Discovering the TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper for Hodinkee

When the TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper for Hodinkee was announced last week — and sold out within the first hour of its announcement — Revolution reached out to the New York based team to ask what it takes to create these limited-edition watches of theirs that have proven to be hit, after hit. We also asked about how much of this success can be attributed to the power to e-retail and their own

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Taking on these questions was Hodinkee’s own Vintage Watch Specialist, Louis Westphalen better known to you and I as, louis.vintage.

You guys have worked with some great watch brands over the years, to create amazing special edition timepieces that are a lot of the times — if not all the time — exactly what collectors desire. What goes towards identifying watches for these collaborations?

The process is quite simple. It usually starts with a watch that one of us will bring to the team’s attention and gauge the sort of response the watch garners within the Hodinkee office. When everyone is on board, we then approach the brand in question. Once we have the brand’s agreement, the collaboration can finally begin.

You have to keep in mind, though, that the idea we usually start off with on paper is hardly what we end up with once the watch is produced. Between those two stages, months, if not an entire year, can go by before the watch can be finalized.

There is a lot of back and forth on the design, prototyping of dials and sometimes certain technicalities have to be reconfigured when a special run watch is being made versus how the brand typically produces their production pieces.

The project may stem from us, and press as much as we may to make our dream watch happen, at the same time we have to make sure we work closely with the brand so that we understand and operate within what can and cannot be done in accordance to the watchmaking that is of their DNA.

Of all the watches to have picked out of the Carrera history books, why the Skipper?

I have a friend who owns an example of this watch. He lent it to me for a couple of days to really just wear and live the watch. It’s just such a unique watch. Just look at those colors; the combination of colors on it is insane. I don’t think I’ve seen another watch with such bold colors.

It was for me, one of those watches, which once you have experienced it, it’s hard to get it out of your mind. And if you want one, there’s no easy to find another 7754 for yourself, because mind you there are less than 20 pieces known to have been produced by Heuer.

So, the next best thing to do was to propose the watch as Hodinkee’s next project.

Mind you also that until 2008, we weren’t even sure that this watch existed for certain. In the late 1960s when the watch was produced, it wasn’t part of the brand’s regular production, therefore, it had never even appeared in Heuer’s catalogs. The only way we are able to confirm its existence is thanks to collectors who owned them coming together with the original specimen. What we had on our hands, therefore, is a really cool piece of Heuer history that needed to be brought out into the light.

I imagine you had to have a chat with Mr. Biver in order to make the watch a reality? Tell us about that encounter.

We first approached TAG Heuer through the brand’s US offices, to see if they would be interested in the idea. From there, the proposal was brought up to Switzerland.

We didn’t meet with Mr. Biver just for the watch, we had a few other things that we were working on with the brand at the same time. But it goes without saying that we did need the man to sign off on the project before we could go any further.

However, considering the success we’ve had with the Zenith El Primero Limited Edition for Hodinkee, Mr. Biver was quite ready to give us his blessings.

You can also see that TAG Heuer is itself in a season of looking back to its origins, with recent watches such as the 2017 Autavia. While the Carrera Skipper isn’t as well known a watch, and is a very unusual watch for Heuer to have made, it is still a Heuer in the sense that everything on the watch was a matter of functionality.

The Carrera Skipper ref. 7754 was made to time regattas. It has the very recognizable Carrera case and, again, those colors, as bold as they are, were used so as to provide excellent contrast and legibility. The watch wasn’t made with the idea of wanting to do a cool watch, it was made to be a great instrument.

In spirit and in essence the TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper for Hodinkee is very true to the historical watch. Some modern elements, though, have been very intelligently incorporated. Tell us about a few of the key deviations and the purpose behind.

When doing a re-edition, it’s important that we not end up doing a carbon copy of the original. It was important that we managed to bring something new to the watch. So, we considered a few elements that we could work on.

The first modernization is really the case, which is the 39mm case of the 2015 Carrera Calibre 18 Glassbox Telemeter. The original Carrera Skipper was 35mm. If you look at both cases side by side they are almost identical, other than the fact that one is slightly larger. But the real reason why we chose to go with the Glassbox case, is because of its domed sapphire crystal, which emulates the curve of the plexi crystal on the original watch. The sapphire is, of course, a modern standard but with the Glassbox, you have to appreciate how it retains the 7754’s look.

Next the movement. The original watch sported a modified version of Valjoux’s 7730. This was, obviously, not available to us. We had to look into TAG Heuer’s extensive library of movements to see what we could work with. The Caliber 18 turned out perfect for the project at hand and the case that we wanted to go with.

Now, the Caliber 18 has a date function and its registers are flipped in comparison to the Valjoux original. This led us to have to re-think the dial configuration and take advantage of the date function. Here’s where we started to think about incorporating the Dato 45 into our project; the Carrera 3147. Specifically, the second execution of the 3147. Heuer did away with the first execution soon after it was released because they recognized that having the date window at 12 o’clock made it hard to read, with the chrono hand sitting over the window in its resting state.

It has to be said, though, that the 3147 was a very progressive watch for its time. From its first execution, released in 1966, the watch already had a date window and a date window is very uncommon when you think about any sort of vintage watch. So it’s odd to say that we added modernity to the new Carrera Skipper by adding a date window to it when, in fact, we took a page out of Heuer’s own history books.

The Dato 45 had just one register at 3 o’clock and the date window at 9 o’clock. Two elements that we could very easily work into the version of the Skipper thanks to the Caliber 18.

Modernization aside, one thing we really wanted to keep as true as possible to was the colors on the original dial. Those particular shades of greens and that orange was very important for us to nail down. I think we must’ve gone through about five prototypes alone trying to get the dial colors correct.

The Carrera 3147, Dato 45

125 pieces made and all 125 pieces are already sold out. Good looking watch aside, would you say this has everything to do with the fact that you guys made it available through an e-retail channel?

The TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper for Hodinkee went really, really fast. It was sold out within the first hour, which was very encouraging for us because it’s the watch that we’ve done in the largest number thus far.

It’s always exciting to develop a new special edition. A key factor to the success of the Hodinkee limited editions, so far, has always been the attention we insist on the details of the watch. It must first be true to us and the brand we partner with. These factors in turn, result in a watch that resonates with our readership.

The e-retail platform, of course, helps us to move the watch faster. It allows us to offer the watches to people all over the world. It’s amazing to me how something we announce at one in the afternoon in New York is universally available to all our readers at the same time.

If I were to mention another factor, it would have to be the communication aspect. We must make every effort to ensure that there’s no ambiguity in people’s mind as to what is great about the watch and why this was an important project for us. It’s important to get this right in the text and, may be, even more importantly, in the visuals of the watch.

For the TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper for Hodinkee, for instance, we shot pictures of the watch on the very boat that won the America’s Cup in 1967. This boat and its story was after all what inspired the original watch.

It made for some amazing photographs. You realize when you are on the boat that the green on its deck is the same green that you find on the original Carrera Skipper. And then when we put the special edition version together in that scene, it just made for a very special occasion.

When you buy a watch online, because you aren’t able to hold and feel it for yourself, the way in which we convey its spirit has to be spot on; it has to be almost magical. We spend a lot of time making sure we get the communication of the watch right with no room for doubt in our readers’ and customers’ minds.

What would you say is the most surprizing location a Hodinkee watch has been picked up from?

The most interesting one is always Switzerland. It really fascinates me how we produce the watch in Switzerland, have it flown to New York so we hold the complete inventory and then you have a customer who buys it in Switzerland so now the watch has to take a flight back to where it started from.

But really, we’ve had buyers from as far as Australia. Which is amazing in of itself, because you have to think about the hours of the day this buyer was awake at just to secure a piece of the TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper for Hodinkee.

The price point on the watch was great. Do you suppose only a certain cost bracket of watches can be sold online in order for them to be successful?

Not really. We feel any price point can be relevant online. And we can prove this with the success of our previous limited editions, which has ranged from US$2,560 (this was the Nomos) to as high as US$52,000 (this was the LM101). As long as the watch is compelling it can sell well online, provided it is communicated well and the buying experience is flawless.

You guys shared the news about the watch with a select few individuals ahead of the formal announcement, under embargo. Did that create some sales, or at least interest, before the formal announcement was made?

We really wished for the Skipper to remain a surprise until the launch, so we shared news of the project with a very select number of media and with a defined embargo. We were really happy to see the very positive reception that the watch immediately received from these individuals, who are mostly seasoned journalists and collectors. Some of them even ordered the Skipper as soon as it became available.

On that note, and just before we end, would you please share some thoughts with us about more and more luxury watch brands making the move towards e-commerce? The latest being IWC and Panerai for their US facing sites.

E-Commerce definitely belongs to the future of retailing watches. It won’t replace the current retail network, but will complement it for a generation that is used to discovering, falling in love with and ultimately purchasing online; regardless of the price point. Convenience is key here, which means that the communication of the watch needs to be perfect, and its delivery immediate and outstanding.

Therefore, it makes total sense for brands to start selling online through their own e-commerce website, and through some global platforms like Mr Porter. That said, they all face a steep learning curve because online retail requires a totally different approach, and every single detail can make or break a sale.

It will be fascinating to witness; the brands that manage to learn the fastest will get ahead early, while the others will struggle to catch up and become a significant player online.

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