TAG Heuer Carrera, 50 years of research and innovation - Part 2
After the first part of this article on the most emblematic Heuer Carreras since the birth of the collection in 1953. Here we are again, focusing without transition on BaselWorld 2013 and the last innovating models of the mythic series which celebrates this year its 50th anniversary.
Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre 36 ref: CAR2B11.BA0799
At each generation, references become more complex… By making an almost 30-year jump (including a long ten-year interruption, from the mid-80s to 1996), the 6-number reference has been transformed into this type of reference: CAR2B11.BA0799. Phew.
Before getting into the details of this Carrera Calibre 36, which particularly seduced me, two other models deserve a special mention on the occasion of this anniversary year.
It is thus obviously, the anniversary model, the Jack Heuer Carrera declined into two versions, which correspond to two founding decades of the Carrera series.
The first model is thus the Jack Heuer Calibre 17, 80th anniversary (Jack Heuer’s) which is the direct descendant of the 2446 evoked at the start of this article, 41mmsteel, Calibre 17, it even takes up the panda dial! Consequently, it virtually resembles the first Carrera, in a more modern format. Perennially fashionable, efficient.
The second model is the Jack Heuer calibre 1887, in the bull-head format! This layout results from a 90° rotation, where the push-pieces are at the 11 and 1 o’clock positions and the crown at the 12 o’clock position.
It is the most emblematic chronograph configuration of the 70s, directly inspired from the Stopwatches (Heuer in particular) buttons’ layout, typical of Olympic stadiums as well as 70s’ EPS courses!
Surprisingly, against all expectations, there was no Heuer Carrera with this type of configuration at the time. It almost seems like Heuer wants to make up for this oversight by introducing such an emblematic watch. The case measures 45mm in diameter, it is in steel and DLC titanium at the level of the bezel, and is equipped with the calibre 1887. This watch deserves a long review, so that its historical, technical and cultural aspects may be examined…
Back to the Calibre 36, it is equipped with a bi-coloured dial and this watch is exciting at several levels. It is a synthetic watch of the trends which have passed at Tag.
Before embarking upon the analysis of its aesthetics, the focus needs to be put on its motor. The watch is equipped with a Calibre 36, that is, a Zenith El Primero modified for Tag Heuer.
Today, Zenith and Tag Heuer work together in the midst of the LMVH group. However, this has not always been the case: at the end of the 60s, these brands had launched themselves in a technological course, to know which would first introduce an automatic chronograph.
Without any suspense, with its longevity as proof, the El Primero hit two birds with one stone: on the one hand, it had been introduced some weeks before the 1969 Calibre 11; but it had above all turned out to be a better solution in terms of frequency, reliability and even aesthetics: it was the most beautiful automatic chronograph calibre from that time.
No one is perfect, the central timers are too close to one another and due to its high frequency the power reserve is often slightly short according to the type of barrel spring that the EP embeds…
In this recent version, Tag Heuer has nevertheless done the necessary modification work: the 36-hour power reserve has been increased to 50 hours, which is sufficient to set the watch down for the week-end. As a reminder, the EP/Calibre 36 is rhymed at 5Hz/36000 vibrations per hour, measures 30mm in diameter and is fitted with 31 rubies.
Likewise, a trick has been employed to propose an aesthetic giving sense to the too close sub-timers. This Calibre 36 of 43mm in diameter takes up the aesthetics of the vintage stopwatches, pocket watches above all intended for sports timing. The big railway justifies the sub-timers drawn together.
Obviously, we had already seen this dial with the outdated charm on the Mikrograph and Mikrogirder of 2011-2012; besides, one of the watch’s forces was to make a mechanism stemming from aerospace cohabit with a neo-classical external parts.
Here, owing to cost issues, the mechanism is evidently less innovative. However, the calibre 36 is nevertheless very beautiful and is in accordance with this two-toned dial. Moreover, it is one of the most qualitative watches introduced by Tag Heuer: the white lacquer does not excessively shine, the central grey satiny gives discreet but warm reflections off and the hands/index whole is in conformity with the vintage Carreras.
The latters’ case is less heavy than the 43mm in diameter one, but the watch is not too large according to the current criteria.
It is to be noted that this CAR2B11.BA0799 has elicited unanimity with the profession, almost all of our journalist and blogger colleagues having succumbed to this piece’s charm… Its price is in the average range of the market for equivalent products, that is, approximately 8000CHF.
The Tag Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum
The innovations are centered around two principal axes: the very high frequency (more than 5Hz) and magnetism. It is advisable to remember that, as per the rules of quantum mechanics, magnetism is one of the four forces which govern the universe, the others being the strong interaction (which maintains atoms’ cohesion), weak interaction (initiating radioactivity) and gravitation.
Electromagnetism is particularly the force which animates the photons, the one which is the daily light provider and harvest grower… Additionally, it also maintains the shopping list on the refrigerator ...
In short, this major force of the universe has paradoxically always been disputed by the watchmakers, which have tried everything, with a certain success margin, to discard horology movements from it (non-magnetic watches, low-magnetic watches, etc.), the most critical point being the escapement unit. The vintage balance-springs were very sensitve to magnetic fields and even today, magnetic balance-springs are a frequent cause of after-sales service return.
Anyway, in a mechanical watch, magnetism, such as water, was evil incarnated. Until the arrival of the Pendulum by Tag Heuer.
This design watch introduced in 2010 proposed a technical revolution never seen before: the disappearance of the balance-spring in favour of a double pair of magnets generating a pendulum effect through the attraction/repulsion of opposed magnetic poles. You remember magnets, which repelled each other from your childhood? It is this phenomenon at work in the Pendulum. The aim is to replace the mechanic torque of the balance-spring by the Pendulum’s magnetic torque.
Before continuing the explanation, it is advisable to review the Seiko Spring-Drive compared to the Mikropendulum system. As you are aware, Seiko is one of the watchmaking partners of the La Chaux-de-Fonds brand, particularly through the assortments and centring supply.
This could cause confusion. However, there is no link between the Spring-Drive and the Pendulum.
The Spring-Drive is a mechanical watch regulated by a quartz commanding a magnetic brake.
The Tag Heuer Mikropendulum is a pure mechanical watch, without quartz, of which the balance-spring is uniquely braked by the interaction of magnets.
Besides, the Carrera MikroPendulum movement construction is very classic; apart from the absence of the balance-spring, the rest resembles what we know and love in a mechanical watch.
A Pendulum is equipped with a classical balance. On the other hand, below the latter is a balance-spring point. You need to search at the level of the plate, which is situated at the foot of the balance’s rod, plate which is linked to the pallets.
This is no ordinary plate: it is equipped with two magnets each occupying 180° of the plate; one is positive whereas the other is negative. Here and there of the plate, there is a ring which includes two other magnets (each occupying 90° of the circumference, there are two 90° neutral zones), once again a positive and a negative.
The principle is finally very simple, of a great fluidity and on top of that enables the slight diminishing of the frictions… The energy unwinds through the barrel in a classical way but the magnetic forces, which are opposed in the magnets, will regulate this energy instead of the balance-spring’s elasticity phenomenon.
Before looking into the problematic that this may generate, it is appropriate to ask oneself about the added value?
The classical balance-spring has a maximum precision of +/-1 second per day. This limitation is due to manufacturing procedures that do not enable going below 0.1 micrometre. This conditions an average precision of approximately 0.99 second per day, at best (great diffusion calibres are generally very precise, thanks to the super industrialisation of the escapement unit’s manufacturing process).
To extend the relatively vague boundaries of precision in a mechanical watch, a new type of regulating organ is thus needed; which uniquely calls on mechanical principles, else it would be called the Spring Drive… Silicon is a solution because the manufacturing margin is even lesser than the one of the Elinvar and company balance-springs. However, if silicon is an innovation in terms of material, it does not question the balance-spring’s principle. Besides, in this environment, silicon is potentially more fragile than the Elinvar.
Anyway, this material is not segmenting enough to create a true technical revolution. This may be considered as an answer to the subject dedicated to the use of silicon in horology… ;)
The Pendulum (named in tribute to a Huygens pendulum, modern horology theorist at the 17th Century) enables extending some boundaries of traditional mechanical horology, as much in terms of precision as shock resistance, or even, to some extent, resistance to magnetic fields.
During its presentation in 2010, it was regulated at 6Hz and while it was functional (which is rare enough in the dream watches world to be pointed out), its stability was not ensured.
Thus, the MikroPendulum will demonstrate that henceforth this magnetic regulation functions.
This watch takes up the aesthetics and even a share of the technology implemented in the Mikros series. Here, reference is obviously being made to a modern Carrera case, inspired by the 60s. The watch is in grade 5 titanium and measures 45mm; the case presents a quite successful alternation of polished and sanded surfaces, which is difficult to concretise on such a hard variety of titanium. If the finish is perfect, one can ask how a more streamlined and more vintage Carrera case from the 60s would be depicted on this model…
On the level of the dial, it is the MikroTourbillonS style which is taken up, in however a colder aspect: while the latter was two-toned, the MikroPendulum presents a grey on anthracite with an ash-coated point. It is cutting-edge technology, it is serious.
The finishes are at the level of the Tag Heuer MikroTourbillonS, thus excellent, but one must not expect classical Haute Horlogerie (of the Parmigiani, Lange type), no engaging angles, no subtly sprinkled dial or rural engravings, despite the beautiful finishes (CF the tourbillon bridges), it is cutting-edge technology, one is not here for fun, the Swiss classicism does not at all reign in this watch.
The pit between the brushed side of the dial and the side consisting of the Côtes de Genève is very successful. The latter are evidently an allusion to the numerous vintage Carrera dials and their Geneva waves.
The power reserve is displayed at the 12 o’clock position, the second’s totalizer at the 6 o’clock position (because the chronograph hand makes one turn of the dial per second).
The major innovation concerns the movement. While the watch takes up the Carrera case in the MikroTourbillonS version, it uses the Mikrograph’s architecture adorned with a high-speed magnetic regulating organ.
Remember the Mikrograph, a magnificent special version which had been sold at the 2011 Only Watch and which had had an article dedicated to it.
This base movement consists of two escapements, one traditional with an Elinvar balance-spring, with 28800 vibrations per hour (4Hz) for the hour/minute/second. Added to that, another Pendulum regulating organ, thus a magnetic regulator of 50Hz for the chronograph (that is 360.000 vibrations per hour). The chronograph hand thus makes a turn of the dial per second, which is very very fast. The railway is equipped with 100 graduations, to give the hundredth of a second. A classical chronograph seems totally torpid and outdated when you have had the chance to play with a Mikros… I have a preference for the 1/100, because if it is not the fastest frequency developed by Tag, it is the one presenting the best visibility/speed compromise.
If you are ever lucky enough to hold the watch in your hand, observe the Pendulum balance (thus the one visible at the 9 o’clock position at the dial side), there is a very slight inertia time at the moment the watch stops. Really bluffing.
When one sees watches all year long, one becomes a bit jaded, which is regrettable; but the « Mikros » series is the type of technical slap which immediately puts one back on the right track of horology passion.
The automatic movement measures 15 lignes ¾, that is, 35.8mm for 9.79 mm in width. It is thus a big calibre of which the important thickness has not been well managed: the watch does not seem any thicker than the average. It is obviously a complex watch, with 371 components and 58 rubies. The Pendulum with a frequency of 50Hz owns 90 minutes of power reserve, which is normally enough in everyday use. The HMS movement turns at 4Hz for 42 hours’ use. The unique system of energy regulation enables the COSC certification of the watch side as well as the chronograph side; for the moment, only Tag Heuer owns a technology level necessary to the COSC certification of a functioning chronograph.
What is surprising with this watch is that such an important innovation has not been manufactured by a visionary watchmaker, working for an independent firm and developing his work in a lost barn at the depth of a bucolic valley. No, here it is a great brand supposed to be conservative, even unadventurous just like its colleagues, which is presenting such an innovation!
What it is more impressive but ultimately logical, given Tag Heuer’s reasonable tariff positioning, is the price. The MikroPendulum is sold at 35’000 CHF, the price of a sports chronograph of Haute Horlogerie(it is common knowledge that this notion is very vague). Tag Heuer has the impudence to propose a product with an analogue finish level, but with an embedded technology making numerous recent innovations obsolete…
Whereas during the MikroTourbillonS essay, I knew that the elitist tariff did not even allow me to dream buying it, here, at the announcement of the price, I immediately called my banker to create a MikroPendulum-savings account.
At a deeper level, it is a watch that is fully successful where the 1969 Calibre 11 was subdued. This time, Tag Heuer gets the award for innovation and the supremacy of this innovation.
The Carrera MikroPendulumS concept
If the problematic caused by the first Pendulum introduced in 2010 is examined in detail, one will get close enough to the problematic encountered by the blued steel paleo-balance-springs (18th and 19th Century), namely:
- Resistance to magnetic fields.
- Stability on the thermal amplitude range.
- Torque’s linearity all along the power reserve.
In addition to this classical problematic, another layer of problems linked to the pendulum’s magnets’ materials is further added. Moreover, contrary to traditional horology, it is almost-impossible to mask an average quality of alloys through an excellent pairing and regulating work.
The problematic is so new and so far-off hammer blows that one had to go to the atom’s heart to develop the MikroPendulum.
For the amateurs, the ferromagnetic used is of the «hard» type; meaning that they are strongly charged with energy, presenting a great stability in time and have to yield to an electromagnetic charge at least equivalent to the one laid up during the manufacturing to be neutralized.
The alloy of magnets constitutes Cobalt, Samarium and Gadolinium (these two last materials are referred to as «rare earth»).
The Samarium-Cobalt complex is well-known in the magnetism world. It is currently the alloy enabling obtaining the highest resistance to magnetic fields. It is used in all fields: IT, military, aeronautics as well as, in a more astonishing way, in the medical field: pacemaker projects consisting of Co-Sm magnets exist.
The Co-Sm alloy thus enables solving the major problematic of the parasitic magnetism, it may be referred to as the equivalent of the Invar for the classical balance-springs. However, as it is, the temperature alterations pitfall determines a precision of +/- 45 seconds per day…
To counter the thermal amplitude effects, one had to add another element, which was much more specific: the Gadolinium. During a rise in temperature, while the materials were expanding, the magnetic fields tend to increase their influence zone. As the magnetism effect is exponential as one gets closer to the source, the expansion effect is disastrous on the isochronism. It is at this moment that the Gadolinium intervenes: this metal has the propriety of being an atomic «sponge»; it absorbs the surplus of particles generated by other chemical elements and thus enables the neutralization of the thermal amplitude effects.
To solve the linearity problems of the torque, the Co-Sa-Gd magnets have been subject to a more watchmaking-oriented work, with a regulation of the elements’ geometry.
With the solution to this problem found, the Pendulum’s « v1.0 » enables obtaining a precision of +-1/sec per day, the best which can be obtained with an Elinvar balance-spring.
It is necessary to understand that it is a « v1.0 » and that with the feedbacks of the alloys’ (the Gadolinium proportion in particular) refinement experience and the improvement of the geometry, the system should improve in precision in the coming years.
This is so as the Tag Heuer research is characterized by a permanent laboratory aspect, a prototype chasses another prototype and the last innovation is immediately integrated in a commercial watch… All this happened very very quickly: we thus went from a MikroGirder of 1/2000 seconds during the 2012 SIHH to a MikroGirder at 1/10.000th of a second at BaselWorld 2012, that is, a multiplication by five in three months’ time.
Which naturally brings us to the latest Tag Heuer prototype, the MikroPendulumS. It is basically a MikroTourbillonS (described in this article LINK), with the Pendulums instead of the balance-springs.
On the visual level, the MikroPendulumS brings three major modifications with regards to the MikroTourbillonS. The abandoning of the Côtes de Genève for brushing like the ones found on the MikroGirder, a 90° movement rotation and a modification of the tourbillon bridges, the indications and functions keeping the status-quo. This implies a « Bullhead » configuration of the push-pieces, which can be found at the 11, 12 and 1 o’clock positions. This year, this configuration has obviously been reviewed on the Jack Heuer. The MikrotourbillonS or the Mikropendulum (without the « S ») configuration, seems more harmonious and is more consistent with the Carrera history.
However, the main question is the technique; and here, just like with the advent of a new prototype, the Tag Heuer laboratory extends the boundaries of the possible.
If henceforth the case’s design is known, the same cannot be said of its material. Here, reference is being made to a Chrome-Cobalt alloy, usually used in «aeronautics», for the turbines’ blades. The volumic mass of the Cr-Co is equivalent to that of steel and bronze, that is, slightly less than 9 times water’s mass.
If there is no significant mass gain, the gain is made on the proprieties’ side: this alloy is more resistant to all types of constraints, more lasting and harder, 530 Vickers, that is the double of the majority of steel alloys used in horology.
The Cr-Cro is manufactured by laser sintering, which is the industrial technique from which the 3D printers are inspired: a powder is fused layer by layer at 1300°C, which enables obtaining finish shapes and levels inaccessible to the traditional CNC… Will this open the door to new possibilities in the movement outlines field?
For the time being, the metals used in the automatic movement of the MikropendulumS are more common. However, it is not the case for its architecture. The calibre measures 15 ¾ (that is, 35.8mm), for 9.84mm in width; it is composed of 454 pieces and 75 rubies.
The escapement unit reserved to time count is equipped with a Pendulum tourbillon of 12Hz (that is, 86400 vibrations per hour) for a 24-hour power reserve (the more the frequency is high, the more the autonomy diminishes) and its frame makes 3 turns per minute (thus it is a 20 seconds tourbillon).
The escapement unit reserved for the chronograph is a Pendulum tourbillon of 50Hz (360000 vibrations per hour) and its tourbillon frame makes 12 rotations per minute (it is thus a 5-seconds tourbillon) for a 60-minutes power reserve (it is less than the Mikropendulum, a tourbillon consumes a lot of energy).
Like the MikrotourbillonS, the MikropendulumS tourbillon chronograph launching is remarkable, it goes like a ground-to-ground missile, or rather like a sports car equipped with an integral transmission and of the launch control. It goes right down, immediately and very quickly. Once again, the MikrotourbillonS is slightly more demonstrative. In any case, we are in a post –horology field.
Thus, the first Carreras were streamlined; however, in the course of the 60s, these chronographs will rapidly run wild, integrating more and more exotic movements following display needs. Indeed, one of the particularities of the Carrera series is indeed to have adapted displays and movements to the needs of the final users.
Thus, instead of just producing railways or bezels dedicated to a specific usage, Heuer has often reviewed the whole mechanics to better adapt to needs.
To that effect, Heuer’s quest was to adapt the tool to one need, rather than asking the human to adapt themselves to one tool. Nowadays, it would be termed as « user-friendly ».
The dials equally benefitted from a great variety of finishes and styles, always in view of adapting oneself to the final users’ needs. However, it is also in the will to adapt oneself to another human need: the taste of beauty.
This aesthetic will is also found in the cases; the first case of the 60s unquestionably remains the purest: at the time when one knew how to make cases, which appeared very fine while the movements were relatively thick. Later on, aesthetics was given privilege over fashion; today, solidity is privileged…
The Carrera history is so rich and complex that it merits a book. These watches consist of an almost-exhaustive catalogue of mechanical sports timing in these past 50 years. Thus, obviously, this history is a bit chaotic and the connecting thread is not as evident as it is for other mythical watches. But this chaotic aspect is what precisely constitutes the Carrera range richness, an original soup, an Amazonian forest, a horology culture medium, the founding watchmaking chaos.
Despite the purchases, the hand changes and even the integration in a big luxury group, the successive CEOs of Heuer, then TAG Heuer, have continued to believe in innovation and even daily applying the TAG from the 80s: Technique d’Avant-Garde.
The current team, directed for a long time by Jean-Claude Babin (recently replaced by Stéphane Linder) needs a special acclaim since it has had the courage to give carte blanche to the team directed by Guy Sémon to maintain a high innovative level.
It is in no way easy for a great horology brand to maintain a high level of research and development. Inertia and feebleness are colossal in the great watchmaking firms, they prefer investing enormous amounts of money in institutional communication rather than giving money to the laboratory. And even if the R&D services are well equipped, the innovations end up in a drawer, the industrial will for risk-taking being absent.
On the one hand, this can be explained, as you know, by the Heuer innovation tradition, but equally by the bureaucratic structure of Tag Heuer: the firm is directed like an SME, the administrative, commercial and marketing departments all in all count approximately 50 collaborators. As a contrast, the R&D department consists of 45 persons and there are millions of employees in the various manufacturing subsidiaries which manufacture watches…
Eventually, this creativity is reflected in patents about high frequency: today the La Chaux-de-Fonds brand has got a head start by introducing various major advances in the space of a handful of years. This constitutes a historical revenge for Heuer since in its days, the Calibre 11 had progressively been distanced by its competitors.
Today, the Mikropendulum distances the competition in a flash, while having the cheek to be sold at an ultra-aggressive tariff with regard to its exceptional mechanics. Quite like the Muscle Cars design.
If the Carrera’s 50 years assessment is made, the bet initially launched by Jack Heuer has incontestably won.