Tag Heuer is most famous for its chronographs: a watch genre it has excelled in so comprehensively that at one point it was producing them for many of its storied Swiss rivals, including Rolex. Its founder, Édouard Heuer, was an inventor and innovator and something of a maverick, setting up his 19th century watchmaking business in the village of St-Imier and becoming a central part of the history of watchmaking.
Heuer took out his first chronograph patent in 1882 and five years later came up with the oscillating pinion, the part that allows chronographs to be stopped and started, which is still used today. The company went on to design chronographs for planes, cars and boats. During the Thirties its innovations in dashboard chronographs led to the Autavia (a portmanteau of ‘automobile’ and ‘aviation’), which became one of its key lines.
It also came up with the first wrist chronograph in 1914 and, soon after, began making stopwatches. Heuer timepieces were used for three Olympics during the Twenties, so beginning an association with sports that stands to this day.
By the Seventies, however, the company was beginning to falter and a private holding company, Tag (Techniques d’Avant-Garde), purchased a majority stake. The resulting business, now known as Tag Heuer (which is pronounced “tag hoy-yur”, btw), was in turn acquired by the LVMH luxury conglomerate in 1999, for nearly half a billion pounds. Tag Heuer now sits as part of the same stable as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co and Moët champagne.
The association with sports and timing continues to be a profitable one, with numerous high-profile sponsorships including, at one time or another, Manchester United, the French Professional Football League, Porsche’s Formula E Electric Racing Team, the Ferrari F1 team and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.
Accordingly, Tag Heuer has become synonymous with watches with a sturdy, sporty aesthetic – as borne out by the advertising slogan ‘Don’t Crack Under Pressure’ – perhaps most famously embodied in its Monaco, the square watch made famous by the film Le Mans, and also its Aquaracer and Formula 1 lines.
Most recently it has branched out into smartwatches. Its Connected line of modular watches come with a host of interchangeable features: allowing you to customise the watch faces via the touchscreen interface, as well as swap the straps, lugs, even the watch head itself.
It’s innovation like this that keeps Tag Heuer in its pole position as one of the big names in quality, precision watchmaking. Édouard Heuer’s maverick vision is alive and well in the 21st century.
The first chronograph designed specifically for measuring car races, the Carrera was introduced in 1964 in commemoration of the Carrera Panamericana, the notoriously hair-raising Mexican road race whose high number of fatalities eventually saw it shut down. Widely regarded as a landmark in watch design, in 2020 various iterations were launched to mark the 160th anniversary of Tag Heuer.
As with most diving watches, the Aquaracer’s largest customer base is comprised of people with no intention of ever leaving dry land. Still, this tool watch remains a professional piece of kit, introduced in 2003 after its forerunner, the Aquagraph, had been tested by the Navy Seals. Its viability as a diving watch proved all the more impressive given it was a chronograph – ie: it had moving parts to go wrong. Setting the standard in design and appearance ever since.
42mm Calibre 5
Though the Autavia dates back to the Sixties (and the Thirties if you count a stopwatch bearing its name), it took one relaunch in 1996 and another in 2017 for it to really catch on, as demand for its vintage relatives boomed. A classic pilot’s watch with great retro styling (the gradient dial, the numerals), today’s Autavia’s come with the top-notch Calibre 5 movement.
Day Date 41mm Calibre 5
Subtract the sporty stylings from the Carrera and it makes a pleasingly, classic dress watch. Combining day and date display with an uncluttered clean design, this model’s also tougher than it looks – packing a 38-hour power reserve and 100m of water resistance.
Limited Edition Aston Martin
A racing-themed chronograph with appropriately sporty pops of neon green on the second hand, markers and strap stitching. Produced in partnership with Aston Martin (Tag Heuer is the official timekeeper of the Red Bull Racing F1 team; Aston Martin is the title sponsor), the car brand’s logo and name appear on the dial and case back.
While other brands have been slow or sceptical to get behind the smartwatch boom, Tag Heuer has been on board from the off. The latest version of its hybrid watch is genuinely impressive, using a combination of touch screen and pushers to access speed, pace, heart rate, maps etc, while the accompanying fully-retooled Tag app gives performance insights and syncs with Apple Health, Google Fit and Strava. The various faces look good, but most importantly this smartwatch also looks like it’s a Tag Heuer.
This Carrera adds a GMT function, plus a black and blue bezel – the better to see immediately whether it’s day or night in your home time zone. Carrera purists might balk at the skeleton dial but the design across the watch is so harmonious it deserves to be taken on its own merits.
Solid, and solidly priced, the Formula 1 has been put through its paces on a professional race track – features include a unidirectional turning bezel, comfy Nato strap and luminescent hands for all your 300 km/h timekeeping needs. Tag Heuer has sponsored the McLaren Formula 1 racing team for decades, after Jack Heuer, great-grandson of founder Édouard Heuer, made a deal with Enzo Ferrari in the Seventies. Men of a certain age will get misty-eyed at the memory of Niki Lauda taking two world championships in his Ferrari. It had the Heuer logo emblazoned on its nose.
Special Edition Gulf
The square watch whose deathless appeal rests, to no small degree, on its association with Steve McQueen, who wore one in the 1970 film Le Mans. This limited edition was released in 2018 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Le Mans endurance race, the navy dial with blue/ orange stripes being a reference to the livery of the winning Ford GT40.
Limited Edition Calibre 12
This contemporary take on the classic Monaco has character to spare, with its stealthy black-on-black stylings. The PDV-coated steel case is set off by the reverse of the leather strap – a punchy orange. A limited edition that also comes in smaller case (39mm x 39mm).