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The Millennium Watch Book
TAG Heuer - The Tourbillon that (almost) every can afford

TAG Heuer The Tourbillon that (almost) every can afford

There’s nothing special about this tourbillon – apart from the minor detail that in addition to being reliable and accurate, back in the day it was on offer at one-fifth of the usual price for this kind of complication. ‘Nothing special’ can, it seems, constitute a minor revolution*

How long was the tourbillon to remain the preserve of historic, traditional watchmaking, beyond the reach of the masses? Until 2016 as it turned out, when Jean-Claude Biver put an end to all that, with TAG Heuer’s then boss unveiling an in-house tourbillon for less than CHF 15,000. It was quite an achievement: previously, the most affordable tourbillons had cost five times that on average, with many others well beyond the CHF 200,000 mark.

From 01 To 02

Six months after the launch of TAG Heuer’s Carrera Heuer 01, the backbone of a new collection of in-house chronographs, the brand presented the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02T, a COSC-certified automatic chronograph coupled with a carbon and titanium flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock, developed in-house from 2015 onwards.

The 02T’s technical features were much the same as those of the Heuer 01 it was based on, the only difference being the power reserve, boosted from 50 to 65 hours. Essentially, TAG Heuer remained faithful to its timekeeping vocation, soon afterwards submitting its model for COSC chronometer certification. After production of 710 tourbillon movements in 2016, the thousandth COSC certified watch was auctioned on eBay in March 2017.

Modern, Powerful, and Accurate

From a design perspective, the piece is unashamedly contemporary, featuring stark angles, black PVD coating on many of its surfaces, a carbon cage, skeletonised bridges, and a very open, architectural-style dial. The industrial frame of the Heuer 02T calibre was developed to optimise assembly in TAG Heuer’s Chevenez workshops. The tourbillon, hand-made by four watchmakers, draws inspiration from the Monaco V4 tourbillon, the central parts of which are made from titanium (the top is carbon). During assembly and installation, all the adjustments are done by hand. The main components are made in the TAG Heuer workshops, while the hairspring at the heart of the tourbillon is produced by the firm’s Swiss partner Atokalpa.

Le tourbillon que (presque) tout le monde peut s'offrir

Carrera Heuer 02T © TAG Heuer

 

Small and Balanced

The main technical challenge was to house a single barrel, the chronograph functions, the self-winding mechanism and the flying tourbillon within a 32mm diameter whilst allowing maximum spacing for the counters, in order to create an attractive, modern visual balance.

It was quite natural for the Heuer 02T calibre to find its first home in the iconic Carrera, since the tourbillon is combined with a chronograph. The Carrera’s modular case, featuring more than a dozen different components, extends the field of creative possibilities. TAG Heuer did not hesitate to exploit these to the full, with variations in black, black and gold, blue and so on. Indeed, when the tourbillon in question was launched, a Black Phantom version was available for CHF 19,900 in a 250-piece numbered limited edition.

A Commercial Headache

The market responded with enthusiasm and the first production run was pre-sold within a few days. Retailers, however, were more reserved. For one thing, deliveries gradually became less frequent, severely trying the patience of shops and collectors alike.

In addition, the price positioning exploded a business model that had provided a living for a significant chunk of the watchmaking industry. In response to the question “Why have such a cheap tourbillon?” Jean-Claude Biver would invariably reply, “Because it’s a TAG model,” implying that the brand had always favoured affordable accuracy. For their part, retailers scratched their heads over how to go about selling two tourbillons, displayed side by side, with one priced at CHF 15,000 and the other at CHF 150,000.

Targeting Differentiation

As a result, TAG Heuer gradually undertook to differentiate its Heuer 02T from the rest of the market. The idea was simple: maintaining a rock-bottom price, whilst also identifying other justifiable reasons to buy one. The first measure taken was to offer the model in limited editions (including an Ayrton Senna version that ran to 65 watches, and a 150-watch partnership with Aston Martin). By limiting its output, TAG Heuer created rarity – as well as committing itself to quantities that the Manufacture was actually able to deliver.

The second measure was to make changes to the Heuer 02T. In 2019, a few months before leaving the brand, Guy Sémon – at that time the linchpin for R&D at TAG Heuer – launched the Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph. It was the first tourbillon to feature a carbon hairspring, marking a real break from the Nivarox hair-springs that dominate the vast majority of the market, as well as from the silicon models that are still protected to this day by a patent shared by a handful of other brands. The carbon hairspring, it is claimed, remains perfectly concentric as it uncoils. What is more, TAG Heuer is the only watchmaker to master this technology. Once again, though, that hasn’t stopped it using its creation in a watch with a very competitive price tag of €23,200.

*This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years of the Tourbillon in  The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

 

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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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