What is in a Name?

Jack Heuer writes in his self-titled autobiography that in January of 1962, having lent the organizers of the race a handful of Heuer pocket watch chronographs with spilt seconds, he was invited by the Sports Car Club of America to attend the 12 Hours Race at Sebring in Florida.

In those years, where endurance racing is concerned, Sebring was the place to be. It saw notable names from both the professional and amateur circuits descend, from the likes of German racer, Jochen Rindt, the Mexican racing brothers, Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, and even the one and only, Paul Newman.

While at the track, Jack mostly hung out at the Ferrari pits. He clearly was a fan, as he spent enough time there to get acquainted with the Rodriguez brothers and their parents. The brothers were piloting for Ferrari that year.

Recounting one of the conversations he had with the brothers’ parents, Jack writes, “They told me that they were lucky that their boys were so young — Pedro was then 21 and Ricardo 19 — because if they had been born a few years earlier they would certainly have participated in the dangerous race across Mexico known as the Carrera Panamericana Mexico. At the time it was considered to be the most dangerous sports car race in the world and over a period of five years had claimed over 30 victims. It was called off in 1955 because of safety concerns, a decision no doubt reinforced by the disaster at Le Mans the same year.”

It was at Sebring that Jack first encountered the word Carrera, and now, as history holds, it clearly left a deep-seated impression on him. Jack writes, “I loved not only its sexy sound but also its multiple meanings, which include road, race course and career. All very much Heuer territory! So as soon as I got back to Switzerland I rushed to register the name under ‘Heuer Carrera.’”

Jack Heuer
Jack Heuer
Designing the Carrera

As a student, Jack Heuer had developed an interest and love for modern design. He writes that he loved the works of furniture designers Le Corbusier and Charles Eames, and architects such as Eero Saarinen and Oscar Niemeyer. Jack shares that, in fact as a student, he even saved enough to buy himself an Eames lounge chair, which he admits, looked oddly out of place in his student accommodation.

When time came to design the first watch of his career in the industry, as majority shareholder of Heuer, he applied principles that he learned from following the works of these world renowned designers to his own creation.

Jack starts off sharing that wristwatch chronographs were popular in those days (in the midst of WWII), particularly in the military and artillery officers who used their chronograph wristwatches to calculate distances and synchronize attack times with troops on the ground. “Many of these chronographs were equipped with artillery telemeters with spiral scales which made their dials difficult to read. I wanted a dial that had a clear, clean design, and a new technical invention came to my aid.”

Jack elaborates, “A manufacturer of plastic watch crystals had invented a steel tension ring that fitted inside the crystal and kept it under tension against the surrounding steel case, thereby greatly increasing the degree of water resistance. I decided to use the inside bevel of this tension ring to carry the markings measuring one-fifths of a second. In other words, the flat dial surface no longer had to carry these markings — they had now been shifted off onto the tension ring — and this was the secret behind the fresh, clean and uncluttered appearance of my first ‘Carrera.’”
Adding to the story, present-day TAG Heuer’s heritage director, Catherine Eberle-Devaux told Revolution: “Jack applied the industrial design rules he had learned at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH) to design the Carrera. His approach was really bold and ultra-modern for its time.

“The dial that he designed, compared to other chronographs of the time, was drastically cleaner, with indexes that maintained a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio between the large and small ones. He designed the hands to gently brush their tip of the indexes, as the watch runs, to help you read the time with no effort. The sub dials are also an integral part of the composition and respect the same rules.

“In terms of the colors that he settled on, he first selected a light shade of eggshell, which was in later days replaced with a bright silver finish. The genius of Jack’s design is truly unlocked by the steel tension ring of the glass into a flange for the chronograph scale. The watch looks 2mm wider than it really is, yet the dial remains pure and adamant. And just like that, the Carrera was born, a complete reflection of the modern entrepreneurial man that Jack is.”

Celebrating a Milestone

The Carrera marked its 50th anniversary back in 2013, but there’s been a rewed sense of interest in the watch and its lineage, as seen from recent runaway successes such as the TAG Heuer Carrera Fragment, created in collaboration with acclaimed Japanese artist, Hiroshi Fujiwara.

It has to be said that the strength in the present generation Carreras stems from the design identity that Jack Heuer himself established when he launched the watch collection in 1963: i.e. its “fresh, clean and uncluttered” dial. Explains Catherine, “In a way, the Carrera has always been ahead of its time, with its clear pure dial design, which made it perfectly legible.”

In celebrating the milestone that the Carrera was for both Jack Heuer and Heuer, the company, TAG Heuer in 2020 is dedicating its 160th anniversary year to the Carrera. Says Catherine, “The story of the Carrera is a key episode of our History. When you look at our trophy gallery amassed in our 160 years of non-stop activity, Carrera is definitely a major one.” And the festivities are already underway, with the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition that was stealthily launched during the LVMH Watch Week in Dubai.

Stealthily because, TAG Heuer wasn’t formally exhibiting in Dubai. We got to hear of the watch as a result of an unfortunate miscommunication earlier in the week (with the watch appearing on Instagram) and the kindness of our friend, Catherine who was casually present at the fair with the watch in her pocket.

Catherine shared with us that the watch created to kick the year off is based off a 1964 Carrera, referred to as the 2447S. The 2447 is believed to have been one of the earliest Carreras, with the very first examples of it to have left the manufacture in 1963, fitted with a matt eggshell white. These are some of the rarest specimens of the 2447S and, needless, to say are highly sought after.

Original 2447
Original 2447

As soon as 1964, the watch was fitted with a starburst silver finished dial and these remained in production for the longer lifespan of the watch. It is suggested that the reason why Heuer and Singer, the dial producer, moved away from the eggshell colored dials is possibly due to the treatment on the dials proving too fragile for heavy use.

Jack mentions in his autobiography that he decided to use the inside bevel of the steel tension ring that fitted inside the crystal, and kept it under tension against the surrounding steel case, to carry the markings measuring one-fifths of a second. But later as demand for variations of chronograph scales grew among Heuer customers, parts of the scale had to be brought back to the primary dial.

These later dials can also be identified by the “T” above the “SWISS” print at 6 o’clock. Aesthetic differences aside, all of these watches were driven by the Valjoux 72, which lent to the 36mm diameter of the watch the 30-minute totalizer (3 o’clock), 12-hour totalizer (6 o’clock) and the running small seconds (9 o’clock).

“The Carrera has also been quite versatile from its birth in 1963, until 1986 when it disappeared from the then-Heuer company catalogs,” says Catherine. “Today the new design is a true continuity of its ancestor. Faithful to the original design, but integrating the improvements you should expect from a modern automatic chronograph: date window, manufacture movement Heuer 02 with 80-hour power reserve, colors, new materials such as ceramic…”

TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition

The 2020 re-edition of the 2447S is a bit of a mashup of its earliest and later execution. You’ll see that as per Jack’s implementation, the one-fifths of a second scale is on the steel tension ring of the watch dial. But the watch having the silver sunray brushed dial, is a clear nod to the later version. This is why TAG Heuer proposes this new watch, as based off the 1964 2447S, rather than a 1963 version. Another detail borrowed from the 1963 dial include the solitary “SWISS”, the later dials would have had the “T” printed above, indicating the use of tritium on the dial.

TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition (Image © Revolution)
TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition (Image © Revolution)

Deviations, by virtue of the fact that it’s been 57 years since the Carrera was first introduced, are aplenty. While the case is more or less the same polished stainless steel with the round chrono-pushers, it is now larger at 39mm, up from 36mm.

The larger size now mostly due to the use of the modern automatic Calibre Heuer 02, as opposed to the 1960s manual winding Valjoux 72. The watch is capped off with a boxed sapphire crystal, which mimics the boxed acrylic crystal that would’ve been found on the originals.

TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition (Image © Revolution)

Jeff Stein, a friend and a scholar on all matters pertaining to Heuer, thoughtfully addresses the matter of the unique challenge that a watchmaker like TAG Heuer finds itself faced with every time it embarks on a reissue, on his site onthedash.com. Jeff writes, “With the Carrera 160 Silver Limited Edition, we have a different design team that was operating under a different mandate. While Hiroshi Fujiwara was at liberty to add or delete elements of the predecessor, the mandate for the new Carrera was to produce a watch that would mimic the 1964 Carrera, to the extent feasible. While this may sound restrictive, the new Carrera incorporates accents and seemingly minor design elements that serve to complete a beautiful design. Whether it’s the numbers on the recorders, the precise shade of the faux lume, or the sunburst finish of the paint, the newest Carrera shows the attention to detail required to make a re-edition collectible, as a fitting member of the Carrera family. Since 1996, we have seen a lot of TAG Heuer Carreras; to my eye, it’s the details of the Carrera 160 Silver LE that make it a worthy addition to the Carrera family.”

And Jeff is absolutely right to congratulate the design team at TAG Heuer as such. Revolution’s founding editor, Wei Koh often asks the team this question when he encounters timepieces that, aesthetically speaking, move him on a personal level: “What movement’s inside?” And when the rest of team is unable to answer him in the next split second (because no one else in the team has Wei’s savant like ability to retain reference numbers), Wei himself offers: “with a watch this good looking, does it matter much what’s on the inside?”

The same can be suggested for the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition. You see, one of this 2020 edition’s biggest deviations from the original is one that is right under all of our noses. The 1960s 2447S had its small running seconds counter at 9 o’clock (Valjoux 72). The 2020 reedition, however, has its running seconds counter at 6 o’clock (Calibre Heuer 02). Meaning to say that the tri-compax orientation on the watch at hand is completely different.

The same can be suggested for the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition. You see, one of this 2020 edition’s biggest deviations from the original is one that is right under all of our noses. The 1960s 2447S had its small running seconds counter at 9 o’clock (Valjoux 72). The 2020 reedition, however, has its running seconds counter at 6 o’clock (Calibre Heuer 02). Meaning to say that the tri-compax orientation on the watch at hand is completely different.

In the most discerning circles of watch collectors, deviations of such likes, typically end careers; not to mention, end the lifetimes of new releases long before they hit the shelves. As Jeff writes, “The new Carrera has only been rumored for a couple of days, and already we hear of vintage Heuer guys considering their purchases.” Surely there is no greater validation for a reissued vintage watch. And if the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition is a sign of things that are to come in the year of the Carrera, we can only expect greater. Perhaps an all-out 2447N (all black dial), or a 2447NS (reverse panda dial)?

Technical Specifications

Movement

Self-winding Calibre Heuer 02; chronograph with central seconds hand, 30-minute and 12-hour totalizer; running seconds; minutes and hours; oscillating mass with 160th anniversary engraving; 80-hour power reserve

Case

39mm in stainless steel; water resistant to 100m

Strap

Black alligator strap and polished stainless-steel folding clasp with double safety push-buttons
Limited to 1860 watches; price: USD 6,450

TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition