This week TAG Heuer released four beautiful new Carrera chronograph models, each tastefully reminiscent of the original ’63 Carrera. The watches, available in blue, gray, black, and silver dials, all lean surprisingly towards the dressy side for the famously racing-oriented brand, and are powered by the excellent in-house Heuer 02 movement.
For a brand that is as tied to aggressive, sporty design as TAG Heuer invariably is, the new Carrera is actually an exercise in restraint, in part due to the family resemblance to its progenitor, but in some ways this is actually more reserved.
The dial uses, like the original Carrera, a tri-compax layout, which is perhaps the most traditional approaching to a chronograph with three subdials, and one that remains extremely popular not only among Heuer fans, but also Rolex and Omega fans. Still, while the purists celebrate the return to this dial, I actually never minded the alternative layout of other Carreras, including the somewhat controversial 1887-based models, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a Heuer 02 version in that layout down the road.
Stylistically, I like what they’ve done here by minimizing the seconds subdial at 6:00. Not only does this give the watch a dressier character, but it implies that the seconds isn’t as important as the chronograph subdials. By creating more space on the dial, it allows the chronograph registers to stand out more.
Taking a closer look now, we can appreciate the fine sunburst design used in most of the models. The hands and hour markers both closely resemble the original Carrera as well, and their bold design reminds us that, although this is fairly dressy by chronograph standards, it remains a sport watch, however tasteful it might be. I like that they managed to fit an applied marker at 6:00 under the date, and especially that it matches the markers at 3:00 and 9:00, but I think this model could be even better if they offered a model without a date, giving the watch an even cleaner appearance. Color-matched date rings can be had, for those who love them (like me), on the silver and gray dials, but blue and gray appear to come with high-contrast white date rings that really draw attention to the complication.
Size wise, these are thoroughly modern at 42mm, but I don’t find this to be particularly objectionable in a dedicated sport watch, and the Heuer 02 movement seems to fill up the dial nicely in this space with subdials that are neither too far apart or close. This was similarly accomplished in the larger Carreras with the same movement earlier this year via a large, and bold, tachymeter bezel, so it feels like the Heuer 02 is basically calibrated for watches in this size range.
The design of the case itself is fairly standard for the Carrera line, but that’s hardly a bad thing. I’ve always appreciated the lugs on Carreras, which have an almost gem-cut look to them at the end. This overall design works really well on leather, which is the default for two models (the silver and gray dials), and helps dress the watch up. The bracelet, with its characteristic H-shaped links, contributes to a sportier character, but even so, the polished center links make it appear less utilitarian and more refined. To be honest, it’s quite hard for me to decide which I like more on this watch. I think I’d ultimately end up going with leather because I think it brings out the more unique aspects of the character of this watch, but they are both very cohesive with the overall design.
The Heuer 02 is an exciting development for TAG Heuer fans and is clearly intended to become the mainstay of premium chronographs from the brand as it has already found its way into several premium models. It’s a sophisticated movement, too, not merely a shift to in-house for vertical integration’s sake. For instance, it features an excellent power reserve of 80 hours, beating even Grand Seiko’s 9R86 and Rolex’s 4130, both used in much more expensive watches. Like most premium chronographs, the Heuer 02 also uses a column wheel and vertical clutch design.
The rotor and column wheel on these new models is a different color than the image above, but this should be a close enough approximation for us to look at. As has been customary for a while now at TAG Heuer, the movement has a heavy industrial theme featuring lots of sharp angles, eschewing the flowing design of bridges commonplace in most Swiss movements. This tends to make the brand’s movements look more cool than beautiful, but it suits the character. From a timekeeping perspective, the Heuer 02 is a bit more conventional in design with a balance cock and smooth balance wheel, and unlike its Zenith brethren, it beats at the standard 28,800 BPH. Overall, an impressive movement that makes these watches a player in the highly competitive $5,000-ish space. TAG Heuer fans looking for something a bit more exotic would do well to look at the Heuer 02T which offers an incredible value for a tourbillon chronograph.
Price wise, each of these is $5,350, with the exception of the silver dial which is $5,550. That’s a very interesting price because it puts it directly in the line of fire of the Speedmaster Professional, arguably one of the two most important chronographs in the world (the other being the El Primero, of course). That said, you’ll pay substantially more for Omega’s 9900 powered watches, and that’s just as true for the Rolex Daytona, so it could be argued that in the world of modern, in-house automatic chronographs, these watches do offer a compelling value. I think a question that many potential buyers will want to ask is whether they would rather buy a three-hander from Rolex or Omega, both of which have popular options in the $5,000-$6,000 range (I refer primarily to the Oyster Perpetual and Aqua Terra), or would the rather spend about the same and get a chronograph instead.
Currently these new watches are available in four versions (click on any of them below to learn more or pre-order yours). As per which I like, I think I’d take the black dial if I wanted to emphasize the sporty character of the watch, or the silver dial if I wanted to emphasize its dressy character. The blue and gray watches, alternatively, seem to find a nice balance between them. All of these could make good everyday watches, assuming you don’t mind wearing something slightly on the large side, but overall I think my favorite is the gray, non-matching date ring notwithstanding.