Aside from a couple of heavy-hitters in the luxury watch world, few Swiss watchmakers – and by and large any high-end watchmaker – have the broad appeal that TAG Heuer enjoys.
With a long-time association with the world of sport and a company history that makes for genuinely interesting reading no matter your opinion on high-end watches or brand loyalty, TAG Heuer offers something for everyone wanting to invest in a luxury Swiss timepiece.
The company may have many well-known models – including the iconic Monaco and Autavia – but the Carrera is easily one of its most prized. A timepiece with a rich racing heritage and illustrious history, the Carrera is a TAG par excellence.
Because it has been around so long, it has been subject to its fair share of design changes and use of various complications, so buying one isn’t necessarily as simple as going to a store, pointing to one and heading home with a big smile on your face. There are several factors to consider: do you go modern or vintage? Brand new or second hand? Which material should you choose? They’re just some of the questions facing you before you part with your cold hard cash.
Never fear: we’re going to answer these questions with an in-depth buying guide concerning all things Carrera. But first, a quick history lesson.
Origin Of Heuer & The Carrera Watch
It may be common knowledge to many, but for the ill-informed, TAG Heuer hasn’t always been TAG Heuer. When it was founded in 1860 in Saint-Imier, Switzerland, it was known simply as Heuer. Named after its founder Edouard Heuer, he gave his company the technically-correct title Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG, or ‘Heuer Watchmaking Inc’ for all you non-German speakers.
Edouard – who began an apprenticeship in watchmaking at the ripe young age of 14 – patented his first chronograph in 1882. A successful patent for an oscillating pinion mechanism granted just five years later proved to be a milestone moment for Heuer. This oscillating pinion allowed a chronograph to be started and stopped instantly in response to a pusher being activated.
Clearly, this proved to be a vital leap forward for the chronograph as it is still used by major watch manufactures today and is used in the Valjoux 7750 movement, which is used by other luxury brands including IWC Schaffhausen, Bremont and Omega.
Heuer continued to innovate, receiving a patent in 1895 for what was one of the world’s first water-resistant cases for pocket watches and in 1911, he invented the very first dashboard chronograph.
Called the ‘Time of Trip’, this chronograph was designed to be used in cars and aircraft (and thus started TAG Heuer’s association with both disciplines) and featured two central-mounted large hands to indicate the time of day; a second dial at 12 o’clock to indicate journey duration up to 12 hours and a smaller dial at 6 o’clock to indicate running seconds. Because it was based on a pocket watch design, it rocked a top-mounted crown that could be pushed to start, stop and reset the ‘duration of trip’ counter.
It wasn’t until 1914 that Heuer’s very first wrist chronograph was launched, which again featured a top-mounted crown due to it being an evolution of pocket watch design. Other notable events in TAG Heuer’s history include the introduction of the Mikrograph, developed by Edouard’s son Charles-Auguste, which was the first stopwatch accurate to 1/100th of a second. The Semikrograph soon followed, which offered split-second timing.
It was these timepieces that led Heuer into becoming the official timekeeper of several major sporting events, including the Olympic Games, beginning with Antwerp in 1920.
The 1920s proved to be pivotal for the company, with the increase in public awareness forcing it to finally add its now-iconic shield logo to the dials. Heuer was here to stay.
The First Heuer Carrera
Despite Heuer beginning manufacture of wrist chronographs in 1914, the Carrera wasn’t introduced until 1963 (the Autavia had already become a well-known moniker having been the named used for the company’s automobile and aviation dashboard timer, launched in 1933.)
The Carrera was the brainchild of Jack Heuer, Edouard’s great-grandson, and took its name from the Mexican car race, the Carrera Panamericana. Jack attended the 12 Hours of Sebring race in Florida in 1962, where he met the Rodriguez brothers, who told him about the Mexican race (which was put to an end in 1954). He loved the word, Carrera – meaning ‘race’ in Spanish – and decided to apply it to a watch.
Jack Heuer was very much a forward thinker and wanted to innovate wherever he could. At the time of the Carrera’s introduction, Heuer sourced its parts from many third-party manufacturers and a new part that allowed for increased water-resistance caught his eye. However, not wanting to simply integrate this new part, a tension ring, with his watch, Jack made the decision to paint it to display the 1/5 second markers which we now all know as an internal bezel today.
Because of this design choice, the dial on the very first Carrera paved the way for the company’s continued relationship with the sporting world, as it was devoid of any unnecessary ‘junk’, making it highly legible. The dial on the first Carrera models also sported sunken registers, adding some three-dimensionality to them and thus separating themselves from other active watch manufacturers at the time, with their more modern approach to design.
Jack also introduced a new case design with the Carrera after forging a partnership with case maker Piquerez. This new case exhibited long, diamond-polished lugs and showed a clear evolution over the ring design employed by earlier Heuer chronograph models.
The very first Heuer Carrera chronographs weren’t automatic, but instead used hand-wound movements manufactured by Valjoux. An automatic Carrera wasn’t seen until the end of the 1960s, following a partnership between Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton.
Carreras Over The Decades
Any long-running watch family is going to have important models throughout its history and the Carrera is no different. Throughout its life, the Carrera has undergone several design changes (usually at the turn of each decade) and was completely removed from the company’s catalogue following its takeover by TAG. We imagine TAG Heuer enthusiasts will have their own opinions as to which models have been most important for the company, but we’ve picked out our favourites here.
Carrera 45 Dato
The Heuer Carrera 45 Dato, introduced in the 1960s, brought with an entirely new dial design. It was also one of the first watches to employ a date window, a feature that was alien to many watch fans at the time (and was probably the main contributing factor to its lack of popularity with the public).
It was a unique watch, even by Carrera standards, foregoing a running seconds sub-dial (replaced by the date window at 9 o’clock) and a 45-minute counter at 3 o’clock. It looked backwards then, and sure as hell looks backwards now, but the backwards nature only adds top its charm. Because it didn’t prove popular, the Carrera 45 Dato, ref. 3147N, has become incredibly rare to find today.
First Carrera Automatic
Heuer launched not only its first automatic Carrera but its first automatic chronographs in 1969. The new Carrera was introduced alongside automatic variants of the Autavia and Monaco (itself a brand new model that ushered in an unusual-for-the-time square case), and used any of four new movements: Calibre 11 and the Calibre 12 were used for 12-hour chronograph counters; Cal 14 for 12-hour chronograph and GMT function; and Cal 15 for a 30-minute chronograph.
These movements were made in collaboration with Buren – the company responsible for the base movement – and Dubois-Depraz – responsible for adding chronograph complications. Watches with these movements featured the winding crown on the left and the pushers on the right. Heuer watches with these movements were also referred to as ‘Chronomatic’.
However, because of their partnership, Breitling eventually secured rights to the Chronomatic branding, with Heuer watches forced to use ‘Automatic Chronograph’ instead. Today, Heuer models with Chronomatic branding can fetch significant sums of money, to put it lightly.
The first Carrera automatic, ref. 1153N, had to be given a new, thicker case to accommodate the new movement, although retained its paired-back dial design. It utilised the use of a tachymeter on the internal bezel, used to determine the speed of a vehicle over a set distance, cementing the Carrera as a watch for racers.
Third-Generation “Barrel” Case Carrera
1974 saw the debut of the third-generation Carrera and one that, to keep with the times, introduced an entirely new case design. This new model – available in multiple variations – featured integrated lugs, a stark contrast to the elongated lugs of previous generations. This new design pathway generated the nickname, the “barrel” case. It was an update to the ref. 1153 Carrera that Heuer used to introduce the new Calibre 11 movement.
Not only did it bring in new case design, but the third generation also employed a new dial design to match, predominately a Côtes de Genève dial – one that has three “waves”, designed to reflect light in different directions whenever it hits the dial.
The Quartz Movement & The Fourth Generation
The late 1970s and early 1980s paved way for quartz movements. Accurate and more affordable than their mechanical cousins, quartz hit the Swiss watch industry hard. Not one to rest on its laurels however, Heuer took an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and used quartz for the fourth-generation Carrera. Quartz movements were seen in Heuer timepieces before the introduction of the quartz Carrera, including the Chronosplit, which was the world’s first wristwatch with a dual LCD display.
The quartz Carrera arrived in 1978, and used the same case from the second-generation – so back were some actual lugs – but omitted chronograph complications in favour of a much simpler three-hand dial, the first Carrera to do so. Heuer applied quartz technology the majority of its timepieces, however, some like the Autavia, never received such treatment. When TAG bought Heuer, the brand actually had more quartz-powered watches in its roster than those with mechanical movements.
Heuer partnered with Lemania, a Swiss manufacturer of predominantly movements, in 1981. The company was integrated into the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), joining the likes of Omega and Tissot. This group would eventually go on to become the Swatch Group in the 1980s.
Lemania was sold from the group in 1981 by SSIH to its management team, along with other third-party investors, most notably of which included the Piaget family. Now its own company, ‘Nouvelle Lemania’, it focused on making its own watches, as well as continuing with movements.
Lemania manufactured the 5100 movement in 1978 as a direct response to the arrival of the Japanese quartz movements, and, following Jack Heuer’s need to sell the company to investors – led by Piaget, which now included Nouvelle Lemania – saw Heuer watches phase out their Calibre Chronomatic movements and replace them with the Lemania 5100.
The Piaget-led group of investors sold Heuer just a few years later in 1985 to Techniques d’Avant Garde and the TAG Heuer name was born.
Of course, the design of any Heuer or TAG Heuer deeply informs its popularity but no TAG Heuer watch would be anything without its movement. Over the years, Heuer (and later TAG Heuer) have produced some real beauties.
Starting with the Calibre 5, which is unquestionably the most well-known movement used by the brand. It’s not an in-house manufactured movement. Instead, it uses an ETA 2824-2 as the base, although it’s also been known to use the Sellita SW200 as well.
An automatic movement, the Calibre 5 has a power reserve of 38 hours and has hour, minute, seconds and date functions. It has been used in a huge number of TAG Heuer watches (far too many to list) over the years, including the Carrera in various case sizes, dial colours and strap or bracelet combinations.
The current Calibre 5 range comprises 17 models, with plenty of white and black dials on display, and a couple of blue models too.
The Calibre 16, meanwhile, is widely regarded as the most successful automatic movement ever produced. Why? Because it’s based on the ETA (formerly Valjoux) 7750, which is used by countless other watch manufacturers. Heuer and TAG Heuer have been big fans of the 7750 over the years and has been using it since the late 1970s, when the first models to use it were the Heuer Kentucky and Heuer Pasadena.
It wasn’t until the launch of a new Carrera model in 2005 – complete with a new design – that saw the introduction of the Calibre 16 nomenclature. In the years since that launch (and several patent battles between movement manufacturers) the 7750, and therefore Calibre 16, can be manufactured by either ETA or Sellita (which uses the SW500 as the base).
The Calibre 16 movement is the one you want if you want a TAG Heuer watch that displays both day and date (there is just one model in the current Calibre 5 lineup that shows both). The Calibre 16 is also a chronograph automatic movement, compared to the three-hands design of the Calibre 5, so this fact alone will certainly influence your buying decision.
Regardless of which movement you choose, both will be reliable yet are both easily serviceable.
Calibre 36 RS
Although not in production anymore, the Calibre 36 RS was a real doozy when it was launched with the Grand Carrera range. That range launched in 2007 following several years of development and was TAG’s chance to once again prove it was a brand of real innovation. The Grand Carrera nomenclature inferred the range was more luxurious and elegant that its peers, and for the most part, that was true, however, the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS was – and remains – very much a sporting watch.
RS stands for Rotating Disc, the system the GC Calibre 36 RS used to display chronograph minutes and hours at 3 and 6 o’clock respectively.
What’s special about this watch is its ability to display 1/10th seconds on the dial. The movement was always capable of recording such a minute time frame, but it took TAG Heuer’s ingenuity to come up with a way of portraying that information.
The result was an internal caliper system that could be rotated by way of a second crown at 10 o’clock. It’s documented that it can take a little while to really understand the methodology, but once you’ve cracked it, you’ll be the proud owner of a world’s first.
A TAG Heuer Carrera For An Investment?
Buying a luxury timepiece is more than likely going to be based on an emotional connection. You’ve picked out the brand that resonates best with you and within that brand found the model or models that best suit your tastes or needs. Of course, there can also be some financial gain to be made with the right investment, as vintage watches can fetch a decent premium if well looked after as years go by.
That is certainly the case for TAG Heuer and Heuer watches. As with any watch brand, not all models are guaranteed to bring you a return. Some are complete duds. The Carrera – the model we’re focusing on – wasn’t released until 1964, but as a general rule for vintage watch collecting, it goes without saying that the rarer the watch, the more it can be expected to fetch when it’s time to sell.
But even if you have something a little more common, if it’s in good condition and has all original parts, you can expect to make a tidy bit of coin.
Heuer watches to come from the manufacturer from its founding in 1860 all the way through to 1960 aren’t going to be your best bet if you’re buying for investment. Fortunately, this is prime Carrera territory.
The watches released when Heuer was under the direction of Jack Heuer – the father of the Carrera – are some of the most sought-after today as they represented innovation and a forward-thinking attitude.
The first-generation Carrera ref. 2447 is perhaps unsurprisingly – being the inaugural model – a perfect start for your investment journey. First-gen models were, by modern standards, small at 36mm in width. But the extended, polished lugs were a turning point in watch design for Heuer.
It was also the first Heuer to introduce a much cleaner dial than the brand was known for. It’s a design we take for granted today, but upon its release, it was revolutionary.
There are several variations of the ref. 2447, with either two or three sub-dials, and the 45 Dato mentioned earlier. Regardless of the variation, any watch bearing the ref. 2447 hallmark is worth investing in. Condition, of the movement at least, shouldn’t put you off too much, as the vast majority of them were powered by Valjoux movements, making them fixable today.
Heuer’s first automatic watches, dubbed ‘Chronomatic’, can be worth a decent chunk of cash today too. Launched in 1969, the early 1970s models are the ones to look out for. Utilising the world’s first automatic chronograph movement makes them iconic and historic, so second-generation watches should also be on your list.
The ref. 1553, in particular, is a series that rocks an entirely unique dial design, with the Carrera logo repositioned at 9 o’clock. It was the only reference to feature this design, which only adds to its lust-worthiness.
Servicing A TAG Heuer Carrera
Luxury timepieces – or any watch with an automatic or mechanical movement – need maintenance to ensure their longevity. TAG Heuer and their Heuer predecessors are no different, and each model will have its own maintenance guide for you to follow.
However, as a general rule, you should try and commit to giving your Heuer a good clean every few months, using a brush and soapy water. Make sure the crown is screwed down tightly and if you haven’t had it professionally checked in the previous year, you’ll want to consider doing this before you take any water to it.
As for strap cleaning, soapy water is only recommended for steel bracelets. Any other material, leather, fabric and alligator skin, for example, should be cleaned using professional products.
With regards to professional servicing, you will do well do book your TAG Heuer in with a service centre every one to two years to ensure it remains water-resistant. Every four to six years, your watch will need to be given a thorough going over to increase its life expectancy. This timing of this major service will vary from model to model.
Keeping records of any works and servicing will also improve your chances of fetching a high price, should you choose to ever sell your watch.
Changing A TAG Heuer Carrera Strap Or Bracelet
There will probably come a time in your custodianship of a Carrera where you will want to change the strap. Whether it be to change the overall look of your watch to better match an outfit because it has become damaged, or because it’s simply too dirty to clean.
TAG Heuer watches can, if you so wish, be fitted with straps with a deployant (or deployment) clasp, as well as a more conventional regular buckle. Many people prefer the deployant style as it adds extra security; if it happens to come unfastened, the entire strap is still around your wrist, minimising the chance of your watch falling off entirely.
They’re advertised as being able to be used with one-hand, but if you struggle with one and wish to change the strap on your TAG Heuer watch, you can do so easily.
All you need is a spring bar tool and, if you want a strap with a regular buckle, then as long as it’s sized to fit the lug width (usually 20mm or 22mm) then you have entire strap industry to feast on. Of course, TAG Heuer has its own range of official straps if you want to remain loyal to the brand and receive a strap of usually higher quality in the process.
If you’re dealing with a steel bracelet, however, and need to make adjustments to it, TAG Heuer recommends you visit an official store or authorised dealer, as the process requires “unique tools and expertise.”
What’s Best TAG Heuer Carrera To Buy In 2021
Selecting the absolute best product within any industry is always going to be ripe for debate, and with such a long line of standout models, the same can certainly be said for the TAG Heuer Carrera family.
For us, the best TAG Heuer Carrera to buy right now is the 43mm Automatic Chronograph with Calibre 16 movement. Why? For starters, it’s designed to look just like the very first Heuer Carrera released in 1963. The main difference between this modern version and the original is the size of the case. The original was a tiny 36mm while this latest iteration is 43mm.
TAG Heuer has always moved the sub-dials around but has needed to do so in order to accommodate the day/date window. The movement might not be in-house produced, instead, it’s based on the highly respected ETA 7750. Nevertheless, it meets COSC Chronometer standards and because of its popularity among the luxury watch industry, is easily serviceable and repairable.
We think it looks best with rose gold markers and a brown alligator leather strap, but the black dial variant is equally good-looking. Best of all, it comfortably falls into the affordable bracket for luxury watches, therefore offering a perfect starting point to invest in this momentous brand.
Where To Buy A TAG Heuer Carrera
So, we’ve convinced you that you want to invest in a new (or used) TAG Heuer Carrera, where do you now go to buy one?
The obvious choice would be TAG Heuer directly. Nobody is going to know the Carrera family better than its owners. If you can’t get to an official store, then you’re in luck because TAG Heuer has a comprehensive e-commerce offering, so you can buy watches online and have them delivered directly to your door (free of charge).
We’d always recommend visiting a store though if possible, as you can see and feel the watches in the flesh before making an important buying decision. It’s also an opportunity to build up a rapport with your local dealer.
Second-best to official TAG Heuer stores is its list of authorised retailers. These are the only other places that will use genuine TAG Heuer parts as and when you take yours in for servicing. Fortunately, there are plenty around: 17 in the Sydney region and 9 in Melbourne, excluding official boutiques.
Resale websites such as Chrono24 are always a good bet for sourcing well-priced and even rare models from dealers based all around the world. Pricing is displayed in your local currency, so you know what you’re paying, and money isn’t released to the seller until you receive your watch and you’re happy it’s the real deal. Reports online suggest customer support isn’t the best ever, but in terms of actual product selection, it’s a must-visit site.
TAG Heuer Carrera FAQ
Is the TAG Heuer Carrera a good watch?
To put it simply, yes, it is. The Carrera is easily the most iconic family of watches TAG Heuer produces and is available in a range of finishes and sizes to suit all tastes and budgets. Build quality is exemplary, as you'd expect from a Swiss-made timepiece and the movements used, even though they're not in-house, are especially reliable.
Is TAG Heuer as good as Rolex?
Ultimately, this question is subjective. Rolex makes watches with innovative and bespoke materials and uses some of the most intricate and accurate movements around. However, TAG Heuer watches are still great on their own accord and this is shown through a solid and loyal fanbase.
Does TAG Heuer Carrera have a battery?
Most TAG Heuer Carrera watches will use an automatic, self-winding movement. However, TAG Heuer does produce watches that rely on quartz movement and so need a battery. This includes the TAG Heuer Carrera Quartz family of watches, which tend to be smaller and more affordable than automatic variants.