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TAG Heuer - The one that got away: TAG Heuer Carrera MP4-12C

TAG Heuer The one that got away: TAG Heuer Carrera MP4-12C

In 2011, TAG Heuer was offering this colorful, sharp, overprice but totally awesome chronograph, in partnership with McLaren

In 2011, TAG Heuer partnered with McLaren, which had decided to manufacture production cars rather than short runs of extreme road-ready ones. Profoundly linked to the universe of automobiles and racetracks, TAG Heuer was already in the habit of internalizing foreign designs, the most striking example being their Gulf series. But the Carrera MP4-12C was something different. It was a watch created for a higher prestige and price bracket, with a very cool design that wasn't done back then : wearable, colorful, fun and very well executed. 

This wasn't the first watch to be born from a partnership with an automaker. It wasn't either the first racing chronograph, nor was it the most extravagant. Bear in mind that in 2011, the market was crowded with much more crazy, large, expensive, gaudy pieces that were also much harder to wear. In a sense, this piece was a harbinger of things happening in the last two years on the watchmaking x automotive brand segment.

In 2011, McLaren released the first one in a long series of production cars, the MP4-12C. The brand's naming policy has changed ever since, their partnership goals too (in 2016, they started working with Richard Mille), but some things are immutable in Woking : fluids lines, vivid colors, high-yield engines, superior exclusivity and a clientele that demands absolute sportiveness. Back then, TAG Heuer was also on a different track from today's. They were headed upmarket with timepieces that kept growing in sophistication, stemming from fundamental research on high frequency, high accuracy timing and a frame of mind freed by market euphoria. 

The one that got away: TAG Heuer Carrera MP4-12C

Carrera MP4-12C © TAG Heuer

At the crossroads of these two strategies, the Carrera MP4-12C emerged. The 43 mm case is in sandblasted titanium, and really light. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. The dial is made of actual carbon fiber, and this was something different back then. Real fiber, rather than stamped or painted carbon patterns, were rare, expensive and otherwise to be found only in very expensive watches. Its  hollowed-out, bulbous cutting in the center was filled with smoked sapphire glass, and was open on the upper movement side, which was unusual, and unusually not dull as the movement has something to show for itself on that side. The indices were even more interesting : these large, technical Arabic numerals applied on the carbon fiber plate started from zero rather than 12, a nod to the McLaren's rpm counter. 

The strap's upper lining was Alcantara, an synthetic, high end fabric which was featured on the car's bucket seats. They were therefore supposed to be able to endure the constraints of sitting on a wrist. They had this perforated plate on top, held by an orange stitching. That color was also to be found on the leather lining, which cannot have aged well over time.  

So the Carrera MP4-12C had this polarizing colorway. I happen to love orange (the brand called it papaya orange) because it's racy and conveys a controled form of scrappiness, especially when paired with grays. Anyway, it was the color McLaren had chosen for the show car, so this was a brand thing. 

Then there was the movement. Ah, what a movement ! It was easy to overlook everything that was interesting about it. First, it came from Dubois Depraz. Second, it was a flyback chronograph, a complication that's as much in its place in a car as in a plane, its original environment. It had this dual-disc large date, which was another rarity. And on top of it, it had, I quote « a semi-perpetual calendar that requires only one adjustment a year, in February », which is an annual calendar by any other name. So this was a highly unusual set of complications, made to justify inexplicable overpricing for a Carrera : 14 900 $ from 2011. That was three times the price of a regular Carrera. 

TAG Heuer had tried to soften the blow by selling the Carrera MP4-12C exclusively in McLaren showrooms, and by limiting it to 1000 units. If the first idea was an acceptable one, the second, not so much. At that price, you really had to be madly in love with McLaren. So much so that one can reasonably wonder if all thousand watches have actually been sold. 


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Over 150 years of watchmaking savoir-faire and technical innovation have made TAG Heuer a global reference in avant-garde sports watches. As it tracked the rise of sports demanding increasingly precise timekeeping, TAG Heuer continually developed its unique capabilities through a long-term vision of what watchmaking is today, and what it will look like tomorrow.

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