Welcome to Brand Breakdown, a series of comprehensive yet easy-to-digest guides to your favorite companies, with insights and information you won’t find on the average About page.
In 1860, long before Techniques d’Avant-Garde (TAG) purchased a majority stake in the company (which was subsequently gobbled up by the LVMH Group), Edouard Heuer set up his eponymous watch manufacturing company in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Soon after, he was patenting unique mechanisms, some of which still operate in many mechanical wristwatches today. However, Heuer was most famous for making chronographs, starting with dashboard clocks used in both cars and planes. Then, in 1914, Heuer offered their first wrist-worn chronograph.
By the 1960s, Heuer watches were so thoroughly enmeshed with auto racing that it’s hard to find a photograph of Formula 1, Indy, or GT racing from that era in which their logo isn’t visible. Specifically, Heuer Autavia and Carrera chronographs were de rigueur among drivers. When Steve McQueen sported a square Heuer Monaco during his all-too-short racing career, both man and watch were immortalized in photographs that have become enduring templates for men’s fashion. McQueen’s 1971 film, LeMans, endowed Heuer’s racing pedigree with a dose of Hollywood’s ineffable mystique.
Heuer, like so many other Swiss watch makers, struggled through the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s, resulting in a situation dire enough that the company went up for sale. TAG was added to the name in 1985 when the holding company Techniques d’Avant Garde acquired the brand. For those of us who remember the Regan Era, TAG Heuer — which sponsored sailing, golf, tennis, and, of course, auto racing — became as much a status symbol as Rolex among well-heeled preppies who grew increasingly unabashed of displaying their wealth. Men and women both strapped on sporty two-tone TAG Heuers, popped the collars on their Lacoste shirts, tied cable knit sweaters around their necks, and sparked up Marlboro Lights in unruly Porsche 911s.
As grunge and (at least the veneer of) financial humility came into vogue during the 1990s, those 1980s associations haunted TAG Heuer enough that the brand began to drop TAG from some of its retro-styled watches, initiating what remains today a coveted section of their catalog that harkens back to the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. But most of TAG Heuer’s offerings during the 1990s tended toward the trends, with increasingly larger timepieces for men and relatively dainty models for women. Then in 1999, LVMH bought TAG Heuer, pumped in enough capital to revive the brand’s ubiquity, and by the 2010s was pushing “connected” TAG Heuer watches intended to compete with the Apple Watch. But TAG Heuer also pushed their legacy to the fore with retro-styled mechanical models and tasty reissues.
This bifurcation between forward- and backward-looking watches isn’t unique to TAG Heuer, but it does seem pronounced with this brand. For those who like vintage-inspired timepieces, Heuer has recently released a slew of new models that will satisfy; for those who like their envelope pushed, TAG offers a robust catalog of decidedly modern watches.
Featuring an immediately recognizable square case as well as an automatic movement and hip, colorful accents, the Monaco has become an automotive icon (as well as a horological one) since its inception in 1969, when it was named after the famed Monaco Grand Prix.
Square, iconic, and the one that Steve McQueen made famous. These chronographs have heaps of presence, and are true conversation starters. Nab it with a modern movement designed to offer the layout of the landmark Calibre 11 movement the Monaco debuted, featuring a crown on the left side of the case (as pictured), or with the more traditional-looking Calibre 12.
Features: chronograph and date
This is an affordable way into the Monaco line, offering all the classic styling of the original but with a less expensive quartz movement, time-only functionality as well as a smaller and thinner profile.
Somewhat confusingly, the modern Autavias look a bit like dive watches, but also reference the dashboard clocks Heuer built for planes and cars, which were called Autavias (“Automobile” plus “Aviation” = Autavia). The brand did, at one point, produce a remake of the famous Autavia chronograph (now discontinued) of the 1960s that collectors know and love, but the current Autavia collection has its own, modern (if retro-inspired) personality.
Though these timepieces clearly look like dive watches (rather than rally timers), one way to reconcile this seeming contradiction is to acknowledge that the modern Autavia doesn’t fall back on tired automotive aesthetic cues, but forges a vibe that’s uniquely vintage Heuer. These watches are chronometer-certified automatic watches that come in at a relatively affordable price point.
Features: time, date (COSC Certified Chronometer)
Though not originally known for dive watches, by the 1980s, Heuer was competitive in this field, keeping pace with Rolex and Omega. Today’s Aquaracers come in many sizes and colorways, and they come with either mechanical or quartz movements. Some of their two-tone models look like their 1980s offerings, while the standard models are decidedly modern.
These watches are largely indistinguishable from their mechanical counterparts, but with a vast array of available sizes and colorways — all the way down to 32mm with diamonds and two-tone metals — there’s here something for everyone, even including a few quartz chronograph models.
Size: 32mm; 35mm; 41mm; 43mm
Features: time and date
These time-and-date watches offer 300m of water resistance and styling cues that are 100% marine-inspired. A vast array of colorways and a couple sizes assure that there’s something for everyone — including GMT versions with Rolex-like bicolor bezels. You can usually distinguish automatic Aquaracers from quartz versions as the former have the horizontally textured dials while the latter have smooth dials.
Size: 36mm; 41mm; 43mm
Features: time and date
The Carrera label is a large umbrella under which an array of models have come and gone over the years, from technical skeletonized chronographs to handsome time-only models. Thankfully, TAG has simplified and focused the Carrera collection in recent years. As the line is best known for its 1960s chronographs, this complication still features heavily and many models draw upon the classic lines of those vintage models — while a few still offer an aggressive, modern style that echo TAG's sister brand Hublot. Most Carrera watches today use the brand's in-house Heuer 02 chronograph movement, while those with sourced movements (including time-only models) appear to be being phased out.
The current Carrera chronograph watches strike a balance between recalling the brand's 1960s icons and just looking like a solid modern everyday watch. That speaks to the timeless design and versatility of the original, and they're made even more attractive with the Heuer 02 inside. Most are 42mm, but some special editions in 39mm give us hope that those sizes will eventually join the permanent collection.
Features: chronograph, date
Featuring the Heuer 02 automatic movement, the Carrera Sport Chronograph watches also mix classic Carrera design with a contemporary feel. In a range of variations, these have a distinctly sportier look with a tachymeter bezel and aggressive 44mm case sizing.
Features: chronograph, date, tachymeter scale
When the Heuer 02 movement was introduced it was meant to help revitalize the brand and make a splash, and its controversial styling seemed taken straight from the then-CEO's background at Hublot. The semi-skeletonized look and brash styling was meant to offer an experience similar to those higher-end watches but at a more affordable price point.
Size: 43mm or 45mm
Features: chronograph, tachymeter (one model includes a GMT)
Formula 1 Series
Back in the 1980s, the Formula 1 was the watch to have among sport-oriented folks who understood that durability and pizzaz didn’t have to mean buying a Rolex. Today the Formula 1 models represent a similar spirit. They’re relatively affordable, very sporty, waterproof, durable, and often quite colorful. The current Formula 1 collection is primarily populated by quartz watches in time-only and chronograph variants.
From chronographs to time-only models, Formula 1 watches come in a range of variations but feel remarkably consistent. Bezels of time-only models feature a minute scale while chronographs have a tachymeter, but the bold numerals, case shape and angular dial elements make the collection instantly recognizable. Starting at about $1,200, here you can find some of the most affordable TAG Heuer watches.
Size: 41mm; 43mm
Features: time, date, chronograph
These do not link to your smartphone; rather, “link” refers to the bracelets, whose curvy interlocking shapes are distinctive to TAG Heuer (how many watch brands can claim that?). While many brands race into the luxury steel "integrated bracelet" market today, TAG Heuer has been right there for decades.
The link collection is relatively limited, with only four current mens models: two chronographs and two time-only watches, each available in black or blue dial versions. All feature third-party automatic movements. The remaining models are designated as women's watches and feature 32mm cases, quartz movements and feminine elements like diamonds and mother-of-pearl.
Size: 32mm; 41mm
Features: chronograph, date, integrated bracelet
TAG Heuer was at the forefront of the Swiss efforts to get watches talking to smartphones. The ubiquity of the Apple Watch has put stress on this approach for Swiss brands who dared, but there’s much to like about a connected watch that doesn’t look like everyone else’s. Configurable in multiple styles and able to display even more watch faces to match, these are interesting alternatives for those who actually want to Think Different.
Sometimes you can't tell in pictures, but don't be confused by an analog dial: these are full touch screens that can change between multitudinous designs. Running on Google's Wear OS platform, it offers all the connectivity and features you can expect of modern wearables — and like other smartwatches most versions are geared toward sports and fitness activities.
Features: touch screen, smartwatch connectivity