UPPING THE ANTE
TAG Heuer, the specialist of chronographs and high-level timekeeping, now releases a second in-house manufactured movement – the Calibre 1969 – further demonstrating its ever-expanding industrial capacity.
A pioneering force in technology and design for more than 150 years, TAG Heuer is now focused on growing its in-house manufacturing capability. Known for its remarkable innovations pushing back the limits of watchmaking, the brand has a long-standing strategy of always giving clients added value. By adding the Calibre 1969 to its already existing Calibre 1887 – the first mechanical chronograph movement it launched five years ago – driven by the desire to constantly improve the performance and quality of its products, it is making it known to the Swiss watch industry that it has every intention of remaining the market leader in chronographs. The new precision chronograph Calibre 1969 features a vertical clutch system, 28,800 vibrations per hour (4Hz), 70hour power reserve and a difference of time adjustment of -4/+6 seconds after 24 hours. TAG Heuer CEO, Stéphane Linder, explains why this in-house movement-making competence is necessary: “TAG Heuer’s rapid growth, combined with new supply constraints in the Swiss watch industry, have required a comprehensive and farseeing strategy of reinvestment. The healthy state of the brand’s bottom line has made this possible.”
In 1969, Jack Heuer – grandson of the founder of TAG Heuer, the man at the origin of some of the most revolutionary advances in sports timing, company CEO during its golden age of the 1960s and 1970s and today its Honorary Chairman – and his partners presented the patented Carrera Chronomatic Calibre 11, the world’s first automatic chronograph with a micro-rotor movement that marked a turning point in terms of horological design, housed inside the square case of the now iconic Monaco. Equipped with 12- hour and 30- minute counters, it was outfitted with a special eccentric regulator setting and moveable spiral block, which allowed for very precise regulation and reductions in the margin of error in timing, even under the most extreme conditions. This movement and its variations – Calibres 12, 14 and 15 – are, for that matter, among the brand’s most innovative inventions, and Tag Heuer’s designers, engineers and craftsmen still draw inspiration from them today.
In fact, the brand had built its reputation on chronographs and ultimate precision since its founding in 1860. In 1882, Jack Heuer’s greatgrandfather, Edouard Heuer, patented his first chronograph, followed in 1887 by the oscillating pinion – a key element for starting and stopping a mechanical chronograph – which is still used today by leading manufacturers. The Heuer brand launched its first wrist chronograph in 1914 and, two years later, surprised the motor-racing world with a stopwatch accurate to 1/100th of a second. Dividing time into increasingly smaller and more precise fractions is an endless quest: in 2012, the TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrogirder – the only mechanical chronograph accurate to an unprecedented 5/10,000th of a second featuring a revolutionary regulating system of microblades and beating at the ultra-high frequency of 1,000 Hz (7.2 million times per hour) – won the horological sector’s most coveted distinction, the Aiguille d’Or, at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.
Hardly surprising when you consider that TAG Heuer boasts an impressive, almost century-old pedigree of world firsts in sports timers: in 1916, Charles- August Heuer presented the first Mikrograph mechanical stopwatches accurate to 1/50th and 1/100th of a second, with frequencies of 180,000 and 360,000 vibrations per hour, respectively; in 1966, Jack Heuer launched the Microtimer, the first miniaturised timekeeping system displaying accuracy of 1/1000th of a second; in 2002, the Microtimer was the first Swiss digital wrist chronograph accurate to 1/1000th of a second; in 2004, for the Indy 500 race, of which TAG is official timekeeper, the brand created the first timing system accurate to 1/10,000th of a second, which in 2006 meant 2/10,000ths of a second difference between first and second place in the semi-final of The Race of Champions in Paris; in 2008, the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 Caliper was the first integrated mechanical wrist chronograph capable of measuring and displaying 1/10th of a second thanks to an oscillator beating at 36,000 vibrations per hour coupled with a rotating caliper scale; in 2011, the Carrera Mikrograph 1/100th Second Chronograph, featuring a 50-Hz oscillator, was the first integrated column-wheel mechanical chronograph wristwatch equipped with a central foudroyante hand displaying 1/100th of a second, and the Carrera Mikrotimer Flying 1000 Chronograph was the world’s first mechanical chronograph to measure and display 1/1000th of a second; in 2012, the Carrera MikrotourbillonS, a double tourbillon with a 1/100th of a second chronograph on a 50Hz movement was developed on the Mikrograph
platform; and in 2013, the Carrera MikroPendulumS, the first-ever magnetic double tourbillon with chronograph accurate to a 1/100th of a second, was introduced. THE FIRST IN-HOUSE MOVEMENT To reinforce its position in terms of chronographs, TAG Heuer launched the Calibre 1887 in 2009, the first integrated movement entirely conceived, manufactured and assembled in-house at its Swiss workshops (developed from elements under the intellectual property of Seiko Instruments Inc.), which has since become a benchmark of modern horology because of its excellent performance. Equipped with a column wheel, the automatic integrated chronograph movement vibrating 28,800 times per hour pays homage to Edouard and Jack Heuer’s historical contributions to Swiss watchmaking – it includes a reworked version of the brand’s 1887 oscillating pinion that functions in tandem with a column wheel in much the same way as a car’s transmission – and it fits inside a new-generation Carrera, the mythical sports chronograph designed specifically for professional drivers and sports car enthusiasts, which remains the standard-bearer of TAG Heuer’s unrivalled motorsports pedigree first unveiled by Jack Heuer in 1964.
To meet the demands in volume brought about by TAG Heuer’s accelerated growth, it became necessary to build a dedicated workshop on the site of TAG Heuer’s facilities in La Chaux-de-Fonds (canton of Neuchâtel). The first Calibre 1887 came out of the workshop’s semi-automatic assembly line in 2010 and it took home the much sought-after Petite Aiguille d’Or award at that year’s Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. Five years in the making, the movement’s development came with a price tag of approximately 20 million Swiss francs. To date, 130,000 pieces have been manufactured.
All Carrera chronographs last year incorporated the movement. The Carrera Calibre 1887 Jack Heuer Edition pays homage to Jack Heuer and is inspired by the two-part construction Heuer stopwatches, which he used on race circuits around the world at the time. All the technical details are nonetheless state of the art and certain elements are borrowed from Formula One and aeronautics: hand-brushed and polished black titanium carbide-coated steel bezel; polished, brushed and sandblasted steel and titanium cage; tachymeter and pulsometer on the flange. The asymmetrical case’s groundbreaking design is inspired by the Mikrogirder: slightly angled at the top where the crown and chronograph pushers are located. The Jack Heuer coat
of arms and signature adorn the smoked sapphire glass caseback.
RAPID EXPANSION Now, TAG Heuer has taken things to the next level with the industrialisation of a second manufacture calibre, thereby doubling its movement production capacity and making it number one among watch brands manufacturing chronograph movements in Switzerland. The new mechanical integrated chronograph Calibre 1969 is made at the fourth TAG Heuer manufacture (a 2,600-sqm facility that has already created more than 100 new jobs) recently opened in Chevenez in the Swiss Jura.
The cost of this project again amounted to 20 million Swiss francs. The production volume was 500 units in 2013 and is expected to reach 5,000 in 2014. It took two years from initial idea to full production – an impressive feat comparable to the one accomplished in 1969 by Jack Heuer and his team with the Calibre 11, hence the name “Calibre 1969” given to the latest creation.
The quality, power and precision of the new manufacture movement stems directly from the experience gained by TAG Heuer in the design and production of the Calibre 1887 and its other award-winning haute horlogerie movements. Linder says, “Our new movement is entirely new, but obviously we have benefitted from the expertise and certain components developed with the Calibre 1887 and the Mikrograph, as we had developed these two calibres with a long-term vision in terms of reusable components.”
The ultra-flat 6.5mm Calibre 1969 comprising 200 Swiss components “better combines maximum thinness with a larger power reserve and a significant volume potential”, notes Linder. As in the original Calibre 11, the layout of the counters is a classic tricompax: central chronograph hand, chronograph minutes at three o’clock, chronograph hours at nine o’clock and small seconds at six o’clock.
The Calibre 1969 also includes a date window at nine o’clock. The decorations are also exceptional: Côtes de Genève and snailing on the oscillating mass in black tungsten as well as on the nickelplated minute and automatic bridges, both angle polished with shiny bevelled edges. All the ébauches, bridges and plates are produced in Chevenez.
The assortment and four-spoke balance equipped with a KIF auto-shock originates from the Swiss high-end watch component manufacturer Atokalpa. Linder elaborates, “We wanted to secure our own approach to integrating mechanical movement production in-house, which is why we sought out and identified several potential sources of regulating organs, a key component in the performance and reliability of a watch. This approach led us to select Atokalpa as the main supplier of regulating organs made in Switzerland, this company being one of the rare manufacturers able to guarantee high performance and to deliver the quantities required to match TAG Heuer’s expansion strategy in the manufacture of mechanical movements.”
By opening a Cortech facility making highend cases in the Jura commune of Cornol in 2004, acquiring ArteCad in Tramelan manufacturing dials in 2011, and adding workshops in La Chauxde-Fonds and Chevenez concentrating on watch movements and assembly in 2010 and 2012 respectively – which work on complicated mechanical movements like the Mikrograph, Mikrotimer, V4 and MikrotourbillonS, and its 100 per cent in-house developed mechanical chronograph calibres – “TAG Heuer is becoming one of the most highly-integrated Swiss watch manufactures in terms of key high-end watchmaking expertise and components”, states Linder.
With its Calibres 1887 and 1969, the brand is fully ensuring its development, maintaining is position of leader in the field of chronographs and proving why it deserves to carry the chronograph crown. The production of the two innovative movements exceeded 50,000 units in 2013 and is projected to achieve a capacity of 100,000 by 2016, which makes TAG Heuer the Swiss watch industry’s largest industrial chronograph maker and one of the rare Swiss manufactures able to fabricate all of its own major components.
“Dividing time into increasingly smaller and more precise fractions is an endless quest”
M a k i n g wa t c h d i a l s a t ArteCad in Tramelan.
I n s pe c ting the wat c h c a s e at the C o r te c h f a c i l it y .
T he c a s ing - up process.
T he wat c h c a s e d - up M e c hani c a l m o v ement c o mp o nent p r o d u c ti o n at C o r te c h . H igh - en d c a s e - ma k ing at the C o r te c h f a c i l it y . Exploded v ie w o f the Ca libre 19 6 9.
In-house chronograph C a l i b r e 19 6 9.
Wa t c h m a k i n g t o o l s a t d i a l m a n u fac t u re A rt eC a d.