TAG Heuer’s Carrera Watches Live Up to their Legacy

TAG Heuer is a brand of many highlights, but if you had to distill the essence of this pioneering brand into one collection — one name — it would have to be Carrera. The watch bearing this name, which literally translates to “race” in Spanish, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and honestly, the legendary sports chronograph has never looked better. We look back on this storied design to find out what defines it, and explore how its rich heritage is set to inform the TAG Heuer Carrera’s future.

Racers, Start Your Engines

Who better to explain the longevity and legacy of the TAG Heuer Carrera than a man whose job consists, in no small part, of keeping that legacy alive? TAG Heuer’s Heritage Director Nicholas Biebuyck spends hours poring over the minutia of variations, and uncovering new information about this instantly recognizable chronograph. But for Biebuyck, the TAG Heuer Carrera is, at its heart, quite simple. “Fundamentally, it is the quintessential chronograph wristwatch focusing on absolute legibility. It is a utilitarian product, designed for timekeeping on your wrist.”

Beyond this simple face, the story of the TAG Heuer Carrera is inextricably linked with the man whose name is on the dial — Jack Heuer. Heuer’s legacy looms impossibly large at the brand, and the man’s business smarts, marketing savvy and passion for the world of motorsports are all part of the mix ensuring that, in the early 1960s, the Heuer name was synonymous with speed, accuracy and passion. At that time, we were already seeing a shift in the market for wrist-worn chronographs. They were becoming larger, sportier. Heuer knew he wanted to play in this space, and leverage his company’s credibility in the space. The Heuer Autavia debuted in 1962, an adventurous design at home, on the track and in the air. But Jack Heuer wanted to make a pure motorsports watch; legible, wearable and with a clear purpose. Heuer had all the elements in place to make it, but it was a chance meeting in Florida, at the Sebring International Raceway, home of the legendary 12 Hours endurance race that he first heard the name “Carrera.”

Nicholas Biebuyck explains: “In 1962, Jack was in Sebring for the SCCA, the Sports Car Club of America, because he loaned them stopwatches to time the race, as well as to glad-hand and drum up business — to sell a few more stopwatches. Mostly he’s hanging around the circuit, enjoying the hospitality. It’s hot and humid, he’s meeting and greeting, and whilst he’s in the pits, he meets an older Mexican couple; they’re the parents of the Rodriguez brothers — two Mexican racing drivers — and he gets chatting, and they say, ‘We’re so glad our boys are so young, if they’d been any older, they would have been racing in the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, and they would probably have been killed because it’s so lethal.’ Here, Jack learned the story of the race — he was a big fan of road racing — and he hears the name Carrera, and thinks it has a nice universality, a theme, connotations around career and progression, and he latches on to it. So, when he’s back in Switzerland, the first thing he does is register the name in relation to a watch, and at this time the [chronograph that would become the] Carrera was in development, and we can comfortably say that Jack was overseeing it — he was the archetypal project manager, the Steve Jobs type. We know he had a profound love of mid- century minimalist design, Mies van der Rohe, Bauhaus, Eames, Oscar Niemeyer. All these elements went into this elegant, slightly smaller than 36-mm design, and Carrera is the name that was destined for this watch.”

The “Time of Trip” dash clock
The “Time of Trip” dash clock

Evolution of an Iconic Design

One of the most commonly cited references of evolving iconic design is that of the Porsche 911. When the Stuttgart carmaker debuted the supple, subtle rear- engined racer, they surely had no idea that they had laid the foundation for one of the most enduring and instantly recognizable car designs in the world. The 911 (which is universally known by a single name, like Madonna, Cher and all the other truly great icons) is defined not by its engine or function, but by its form. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche’s design is perfectly proportioned and pleasingly harmonious. And while the design of the 911 over successive generations has evolved along with technology and the needs of drivers, it has always embodied the same goal — to be modern, but never fashionable. This way, the designers of the 911 ensured the iconic automobile is as relevant today as it ever was, and never goes out of style.

You don’t need to be Einstein to work out that the parallels between this German powerhouse and TAG Heuer’s iconic chronograph extend beyond a shared name. The TAG Heuer Carrera watch is in many ways a spiritual twin of the Porsche 911. It too was born with function and the purity of line. The TAG Heuer Carrera has evolved over the years, but like the 911, it is instantly recognizable, whether it is a design from 1963, 2003 or 2023. That is the mark of an iconic design.

The evolution of the Carrera
The evolution of the Carrera

The Legendary Three

Over 60 years, there have been many TAG Heuer Carreras created, and particular references or models have risen from the ranks to the great, and to the status of legends. According to Nicholas Biebuyck, those three are the 2447, the 1158 CHN Driver’s Watch and the 1996 Re-Edition.

Heuer Carrera Chronograph 1963 Reference 2447

Says Biebuyck, “Obviously, we have to talk about the reference 2447, be it the S, the N, the SN the NS. Fundamentally the 2447 is Valjoux 72 powered, peaked lugs, tension ring, and three registers. Pure design and legibility that is the nucleus of the TAG Heuer Carrera collection. We obviously had to pick that.”

The reference 2447, as Biebuyck alludes, was produced in quite a range of variants, across a period of around seven years. Beyond the shared number, the triple register layout, and other common design details, what makes reference 2447 special is that it is the first Carrera, launched in 1963. Like many watches of its time, different elements were sourced from different suppliers. It’s a testament to Jack Heuer’s vision that even from day one, the TAG Heuer Carrera had such a strong identity, distinct from its competitors in the space. An identity that still holds up today. It isn’t an overstatement to say that the care and dedication Heuer took with the 1963 Carrera set it on the road for future success.

Heuer Carrera Chronograph Reference 1158 CHN

Biebuyck shares, “The reference 1158 CHN — the Driver’s Watch — is Jack’s favorite watch, and probably one of my all-time favorite watches if you forced me to choose, though it’s a very difficult decision.”

Often known simply as the Driver’s Watch, this solid gold TAG Heuer Carrera is rightfully iconic. The reference 1158 was produced in a range of iterations from 1970 through to the late ’70s — the “CH” appellation speaks to the champagne dial color and the “N” for the noir subsidiary dials. The watch is already distinctive enough, but it’s the association with Ferrari, with whom Heuer was the first non-automotive brand sponsorship in Formula 1, that makes this watch famous. In 1971, Jack Heuer made a deal to provide timekeeping equipment for the Ferrari team. Alongside this, he made a deal with the drivers, which meant they had to visit the Heuer factory personally, to pick up a solid gold TAG Heuer Carrera. For Heuer, having drivers like Mario Andretti and Niki Lauda wearing a TAG Heuer Carrera had a marketing value that was worth its weight in gold.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 1996 Re‑Edition

For the third great TAG Heuer Carrera timepiece, Biebuyck chose the 1996 Re-Edition of the original 1963 Carrera, and he explains why: “The 1996 reissue. It’s key. This kind of heritage nostalgia revival that we’ve been living through in the watch industry — I really think the first Carrera relaunch in 1996 is one of the key components that made the industry wake up to the fact that you could just carbon copy your design, stick it in a shop window and it would sell. That’s very important.”
Believe it or not, this 1996 TAG Heuer Carrera was the first model bearing that name since 1985, when the new owners, Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG), pushed the brand into new directions. In 1996, TAG Heuer decided that the time was right to bring the Carrera back into the stable, and it did so with three models: two stainless steel watches in a white and a black dial, and a gold watch with a white dial. These models were remarkably true to the 1963 original, with a 36-mm case, period-correct geometry and dial design. They even bore the classic Heuer shield proudly on the dial.

21st Century Racer

No one is denying that the TAG Heuer Carrera has a legendary past, but what about today? Where in this age of electric vehicles does the TAG Heuer Carrera fit in? You might be forgiven for thinking that this pure motorsport design is a relic of an analog era, a golden era of motorsports. On one level, it’s true. The world of F1 today is safer, and arguably more sanitized than it was when Jack Heuer and his fast friends roamed the paddocks and, in a not-insignificant way, helped Heuer create this world. TAG Heuer, and especially the TAG Heuer Carrera, has been there, every step of the way. With each innovation and changing trend, the TAG Heuer Carrera kept the pace. In the 1970s and ’80s, the brand embraced the precision offered by quartz technology and has continued to do so throughout
the years.

TAG Heuer has been wildly innovative over the years. Remember the Mikrogirder 10000? It’s a concept mechanical chronograph capable of timing to 5/10,000th of a second accuracy, thanks to a 1,000Hz vibrating linear oscillator. And how about the Monaco V4, a watch that took automotive inspiration right down to the big block caliber with its linear winding mass? Then there was the Mikrotourbillon S, with two tourbillons — a fairly conventional one looking after the timekeeping, and another, an incredibly fast 50Hz tourbillon, that looks after the 1/100th of a second chronograph. In the present catalog, this spirit of innovation is well expressed by the Heuer 02T caliber, which made headlines when it debuted in 2016 for its accessible (for a tourbillon) price tag and intelligent design and construction. I only highlight these signposts on the road to remind you that while TAG Heuer and the Carrera have a legendary history, it’s a living history, and one that’s still very much being written.

Two innovative TAG Heuers — the Mikrogirder 10000 from 2012 and the Monaco V4 from 2004
Two innovative TAG Heuers — the Mikrogirder 10000 from 2012 and the Monaco V4 from 2004

Indeed, this year, on the occasion of its 60th anniversary, the TAG Heuer Carrera continues to build on the chronograph legend.

TAG Heuer Carrera Today

The latest chapter — or perhaps lap — in the story of the TAG Heuer Carrera is at once familiar and completely new. As the model enters its seventh decade of life, it has received a makeover. TAG Heuer has taken the classic TAG Heuer Carrera case, and improved on it. The lines and angles have been subtly reworked to improve the on-the-wrist look and feel. But there are some more apparent changes too. First of all, the size. The core model now measures 39mm across, a size that is refined, in line with contemporary tastes and suitable for a wide range of wrist sizes. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a smaller size means less of an impact. The new “glassbox” sapphire crystal evokes the heavily domed acrylic crystals of the original TAG Heuer Carrera models. Not only does sapphire add the benefit of being virtually scratch- proof, but the edge-to-edge look also flows seamlessly over the dial and tachymeter scale, improving legibility which is, of course, one of the primary design principles of the TAG Heuer Carrera. On top of this, the pushers have been upgraded for improved actuation and housed inside the latest evolutions of TAG Heuer’s impressive Heuer 02 automatic chronograph caliber. Called the TH20-00, the evolution of the movement, overseen by TAG Heuer Movements Director Carole Forestier, now offers bidirectional winding that is faster and more reliable than ever, while still holding steady at 80 hours of power reserve.

Initially, we’re being treated to two takes on this new 39mm TAG Heuer Carrera. First, an all-blue option with a matching calfskin strap, and secondly, a reverse panda dial configuration that’s a nod to iconic models from the brand’s past such as the iconic reference 2447 NS. This option comes on a perforated, rally-style strap. Colors aside, there are a lot of subtle tweaks that have been made to the dial to give the watches an up-to- date feel. The hour markers and hands have been refined for a more heritage feel, and the dial has a circular brushed finish that looks stunning. Another interesting point of difference between these two models is that the blue dial with its twin registers has a date at six, while the triple registers of the reverse panda see a discreet date placed, somewhat unusually, at the 12 o’clock position, ensuring an optimal balance between the clean aesthetic and everyday practicality.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Ref. CBS2212.FC6535
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Ref. CBS2212.FC6535

Not only does this watch look incredibly impressive, it’s also clearly an evolution of the historic model. In speaking with Heritage Director Biebuyck, we were obviously interested to hear to what level he’s involved in the design process of new models that seek to honor the past. And while he’s the first to admit he’s no designer, he does have a role in the process. “When you’re thinking about the pure design of the TAG Heuer Carrera, it’s an extremely stark, almost barren dial. The panda and the reverse panda stand out,” he notes. “And we thought about these new 39mm ‘glassbox’ models, we wanted to pay homage to the past, which is why we used the panda dial on the first celebratory watch [TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 60th Anniversary Edition] presented at the LVMH Watch Week. I pushed for things like the buckle and certain elements of dial hardware like the hour markers and the hands with the stripe down the middle. This was my input, but honestly, I didn’t see these designs until quite late in the development. Of course, every now and then, I have water cooler-type conversations with the designer who works on the project, because they often like getting my two cents’ on these things.” It’s hard to overestimate the amount of care and effort that goes into a major new watch like this, let alone a major new release of a 60-year-old legacy, but from the final result, it’s clear that TAG Heuer has taken everything including aesthetics, engineering and heritage into consideration.

While the 39mm models, with their bold new look and wrist-friendly size, are looking set to be the people’s choice, they aren’t the only new interpretations of the classic TAG Heuer Carrera. Remember those high-end, high-precision innovations from TAG Heuer — the Mikrograph and all the rest? Well, the expression of the brand’s expertise in this space is the timeless tourbillon, a 42mm model that extends the design language into something a little larger than the 39mm model, and a lot more complicated. This twin-register chronograph has the same prominent “glassbox,” the same curved flange and the new look hour markers, but you’d be forgiven for not taking all those details in at first glance, as the watch is dominated by the spinning cage of the tourbillon. Just like the Heuer 02, the Heuer 02T has evolved into the TH20-09, with the bidirectional winding mass, new finishings and 65 hours of power reserve.

TAG Heuer Carrera is indisputably a chronograph, first and foremost. But the collection is more than that, as TAG Heuer has launched a series of brand-new 36mm time-only models. And while the mental association between the famous name and sports chronograph is firmly locked in for many of us, Biebuyck cautions us against this mentality. He says, “I think many people forget that time-only Carreras have existed for a lot longer than they realize. In 1978, we launched a quartz time-only Carrera, so it was already part of the product portfolio in the 1970s. And then when the collection was relaunched in 1996, it came as the homage to the original pieces. By 2000, when it was a complete product portfolio, we had time-only and twin-time already.” Looking at the broader history of Heuer and TAG Heuer, Biebuyck maintains that time-only has always been part of the brand. He explains, “We offered pocket watches, dashboard timers and time- only wristwatches in the 1940s. Then, of course, as TAG Heuer, the first Formula 1 watches were time-only. It’s not that far removed from the heritage of the brand. We’ve always produced something robust, reliable and accurate, and if you’re a driver in a cockpit, there are guys in the pits keeping the time for you — you don’t always need a chronograph. Both have coexisted for many years, and of course, it plays nicely into the distillation of legibility.”

Indeed, legibility and color are the name of the game with TAG Heuer’s exuberant new, smaller-sized Carreras. Formally known as the TAG Heuer Carrera Date, the size and inclusion of vivid pink and pastel green suggest that these watches are being made with women’s wrists in mind. Still, there’s a universality to these watches in both size and style that will see them win over men and women alike. There is a lot to like here. The colors are as versatile as they are fun, and the pure tenets of the Carrera design laid down in 1963 ensure that the design of this watch is strong.

TAG Heuer Carrera Date
TAG Heuer Carrera Date

The TAG Heuer Carrera Date’s dials come in silver sunray, blue sunray, pastel green sunray or vibrant snailed pink. These are complemented by 18K rose gold plated applied indexes, while the vibrant pink dial variant is accentuated by rhodium plated applied indexes. The latest version of the H-link bracelet, with better ergonomics and a tapered design, adds elegance and comfort. While recent versions of the TAG Heuer Carrera Date have featured movements like the Caliber 5 and Caliber 9, this new set of TAG Heuer Carrera Date timepieces are powered by the Caliber 7, which packs a far larger power reserve of 56 hours.

These watches show very clearly that, even as TAG Heuer Carrera evolves, it stays true to its roots.

The Next 60

As the TAG Heuer Carrera celebrates its 60th, it’s a collection that’s in a remarkably strong position. It is a collection with an incredibly rich history, one that TAG Heuer has been savvy at leveraging. Much of the discourse around the TAG Heuer Carrera has, understandably enough, been focused on the early years of this iconic model. But the TAG Heuer Carrera doesn’t live in the past — it is informed by it, but it thrives (and always has thrived) in the now. From its earliest days, the Carrera has been a watch defined by possibility. A chance meeting at Sebring gave the watch its name, a deal with Ferrari and its famous drivers. TAG Heuer Carrera thrives because it responds and reacts to the world around it. While we hesitate to speculate as to what the future might hold, one aspect of the TAG Heuer Carrera that is already impressive and looks set to continue racing ahead is the partnership with Porsche. Biebuyck observes that the future of this partnership is so strong because of the shared history. “We’ve flirted with Porsche for decades. Drivers like Jo Siffert, our relationship with Gulf, Steve McQueen, we have so many points of connection. But when Frédéric [Arnault] stood on stage with Detlev [von Platen, sales and marketing head of Porsche] in 2021 to announce the partnership, it was a key moment.” The last 60 years of the TAG Heuer Carrera have been incredible, but it’s the next 60 we’re excited for.

Tech Specs

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

References: CBS2210.FC6534 (black dial), CBS2212.FC6535 (blue dial)
Movement: Self-winding Caliber TH20-00; 80-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph date and tachymeter scale
Case: 39mm; polished steel; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Black or Blue circular brushed; rhodium plated facetted indexes
Strap: Perforated black calfskin or blue calfskin; polished steel folding clasp with double safety push-buttons
Price: CHF 6,300
Availability: From April 2023

TAG Heuer Carrera Date

References: WBN2310.BA0001 (silver sunray); WBN2311. BA0001 (blue sunray); WBN2312.BA0001 (pastel green); WBN2313.BA0001 (vibrant pink)
Movement: Self-winding Caliber 7; 56-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and date
Case: 36mm; steel; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Silver sunray, blue sunray, pastel green sunray or vibrant snailed pink; 18K rose gold plated applied indexes or rhodium plated applied indexes (for vibrant pink dial)
Strap: Steel H-shape bracelet
Price: CHF 3,100
Availability: Pink version available from May 2023, other versions available from April 2023