BACK TO THE FUTURE
A look at TAG Heuer’s current strategy and offerings
| A look at TAG Heuer’s current strategy and offerings
— There aren’t many watch companies around that have managed to offer both contemporary mechanical and quartz watches, enter the highly competitive smartwatch market, and disrupt the haute horlogerie segment with an affordable, mass-produced tourbillon at the same time. In a nutshell, that’s basically what Jean-claude Biver and his team have been doing for the past three years. Or in other words: TAG Heuer has been repositioned with a lower average price point while new models (as well as new brand ambassadors) have been introduced not only to attract a younger target audience to the brand but to appeal to established collectors as well.
TAG Heuer started production of the 01 chronograph caliber in 2010.
Mastering large scale production
If the definition of a manufacture is to have developed your own caliber and to produce most of its parts in-house, then TAG Heuer is, of course, a
manufacture. If, however, attaining manufacture status would literally require that everything has to have been “made by hand,” then it certainly wouldn’t qualify as one – just as pretty much every other watch company in Switzerland that produces more than a couple of watches per year would not qualify. Simply stated: If a company is in the business of producing several hundred thousand watches a year, it will, especially if it wants to bring down the average sales price, most likely need to outsource parts and rely on a certain level of streamlined, and sometimes automated, production. Otherwise, the majority of La Chaux-de-fonds’ population of around 40,000 people would be working for TAG Heuer right now.
While the idea of owning an exclusive, handmade watch with a rare and complicated movement undoubtedly appeals to a watch collector, high production volumes offer advantages, too. With increased output, a manufacturer needs to depend even more on making absolutely sure that a product is as reliable as possible. Otherwise it would risk multiplying potential errors or shortcomings and ending up with the opposite of “economies of scale.” With smaller numbers, however, a manufacturer is more likely to be able to efficiently improve and work on products already sold or still in production, if required.
TAG Heuer runs a comparatively large internal prototyping procedure and, most of all, test laboratory (called the “Torture Chamber”), which is one of many steps in making sure that every prototype released for serial production is up to its task. But there are, of course, external parties involved, too. In March 2017, for example, TAG Heuer announced that 1,000 Heuer-02t Tourbillon movements were certified by the independent testing body, Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC).
Becoming an industry disruptor
While most engineers would agree that an integrated chronograph movement is more difficult to develop than a tourbillon, the latter is still regarded as one of watchmaking’s most prestigious and expensive complications. e Calibre Heuer-02t, a 32-mm automatic movement, offers both – a chronograph and a flying tourbillon. It is based on TAG Heuer’s CH80 movement and comes with a 65-hour power reserve.
In 2014, TAG Heuer manufactured the first run and used 1,000 movements of this badge as the base for the Heuer-02t caliber. When officially launched in Basel in 2016, TAG Heuer announced a list price of less than 15,000 Swiss francs for the standard production model – clearly a “provocation” as Jean-claude Biver admitted, but at the same time, “perfectly correct since TAG Heuer did not build any classic tourbillons”
before. Perhaps equally impressive, and also industry firsts, these 1,000 movements were all COSC certified, which again shows that while serial production may not increase exclusivity, it usually helps to increase reliability.
Equally noteworthy: the 2016-introduced TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-01 Full Black Matte Ceramic with a multipart case (characteristic for Carrera watches with in-house movements) mostly made of ceramic (lugs, case middle, bracelet and bezel) and at a retail price of $6,300. It is powered by the Heuer 01 caliber, a modified version of Calibre 1887, the 3-register chronograph movement that TAG Heuer started to produce in-house in 2010.
The introduction of the modular concept
Biver, who was named CEO of TAG Heuer in 2015, took TAG Heuer not only “closer to the market” in the last two years, he also started to access new ones. In 2015, TAG Heuer partnered with Google and Intel to launch its first smartwatch. e Android-based Connected was Biver’s attempt to get a (albeit small) piece of the lucrative and Apple-dominated smartwatch market, and also a new way to reach a generation of “leapfrogs” – young people who will most likely not own a traditional wristwatch first and then start to use a wearable device, but may very well start with a smartphone and add a secondary device not powered by its own movement later.
is is where the 2017-launched second generation of the Connected, the Modular 45, might prove indispensable. While the “45” refers to the case size in millimeters, the really smart part of the name is the development of the “modular” concept of the modern Carreras. Lugs, buckles and straps can now be easily changed by the owner, and those who would want a taste of the analog life can swap out the 50-meter-waterresistant and Swiss-made smartwatch module for an automatic watch module. And, of course, also opt for the Heuer-02t tourbillon version.
ere were already 56 different configurations available at the Connected’s launch in March 2017. More versions and accessories will be avail-
able to order and 30 different (digital) watch dials are available. Plus, the Modular 45 also comes equipped with the TAG Heuer Studio, which allows its users to create even more varied dial combinations. In short, most of the design and exterior of the watch can now be customized, which means that even though the product per se may not be exclusive in numbers, the final look will be highly individual.
It may not be the first attempt by a watch brand to offer a modular watch concept (just remember the Pop Swatch, the Tissot Carrousel or the Omega Dynamic from 1984, for example), but it is one of the most promising executions so far. And there is a high probability that other manufacturers will follow with their own concepts soon in order to have a mass-produced but highly customizable product as an alternative to limited editions.
The return of the classics
While the skeletonized dial and the modular sandwich construction first launched with the 2015 Carrera Heuer 01 represents a new, modern design direction for the brand, TAG Heuer’s heritage-inspired models, like the Carrera, Monza, Monaco and, since 2017, the Autavia, continue to be an indispensable product segment for more traditional watch buyers and collectors, especially since vintage TAG Heuers have started to benefit from the general trend toward vintage watches and have had an increasing number of themed auctions.
Biver’s message to collectors in 2016 was clear: e brand would continue to emphasize tradition, and the Autavia chronograph would be the first to return after he took over the role as CEO in 2015. (For more information about the TAG Heuer Autavia, see Watchtime’s August 2017 issue.)
Next in line is going to be a new version of an even more iconic model, the square-shaped Monaco from 1969 – not only one of the first three automatic chronographs (and definitely the first square, water-resistant automatic chronograph), but most of all a watch that was worn and made famous by actor Steve Mcqueen, thanks to his role in the 1971 auto racing film, Le Mans.
e latest version is bringing back the Gulf Oil company color scheme (like Heuer, Gulf sponsored a number of major-team motor racing programs back then) in its most characteristic form. Gulf’s initial logo consisted of a dark blue font and orange background, which might have been too low-key for team car colors so “powder blue and orange” were chosen to represent the brand after 1964. e initial dark blue used from 1920 to 1964 can now be found on the sunray dial.
e first Monaco Gulf limited edition was launched in 2007 with black dial; a gray version followed in 2009 – a previous 2005 version, celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of Steve Mcqueen, didn’t carry the Gulf logo. is year’s Monaco “Gulf” is being produced as a special edition for the U.S. market and will be powered by Calibre 11 – despite its name, not a direct descendant of the Calibre 11 movement from 1969, but by bringing together a SW300 base caliber with a Dubois Dépraz chronograph module, TAG Heuer was able to preserve the typical dual subdial layout of the Monaco’s dial and the characteristic crown position at 9 o’clock. e 39-mm chronograph comes with a domed sapphire crystal and a transparent caseback held by four screws. e blue leather strap has matching orange stitching. Retail price is $5,900.
e latest Monaco is, once again, reuniting watchmaking history, motor sports and Hollywood – a combination that has always proven to be commercially successful. And thanks to its bright orange color scheme, chances are it will create, again, quite a bit of buzz for the brand.
Fifty-five years ago, Heuer first introduced its Autavia dashboard instrument as a chronograph for the wrist. In 2017, TAG Heuer reintroduced the legendary model with in-house movement and slightly larger case.
The highly modular Connected 45 is the first smartwatch to comply with the Swiss-made label requirements after TAG Heuer had gradually insourced the production.
Assembly in La-chaux-de-fonds
The light blue and orange colors on the dial of the latest Monaco limited edition are inspired by the different logo versions of Gulf Oil – next to Heuer, one of the sponsors of the Porsche 917 that was driven by Steve Mcqueen in Le Mans.