When it comes to building the largest warships, there are no prototypes. It takes over 10 years and $15 billion to build today’s aircraft carrier, so when the United States Navy is developing a new class of these ships, they can’t just 3D print a series of prototypes. Instead, efforts will focus on the first ship produced as part of the new class, called the “lead ship” or the “first-in-class.” The class will be named after this lead ship, so, for example, the “Gerald Ford” class of aircraft carriers recently replaced the “Nimitz” class, which had been in service since 1975. The lead ship will incorporate significant technical and design changes from the previous class and will serve as the basis for the subsequent ships in the class.
Wristwatches are a good bit less time consuming to design and build than aircraft carriers, and the brands create numerous prototypes as they develop new models. Still, the first watch to be launched in the new “class” will be important.
The 2020 Carrera Chronograph.
Much like the aircraft carrier, the “lead watch” will incorporate new technologies and design elements and establish the look and feel of the range for years to come. It may be easy to restyle the dials, hands, and decorative elements from one version to the next; however, once the case and movement are established, it will be very difficult to change the “bones” of this particular battleship.
Today, TAG Heuer has introduced its new Carrera Chronograph, the “lead ship” of a new range of chronographs that is likely to be with us for many years. While brands like TAG Heuer introduce new versions and executions with some frequency, the introduction of a new model is a special event. TAG Heuer introduced the Calibre 1887 Carrera chronograph in 2010, and the Heuer 01 Carrera chronograph in 2015, and has now added two new models to its catalog in 2020 – the Carrera Sport Chronograph in July 2020 and the Carrera Chronograph today. (In this article, we will refer to this newest watch as the “Carrera Chronograph” or the “2020 Carrera Chronograph”.)
Four versions of the 2020 Carrera Chronograph.
TAG Heuer has introduced four versions of its new Carrera Chronograph. Dial colors are opaline black (Ref CBN 2010), blue sunray (CBN 2011), and anthracite sunray (CBN 2012), as well as a version with a silver opaline dial and rose-gold accents (CBN 2013). The newest Carrera uses a 42mm stainless steel case and is powered by TAG Heuer’s Heuer 02 in-house movement.
Origins Of The Carrera
Whether by design or by coincidence, TAG Heuer’s approach in the new 2020 Carrera Chronograph follows approaches that Heuer used with its Carreras in the 1960s, so we’ll explore that history to understand the origins of the new Carrera and also to see how the model might develop over the next several years.
The introduction of the Carrera chronograph in 1963 was a defining moment for Heuer Leonidas, S.A. and its young president, Jack Heuer. Heuer began offering distinct collections of chronographs in the mid-1930s, but these collections were known only by their reference numbers. The predecessor of the Carrera was the Reference 2447 chronograph, with numerous models being produced from the early 1940s through the late 1950s. Some versions became rather “busy,” for example, with a tachymeter scale to indicate speed over a measured distance or a pulsations scale to check the patient’s heart rate. What was missing all these years, however, was a model name. Heuer addressed this with the introduction of its “Autavia” collection in 1962, and the “Carrera” models would follow in 1963.
1963 Carrera Chronograph with eggshell dial.
The first Carreras were defined by their minimalist approach. On most models, the scales were removed from the dial, and the inner tension ring / bezel would serve two purposes – providing the spacing between the dial and the crystal and also providing the surface for the hash-marks showing the seconds and fifths of seconds. From these launch models in 1963, Heuer would develop over 125 versions of the Carrera, with it finally being retired in the mid-1980s.
The Carrera wouldn’t be gone for long, however, as TAG Heuer introduced the first re-issue of the Carrera in 1996. These first TAG Heuer Carreras generally followed the style of the 1960s models, but beginning around 2004, the Carrera developed a distinctive look of its own. The large cases featured a fixed tachymeter bezel, often seen as the symbol of motorsports, with dials and hands showing a variety of colors. The Grand Carreras made their debut in 2007, using rotating discs to evoke the look of motorsports technology.
The Calibre 1887 Carrera
There was excitement among enthusiasts in 2010, with word that TAG Heuer would be introducing an entirely new range of Carreras. The new Carrera would be the “launch model” for TAG Heuer’s new in-house movement, the Calibre 1887. Vintage enthusiasts were encouraged by the fact that the newest Carrera would draw heavily from the very first Carreras from 1963, incorporating both the traditional geometry of the Carrera case and the clean style of the Carrera dial.
1963 Carrera Chronograph (left) and 2010 Carrera Chronograph (right).
Through a dealer in England, I received one of the first Calibre 1887 Carreras to arrive in the United States and was awestruck when I took the watch out of the box. The dial was bright white, with thin markers and hands, as on the very first Heuer Carreras from 1963. This is about as “clean” as a dial can be – a small “TAG Heuer” logo at three o’clock and the “Cal 1887” at nine o’clock, with the date window almost hidden in the hour recorder, at six o’clock. In 1963, we saw the Valjoux 72 powering a chronograph that showed the beauty of minimalism; in 2010, we saw the Calibre 1887 powering a chronograph that followed this same approach. There was a consistency between these two Carreras, one from 1963 and one from 2010, as if the same hand had drawn both models.
The 2010 Carrera Chronograph.
Enthusiasts would forgive the fact that the Calibre 1887 Carrera had its registers in the six o’clock, nine o’clock, and 12 o’clock positions, rather than the traditional three o’clock, six o’clock, and nine o’clock (sometimes called “tri-compax”). The watch was a huge step in the right direction after the Carreras of the previous decade, reflecting the style of the first Carreras, even if the configuration of the movement prevented TAG Heuer from earning all the points.
A Grab And Go ChronographADVERTISEMENT
Over the next decade, this white Calibre 1887 Carrera chronograph has been one of the mainstays of my watch rotation. Along with the re-issue of the Autavia from 2017, the Calibre 1887 Carrera is the watch that gets the call when I am in the mood for the look of one of my beloved Heuer chronographs, but don’t want to wear a precious vintage model. Wind it up, set the time, and it goes; start, stop, and reset the chronograph, and it operates perfectly. No concerns about reliability, no worries about theft, and no real damage done from the unexpected encounter with the door jamb. This Carrera is a favorite “grab and go” chronograph, sitting alongside the 2017 Autavia in the watch box.
Left to right: 2010 Carrera, 2017 Autavia, 2020 Carrera.
With the first rumors of the 2020 Carrera Chronograph model, however, I wondered whether it might be time to add a third “grab and go” watch to the rotation. I was certain of one thing – on a “cost per outing” basis, the Calibre 1887 Carrera had earned its keep, with 10 years of perfect service in the rotation.
There was awe when I took the Calibre 1887 Carrera out of the box in 2010, and almost 10 years later, the new Carrera Chronograph produced the same excitement.
The 2010 Carrera Chronograph and the 2020 Carrera Chronograph.
First things first – with the change from the Calibre 1887 movement to the Heuer 02 movement, the registers are in the correct locations, at least for the vintage enthusiasts – chronograph hours and minutes at nine o’clock and three o’clock, and running seconds at six o’clock. With plenty of open space available at the top, dead-center of the dial, the new watch features a prominent print of the word “Carrera,” with the same heavy ink and fine detail as we see on the vintage models.
The new model prints the caliber number and the power reserve on the dial.
The Carreras have always been defined by their clean dials, and the newest Carrera is true to this approach. The applied metal TAG Heuer shield at the top of the dial pairs nicely with the printed “Carrera,” and the “Heuer 02” and “80 Hours” printed at the bottom of the dial create an additional focal point. On the Carrera Sport Chronograph, some reviewers questioned this additional printing, but to my eye, it gives the dial a good top-to-bottom balance. The 80-hour power reserve is an important feature of the watch, and calling this out on the dial hardly seems excessive when other brands are printing summaries of their watches’ specifications on the dials.
The dial and hands are the stars of the show.
TAG Heuer calls the paint “opaline black,” and those who prefer plain English would say that the paint lies closer to a matte finish, but with a soft gloss or luster. The markers and hands of the new Carrera show considerably more presence than those on the 2010 model. The markers are “double wide,” and the hands are longer and wider, with the additional mass of the hands allowing for wider lume and a black stripe continuing from the end of the lume toward the center pinion. The dial is printed in silver, a touch that, in the 1960s, had been reserved for a limited number of special Carreras.
The side of the case features a brushed finish.
The case of the new Carrera is all business, providing a nice frame for the strong dial and hands, but not drawing much attention to its own features. The dial and hands are the stars of the show, and there is no large external bezel to vie for our attention. The surfaces of the case are polished, with the exception of a brushed finish on the sides. The pushers are capped, and the crown is oversized, closer to the size and shape of the crown used on the Formula 1 models than the smaller ones used on previous Carreras.
The chrono pushers and capped and the crown is oversized.
TAG Heuer has introduced a new bracelet for the new Carrera Chronograph, with distinctive H-shaped links. The combination of brushed and polished links follows the pattern of the case.
We Have Seen This Before
Looking at the 2010 Calibre 1887 Carrera and the 2020 Carrera Chronograph side-by-side, we see that TAG Heuer has taken a page from the vintage Heuer playbook. The first Carreras in 1963 used the simple, thin markers on the dial and, following one of the brand’s unwritten rules, the hands matched the style and weight of the markers.
1963 and 1968 black dial Carrera Chronographs.
But by 1968, Heuer moved to the second execution of the Carrera, with the larger, more dramatic markers and hands. Yes, by 1968, the 1960s had become the 1960s, and the watches could reflect the vibe of the decade.
The 2020 Carrera Chronograph follows this same approach, as if to announce that 10 years after the Calibre 1887 Carrera evoked the minimalism of the first Carrera, it’s time for an update. The restyling that we saw in 1968 provides the cues for 2020, featuring the stronger markers on the dial and more prominent hands showing the time. ADVERTISEMENT
On The Wrist Impressions
Of course, as much as we might discuss the geometry of the markers and the number of hash marks on the inner bezel, the first thing many enthusiasts will ask is, “How big is the watch?” With most new watches, we can expect 40% of the enthusiasts to insist that the watch is too large, 40% to be certain that the watch is too small and 10% to say that the watch is just right. Another 10% will usually be undecided. So let’s get right into the tale of the tape.
The case on the 2020 model is thinner than recent Carreras.
The new Carrera Chronograph measures 42mm across the dial (or 41.7mm, if you want to see the micrometers). While the across-the-dial measurement is the standard metric for describing the size of a watch, the new Carrera proves that other dimensions may be more important in dictating the fit and feel of a watch. The case is thinner than recent Carrera chronographs, and the shorter, lower lugs make it “wear” much smaller.
The 2020 Carrera Chronograph has a thickness of 14.4mm, making it a good bit sleeker than the 2010 Carrera (15.5mm) and the 2017 Autavia (15.7mm). The lug-to-lug measurement of the new Carrera comes is 48.2mm, a notch below both the Calibre 1887 Carrera (49.5mm) and the 2017 Autavia (50.5mm).
1963 black dial Carrera Chronograph (top) and the 2020 model.
There were moments when the new Carrera felt smaller and lighter than the 2010 model, and a quick trip to the scale confirmed the “lighter” point. The new Carrera weighs in at 150 grams on its bracelet (with some links removed to fit my skinny wrist), eight grams below the weight of the Calibre 1887 Carrera and a whopping 15 grams less than the 2017 Autavia.
For those who face the occasional challenge of fitting the big watch under the small cuff, the new bracelet introduced for the Carrera offers an advantage. The thickness of the links has been reduced from the 3.5mm of the 2010 Carrera to 2.8mm, and the geometry of the links provides a softer feel than on the predecessor.
I have owned four chronographs powered by the Heuer 02 movement, and performance has been exceptionally good on all of them, with an accuracy of within four seconds per day. The new Carrera Chronograph performed within this limit, gaining two to three seconds per day over a five-day trial. There is a good feel to setting the watch, so that when the seconds hand is stopped to set the watch (for example, at the 30-second mark), you can actually get the minute hand synched properly (positioned halfway between two minute markers). Chronograph operation was flawless, with the start / stop / reset having a quick, but solid feel.
Upper left, 2010 Carrera; Bottom left, 1968 Carrera; Bottom right, 1963 Carrera; Upper right, new 2020 model.
Historically, the Carreras have offered excellent legibility, and the newest model gets good marks in this category. The prominent hands are easily spotted, whether in bright sunlight, low light, or no light at all. Consistent with the elegant style of the watch, the white lume glows softly, clearly displaying the time of day, without getting into the competition to see who can create the brightest glowing lume.
Completing The Fleet
The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition.
The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition.
Both in its style and its size, the new Carrera Chronograph completes TAG Heuer’s line-up of Carrera chronographs. With a vintage style and 39mm case, the “glassbox” Carreras are the direct descendants of the vintage Carreras. TAG Heuer has offered two of these as limited editions in 2020, the 160th anniversary Silver and Montreal models.
In July 2020, we saw the Carrera Sport Chronograph, measuring 44mm across the dial, with the prominent tachymeter bezel. We can expect to see colorful variations of the Carrera Sport Chronograph, as the colorful Carreras with the tachymeter bezels have been popular for the last 15 years. Now TAG Heuer has established the middle of this range, the new Carrera Chronograph measuring 42mm across the dial and incorporating the classic look of the vintage predecessors.
The new Carrera Sport Chronographs, introduced in July.
Looking ahead, we can expect the Carrera Chronograph to provide TAG Heuer with a flexible platform that will do well with a variety of styles and looks. Soon after the introduction of the second-execution Carreras in 1968, Heuer offered the first Carreras with contrasting registers – the “Panda” and “reverse Panda” models. Indeed, having moved from the soft, thin lines of the first Carreras to the stronger look of the second execution, contrasting registers were the logical extension of the line-up. So too, with the classic Carrera chronograph having advanced from 2010 to 2020, we can expect TAG Heuer to offer some more daring variations, which will do well with the strong style of the 2020 Carrera Chronograph. Vintage enthusiasts will confirm that this approach worked well in 1968 and can be optimistic that it will also work well in 2020 and beyond.
The TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph; case, stainless steel, 42 mm x 14.4 mm, and 48.2 mm lug-to-lug. Sapphire crystal with antireflective treatment. 100 meters (10 bar) water resistance. Oversized crown, with capped pushers. Dials on four versions are black with opaline finish (CBN2010) and silver with opaline finish and rose-gold accents (CBN2013); blue with sunray finish (CBN2011) and anthracite with sunray finish (CBN2012); chronograph recorders (at three o’clock and nine o’clock) have “azurage” finish; rhodium-plated indexes and hands filled with Super-LumiNova; rhodium-plated TAG Heuer applied logo; date display at six o’clock. Black and blue models on stainless steel H-shaped bracelet, steel folding clasp with double safety push-buttons; charcoal and silver models on brown alligator leather strap. Price, CBN2010, CBN2011, CBN2012: $5,350; CBN2013: $5,550.