Watches A story of design: The TAG Heuer Carrera, Chapter One

5 min

Angus Davies Co-founder of Escapement Magazine

Chapter One - The birth of a legend

The birth of a legend

In 1962, Jack Heuer was attending the ’12 Hours Race’ at Sebring in Florida where Heuer was the official timekeeper of the event. Whilst at the track the ‘Carrera Panamericana Mexico‘ came up in conversation, a perilous road race, which at the time traversed Mexico. The name of the race piqued Jack’s interest and he later said it evoked thoughts of ‘road, race, course and career’. These latter words were congruent with Heuer’s brand positioning at the time. On returning to his native Switzerland, Jack registered the name ‘Heuer Carrera’, a moniker that would ultimately become familiar to legions of car fanatics and watch aficionados alike.

The following year (1963), Jack Heuer designed the first Heuer Carrera chronograph. He had a well-developed sense of style and a fondness for modern design. Indeed, his passion encompassed iconic furniture conceived by Le Corbusier and Charles Eames as well as contemporary architecture. Many commentators would describe Jack Heuer as an aesthete.

He had a vision for the inaugural Carrera and was determined it should have a ‘clear and clean’ dial design. One of his ideas was particularly inspired. The plastic crystals fitted to watches at this time were held in position using a tension ring, augmenting water resistance. Where most chronographs only featured markings on the main dial area, Jack chose to apply ⅕-second markings to the tension ring, thereby freeing up more space for the remaining dial indications.

The first Heuer Carrera was a bi-compax chronograph that would go on to influence the design of many future models. Some Heuer Carrera chronographs featured three registers instead of two, however, all examples subscribed to Jack’s aforementioned philosophy of ‘clear and clean’ design.

While the inaugural Heuer Carrera was a chronograph, the name would eventually be applied to three hands references in the early 2000s. Although these models eschewed the model’s stopwatch capabilities, they still wholeheartedly embraced Jack’s design objectives. Indeed, the TAG Heuer Carrera three hands has always proved eminently legible.

Despite the TAG Heuer Carrera being a resounding success, the Maison has never rested on its laurels. The Swiss avant-garde brand, eager to deliver product advancement, has recently revisited the model and refined numerous constituent parts.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Guy Bove, TAG Heuer’s Creative Product Design Director, and learn where the brand has made changes and the rationale behind such modifications.

TAG Heuer Carrera (WBN2010.BA0640)

Four variants, 13 new timepieces

The TAG Heuer Carrera three hands is available in four variants, some of which encompass a number of different dial colours. The TAG Heuer Carrera Date 39mm displays hours, minutes and seconds as well as the date, positioned at 6 o’clock. The TAG Heuer Carrera Day Date 41mm, as its name suggests, is a tad larger and features three hands along with a day and date display.

The TAG Heuer Carrera Twin-Time Date 41mm incorporates an additional hour hand allowing the wearer to view the local hour as well as the prevailing hour at home, making it the perfect complication for frequent travellers. A two-tone flange marked with a silver and blue 24-hour track, shows the hour at home. Guy Bove, Creative Product Design Director, and his team have deliberately positioned the daylight hours in the upper area of the dial where the wearer is most likely to view the indicated hours.

Lastly, the TAG Heuer Carrera Date 29mm enunciates the time in the firm’s desired ‘clear and clean’ format but it is sized to suit a slender wrist. This model is available with a mother-of-pearl or blue sunray-brushed dial and can even be specified with 11 diamond indexes.

TAG Heuer Carrera (WBN2012.BA0640)

Focussing on the minutiae

Irrespective of the model selected, all variants are unequivocally sporty and eminently elegant. These watches are particularly wearable, befitting both formal attire or a jeans and t-shirt ensemble. Indeed, chatting to the brand’s Creative Product Design Director, Guy Bove, his overriding objective was to recapture the ‘sporty elegance’ of the first Heuer Carrera.

Furthermore, as Guy explained, the absence of chronograph counters leads the wearer to focus more on the ‘architecture’ of the dial and case. The Product Design Team expended much effort concentrating on the minutiae. These small details when seen in isolation could easily be missed, but when viewed as a whole they undoubtedly enrich the overall ownership experience.

The team was also keen to adopt some of the improvements made to the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph in 2020 (42mm and 44mm models), delivering a cohesive and consistent design language across all members of the TAG Heuer Carrera family.

TAG Heuer Carrera (WBN2111.BA0639)

Coming next - a closer look

While speaking to Guy Bove, Creative Product Design Director, it became apparent that the changes to the TAG Heuer Carrera cannot be conveyed in a few paragraphs. On the contrary, there are numerous upgrades to the original model that justify further discussion.

In Chapter Two, I examine the dial and case with a loupe in hand, eager to discover how TAG Heuer has enriched the specification of every variant and the thought process behind each update.


Angus Davies Co-founder of Escapement Magazine