Behind the rambunctious marketing campaigns, TAG Heuer remains one of the most storied mainstream watch brands. Ushered behind closed doors at its Chaux-des-Fonds headquarters we discovered everything from street art to skeletonisation as well as a fine museum. Here are nine talking points from our recent visit.
By James Buttery
1A number of 3D-printed parts, including the Link bracelet and Monaco case in TAG Heuer’s rapid prototyping department. The printer can print separate, yet interconnected components like this bracelet in a single pass. It takes 8 hours to print an 18-part prototype with the machines running overnight, which allows designers to see new ideas within hours rather than weeks. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a 3D-printed Monaco case to play with?
2Alec Monopoly, the clown prince of pop art and TAG Heuer ambassador, has his own “studio” within the manufacture where he can come for moments of quiet reflection. Big on spray paint; not so big on apostrophes.
3The revolutionary Mikrograph stopwatch from 1916, the first mechanical device to be able to measure 1/100th of a second, on display in TAG Heuer’s “360” Museum.
4On Par: If you thought golf-counting watches were a modern gimmick, a la Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Golf, launched this year, or oddball German watch brand Jaermann & Stubi, think again. The TAG Heuer museum is home to this, the movement of a 1941 Leonidas golf counter watch that featured a shot wheel for each hole. Heuer would merge with Leonidas in 1964.
5Tic-tac. An escapement model created by Charles-Auguste Heuer, son of the company’s founder (and grandfather of present-day honorary chairman Jack Heuer) in 1888, three years before he would officially join the company. Charged with responsibility for innovation, he would go on to invent the Mikrograph.
6The McQueen Monaco can be a thorny subject among Heuer collectors – which watches did he actually wear? This one, at least: one of the six Heuer Monaco watches worn by Steve McQueen during the 1970 filming of Le Mans, accompanied by a letter from the film’s prop master Donald B Nunley attesting to its veracity.
7Freefalling: Heuer made so many event-specific timers that even they are not sure what all of them are supposed to time. This epic Cal. 6000 Lemania-based stopwatch from 1975 is clearly meant for skydiving. With its enormous crocodile-skin case, outsized bezel and crown it could easily wear over a flight suit and be operated with gloves on. Remembering to stop the clock when you hit the ground is entirely in your own hands.
8Two halves of the same movement: This ETA (Unitas) 6497/6498-based Carrera Calibre 1 (right) is the simple handwound movement that trainee watchmakers learn on at TAG Heuer’s school of watchmaking. To its left is the same movement skeletonised and decorated as part of one of the students ‘school watch’ projects.
9Swiss watchmakers are a pretty relaxed bunch, until you mess with their tooling set-ups. This translates as “please leave the lathe clean and the tools tidy. OR ELSE…”. Don’t crack under pressure guys!