Jack Heuer first heard the word ‘Carrera’ whilst in the pits at Sebring, so rooted in motorsport is TAG Heuer’s famed chronograph. Having recently taken control of the family business, he rushed home to register half of the name of the Mexican race so lethal it had been banned years before, the Carrera Panamericana.
“I loved not only its sexy sound but also its multiple meanings, which mean road race, course and career. All very much Heuer territory!” said the man himself in his autobiography, The Times of My Life.
Jack Heuer introduced the Carrera in 1963 and trusted his own design instincts, seeking legibility above all else after a Heuer dashboard stopwatch had recently cost him first place in a rally. Heuer took advantage of a recent invention, moving the 1/5th sec scale from the dial to a new steel tension ring that pressed against the watch glass to increase water resistance. This freed up acres of dial space – and instantly made the watches easier to read.
Today the Carrera is called into action both to celebrate that same Sixties golden era that has pushed the prices of vintage Heuer into the stratosphere, and more recently as a platform to introduce new advancements, such as the [Western] world’s most accessible tourbillon watch, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T in 2017.
The Carrera might have started out as a gamechanger, but today it is more innovative and forward-looking than ever before, thanks mainly to the attitude of parent company LVMH’s watch division. Industry magnate Jean-Claude Biver might soon be heading into retirement, but he has left one of the most exciting figures in the industry in charge of research and development.
A former naval fast jet pilot and advanced physics lecturer, Guy Sémon has turned watchmaking on its head at TAG Heuer and sister brand Zenith (Hublot seems to be afforded a greater deal of autonomy) since the foundation of LVMH Watches’ Science Institute. Now instead of watchmakers developing new concepts at TAG Heuer and Zenith themselves, it is a staff of young engineers and physicists that are pushing the boundaries, with watchmakers instead playing a supporting role.
Sémon’s work came to the fore once before, when he developed a series of high-tech watches for TAG under the Mikro banner. Business priorities at the time might have seen the brand’s watchmaking mothballed, but Sémon is now firmly in charge of the watchmaking innovation at the group.
The first project realised was Zenith’s Defy LAB, which saw the entire escapement assembly replaced by a single, silicon component, and was proudly revealed as the most accurate mechanical watch in the world. Not bad for a first attempt.
The Nanograph is another title-holder, the first watch in the world to have a hairspring made out of carbon, or to be more accurate, a ‘material based on a graphene nanotubes matrix, infiltrated with basic carbon.’
Why carbon? Well, when faced with extreme shock carbon doesn’t deform as more traditional metallic alloys would, nor break as silicon, the other main contender, might. Much like silicon, carbon is also anti-magnetic and can be manufactured precisely down to the micron, although there still appears to be some debate on carbon’s sensitivity to temperature. It also allows the collet (the central pin that attaches balance spring to balance wheel) to be manufactured along with the hairspring as a single component.
The manufacturing process is carried out in-house and apparently involves a natural gas, but that’s as much as TAG is divulging.
Not only is the Nanograph innovative when it comes to materials, but the 45mm carbon fibre-cased watch also fits in with TAG’s affordable complication strategy. That includes the use of the same 4Hz COSC-certified automatic chronograph and tourbillon that featured on the Heuer 02T Tourbillon.
The use of graphene and its regular molecular lattice is reflected through a neon yellow honeycomb motif on the open dial, with the same colour also used to highlight its chronograph pushers, as well as its hands and tourbillon cage.
But this very technical timepiece is not beyond having a bit of fun, either. In low light conditions you’ll very quickly notice that TAG has applied dots of Super-LumiNova to the balance wheel in what might be another world first. Maybe not one for the record books, but moving lume is endlessly entertaining.
More details at www.tagheuer.com