Watches Along the right lines

Watches & Wonders 2023

5 min

Robin Swithinbank Journalist & Author

Six decades on, the classic Carrera’s silhouette is sharper than ever

TAG Heuer Carrera (CBS2212.FC6535)

Talking with designers – of watches or anything else – we learn that a critical point in their process is when they come to define a product’s silhouette.

As they take a pencil and outline a shape that accommodates practical concerns such as price and function, the hope is that what falls onto the page will in time assume a value that surpasses the product’s original purpose. A form that will be instantly recognisable; iconic, even.

Think of the Empire State Building, the Bialetti coffee maker, the Porsche 911. Draw a line around any one of those, and we know it. Each has a silhouette that distinguishes it from thousands upon thousands of comparable expressions in building, product or car design.

But if the theory is easy, the practice is anything but. For every iconic silhouette, there are umpteen more forgotten just as quickly.

TAG Heuer Carrera (CBS2210.FC6534)

Indeed, thumbing the pages of watch design history, we find only a handful of examples of the same phenomenon, none more profound than the Monaco, TAG Heuer’s square-cased watch with a left-hand crown.

Where TAG Heuer’s Carrera fits here, it’s surprisingly difficult to say. Not because it’s not an icon – there’s no debating its membership of the watch design icon club – and not because it doesn’t have a clearly defined form.

Rather, because its proportions and volume have served as a template for so many copycats since its introduction in 1963, its silhouette doesn’t always provoke the instant recognition of an Aquaracer, a Silverstone or a Monza.

And how does the theory apply to the trio of classic Carrera chronographs introduced in Geneva this week?

TAG Heuer Carrera (CBS2212.FC6535)

Each has a dial of great beauty. One black with silvery ‘reverse panda’ subdials; a sister watch in shimmering blue; and a third carrying a tourbillon, giving the form a dramatic visual and technical prod.

But cover those up and allow their silhouettes to do the talking, and what do we see? In each, a rounded form with fluid lines that spills into lugs that reach elegantly away from the case, punctuated with a pair of pump pushers and a crown.

From the side, each shows us a so-called ‘glassbox’ domed sapphire crystal, another classic Carrera attribute, and one that conjures up all sorts of romantic notions. In the literal sense, of the madcap, petrol-soaked motor races of the 1950s and 1960s that inspired the first watch; in a more poetic sense, of the horological garden cultivated underneath the Carrera crystal these past six decades.

And there’s our answer. Somehow, even in their difference, and in spite of the broad strokes that define their basic form, each is clearly a Carrera. Sixty years on, the Carrera’s silhouette is sharper – and more iconic – than ever.

Robin Swithinbank Journalist & Author