This story begins in the 1990s, which overall was not a great decade for watchmaking. This is of course arguable, and if you were in the trade at this moment, you might have been part of the teams that made the great watches of the 2000s. When it comes to TAG Heuer though, the 1990s made a big impression on me, and probably lots of people in my generation. This being the 160th anniversary of the brand, we already dedicated a cover story to this, back in issue #57 but I thought it was worth a revisit, mainly because that story focussed on the Carrera range. TAG Heuer is much more than just this collection. Indeed, if I were preparing this story in the 1990s, I would probablybe considering how important the Link series is. Now, this is still in the regular collection but almost nobody talks about it anymore.
This line of thinking made me wonder about the other milestones in TAG Heuer’s history that have received scant notice recently, and there are quite a number. Not surprising since there are probably more than 100 models in the brand’s catalogue today. For those of you who think that TAG Heuer is only about Carreras, Connected watches and various motoring icons such as the Monaco, this might be eye-opening. Just take A Look At the official website and you may be taken aback by what you find. Yes, the Link is still there, right at the bottom of the list of watch families in the main menu bar. While the arrangement of collections like this does not always tell you anything useful, it does make sense here.
For fans of the Link, we are leaving that behind for now, but not for good. If we return to looking at iconic bracelets, this collection will be front-and-centre. Starting from the top on that menu bar, we of course find the Carrera and we have already said plenty there. Just below though, we find two names that are very notable: the Formula 1 and Aquaracer collections. Given the importance of the dive watch to collecting in general, it certainly had to figure quite strongly in the collection. According to TAG Heuer’s own data on the site, the most popular search terms for the site are Carrera, Monaco, Connected and Aquaracer. We will save the Aquaracer till the end though, because another key point to mention is the sheer breadth of the motoring-inspired watches. In addition to the Formula 1 and the Carrera, TAG Heuer also has the Monaco and the Autavia to consider.
Ties That Bind
Not too long ago, the brand rolled out partnerships and other strategic and marketing initiatives with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Manchester United, to name just two, and these are all represented somewhere across the four motoring collections. Then there are brand ambassadors, including Cara Delevigne and Chris Hemsworth, once more representing mainly the motoring collections. All of this is why TAG Heuer remains such a famous name in watchmaking, but it would be pure fluff if not for the interest and support of collector communities such as Calibre 11, which we often reference when looking at the vintage watches from the brand.
A very loud YouTube watch personality (or influencer if you prefer) recently declared that TAG Heuer was just a marketing brand, although he made the rather strained effort to separate Heuer from this sweeping attack. Heuer, he asserted, was what got collectors excited. In truth, there is no one YouTube watch channel or personality who espouses this. It is quite pervasive in horological circles, from traders to press. My fictional example here is a synthesis of all this sort of information out there. To be diplomatic about it, this way of thinking is rubbish – there is a historical brand called Heuer, certainly, but one cannot simply add the Monaco V4 and the various 21st century innovations to its reputation. The idea there, in my opinion, seems to be a marriage of convenience between the Jack Heuer and Jean-Claude Biver visions of the brand, which ignores the fact that Biver was not even associated with the firm when the V4 debuted.
As we argued in past issues, TAG Heuer’s contribution to watchmaking includes clever marketing. This was Jack Heuer’s particular genius, forging links with motoring and aligning existing collections ever closer with the chronograph. In fact, the allure of the chronograph was given a boost when Jack personally got the drivers interested in wearing Heuer watches. Legend has it that Steve “the king of cool” McQueen had demanded a Heuer watch for his role as a racing driver in Le Mans because he saw so many professional racers wearing Heuer watches.
Although the above just describes the legend of the Monaco watch, it illustrates how powerful influence can be. That is to say, going to the ground and making the connections that will benefit the brand’s position for generations to come. Watchmaking as a whole owes TAG Heuer a debt in this regard — and yes, that is TAG Heuer not Heuer, because one of those exists. For those collectors and commentators who are only interested in vintage Heuer watches, only considering the Heuer era is fair enough. Nothing about the contemporary brand will be interesting to these individuals. They are probably not reading this article.
This brings me to the Aquaracer, which is a forgotten star at TAG Heuer. It seems there is still a lot of public interest in this collection, which to rehash the point about dive watches, is only to be expected. Incredibly, every single Aquaracer — quartz and mechanical — is water-resistant to 300 metres. Taking note of the winds of change that are swirling around watchmaking once more, we hope that the powers-that-be at the brand and LVMH consider the powerful allure of the dive watch, and seize the opportunity with what is already a pretty good model. It could be great. Given that there are 67 Aquaracer models in the current collection, this bodes well for TAG Heuer. On that note, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce a brand new Aquaracer, one that represents the forward-thinking aspects of TAG Heuer (and the stewardship of LVMH).
On the heels of a successful tie-up with the Monaco watch in 2018, TAG Heuer and the Bamford Watch Department are introducing a new collaboration (or just collab in today’s lingo). The TAG Heuer Aquaracer Bamford Limited Edition is a very striking automatic model, limited to just 1,500 pieces. Bamford states that they looked to Heuer and TAG Heuer models from 1979 and through the 1990s for inspiration. This is shorthand that requires deciphering. It is certainly true that the Aquaracer in its current form debuted in 2004, but Jack Heuer himself was responsible for the predecessor to this collection with the series 1000 in the 1970s. It became the Heuer 2000 in 1982, and was the signature dive watch from TAG Heuer from 1985. Thus the Aquaracer too represents the style of distinct periods in the brand’s history.
There are a few things that need to be said about this limited edition Aquaracer Bamford, chief of which has to do with the full case and bracelet in grade 2 titanium. This is the only Aquaracer in the current collection in this material, which is surprising of course. This is more thoroughly modern than Millie could have ever aspired to, because classic dive watches from TAG Heuer never went in this direction. At the same time, the unidirectional bezel features the return of the inverted triangle, which is absent from the contemporary collection. Totally new are the orange accents on the hands, flange and bezel, as well as the detailing on the second hand. In common with other automatic Aquaracer models, this one is powered by Calibre 5.
Now this is just one watch, and a rather unusual one at that. On the occasion of the 160th anniversary of TAG Heuer, it makes for an odd timepiece to anchor this story. Having said that, the Aquaracer is an important part of the heritage of TAG Heuer, linked as it is with the man who also brought the world the Carrera, the Autavia and the Monaco. It also illustrates the potential of lesser known parts of the TAG Heuer catalogue quite nicely. In this unusual time in watchmaking, it demonstrates that unlike many other brands, TAG Heuer is not a mono-watch affair.