasting registers – black registers on white dials (today called “Panda”) and white registers on black dials (“reverse Panda”).  Here’s hoping that this happens in months, rather than years.

And Then There Were (the Big) Three — Autavia, Carrera and Monaco

In 1969, Heuer introduced the Monaco chronograph, completing its line-up of three different styles of chronograph.  The “Big Three” included the Autavia for those who used the chronograph as a tool, the Carrera for those who might want to wear it with elegant attire, and the Monaco for those who wanted a bold, outrageous chronograph.  With the addition of the Carrera 160 Silver LE to the TAG Heuer catalog, we now have the Autavia, Carrera and Monaco, all powered by the brand’s Heuer 02 movement, all available for purchase.  This is an important moment in the development of the TAG Heuer catalog, the customer having a choice of three distinctive styles, but knowing that each of them is powered by TAG Heuer’s excellent in-house chronograph movement.

It’s a Great Movement

I have owned three TAG Heuer chronographs with the Heuer 02 movement, and I am a huge fan.  Traditionalists will see it differently, but I prefer the arrangement of the registers on the Heuer 02 chronographs to the traditional Valjoux 72 arrangement.  The vintage movement has the chronograph minute recorder at three o’clock and the hour recorder at six o’clock, with the running seconds at nine o’clock.  The Heuer 02 movement puts both chronograph recorders across the top, with the hours to the left (nine o’clock) and the minutes to the right (three o’clock), with the running seconds below (at six o’clock).  Yes, “heads up” displays are preferred in automobile instruments, and I like the “heads up” approach of the minute and hour recorders on the Heuer 02 movement.

The Heuer 02 movement keeps great time [all of mine have been accurate within two or three seconds per day], and the movement operates flawlessly (start, stop and reset).  Winding and setting is excellent, and the 80 hour power reserve is a nice feature, allowing you to put it down for a couple of days, and then pick it up again, without needing to reset the time.  Put this together, and the Heuer 02 movement is the perfect movement for a new line of Carrera chronographs.

The Confidence of 1860

TAG Heuer produced 169 of each of the five 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Monacos and 500 of the Fragment Carrera, so it’s nice to see that the company has upped the ante on the Carrera 160 Silver Limited Edition, with a production run of 1860 watches.  I expect that this show of confidence will be rewarded, paving the way for the introduction of additional versions of the Heuer 02 powered Carrera.

Excerpt from The New York Time  — Stéphane Bianchi, Head of the LVMH Watch Division and CEO of TAG Heuer

Here is an article in The New York Times describing the new LVMH Watch Week  and also covering the strategy and outlook for the LVMH brands for the year 2020 — LVMH Watch Executives on 2020 and Beyond

Since taking the reins at LVMH’s watch division and the TAG Heuer brand in late 2018, Stéphane Bianchi had been quiet about his strategy. But the man recruited by Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s chairman, said that in 2020 he would introduce a new TAG Heuer platform based on “passion for action, mental strength, high performance and avant-garde,” backed by new products as well as new retail and marketing strategies.

In a pronounced shift, Mr. Bianchi said TAG Heuer would focus its partnerships on motor sports and individual sports, moving away from many connections arranged by his predecessor, Jean-Claude Biver, who was often quoted as saying that he wanted to see the brand “everywhere.”

That means that the business will no longer work with top-tier soccer leagues in Germany or Spain and that it will not extend its relationships with the model Cara Delevingne and the graffiti artist Alec Monopoly. “Our brand spirit should be maverick,” Mr. Bianchi said. “We want to prioritize people authentically linked to the brand.”

Mr. Bianchi said that early this year, TAG Heuer would introduce a new website in line with its “strong ambitions around retail and digital.” Those include opening new TAG Heuer boutiques even as the company stops working with some of its third-party retail network (it ended 20 percent of those relationships last year). “We have to rebalance wholesale and resale,” he said.

This year, TAG Heuer marks its 160th anniversary, focusing activities around its most commercially successful product, the Carrera sports chronograph. The brand plans to present one limited-edition piece in Dubai, but hold most of its key launches for Baselworld. “Carrera is a huge part of our turnover, and the new collection will be a huge launch for us,” Mr. Bianchi said.

Mr. Bianchi also said that beginning this year, TAG Heuer will make new timepieces available immediately, following the see-now/buy-now concept that fashion brands have embraced in recent years, some with mixed results. For TAG Heuer, Mr. Bianchi said, “It doesn’t make sense to show a watch and then not sell it for six months.”

This spring, he said, the brand plans to release a major update of Connected, its luxury smartwatch. Sales of the timepiece, introduced in late 2015, are generally thought to total 60,000 to 100,000 a year (the company’s sales figures are not published). By contrast, analysts were expecting last year’s sales of the Apple Watch to reach around 25 million.

TAG Heuer’s pricing at the lower end of the luxury watch market traditionally has made it appealing to younger audiences. But in recent years, such buyers have switched to smartwatches, or have never worn watches at all. “The biggest threat for us would be not to seduce the younger generation,” Mr. Bianchi said.