SAVOIR FAIRE Turning back time with the TAG Heuer Aquaracer

Exploring the evolution of the TAG Heuer Aquaracer family

8 min

Today, we’re looking back at the evolution of one of our signature timepieces, the TAG Heuer Aquaracer. We dug into the archives to learn more about this special watch, from it’s very first tick to today.

The Aquaracer, an iconic model of the TAG Heuer diving range, is a timepiece that brings our philosophy of resilience, strength and reliability to life – without ever sacrificing the timeless elegance essential to any classic.  The TAG Heuer Aquaracer has found its perfect match in icons of the cultural kind – from cinema’s favourite spy, all the way to a certain US president — and has graced the wrists of many a real-life hero.  A watch for the deep sea explorer, the everyday adventurer, and the fearless innovator… whether above or below the waves.

1910 Heuer ad - New Chronographs Watches with Hermetic Cases

The Life Aquatic

To dip beneath the surface of the TAG Heuer Aquaracer’s story is to discover a particularly high-stakes moment in the history of ocean exploration. During the post-WWII era, ‘clearance’ divers were much in demand; these intrepid heroes dove to the ocean floor in order to diffuse and remove mines from ports and bays, where explosions might have caused further casualties. Timekeeping devices that were water resistant and reliable enough for carefully timed operations became an essential tool for such service. These stringent military specifications would leave their mark on the legacy of dive watches forever.  


Another dramatic influence on the story of diving came from French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau – and his famous 1956 film The Silent World, co-directed by Louis Malle, which won a Palme d’Or at Cannes. The film’s stunning cinematography – and the sheer beauty of the underwater realm it revealed – created a surge in the popularity of recreational diving around the world. Exploring the depths of the world’s oceans suddenly seemed possible as a leisure pursuit; and the demand for associated equipment, including dive watches, increased dramatically.

In the 70s, it was commercial diving that furthered dive-watch innovations. Deep sea exploration (often driven by the hunt for oil, which saw huge investment with successive crises) required divers to stay far below the surface for long periods of time. Known as “saturation diving”, this requires professional divers to be acclimated gradually with a series of pressurised chambers. While this process worked well for divers, it proved disastrous for traditional dive watches; while “decompressing”, or returning to the atmosphere of dry land, the watch crystals would pop off, as pressurised gases had no other way of escaping the watch. The hunt for a viable solution was on.

Extract from the Heuer Times n°3 1979

Once upon a time, happily ever after

The roots of the TAG Heuer Aquaracer as we know it today go all the way back to the 1950s and 60s, when the US market made strong demands for dive watches. One might even look just a touch further back at the Heuer Solunar released in 1949 as a pre- precursor to the Heuer dive watches. This was a tool-watch that tracked high and low tides, invaluable information for sailors and fishermen. In 1950, the design was further improved upon in the Heuer Mareographe, which also offered a functional chronograph. Neither of these models was water-resistant nor considered a dive watch, but they do embody a certain functional, marine through-line.


A couple of decades later, in the midst of the industry’s infamous “quartz crisis”, Heuer (not yet TAG Heuer) looked beyond the horizon, meeting the great demand for a recreational diving watch with the ’844’, released in 1978. This user-friendly dive watch proved a huge success, becoming one of Heuer’s most beloved (and celebrated) models.

Produced in France for Heuer by Monnin, the earliest editions of the dive watch were nicknamed accordingly – they’re rare, but it’s still possible to find a few original, made-in-France “Monnin” models. On the lookout? Keep your eyes peeled  for the automatic Heuer 844, the quartz 8440, or the women’s automatic 756. These early timepieces would pave the way for a range of diving watches with a whole spectrum of specifications. 


After the 1978 release of the Heuer 844, the next leap forward would come in the form of the Super Professional, launched in 1984 – designed specifically for commercial divers. Water-resistant up to 1000m, it featured a resilient monobloc case design which did not allow gas into the watch up to the certified depth, preventing any decompression issues. Alongside its super-secure case, the watch’s matte finish, luminous details, and a unidirectional bezel with big, easy-to-grip teeth made it a must-have for working divers.

So what exactly makes a TAG Heuer diving watch distinct? If we look back to the roots of the Aquaracer family tree, there are six design fundamentals that began with the Heuer 844, and still remain in the latest models. The ‘family traits’?  Scratch resistant crystal, a unidirectional bezel, screwed-down crown, luminous dial and hands, double safety class on the bracelet, and 200m water resistance. These features unify the collection from the very beginning of the story to today, creating a clear lineage of resilience and reliability in this adventurous watch family, and were in fact so strong that they would guide most of the TAG Heuer designs in the 1980s and 1990s.


A final TAG Heuer touch for our dive watches? The 844’s distinct 42mm case, larger than similar models of its time, remains a signature of the TAG Heuer diving watch family, while being complimented by a range of additional sizes to accommodate all wrist sizes.

1986 French Ad emphasizing the phosphorescent dial of the Heuer 1000

Making a splash

While the Heuer and TAG Heuer dive watches were originally released with pure utility in mind, over time they began to develop various elegant aesthetic touches. The diving range evolved through small iterations in design and continuous improvement, always loyal to the six main design principles. There have been tweaks to hand and bezel design, and explorations of diverse materials, textures and finishes. 


Consider the legendary Heuer “Night Diver”, originally released in the 1980s. There’s no mistaking its dramatic black-coated case and fully luminous dial. This particular model was thrust into the spotlight (and the pop cultural record) when worn by a famous fictional secret agent on the big screen. And we couldn’t possibly forget the solid gold diving watches of the late 80s. These models, released during the gilded heyday of Wall Street, boldly entered the upper echelons of luxury design during a period when the dive watch transition from being a tool to a status symbol.


In 2003, the TAG Heuer Aquagraph marked a technological leap forward – as the very first underwater chronograph. The watch featured a large, yellow center minute recording hand useful to time decompression stops, a helium escape valve, and was water-resistant to 500m. The TAG Heuer Aquaraph took dive watches to new heights – or rather, to new depths.

One design element that’s emerged as a strong link in the TAG Heuer dive watch collections is a signature orange, which has appeared since the 80s in accents and as a dial colour; the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Bamford limited edition released in 2020, for example, embodied innovation in ergonomics and style with its distinctive titanium case featuring flashes of iconic TAG Heuer orange. 

TAG Heuer Aquaracer Bamford Limited Edition (WAY208F.BF0638)

All the way from the original Heuer 844 to today’s Aquaracer, TAG Heuer’s diving watches have been a continuous, evolving manifestation of our philosophy; born out of utility, and boldly going where no diving watch has gone before.