TAG Heuer History: High-Octane Innovation & Style

TAG Heuer History: High-Octane Innovation & Style2018-06-12T23:40:53+00:00
Edouard Heuer Founder Of TAG Heuer

Edouard Heuer – Images courtesy of TAG Heuer

Leading luxury watch brand TAG Heuer is well-known worldwide for combining top quality and exquisite style with stunning affordability, as well as for its historic ties to the aviation and sporting industries.

In particular, the brand is an honored favorite in automobile racing, due to its sterling track record for producing extremely accurate, high-precision chronographs and other avant-garde technologies essential in motorsports.

TAG Heuer was the official supplier of timekeeping equipment for many high-profile athletic events, including several years of the Olympic Games.

Heuer Brand Beginnings

Though the company we know today as TAG Heuer came into existence through a series of landmark mergers, its earliest origins hail all the way back to 1860, when Swiss watchmaker Edouard Heuer started his first watch manufacture, named simply Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG (“Heuer Watchmaking Inc.”).

Heuer’s manufacture was originally based in Saint-Imier, the French-speaking Jura area of the Bern canton in Switzerland. Only 4 years after its founding, the company had already expanded and moved to Biel, a much larger city that would also become the birthplace of many other premier watch companies popular today. Yet by 1876, the ambitious Heuer had already branched out, forming a subsidiary in London.

Cutting-Edge Chronographs Make History

Heuer’s first solid claims to fame were his efficient, unique approaches to manufacturing chronographs, which enabled considerable cost savings during production while preserving quality and pushing boundaries for timekeeping accuracy. By 1882, Heuer was issued the first of the many chronograph patents he would secure in his illustrious career.

TAG Heuer Calibre 1887 Movement With Oscillating PinionThen, just 5 years later in 1887, he invented the oscillating pinion, a groundbreaking chronograph design that’s still widely-used in the present day in popular chronograph movements, such as the self-winding Valjoux 7750.

Traditional chronographs operate via a sliding wheel which, whenever the user turns on the chronograph, moves horizontally to engage the chronograph’s seconds wheel with the normal timekeeping portion of the movement. Coupling and de-coupling the teeth of these wheels can cause the seconds hand to abruptly lurch forward when the chronograph is first engaged, and may also cause excessive wear over time.

The oscillating pinion, on the other hand, consists of a mobile rod that spans the vertical axis of the watch movement with two pinions (gears) at the ends—a vertical clutch mechanism similar to those in automobile transmissions. Since one of the pinions is permanently engaged with the normal watch portion of the movement, drag and wear is considerably lessened, often resulting in a more precise, smoother-running, sturdier chronograph.

Timeline & Historic Model Spotlight

Through the years, Heuer and company continually achieved remarkable technological advances, especially in chronograph design:

1911. Heuer patents the “Time of Trip,” the first chronograph designed to be mounted directly on the dashboards of aircraft and automobiles. From this time on, the company would go on to release a large array of dashboard chronographs for aircraft, boats, and automobiles.

TAG Heuer Time Of Trip Dashboard Chronograph

1914. The first Heuer wristwatch chronograph is released.

1916. The legendary Mikrograph, the first stopwatch with 1/100 second accuracy, was introduced. The company would soon follow up by offering the Semimikrograph, which featured 1/50 second accuracy, as well as a split-second function that enables the user to record time intervals between two events. These new features allowed the company to offer even more flexibility in fitting their customers’ varied timing needs.

TAG Heuer Mikrograph and Semimikrograph Stopwatches

1933. The Autavia, a dashboard timer developed especially for aviation and automotive applications, hits the market along with a durable companion clock, the Hervue, which only requires winding once every 8 days.

1935. From this year up to the early 1940’s, Heuer focuses heavily on timepieces for aircraft, in particular, manufacturing two-register Flieger (pilot) chronographs for the Luftwaffe. By the mid-1940’s, the company started adding three-register chronographs, complete with a full calendar function, to its repertoire.

1950. The 1950’s ushers in Heuer’s iconic relationship with Abercrombie & Fitch, which, at the time, specialized in clothing and equipment for sportsmen and adventurers, famously outfitting several American presidents as well as other daring historical figures such as Amelia Earhart and Ernest Hemingway (read more about A&F’s retail history from Business Insider).

Early in the decade, Heuer produced the legendary “Seafarer” and “Auto-Graph” chronographs for A&F. Additionally, all through the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Heuer firmly established itself as a leading manufacturer of stopwatches and other timing paraphernalia, and its wristwatch chronographs became a favorite of many big names in the automobile racing industry.

1953. The Seafarer chronograph is adapted from the earlier 1949 “Solunar” model, a watch designed to help fishing and hunting enthusiasts keep track of tide cycles, which was developed with help from the already-enterprising 15-year-old Jack Heuer (the founder’s great grandson) and his high school physics teacher.

Though most sportsmen ended up shunning the Solunar, preferring to stick with traditional tide charts for their needs, A&F had Heuer add on a 3-register chronograph, and the resulting Seafarer found much greater commercial success.

TAG Heuer Solunar Historic Abercrombie & Fitch Watch

1958. Heuer releases a wildly-popular line of dashboard clocks, stopwatches, and timers, including the Master Time, Monte Carlo, and Sebring offerings, and segues into timing devices specifically designed for skiing and motorsports.

1962.  A Heuer stopwatch, donned by NASA astronaut John Glenn while piloting the Friendship 7 spacecraft in the first earth-orbiting U.S. space flight, becomes the first Swiss watch in space.

Astronaut John Glenn Wears TAG-Heuer In Space

1963. Jack Heuer designs and releases one of TAG Heuer’s most celebrated watch models to date—the Carrera, launched as a tribute to the Carrera Panamericana, a daring border-to-border open-road rally that was held annually from 1950 to 1954. The original Carrera chronographs were known for their clean, minimalist designs, featuring sleek stick markers and registers in a variety of color combinations.

TAG Heuer Historic 1963 Carrera Chronograph Watch

 1964. Heuer acquires the Leonidas brand, which specialized in chronographs, timers, and military watches, and starts operating under Heuer-Leonidas S.A.

1969. Heuer launches the Caliber 11, which may have been the world’s first automatic chronograph movement (it was an extremely close race between the Caliber 11, the 6139 from Seiko, and the El Primero from Zenith), developed in collaboration with Breitling-Leonidas, Dubois-Depraz and Buren. Another notable Heuer achievement from this year was the Monaco, another famous signature Heuer series, released as a tribute to the Monaco Grand Prix. The Monaco, which employed the Caliber 11, was truly a trailblazing design, as Heuer’s first automatic chronograph watch and the first chronograph featuring a square case.

1971. Ferrari designates Heuer as its official timekeeper and sponsor from 1971 to 1979, a relationship that cements Heuer’s famed association with auto racing. During this period, the Heuer crest was displayed on all Scuderia Ferrari Formula One racers, and every Ferrari driver was provided a Solid Gold Carrera 1158 watch, personalized with an engraving of the driver’s name and blood type.

Ferrari Driver Clay Regazzoni Wears Heuer Silverstone

Ferrari Driver Clay Regazzoni

1985. The TAG (Techniques d’Avant Garde) group, known for producing aircraft and race car engines, acquires Heuer, giving rise to TAG Heuer.

1991. TAG Heuer launches the “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” campaign, with racecar legend Ayrton Senna as its face.

1999. TAG Heuer joins other premier watch brands in the Watches & Jewelry division of the luxury goods conglomerate LMVH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE).

2005. The Caliber 360, the first mechanical wristwatch chronograph with 1/100 second timekeeping accuracy, is introduced.

2013. TAG Heuer celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Carrera, which has gone through 10 generations since its original launch.

What Sets TAG Heuer Apart?

As we’ve seen, TAG Heuer has released many timepieces over the years that have left a lasting mark on history. But what distinguishes it among other top luxury watch brands today?

Tried & True Endurance

TAG Heuer Watch Water Resistance TestSince pilots, athletes, and race car drivers have long formed a significant slice of TAG Heuer’s customer base, the company takes the durability and reliability of its products very seriously.

As suggested by its “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” marketing slogan, TAG Heuer makes rigorous endurance and quality testing an essential part of its sophisticated watch development process.

According to the TAG Heuer website, every newly-assembled watch is subjected to a unique battery of chemical and mechanical resistance tests, which have been patented with the Federal Institute for Intellectual Property in Switzerland. This “shock testing” aims to ensure that each and every component of TAG Heuer timepieces are “unscratchable and unbreakable,” even when exposed to extreme weather conditions, intense vibrations and impacts, and temperature / pressure shifts anticipated for watches worn during flights, races, marathons, tournaments, and other high-intensity events.

“Brand Ambassadors”: From Classic Cool To Red-Hot Heroes

Steve McQueen Wearing TAG Heuer MonacoTAG Heuer has had a long line of famous fans—from classic movie stars to racing legends to Olympic heroes—who loved the brand so much that they happily agreed to officially endorse it:

Heritage. One of the company’s best-known heritage ambassadors is the “King of Cool” himself, American actor Steve McQueen, who wore the Heuer logo and the iconic square-faced Heuer Monaco watch on-screen in the 1971 racing film “Le Mans.” But the brand was also famously endorsed in the past by boxing legend Muhammad Ali and race car giant Ayrton Senna, who achieved a so-far unbeatable six victories in a row at the Grand Prix.

Sports. Considering TAG Heuer’s solid commitment to meeting the toughest requirements for gearing athletes, it’s not surprising that many athletic stars from all over the world favor the brand, including American Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, Swedish ice hockey Olympic Gold medalist Henrik Lundqvist, Japanese tennis champion Kei Nishikori, and Portugal’s all-time top soccer goal-scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Arts & Music. Jean-Claude Biver, TAG Heuer’s current CEO and President of the LMVH Watches & Jewelry Division, aiming to make the brand more accessible to newer generations, recently expanded its range of  brand ambassadors to include stars from popular music and the modern art world, including Grammy-nominated pop rock band OneRepublic, two-time Latin Grammy-winning Colombian Reggaeton superstar J. Balvin, and avant-garde street art phenom Alec Monopoly.

Top-Notch Innovation At A Reasonable Price

TAG Heuer is also unique among luxury watch brands for pushing the envelope on technological innovation while still staying true to the noble values of its Swiss watchmaking heritage.

For example, rather than clinging stubbornly to traditional ideas about what constitutes a luxury watch, the company has wholeheartedly embraced the current trend towards “smart” gadgets, releasing a revolutionary modular luxury smartwatch developed in partnership with Google and Intel, the Connected Modular 45.

Each component of the watch—the watch module itself, the lugs, the straps, the buckles, etc.—can be swapped out. Not only does this ensure that the watch will never be outdated since the watch module can eventually be replaced with a newer model (or even with a traditional mechanical movement, should the wearer ultimately decide smartwatches aren’t his thing), it also allows for amazing flexibility in style customization, enabling customers to use an online Watch Selector to build a stunning array of 500 design combinations. Shown below is one of the best-selling style combos.

TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 Luxury Smartwatch

Another incredible recent innovation released by TAG Heuer is its Carrera-Heuer-02T, the most affordable Swiss tourbillon watch ever offered. The tourbillon, which encases the watch escapement in a constantly-rotating cage in order to compensate for any rate errors due to how gravity’s effects differ depending on the watch’s orientation, is a most intricate and difficult-to-craft watch mechanism, leading to typical prices in the six-figure range (read more about the tourbillon and other watch parts in our Watch Parts Guide).

Yet the Carrera-Heuer-02T starts at just under $16,000, while still offering a COSC-certified (COSC, Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, an independent testing authority that administers a rigorous mandatory 21-day test for Swiss-made chronometers) tourbillon.

There are currently 9 color/ style variations available, which range in price from $15,900 to $53,860. Shown below is the Special Edition “Black Phantom Titanium” version of the Carrera 02T.

TAG Heuer Carrera 02T Tourbillon Black Phantom Watch

More Contemporary TAG Heuer Series

Other currently-popular TAG Heuer watch collections include:

Monaco

This signature classic remains a best-seller. The model shown below, which closely resembles the Monaco worn by Steve McQueen in 1971, with its blue alligator strap and blue square dial, is one of the most popular style choices.

TAG Heuer Monaco Blue Alligator Luxury Watch

Carrera

This groundbreaking automatic chronograph sports watch is also still a huge favorite, and over 150 Carrera models are currently offered on the official website. The model shown below retains the original Carrera’s minimalist look, updated with a handy day-date complication.

TAG Heuer Carrera Day Date Luxury Watch

Aquaracer

Ever since Heuer patented the first water-resistant watch case back in 1895, the company has kept the needs of seafarers and divers in mind,  and this collection features TAG Heuer’s specialty diving watches. Chronograph models with high-pressure-resistant casing, such as the model shown below, are popular among divers.

TAG Heuer Aquaracer Chronograph Diving Watch

Also offered in the Aquaracer collection are 3-hand watches with bright luminescent markers for nighttime swimming / diving.

TAG Heuer Aquaracer Diving Watch With Luminscent Markers

Formula 1

This line of racing watches, which features an array of exciting special edition models, was built tough for racecar drivers but was also designed with comfort in mind for daily use. Shown below is the Indy500 Special Edition model.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Indy500 Racing Watch

Link

The brand’s chic “double-S-shaped” bracelet watch, designed by the legendary Eddy Schöpfer, is also offered as a chronograph or 3-hand watch. Shown below is a Link model that features a Calibre 18 automatic chronograph movement showcased with a case and strap made of fine-brushed, polished steel.

TAG Heuer Link Chronograph Bracelet Watch

More On Watches & TAG Heuer

We hope that this look at TAG Heuer’s company history, distinguishing characteristics, and currently-available watch collections has been helpful to you. You can visit the official TAG Heuer website to read more about the company’s historical milestones, unique manufacturing processes, and latest watch models.

TAG Heuer
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"TAG Heuer is one of those iconic watch brands that has made significant contributions to high precision time pieces over the years. The company is particularly known for its innovations in the manufacturing of chronographs and is also known for its impressive line of current models including the Carrera-Heuer-02T which is widely considered to be the most affordable Swiss tourbillon on the market."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★

For more information about watches in general, as well as for useful guides and product reviews, visit the Bespoke Unit Watch Homepage.

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