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When TAG Heuer introduced the Heuer 02T tourbillon five years ago, it was a shocker. It was a sports watch, with a chronograph function and a tachymeter, but it was also tourbillon. It was chronometer rated, and it was priced at under $20,000. That made it the most affordable Swiss tourbillon on the market – many are priced in the six figures – and it still is.
Given that TAG Heuer made its name as a maker of sports watches and as a timer of motor racing events, it is no surprise that the new Carrera Heuer 02T is one of the sportier tourbillons on the market. Essentially it is a sports watch with a tourbillon, and it was engineered for daily performance: it has 100-meter water resistance, automatic winding, a chronograph function, luminated indexes, a feather-light case and a power reserve of 65 hours. The movement, made in-house by TAG Heuer, is chronometer certified, which means it has an accuracy rating of at least -4/+6 seconds per day. It is a flying tourbillon, which means there is no upper bridge to block the view of the escapement. Micro-weights on the balance wheel allow fine adjustment.
The original model also had a 45mm titanium case, but the strap was black rubber. There was also an Aston Martin special edition with a black PVD-coated titanium and carbon case with rose gold accents and a carbon bezel. An all-black PVD-coated titanium version came with a racing inspired black perforated rubber strap. And finally, there is an all black ceramic version in the line. All have had tachymeter scales on the bezel.
TAG Heuer is going to sell a lot of these… I am, of course, referring to the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon timepiece that is a new-for-2016 product and is among the most affordable (if not the most affordable) Swiss tourbillon-equipped watch of today. During Baselworld 2015, we debuted the TAG Heuer Carrera-02T Tourbillon (here), which promised an “unheard of” price of about $15,000 for a Swiss tourbillon-based watch. Now that I have one on the wrist, the question is “how did it come out?” and “how good is it for the money?” Let’s explore the interesting story and product that is the newest TAG Heuer tourbillon with its in-house made Heuer-02T movement.
The genesis of the Heuer-02T movement and the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon watch is multi-layered, so allow me to explain the backstory (again, for some people) as best as I can. This watch did not evolve out of a vacuum, but is rather the result of a series of interesting events coalescing to make for just such a watch to be developed. I suppose the story begins with the movement.
In 2013, TAG Heuer opened up a new factory in Chevenez, Switzerland, designed to produce their then-new in-house CH80 caliber (where CH actually stood for Chevenez and 80 for its claimed power reserve), as well as their caliber 1887. aBlogtoWatch was extremely excited about the CH 80 (hands-on here with the watch), which would have been a super cool and thoroughly modern automatic chronograph movement. If you click on the link to the article, you can see just how clean and advanced the facility is. For a range of reasons, the CH 80 movement plan was sort of mothballed. My understanding is that for a few reasons TAG Heuer wanted to focus almost exclusively on producing its 1887 movement. I think one reason for this move was that it would have been difficult to separate the CH 80 and 1887 for the consumer in terms of which they should buy, because they, both being automatic chronographs, basically offered the same functionality (even though they had different chronograph layouts and power reserve).
While we lamented the fact that we would not see CH 80 movements in TAG Heuer timepieces any time soon, the CH 80 movements found use in an interesting project that would eventually transform them into the Heuer-02T movements. More on that below.
Something else interesting happened in 2015, and that was Jean-Claude Biver taking over as interim CEO of TAG Heuer. Under his leadership, the brand would undergo some changes including overall price reductions, as well as a broadening of the product range to satisfy the aesthetic and lifestyle demands of millennials. While the brand’s iconic Carrera remains part of the collection, TAG Heuer introduced the Carrera Heuer 01 watch
collection as a complement to the rest of the Carrera family.
The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 watch introduced a new case design as well as a variation on the 1887 movement known as the caliber Heuer 01. Skeletonized and more modern in execution, the Carrera Heuer 01 signaled a new era of the TAG Heuer brand that Mr. Biver himself commented was part of a larger strategy to take what worked for him at Hublot and apply it to a more accessibly-priced brand plan at TAG Heuer. As a true sign of the times, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 case design is used not only in the Carrera Heuer 01 watch, but also the Carrera Connected smartwatch, as well this TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon. In truth, the case design works well for all of these products despite the price differences. TAG Heuer is going for a “brand DNA” look with this new Carrera case, and I think it is working
Odd or not, it doesn’t strike me as a negative thing that the brand’s successful smartwatch uses more or less the same case design as the brand’s new flagship tourbillon. It’s a testament to Biver’s capacity for product differentiation as well as brand diversity that this similarity of product forms actually works. Now is also a good time to mention that the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon is not the brand’s first tourbillon-based timepiece.
In 2012, they debuted the MikrotourbillonS and then, as recently at 2014, TAG Heuer released the Monaco V4 Tourbillon (hands-on here). “Belt-driven” and mounted with a bridge over the top, the Monaco V4’s tourbillon was designed in a different way, but it also came with a price of about $170,000. With that said, I should point out that the design of the Heuer-02T’s tourbillon is inspired by the construction of that in the Monaco V4 Tourbillon. The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon is also a fraction of the Monaco Tourbillon’s price, starting at about $16,000. For people who have been following the high-end watch industry for a while, that number seems almost impossibly low.
When Jean-Claude Biver announced his plans for how to take TAG Heuer into the future, it seemed as though the brand’s “haute horlogerie” division was going to shut down or at least change given that the brand wanted to focus less on exotic timepieces. When it was then announced the brand was going to introduce a new entry-level tourbillon, it opened up people’s eyes to just how dynamic Mr. Biver wanted to make the brand. Today, about 18 months after his taking charge of the brand, it is clear just how diverse and interesting the world of TAG Heuer has and will continue to become.
So why a tourbillon? This is a pretty good question and not one that I think I can easily answer in this article. Upon debuting the circa $16,000 TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon along with the Carrera Connected, Mr. Biver seemed to inadvertently begin a rhetoric debate with Patek Philippe Chairman Thierry Stern – who has on at least a few occasions spoken out against Biver’s development of a “low cost” tourbillon and other products. Speaking to Corinne Gretler (who I consider to be a very smart reporter and good colleague) at Bloomberg, Stern more or less said that as a Swiss tourbillon, TAG Heuer’s product was too inexpensive. So why would Mr. Stern take that position? As a functional item, a tourbillon only theoretically adds value to a timepiece. It was designed by Breguet in 1795 (patented in 1801) as an experimental means of making travel clocks and pocket watches more accurate. In the mid-20th century, watch brands (Omega was the first) began to experiment with tourbillons in “competition” movements as a means of making them more accurate. They were never really seen as a status symbol, and it was eventually found that, at best, tourbillons were probably only “as accurate” as non-tourbillon watches.
For those that aren’t familiar with what a tourbillon is, it can be explained as a regulation system which revolves on its own axis. The regulation system is more or less comprised of the oscillating balance wheel, hairspring, and escapement. Together, they are mostly responsible for the accuracy of a mechanical movement. Tourbillons put the entire regulation system in a “cage” which rotates around itself, usually once each 60 seconds.
Toward the end of the 20th century, high-end watch brands began to slowly introduce “modern” tourbillon-based mechanical movements as exotic and interesting items to attract watch collectors during a time when most people were wearing electronic quartz watches. At some point, someone (whose identity I’d love to learn) decided that tourbillon mechanisms shouldn’t be hidden inside of a movement or through the back of the case, but exposed on the dial of a watch.
Among the major watch makers, tourbillon competition started to get a bit silly over the last 15 years or so. Brands keen on offering “the most complicated” watches to attract high-end collectors started to produce ever more complicated timepieces that included flying tourbillons, multiple tourbillons, multi-axis tourbillons, multiple multi-axis tourbillons, etc… Each of these increasingly exotic (and expensive) timepieces brought with them loads of interesting design and artistic appeal, but little in the form of functional value. Eventually, the tourbillon needed to become a watch again.
So what TAG Heuer is doing with this watch (in my opinion) is setting the bar for what a modern non-hand-finished Swiss tourbillon should be. And the bar is set pretty high. So let’s look at the overall features and tech specs of the movement. TAG Heuer’s caliber Heuer-02T has a flying tourbillon that operates at a frequency of 4 Hertz or 28,800 beats per hour. That is the same as most other modern movements, and not the slower 3 or 2.5 Hz speed of many other Swiss tourbillons. It is also an automatic, which is not particularly common for tourbillon movements.
The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon indicates the time, date, and has a 12-hour chronograph. The chronograph is column-wheel-based with a nice operation from the chronograph pushers. The Heuer-02T movement has a power reserve of 65 hours, and the movement is even COSC Chronometer certified. On top of everything else, TAG Heuer made sure that its tourbillon was accurate – which is really the ultimate icing on the chronometric cake.
You have to really know what you are looking at to see similarities between the CH 80 movement and the Heuer-02T. While the architecture is similar, there is quite a lot about the movement which is changed. Still, aside from the lack of date indicator and running seconds hand, which has been replaced with the spinning tourbillon (functionally they are more or less the same in that they both indicate running seconds), the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon offers all the nice functionality (and more) from what we loved about the CH 80.
On the wrist, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon is a stately 45mm wide by about 16mm thick with a length of about 52mm. It isn’t a small watch, nor is it trying to be. TAG Heuer understands that the whole point of wearing a tourbillon-based watch is to enjoy the mechanical ballet of the tourbillon in full spinning action. Watches such as this are large today in order to better be seen – not only for the people wearing it, but for everyone else. If you prefer smaller sized options you have plenty of choices, but if you want to wear something with “Biverian Boldness,” then this TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon will certainly fit the bill.
For review, I checked out the “Black Phantom” version of the watch which is once again a tribute to Jean-Claude Biver’s legacy. At Hublot, he popularized the idea of the “all-black” watch that looks so cool in person and yet has little logic behind why it does. The trick to making an all-black watch work is in using various shades and finishes of black to allow for proper legibility. Jean-Claude Biver famously explained that the appeal of an all-black watch was because of “visible invisibility.” It’s actually true that, given the more or less monochromatic dark colors of the watch, it actually invites you to look closer, and more intimately at the dial.
Water resistant to 100 meters and produced here in black-coated titanium, the case is attached to a fitted and tapering rubber strap with a matte alligator print on it and a folding deployant clasp. I suppose a downside of the watch is that if you have smaller wrists [Like I do, as captured on the shot above – David] it won’t fit as well given the size of the case. I would say that the case size is about at the limit of what my (smaller) wrist can take, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the boldness of the design and the sheer majesty that is the fact that there is suddenly a refined Swiss tourbillon watch within the scope of what I could actually afford.
The dial of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon is in line with the current modern Carrera aesthetic DNA. Pulling from what worked well at Hublot, you have a highly complex, modern dial with a series of finishes and things to look at. Under 12 o’clock, we have what appears to be the top of the mainspring barrel, and at 6 o’clock is the flying tourbillon. I don’t even miss the hand-finishing you see in much higher-end tourbillons. TAG Heuer does a good job on choice of materials and finishes which helps the watch feel a lot more like something from the universe of a high-end car or motorcycle versus a traditional mechanical watch. Around the dial is a tachymeter scale on the black ceramic bezel which is the ultimate nod to traditional chronograph watches. I have yet to personally use this scale in tandem with the chronograph, but it’s become part of chronograph history as popular watches such as the Rolex Daytona, Omega Speedmaster, and of course, TAG Heuer Carrera all continue to use this scale around the bezel of their racing-inspired chronograph flagship models.
Otherwise, this modern Carrera case is mostly simple with minimalist lines and sharp, contemporary angles (especially in the lugs). In fact, it is the design of the lugs which most speaks to the historic look of the Carrera collection which was first introduced in the early 1960s.
I noticed an audible sound to the movement of the automatic rotor – which is a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. You can view the movement and rotor through the back of the case through the sapphire crystal exhibition window. I like that part, but it isn’t always the case that I want to hear it. With that said, I’ve spoken to other watch lovers who very much enjoy hearing elements of the mechanical movement in operation. It is just a matter of taste.
Nevertheless, it is probably a very good idea for TAG Heuer to produce their new Carrera Tourbillons in relatively small quantities so as to ensure the market doesn’t become saturated with them. If consumers are going to enjoy a good price, then they should not be afforded too much availability. Actually, even if TAG Heuer wanted to mass produce the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon, I don’t think they could. The staff necessary to produce these watches is limited by nature, and despite the lower price, it isn’t as though these tourbillons are easier to assemble than higher-end ones.
Whether the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon is a singular interesting project or the start of something new and more accessible for high-end horology is yet to be seen. I’m excited about this watch, and I really enjoy wearing it. It ticks off most of the right boxes when it comes to a modern high-end Swiss sports watch, while at the same time (in my opinion) doesn’t detract from what makes an even more high-end, hand-decorated fine timepiece appealing. TAG Heuer succeeded at creating a new niche segment without really disrupting others (in my opinion), and for at least that, the brand should be proud.