HERITAGE Everything You’ve Always Wanted To Know (But Never Dared To Ask) About TAG Heuer

10 min

Every month, we’re answering YOUR questions: about TAG Heuer, our watches, and our history – from basic trivia to the deepest of dives. We’ll be investigating technical complications and their complexities, but also chatting about straps, style, and other fascinations – or obsessions – when it comes to watches. No question is too big or too small!

This month, we’re exploring our history, the history of TAG Heuer – from our earliest origins to a brief course on Chronographs… via a little bit of space travel. Let’s begin at the beginning…

Where and when did TAG Heuer begin?

In 1860, a watchmaker, inventor, and entrepreneur named Edouard Heuer founded Heuer Watchmaking Inc. in 1860, in the small town of St-Imier, Switzerland. After moving the company to the Swiss Watchmaking centre of Biel in 1867, he patented his first chronograph in 1882, and in 1887 the ‘oscillating pinion’ was born – still used by many watchmakers today. With its roots firmly in the exceptional Swiss craftsmanship that made these elegant mechanisms possible, the family business grew.  And its continuing spirit of innovation (not to mention an all-but-infallible chronograph) would make the Heuer name famous both in the competitive world of Swiss watchmaking, and worldwide – to the U.S. England, Japan, and beyond.

How do you say ‘TAG Heuer’? 

Let’s get this one out of the way first (and don’t worry, you’re not the only one): it’s pronounced ‘TAG’ and ‘HOY-er’. 

Edouard Heuer around 1870

What does TAG stand for anyway?

TAG stands for ‘Techniques d’Avant Garde’ – and it doesn’t just mean we’re ahead of the curve. Always at the cutting edge of timekeeping, TAG Heuer has made a name for itself as creators of ‘avant-garde’ chronographs – from one century to the next.  

From the first dashboard chronograph for automobiles and aircraft in 1911, to the first wrist chronograph in 1914 and the ‘Mikrograph’ (the first stopwatch accurate to 1/100th of a second) in 1916, the next generation of Heuer watchmaking made timekeeping history again and again.  

In the early 1960’s, after taking over direction of the company, Jack Heuer (Edouard’s great-grandson) would revolutionise the watchmaking world once more. Keeping up the family tradition of entrepreneurship and limitless exploration, Jack created the first chronograph designed specifically for professional drivers, sent the first watch into space in 1962, and developed the first automatic chronograph in 1969.

What exactly is a Chronograph – and what can it do?

Essentially, a Chronograph is a watch fitted with an added function, activated by the pushers (start/stop/reset), to measure continuous or interrupted periods of time. In the simplest terms, you can think of it like a stopwatch, but it’s a lot more exciting – and complex – than that. Let’s look at the TAG Heuer chronograph, which has two basic functions: 

1/ Simple time measurement – from a few seconds to 12 hours, with some models measuring fractions of a second.

2/ Additional time measurement – measuring several consecutive recorded times by adding them together to get a cumulative total.

Some TAG Heuer chronographs also include something called a tachymeter scale on the dial flange, indicating average speed over a given distance. Ready to test the metal of your new Porsche? Activate the chronograph at the starting line, and stop when you reach the end of your measured distance – anything over 1 mile. The second hand will point to your average speed – which might, coincidentally, be the same number as your heart rate.  

Hungry for a bit of extra watch geekery? The oscillating pinion, (remember that invention of Edouard’s, all the way back in 1887?) is a Heuer-patented design that’s 133 years old and still going strong! Made up of a moving rod and two pinions, this mechanism lets the chronograph function more efficiently, and start instantaneously (what good is a timekeeper that lags a second behind the starting pistol?!). What’s more? It disconnects the Chronograph from the movement when not in use, so it doesn’t drain the power reserve. Clever, eh?

What’s the smallest unit of time that can be measured by a TAG Heuer?

The TAG Heuer Mikrotimer – found in our TAG Heuer Carrera Flying 1000 model – measures up to 1/1000th of a second. That’s 3.6 million beats per hour. As the evolution of our world (and the world of sports in particular) continues to demand ever-increasing precision in timekeeping, the TAG Heuer vision expands in unison. Or, dare we say it, a fraction of a second ahead.

What sets TAG Heuer apart from any other watchmaker? Any claims to fame?

Without being immodest, let’s start with orbiting the Earth. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. On his wrist? A Heuer stopwatch, timing every second of his 4-hour-56-minute flight. This very watch can be found today in the Smithsonian museum – both a work of art and historical artefact.  As a matter of fact, it’s not just any artefact, but factually the first watch in space. 

Other than that? Oh, just being Official Watch of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Official Timekeeper of the new FIA Formula E Championship   – not to mention gracing the wrists of the legendary Steve McQueen and Ayrton Senna (along with many other record-breaking, breath-taking athletes, actors, drivers – and divers – models, pilots, and champions from all walks of life).

Steve McQueen at Le Mans in 1970

"We believe that victories in life result from the choices we make every fraction of a second."

TAG Heuer manufacture in Chevenez, in the Swiss Jura

The ultimate reference in luxury chronograph watches, TAG Heuer’s high-precision timing innovations have kept pace with the evolution of sports since. Our timepieces make it possible to capture every fraction of a second of a performance.

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