Carrera 1887: A Modern Classic

When TAG Heuer launched the Carrera 1887 in 2010, few would have predicted that five years later the watch would be regarded as something of a modern classic. However, the beginnings of the Carrera 1887 story were anything but smooth.

It started in late 2009 when TAG Heuer announced it would manufacture it’s first production movement, called the Calibre 1887. This was a major milestone for TAG Heuer, which had been seeking to protect itself from the quickly evolving strategy at Swatch Group which had flagged an intention to scale down and eventually cease supply of ETA movements to it’s major rival. TAG Heuer’s response was constrained by a lack of both time and historical watchmaking expertise, so it chose a bold and pragmatic option: buy the rights to an existing chronograph movement, modify the base design and then make and assemble the key components in-house.

The problem was that in the excitement, TAG Heuer failed to fully disclose the Seiko origins of the movement in its press kit. There was no question over the integrity and quality of the Calibre’s design, but the internet army didn’t forgive the delay in confirming the background of the movement, despite TAG Heuer’s then-CEO quickly going public with the full details. With the benefit of hindsight it was a bit of a storm in a tea-cup, albeit one that that temporarily overshadowed the significant industrialisation process TAG Heuer undertook to get the movement to market so quickly.

The first watch to offer the new Calibre was the Carrera 1887, a classic 41mm steel Carrera, which was available with either a black or a white dial. The new chronograph was well received when it was launched at the 2010 Baselworld show, although the watch didn’t reach the market for another 6 months, as several detailed design changes delayed the on-sale date – TAG Heuer knew the importance of the Carrera 1887 as a statement of it’s watchmaking skill and so was determined to get it’s new flagship 100% right before it was launched. And this proved to be a the right approach, because in the five years since launch, the watch has gone on to be one of TAG Heuer’s best global sellers.

The reason for the Carrera 1887s success is simple- it’s not a “retro design” Carrera designed to look like it’s just emerged from a 1960s time-warp, but it does employ the same design principles as the 1960s original. Jack Heuer designed the Carrera in 1963 to allow the chronograph to be easily operated and read at high speed, meaning that clarity and simplicity were key. And it’s these elements that form the foundations of the Carrera 1887 design. For example, unlike most modern Carreras, TAG Heuer moved the tachymeter scale away from the external bezel to the inner flange, therefore allowing a thin polished external bezel to be fitted and increasing the perceived size of the dial. And speaking of the dial, this one is beautifully balanced, with two silver-ringed sub-dials at 12 and 6 o’clock, and a third recessed sub-dial at 9 o’clock balanced by the TAG Heuer and Carrera logos at 3 o’clock. Simplicity and balance- the Carrera hallmarks.

And what of the movement, the Calibre 1887? Since it’s debut in a single model, the movement is now offered across the majority of the Carrera range, including the star of TAG Heuer’s 2015 Baselworld releases, the Carrera Heuer-01. The expansion of production has meant that the movement is now manufactured at a new purpose-built facility in Chevenez. TAG Heuer is rightly proud of the reliability and accuracy of its movement, which has established a strong following amongst collectors.

And speaking of collectors, one of the questions I get asked the most often is which of the current TAG Heuer range could one day become a classic with collectors of tomorrow – and it’s the Carrera 1887 that ticks many of the right boxes. Yes, production numbers aren’t small, but the watch is still the best looking model in the Carrera range and the one that looks and feels the most like a true direct descendent of the original Carrera. TAG Heuer hasn’t changed the Carrera 1887 much over the years- there is now a beautiful blue dial, as well as a Rose Gold model- because it hasn’t needed to… classics are funny like that.