Hidden Depths: Exploring the TAG Heuer Aquaracer

Hidden Depths: Exploring the TAG Heuer Aquaracer

For a brand so well-known for its racing chronographs, for TAG Heuer to come into 2021 swinging so hard into dive watch territory was — for many — a surprise. For Frédéric Arnault, who stepped up to the plate as brand CEO in the middle of a very turbulent 2020, the decision to take some time off the track and dive into the Aquaracer is a perfectly logical one: “The Aquaracer is a part of our history. We’ve had this rugged tool watch since 1978, and it represents a big part of our collection. The Aquaracer has a lot of depth — we wanted to reinforce our presence in this territory and tell the story of the TAG Heuer’s dive watches.”

The new Aquaracer versions come in a steel case with a choice of a blue sunray dial and blue ceramic bezel insert, a black sunray dial and black ceramic bezel insert, and a silver sunray dial with a black ceramic bezel insert.
The new Aquaracer models come in a steel case with a choice of a blue sunray dial and blue ceramic bezel insert, a black sunray dial and black ceramic bezel insert, and a silver sunray dial with a black ceramic bezel insert.

The first wave of that reinforcement was unleashed at Watches & Wonders, with a new-look refined Aquaracer, spear-headed by the limited-edition tribute to the reference 844 — the 1978 dive watch that started it all. Because while it might be the Carrera’s, Autavia’s and the rest that built Heuer’s fame in the 60s and 70s, it was the dive watch that dominated the transition from Heuer to TAG Heuer. Mr Arnault explains: “Historically when Heuer became TAG Heuer, the brand was rebuilt almost exclusively on dive watches. I’m talking about the series 1000, 2000 and up to 6000 and then the S/EL — the Link. These watches all had a number of key features, a unidirectional bezel, luminous markings, screw-in crown, double folding clasp, 300 metres of water resistance. These are the features that were typical to dive watches and the collection was built on that.”

Frédéric Arnault, CEO of TAG Heuer
Frédéric Arnault, CEO of TAG Heuer

While some of those legendary transitional designs, like the black PVD and gold Series 1000 diver – or the even more distinctive version with a fully luminous dial – worn by Timothy Dalton in his turn as Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights, haven’t made it into TAG Heuer’s catalogue yet, the core principles of what makes a TAG Heuer dive watch remains the same. The bezel, the bracelet, the robust build. It’s all very much in evidence, but as Frédéric Arnault explains, for this latest iteration, the focus has really been on refining the Aquaracer, as a way for the brand to grow its market share in the fiercely contested dive watch space. “It is part of who we are now, and we need to reinforce that story. Our play is to continue to refine and improve the quality, to continue to differentiate the design with the codes that make the TAG Heuer Aquaracer unique — we really worked on these codes and the quality.”

The Reference 844 dive watch from 1978. (Image : Onthedash)
The Reference 844 dive watch from 1978. (Image : Onthedash)
TAG Heuer’s 1979 catalogue for dive watches (Image : Onthedash)
TAG Heuer’s 1979 catalogue for dive watches (Image : Onthedash)

As for how TAG Heuer has done it, well, the results speak for themselves, but Mr Arnault breaks it down: “First we worked on the case, we made it slimmer and added chamfers on the sides to give it a great feeling and play with light reflections. We worked a lot on the bracelet to improve ergonomics on the wrist. We don’t have a double folding clasp anymore, but we added a feature — an extension, a sliding buckle that is easy to use. You can add up to 1.5cm, which is great for swimming with a wetsuit. We have ceramic bezels, and we’ve worked a lot on the shape of the bezel, which is a key feature of the Aquaracer and will continue to be. We’ve worked a lot on the dial too, with new shaped indexes and a cyclops that sits on the underside of the crystal for improved feel and legibility.” Mr Arnault also stresses that what is most important with these Aquaracers is to experience them in real life — to feel them on the wrist and not just rely on images. That’s something we fully endorse, as the cases on these new iterations wear fantastically well, and some of the details — like the radially brushed green bezel on the titanium model are outstanding. But until you’re able to head to your nearest boutique, this is our take on the new 2021 Aquaracer releases.

The 43-mm Aquaracer 300 in high-tech matte Grade 2 titanium with a green dial. (©Revolution)
The 43-mm Aquaracer 300 in high-tech matte Grade 2 titanium with a green dial. (©Revolution)
The Aquaracer Professional 300 measures 12.2mm in thickness. (©Revolution)
The Aquaracer Professional 300 measures 12.2mm in thickness. (©Revolution)
One of the pragmatic features of the new Aquaracer is the extremely useful fine adjustment system that allows you to extend the buckle by a full 15mm (©Revolution)
One of the pragmatic features of the latest Aquaracer is the extremely useful fine adjustment system that allows you to extend the buckle by a full 15mm (©Revolution)

The Core Collection

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the new Aquaracers released to date are crowd-pleasers. We’re looking at steel cases, 43mm across with significantly refined bracelets, including a great new buckle with spring-loaded adjustment. There’s black, blue and silver versions — the latter having a glossy black ceramic bezel and matching hour marker surrounds for a high-contrast look. The black and the blue will undoubtedly be the most popular. There’s a hint of colour on all three in the form of the trapezoidal pip on the end of the second hand, a nice reminder that for all that most people will wear this watch in desk-diver mode it’s more than capable of getting wet if need be. These three colours are also offered in a 36mm option. Size aside, these models offer a ‘wavy’ dial pattern alternative to the ‘garage-door’ style horizontal striping of their bigger siblings, the blue 36mm model also offers eight diamond hour-markers. These smaller watches will more than likely be marketed to women — a segment I have no doubt they will do well in, thanks to the quality of construction and the strength of the design. But they would equally well suit someone looking for that hard-to-beat combination of vintage size and modern reliability. I can’t help but hope that somewhere down the track we get a middle ground size around the 40mm mark — if that ever happened, people would (I suspect) go wild.

The new Aquaracer models offer a hard-to-beat combination of vintage size and modern reliability.
The new Aquaracer models offer a hard-to-beat combination of vintage size and modern reliability.
The Aquaracer with a silver dial has a glossy black ceramic bezel and matching hour marker for a high-contrast look.
The Aquaracer with a silver dial has a glossy black ceramic bezel and matching hour marker for a high-contrast look.
The Aquaracer watches have a date cyclops mounted under the sapphire crystal with all date windows now at six o’clock.
The Aquaracer watches have a date cyclops mounted under the sapphire crystal with all date windows now at six o’clock.

Limited and Lightweight

Two of the new Aquaracer releases however demonstrate just how diverse the Aquaracer can be. First is the limited edition inspired by the reference 844, TAG Heuer’s first dive watch. Rather than offering a strict reissue as we’ve seen with other models (typically branded ‘Heuer’), this model, with its heritage lume, rally-style rubber strap and inner 24-hour scale is a watch with one foot in the past, but looking very much towards the future. The other notable release, which isn’t limited, is the green-dialled titanium reference. A green dial in 2021 is hardly noteworthy, but still this Aquaracer stands out. The tone of green and the soft, almost egg-yolky yellow of the bezel triangle and second hand tip is smart and sophisticated. The light, matte titanium case and refined dial textures (as well as the aforementioned bezel-brushing) is an object lesson in well-done watch design.

The Aquaracer Professional 300 Tribute to ref. 844 is offered in an 844-piece limited edition in polished grade 5 titanium case.
The Aquaracer Professional 300 Tribute to ref. 844 is offered in an 844-piece limited edition in polished grade 5 titanium case.
The caseback has an engraving of a scaphander diving helmet with a 12-sided faceplate that sits on a decoration of hexagons.
The caseback has an engraving of a scaphander diving helmet with a 12-sided faceplate that sits on a decoration of hexagons.
While the hour hand and the indexes on the watch glow green,the minute hand, seconds hand and the inverted triangle on the bezel that represents the start of elapsed dive time glow blue. (©Revolution)
While the hour hand and the indexes on the watch glow green,the minute hand, seconds hand and the inverted triangle on the bezel that represents the start of elapsed dive time glow blue. (©Revolution)

TAG Heuer might be best known for their chronographs, but this new breed of Aquaracers goes to show that the brand can dive with the best of them.

More information: tagheuer.com

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Felix Scholz

Felix Scholz has spent the last decade covering watches from his home in Australia. Given this, it's surprising that he still struggles with time zones. Over the years he's become a firm believer that less is more when it comes to watch design – except when a rainbow bezel is involved. He's written for numerous titles including Hodinkee, GQ, A Collected Man and more. These days he looks after the Australian edition of Revolution and takes a break from writing about watches to talk about them, as the co-host of OT: The Podcast.

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