Here’s a scenario.
Imagine you’re an executive at a prominent Swiss watch brand who’s been tasked with developing a new automatic chronograph movement. You have the capital on hand (since carrying out this project will require millions of dollars). You have the manufacturing capability and capacity. And some of the brightest horological engineers in the business are on your team.
Now, all you have left to do is actually design, test, and build the movement – that’s no small task.
But what should it look like?
First, you’ll want a column wheel and vertical clutch, the favored components of contemporary chronograph design. You’d probably prefer a lengthy power reserve (75 hours at least – to get you through the weekend, you know), but you’d want to retain a high beat rate, to ensure that your accuracy doesn’t drop a few precious seconds when you pick your watch up on Monday morning. A fully integrated architecture is a prerequisite, of course, but you’d want to keep the number of components down for ease of future servicing – your watchmakers will thank you – and to make sure future complications can be easily integrated down the road. The movement should also be thin and wide enough to fit in a variety of case dimensions.
Finally – here’s that pesky in-house question – you’ll want to be able to create nearly the entire movement yourself, in order to avoid any reliance on your competitors for your fancy, brand-new chronograph movement. All the while, you need to balance enough demand and the production to meet it, simply to keep the economies of scale in your favor and your own prices approachable.
That’s a lot to take into consideration, which is why most watch brands today tend to rely on tried-and-true calibers that have stood the test of time for decades. But there is one fairly recent chronograph movement on the scene that deserves more attention. It’s not brand new – in fact, it was in development for a number of years before finally making its production debut in 2017. It’s TAG Heuer’s Calibre Heuer 02, and it fulfills every single one of the above specifications, and more.
Just The Facts
A few months ago, I put together a short round-up of TAG Heuer chronographs featuring the Calibre Heuer 02 available in the HODINKEE Shop. But it wasn’t meant to just be any round-up of chronographs. Its primary purpose was to bring awareness to TAG Heuer’s Calibre Heuer 02, and just how impressive this in-house movement really is. For all the attention vintage Heuer chronographs receive these days, it’s certainly worth mentioning that TAG Heuer now offers one of the most impressive value-for-money in-house automatic chronographs in its class.
The TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 02 has been around for a number of years at this point and has made its way into a few of our favorite recent TAG Heuer releases, so we decided it was time once again to revisit this contemporary feat of chronograph design and highlight exactly what makes it so special. The TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 02 is a caliber with an unexpectedly long and unique backstory that is emblematic of the modern reputation that TAG Heuer has in the collecting community. It straddles the line in paying tribute to the historic sport watches built under the Heuer label and the unrelenting push forward into contemporary design and manufacturing TAG Heuer has seen under the LVMH umbrella.
We’re going to dig into the backstory of what is arguably TAG Heuer’s most important horological development of the 21st century, while also highlighting 12 of our favorite recently released watches with the Heuer Calibre 02 movement – all newly available in the HODINKEE Shop.
Start, Stop, And Reset – A Brief History Of The Calibre Heuer 02
The TAG Heuer catalog is home to some of the best-known chronographs in the history of watchmaking. The Carrera, the Monaco, and the Autavia all house a special place in the annals of elapsed timekeeping history. In the early 1960s, the Carrera utilized the iconic Valjoux 72 chronograph movement. And as part of a coalition of watchmakers in 1969, TAG Heuer – née Heuer – unveiled one of the first automatic chronograph movements known to man: the caliber 11. The caliber 11 was soon improved to the caliber 12 in 1971, and it was updated once more in 1972 to the caliber 15.
Heuer eventually made the switch to relying primarily on ebauché movements from ETA through the late 1970s and ’80s, before its production petered off, and the brand was purchased by Techniques Avant Garde (aka, the TAG in TAG Heuer) in 1985. In the 1990s and early 2000s, TAG Heuer often prioritized its focus on quartz watches and simple mechanical pieces with movements sourced from outside suppliers. But in the late 2000s, TAG Heuer made a serious development in its in-house manufacturing with the Calibre 1887.
The Calibre 1887 was based on an existing movement architecture that TAG Heuer acquired the European rights to and subsequently improved upon. It featured a horizontal clutch and oscillating pinion – an 1887 invention of brand founder Edouard Heuer, hence the movement name – and was released to much fanfare in 2009. And in 2010, the TAG Heuer Carrera 1887 Chronograph took home the Petite Aiguille prize (best watch under $ 5,000) at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
The Calibre 1887 was a major step forward for TAG Heuer, but it was only the first stage in the brand’s plan. A few years after the 1887 was released, TAG Heuer announced the Calibre 1969 (named after the year the caliber 11 was released, naturally), which would take some of the engineering and manufacturing ability that TAG Heuer developed in working with the Calibre 1887, but improve on the design and movement architecture, making it a better, more modern movement overall. At Baselworld 2014, the Calibre 1969 was seen for the first time in a watch – a Carrera, to be exact – under the new name CH 80, the numerals standing for the movement’s impressive power reserve of 80 hours.
The CH 80 shown at Baselworld 2014 was never released, and then-CEO Jean-Claude Biver paused production on the new movement, briefly shifting focus back on the Calibre 1887. The delay on the movement was a short one, and in 2016, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02-T made its debut, quickly gaining worldwide press for being the world’s most affordable Swiss-made tourbillon, at under $ 15,000.
Lost in the commotion over the price and the addition of the tourbillon was the fact that the base movement used on the Heuer 02-T was the Calibre 1969/CH 80 movement, now under a new name: Calibre Heuer 02. At the same time, the Calibre 1887 was rechristened the Calibre Heuer 01, giving Heuer a clear one-two punch of in-house-produced automatic chronograph movements. The rest of the watch industry was waiting to see where the Calibre Heuer 02 would be utilized next.
Patience was key, as the next appearance for the Heuer 02 would prove to be well worth the wait. In 2016, TAG Heuer announced it was reviving its iconic Autavia chronograph, and a contest bracket would be held where TAG Heuer, and Heuer lovers, could vote on vintage Autavia designs, with TAG Heuer releasing the winning model the following year. Things went according to plan, and in 2017, TAG Heuer revealed the Autavia Heritage (see below), a tribute to the iconic Heuer Autavia ref. 2446 Mark 3 from 1966, with a fully modern, in-house chronograph movement inside: the Calibre Heuer 02. (You might remember that, in 2017, we collaborated with TAG Heuer on the Autavia Calibre Heuer 02 for HODINKEE, a tribute to a rare 1960s Autavia chronograph.)
Similar to the announcement of the Heuer 02-T in 2016, the reborn Autavia dominated most of the press coverage. But the most exciting news for TAG Heuer fans was that the brand had finally found the perfect home for its special automatic chronograph movement. Since the Autavia Heritage was released four years ago, the Calibre Heuer 02 has slowly but surely expanded its presence.
Calibre Heuer 02 has primarily been used in the Autavia, Carrera, and Monaco collections so far, but its application has been quite varied when it comes to each watch’s individual aesthetics. In the Carrera collection, for example, the Calibre Heuer 02 can be found in the hyper-modern, openworked design of the Carrera Heuer 02 line, as well as the more recently unveiled Carrera Sport Chronograph, while also in a series of vintage-inspired Carrera designs, like the Carrera 160 Years “Silver” and Montreal limited editions. (While the Autavia Heritage was the first home for the base Calibre Heuer 02, TAG Heuer has been unhurried to expand into other Autavia chronograph variants, instead focusing on the time-and-date variation of the watch.)
The Calibre Heuer 02 obviously represents an excellent platform for TAG Heuer to build around, while also representing a high water mark for contemporary automatic chronograph design.
But how did TAG Heuer actually achieve it?
Well, How Does It Work?
Here’s what you should know.
The Calibre Heuer 02’s basic attributes start with a fully integrated architecture that runs in 33 jewels, at a beat rate of 28,800 vph, with an impressive power reserve of up to 80 hours, all stored in a single barrel thanks to a longer-than-usual mainspring. It’s common for watch brands today to increase a movement’s power reserve by reducing its frequency, but TAG Heuer was able to maintain a frequency of 4 Hz, while increasing the Calibre Heuer 02’s power reserve over three days. The entire movement construction consists of just 168 components, a remarkably small figure compared to chronograph movements of the past. The use of fewer total parts in the movement is beneficial to the end-user as it typically translates to less wear over time and a more straightforward servicing experience. Altogether, the Calibre Heuer 02 measures an impressively compact 31mm in diameter and 6.9mm in height.
On the dial-side, the movement allows for a more traditional 3-6-9 sub-dial layout (in line with the aesthetics of vintage Heuer chronographs), rather than the 6-9-12 orientation that is more common in today’s watch industry. The movement’s functionality is rounded out by unidirectional winding, Kif shock absorption, a quick-set date, and hacking seconds. And unlike the Calibre Heuer 01, the Calibre Heuer 02 calls on traditional reversing wheels in the winding system. Finally, the Calibre Heuer 02’s finish is simple but attractive, with crisp côtes de Genève across the mainplate and an openworked rotor that’s been coated in black PVD (in most instances) and bears a passing resemblance to the steering wheel of a car.
You’ll notice a bright red polymer-capped gear on the Calibre Heuer 02 that is situated underneath the rotor and diagonally from the balance wheel. This is a column wheel, and its striking color is intentionally hard to miss. In fact, the Calibre Heuer 02 utilizes both a column wheel and a vertical clutch mechanism. A column wheel acts as a type of command center for the chronograph, functioning as an on/off switch for the recording of elapsed time. When you physically press the start/stop pushers, you can feel – and typically see, through an exhibition caseback – how the column wheel immediately engages the chronograph wheels, initiating the complication as a whole.
A vertical clutch, on the other hand, reduces wear and ensures a smooth, stable, and more precise actuation of the central chronograph seconds hand, while also allowing for the chronograph functionality to run for extended intervals with minimal loss of accuracy and efficiency. The use of a vertical clutch in the Calibre Heuer 02 is significant for TAG Heuer, as it replaces the oscillating pinion found in Calibre Heuer 01, which was originally developed by brand founder Edouard Heuer in 1887.
Although the Calibre Heuer 02 was first released in 2017, it wasn’t until 2020 that we saw the movement make its presence firmly felt throughout TAG Heuer’s various collections. You can now purchase a Calibre Heuer 02-powered chronograph in all three of the brand’s best-known models – the Monaco, the Carrera, and the Autavia.
The Carrera series has seen the largest expansion within the past year or so. Starting in 2020, TAG Heuer developed a new strategy for its classic chronograph, with three separate sub-collections that vary in size and style. These include the vintage-inspired 39mm “glassbox” Carrera models, the mid-size 42mm Carrera Chronographs, and the large-and-in-charge 44mm Carrera Sport Chronographs.
(Also, although not featured in this article, we can’t help but call attention to the recent announcement of the new-for-2021 TAG Heuer Carrera Porsche Chronograph that features the Calibre Heuer 02 inside.)
TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years ‘Silver’ Limited Edition
Announced just over a year ago at the inaugural LVMH Watch Week in Dubai, the TAG Heuer Carrera “Silver” Limited Edition was an early 2020 favorite that helped set the tone for the brand’s offerings throughout the rest of the year. This watch represented the opening salvo in TAG Heuer’s 160-year anniversary celebration in 2020 and saw the brand honing in on the Carrera collection.
Cased inside TAG Heuer’s “glassbox” case profile – the name given to the brand’s 39mm × 14mm vintage-style Carrera case – this limited edition of 1,860 watches riffed on the original Carrera ref. 2447S, which introduced the world to Jack Heuer’s minimalist chronograph in 1963. Faithful to the original Carrera that inspired it, the TAG Heuer Carrera “Silver” Limited Edition is a clean and crisp chronograph that does away with the complicated scales and displays found on its mid-century counterparts.
It’s the perfect callback to the Carreras of the past, with a monochromatic silver sunburst decoration that stretches from the central pinion of the dial to the outer seconds track; thankfully, there is no excess verbiage on the dial. The three sub-dials are slightly recessed and decorated with circular snailing, giving off a nice sense of depth and contrasting texture to the rest of the dial. The hands are sharp batons filled with a dark cream shade of Super-LumiNova. And, of course, given the vintage inspiration, the watch calls on the vintage Heuer shield emblem and features no date indication, resulting in a chronograph that’s just as perfectly proportioned today as it was during its original 1960s run. The TAG Heuer Carrera “Silver” Limited Edition is priced at $ 6,450 and is available while supplies last.
TAG Heuer Carrera Sport Chronograph 44mm
Moving away from the world of vintage inspiration, the new TAG Heuer Carrera Sport series sees the Swiss brand taking its iconic Carrera series in a different, more contemporary direction, defined by a bold case design that measures 44mm × 15mm. This new series-produced collection was announced in July 2020 and is characterized by its larger dimensions and an outer bezel equipped with a tachymeter scale – a look that isn’t exactly new for the Carrera, but isn’t traditionally associated with the line, either. While the diameter and thickness might seem imposing at first glance, the case construction of the Carrera Sport Chronograph was actually designed in a way that optimizes wearability for a range of wrist sizes. The extended, faceted lugs, long a Carrera trademark, have been trimmed here, with a short, stubby execution that angles downward and results in smooth integration with the stainless steel bracelet and a generally approachable lug-to-lug of approximately 51mm.
Beyond the case design, the dials feature an interesting circular-brushed finish that provides the watches with a warm appearance that contrasts nicely with the multi-finish texture of the case and H-link bracelet. Compared to a more conventional sunburst finish, the dial execution of the Carrera Sport feels more matte and less reflective. Each watch has three sub-dials and applied hour markers filled with white Super-LumiNova. The 30-minute counter and 12-hour register are both decorated with concentric ribbing, while the small seconds display at six o’clock has an opaline finish and houses a white date aperture. TAG Heuer developed a new serif typeface for the Carrera Sport series that builds on the font found on the original Carrera chronographs but is subtly refreshed for today.
There are two different Carrera Sport Chronographs now available in the HODINKEE Shop. The green-dial execution is an early staff favorite, with a tone that leans on a light olive drab that is less in-your-face compared to most other watches with green dials. It’s also unique in that it is paired with a stainless steel bezel, while all other Carrera Sport models have a ceramic bezel insert. There’s also a classic black-dial model, which is a compelling contender for anyone on the hunt for a quintessential sport watch on a bracelet. Both watches are priced at $ 5,750.
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 42mm
Following the true-to-original aesthetic and smaller case dimensions of the 160 Years “Silver” Limited Edition and the dynamic look of the Carrera Sport Chronograph, TAG Heuer unveiled the third part of its Carrera strategy in September 2020: the 42mm × 14mm Carrera Chronograph. This new flagship series leans on the original Carrera’s dressy, less-is-more aesthetic, while moving the design forward with the Calibre Heuer 02 movement inside and a refreshed dial aesthetic.
The dials here are clean and legible, sharing an orientation with the Carrera Sport and new Monaco models. The three and nine o’clock sub-dials are recessed and decorated with concentric snailing, while the small seconds at six o’clock is a classic cross-hair that overlaps with the date aperture. In classic Carrera fashion, there is no external bezel or additional scales on the dial. Where the Carrera Sport is a thoroughly contemporary take on the original Carrera design language, the new 42mm Carrera Chronograph offers a slightly reworked look that closely mirrors TAG Heuer’s celebrated vintage chronograph. One detail worth pointing out on all the new Carrera Chronographs is that the rotor is now gold-plated, rather than the standard black-PVD coating found on most other watches equipped with Calibre Heuer 02.
There are four different variants of the new Carrera Chronograph available, each largely differentiated by dial execution. There’s an opaline black or sunburst blue dial option paired with a stainless steel bracelet, and an anthracite grey sunburst model or opaline white with gilt accents paired with a brown alligator leather strap. The new Carrera Chronographs are each priced at $ 5,350, save for the white dial with gilt accents, which comes at a slight premium of $ 5,550.
TAG Heuer Carrera Sport 160 Years Dato Limited Edition
The final Carrera update of 2020 came in October, and it combines the two worlds of Heuer chronographs. Building on the framework and case design of the new Carrera Sport, the TAG 160 Years Dato Limited Edition takes its inspiration from a special, highly sought-after mid-1960s vintage Carrera: the first-execution ref. 3147, also known as the “Dato.” This vintage Carrera is regarded as the first chronograph wristwatch to incorporate a date using the now-standard rotating date wheel display, which is located, surprisingly, at 12 o’clock on the dial. This unique arrangement contains red numerals on a white background and carries over to the new model, with an aperture placed at the top of the dial above the modern TAG Heuer logo.
While the unconventional date display location is the same as the original first-execution Carrera Dato (later Dato examples moved the date to nine o’clock), TAG Heuer has iterated on the rest of the watch in meaningful and deliberate ways to deliver an entirely modern aesthetic. Two dial options are available; you can choose either a metallic blue dial that features the same concentric brushing as the standard Carrera Sport, with recessed sub-dials in white with red accents, or you can opt for a matte white dial (no brushing) with black sub-dials and red accents for the classic “panda” aesthetic. The white-dial model is accompanied by a black ceramic bezel insert with tachymeter, while the blue-dial option is matched by a blue ceramic bezel. The dimensions and wrist presence remain the same as the series-produced Carrera Sport models, but these limited editions are delivered with special packaging and feature TAG Heuer’s 160-year anniversary rotor. Each watch is limited to a total of 1,860 pieces, and they share a price tag of $ 5,950.
TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre Heuer 02
Finally, we have a chronograph that really needs no introduction – the Monaco. TAG Heuer’s square-shaped chronograph is one of the most recognizable watches of all time, and the latest examples fitted with the Calibre Heuer 02 may well represent one of the line’s finest executions ever. First teased at the end of 2019 to celebrate the Monaco’s 50-year anniversary, the new TAG Heuer Monaco stands out thanks to its implementation of the Calibre Heuer 02, becoming the first Monaco with a fully in-house chronograph movement since its 1969 release (the original caliber 11 was the result of a team effort between Heuer and multiple other brands).
Not only is the new Monaco noteworthy for its movement, but TAG Heuer has also paired the watch with a stainless-steel bracelet inspired by an early 1970s Monaco, which helps emphasize the chronograph’s sporty, design-minded aesthetic. Compared to the original Monaco (and its closest contemporary counterpart), however, the latest Monaco watches have been slightly reworked. Most noticeably, the crown is now placed on the right-hand side, a reversal of the original’s “destro” orientation. This is a result of the Calibre Heuer 02, so there were slight concessions to realize the in-house movement inside. But thanks to the new movement, these Monacos now offer a 12-hour register at nine o’clock, just like the original ref. 1133B. Other details of note include the slightly recessed sub-dials, the small seconds at six o’clock (with date indication) that’s executed as a cross-hair, and the cushion-shaped pushers.
Three different Monaco examples are now available with the Calibre Heuer 02 inside. One variant has a sunburst blue dial in the style of the classic Steve McQueen example and comes on a stainless steel bracelet, while the other two have sunburst black dials that read as dark grey in sunlight and are paired with either a stainless steel bracelet or black alligator leather strap. The bracelet models are priced at $ 6,750, and the black dial on strap is available for $ 6,350.
Discover Our Favorite Chronographs With The TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 02
The Calibre Heuer 02 epitomizes what makes TAG Heuer such an interesting brand today. There’s the TAG element, which is all about looking forward and maximizing the benefit of future technologies, and then you have Heuer, with decades of recognizable designs and specialist chronograph production to lean on. For years, the two sides of the brand have seemed separate from one another, but thanks to the benefits of the Calibre Heuer 02, it appears TAG Heuer is once again hitting its stride with chronographs that can appeal to fans of both the vintage Heuer models and the contemporary TAG Heuer designs. You can explore our entire selection of TAG Heuer watches, including all of the above chronographs, right now in the HODINKEE Shop.