Carrera : 50 years of a legend
One particular sports watch has been front and centre of the watchmaking stage since 1963 : the Carrera. The career of this chronograph involves a blend of motorsports and technological breakthroughs. This is a phenomenon that remains in a league of its own. How did this model intended for professional drivers win the crucial trial with collectors ? A close-up look at the mechanism behind a success story.
It’s the story of a tribute. Over a century after its birth in 1860, TAG Heuer had already asserted itself as the undisputed leader in the field of chronographs built into sports car instrument panels. In 1963, rally enthusiast Jack Heuer had already introduced a number of innovations in line with those of his predecessors, when he began work on developing a tailor-made sports watch designed for professional racing drivers. It was to meet extremely demanding criteria, to display perfect readability and water resistance, and to be able to stand up to the most trying conditions. The memory of the “CARRERA Panamericana”, nicknamed the “Pan Am”, suddenly came to mind: this Mexican automobile competition launched in 1950 and which came to an abrupt end five years later after a terrible accident, was to inspire him in creating an eponymous watch. Its design featured a clever aesthetic combination. To instil in this model the strength of character pervading the legendary race to which it is dedicated, Jack Heuer drew upon the bold lines of the emerging artistic and architectural movements of the times, while preserving a pure design and restrained colours – entirely in keeping with the classic and timeless spirit of motorsports. This studied approach gave rise to the first piece in the collection, the black and white “Panda” tachymeter edition that was soon snapped up by elite drivers on both sides of the Atlantic.
One victory after another
This timely launch was followed by a long series of others that have enjoyed consistent success. 1969 : the patented CARRERA Chronomatic Calibre 11 was the first automatic chronograph. Driven by a complex mechanism equipped with the all-important oscillating pinion created by Edouard Heuer in 1887, it ensured ultra-precise timekeeping in all circumstances. In the 1970s, the CARRERA sailed through the watch industry crisis sparked by the advent of quartz thanks to the launch of a range of avant-garde quartz watches. In 1996, the brand entered a new era of technological innovation by reviving its emblematic collection, the TAG Heuer Carrera, which notably won prestigious trophies at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix : Calibre 360 Pink Gold, voted “Sports Watch of the Year” in 2006 ; and the tribute to the company founder, Calibre 1887, entirely made in the company’s Swiss-based workshops, which in 2010 won the splendid “Petite Aiguille” prize. Finally, 2012 brought the crowning glory when the TAG Heuer CARRERA Mikrogirder with its unique 5/10,000ths of a second precision, was awarded the much-coveted “Aiguille d’Or” Grand Prix, making it the best watch across all categories. Fifty years of history, during which the CARRERA has risen to every challenge. From David Coulthard to Alain Prost, along with Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso, all the great names in motor-racing wear one. Its fascinating powers also exercise their effect beyond the tracks. There are not many who could lay claim to having remained in pole position since 1963 !
Carrera : a novelty-packed jubilee
After ending the year in pole position, TAG Heuer is once again a formidable contender for the top spot on the 2013 podium. To celebrate the Carrera’s 50th anniversary year in due style, the brand was naturally expected to present models worthy of the event.
How could it give a modern twist to a legendary movement ? By reinventing one of Edouard Heuer’s greatest contributions to watchmaking : the 1887 oscillating pinion. This was successfully achieved by highlighting the Calibre 1887 model that immortalises the famous oscillating pinion patented by Edouard Heuer that same year. This entirely in-house manufactured movement featuring a blue column wheel, fitted with a balance oscillating at 28,800 vibrations per hour and endowed with a 50-hour power reserve, was brilliantly inspired by a car transmission system – with the column wheel and oscillating pinion respectively playing the roles of gearbox and clutch. The Carrera Calibre 1887 collection, interpreted through four different versions, houses this legendary movement.
Firstly, the Carrera Calibre 1887 Ceramic Bezel Chronograph – 43 mm, which revisits the design of the famous Calibre 16, while equipped with Calibre 1887. This great classic daringly celebrates a match between the anthracite steel of the case and the H-shaped bracelet, with the almost scratchproof ceramic of the bezel with its tachymetric scale. The hand-written vintage numbers and date window are manually applied to the light-tinted sapphire crystal exhibition case-back.
Living up to its name, the Carrera Racing Calibre 1887 Chronograph – 43 mm displays a breathtaking design. The main new features are the 43 mm black case in sandblasted titanium, the ceramic bezel with a tachometric scale, the soft-touch alligator leather strap with redesigned black folding clasp, and the black gold Arabic numerals.
The Carrera Calibre 1887 Chronograph – 41 mm reveals a pared-down style in keeping with the finest Carrera traditions, with a blue dial, discreet hour-markers and three counters at 12, 9 and 6 o’clock. Supplied with a traditional leather strap or a curving steel bracelet, this elegant model is resolutely masculine.
The last in the series is the Carrera Heritage Calibre 1887 Chronograph – 41 mm. It features the famous “Heritage” dial swept over by blued hands and punctuated by large Arabic numerals, and is fitted with a blue alligator strap or a cambered steel bracelet – an original and refined edition that is bound to fulfil purists’ expectations.
Tribute to the spirit of innovation
The Carrera Calibre 1887 Jack Heuer 50th Anniversary Edition – 45 mm tells a story. That of TAG Heuer and of Edouard Heuer’s grandson who is now Honorary Chairman of TAG Heuer : Jack Heuer. It derives its legitimacy from the brand history, extending the quest for reliability and innovative spirit that have guided the development of Carrera models for 50 years and culminated in 2013 with the launch of the Carrera Calibre 1887 line. This chronograph featuring an asymmetrical case with a subtle bullhead design housing the crown and pushers. On the technical side, while its two-part design is a nostalgic nod to that of 1960s Heuer automobile chronometers, pride of place is given to high-tech elements stemming from the world of Formula 1 and aeronautics : a black titanium carbide bezel hand-polished to achieve an amazing shine ; a satin-brushed and sandblasted steel cage; along with a tachymeter and a pulsometer on the dial. On the back of the model, a sapphire crystal provides fascinating glimpses of Calibre 1887. In many respects, this model is a dazzling tribute to the unique vision of Jack Heuer, a pioneering frontrunner in the field of watch technology and design.
The supersonic watch
TAG Heuer sweeps away three centuries of conventional ideas regarding the balance and spring assembly to create a totally unprecedented mechanical regulating organ. Boasting 5/10,000ths of a second precision, meaning a frequency of 7,200,000 vibrations per hour, the Carrera Mikrogirder is the fastest mechanical regulator ever developed and tested. Its sophisticated mechanism is matched by refined aesthetics : the dial layout is conducive to fast and easy reading of the time unit thanks to three scales : two outer ones and one at 6 o’clock showing 1/2,000ths of a second. Beneath the cambered sapphire crystal, the black Arabic numerals dotted around the anthracite and silver-toned dial leave space to observe the regulating organ in action. The hand-applied solid pink gold TAG Heuer logo and blue “10 000” inscription at 12 o’clock set the finishing touch to this timepiece that won the prestigious “Aiguille d’Or 2012” award in the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. Yet another pole position for TAG Heuer.
Back to the future
With its 19 grams of pure technology, the Carrera Carbone Calibre 1887 Concept Chronograph establishes itself as one of the most futuristic interpretations of the original 1963 Carrera. Powered by the famous 100% in-house made Calibre 1887, an entirely updated version of the oscillating pinion movement developed in 1887 by Edouard Heuer, it features a case with asymmetrical lugs inspired by the Carrera Mikrogirder. While the crown and pushers are traditionally placed at 12 o’clock, the case, the caseback and the bezel are made of ultra-thin reinforced carbon fibre, a material borrowed from the field of Formula 1 and aeronautics, and which requires a highly complex miniaturised production process. Lightness and exceptional resistance, combined with absolute precision in every detail. Its appeal lies in a combination of original design and avant-garde technology. The temptation to acquire one is likely to prove virtually irresistible…