The Grand Carrera models were first introduced by Tag Heuer in 2007. This new range of timepieces was significant on two counts. First of all the range was to become an upgraded luxury timepiece based on the original and famous Carrera. Please see my article on the Carrera, including the in-house movement motivated 1887, here:
Secondly, the Grand Carrera would be the chosen vehicle for a brand new concept in mechanical time display by virtue of the innovative RS (Rotating System) movements.
The initial range consisted of the classy Calibre 6 with time and date, the Calibre 8 with an additional large date and rotating GMT display and the Calibre 17 with a chronograph function incorporating a rotating minutes display. All models in the range are COSC certified, which is a reflection of Tag Heuer’s ultimate commitment to quality with this range of ground-breaking and beautifully made timepieces.
The 40.2mm Calibre 6 RS has a normal hour/minute analogue display, a date window and a semi-circular aperture presenting the seconds. This new display mechanism is immediately mesmerising and simply downright cool. The Calibre 6 is available in full stainless steel or two tone steel and gold. A combination of dial colours and strap types makes for a personalised dress watch.
The 42.5mm Calibre 8 RS has a normal hour/minute/seconds analogue display, a large double aperture date window and a rotating GMT display. This is a unique way of displaying a second time zone for seasoned travellers, or those simply interested in what time it is at the location their foreign friends or colleagues.
The 43mm Calibre 17 RS Chronograph has a normal analogue hours/minutes display, a rotating seconds display, a central chronograph seconds hand, a rotating chronograph minutes display and a date window. This new way of reading off a useful function that had been performed in the same fashion for over 100 years was an immediate success. There was a notable price increase over similar spec’d Tag Heuers but potential buyers acknowledged the impressive and interesting new display mechanism and the increased levels in fit and finish.
Such is the success of these fantastic and unique models that Tag Heuer have chosen the Grand Carrera to house one of its recent innovations and to showcase one of its concepts-soon-to-be-turned-into-reality movements. These are the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS Caliper Chronograph, to give it its full nomenclature, and the Grand Carrera Pendulum, respectively.
The 36 in the title of the simply brilliant Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS refers to the 36,000vph of the movement which translates to 10 pulses per second. This has two benefits: Increased accuracy of the movement regulation and increased accuracy of the chronograph measurement. However, Tag Heuer realised that the latter was almost irrelevant on standard display chronographs because the naked eye struggles to determine between one of the ten markers inbetween a single second marker to its neighbour.
Hence yet another Tag Heuer invention, the Caliper Rotating Scale, which allows the accurate read off of the chronograph measured time to a 10th second. This ‘calliper’ is rotated around the circumference using the crown at 10 O’clock. When the chronograph seconds hand is stopped the pointer should be lined up to it. The 10th of a second can then be read off by determining which marker on the ‘calliper’ lines up with which marker on the dial. In the example below this equates to 5 10ths of a second. A very clever and extremely easy to use system that allows the user to take full advantage of a 10th second analogue display for the first time. This seemingly fiddly mechanism soon becomes second nature and a pleasure to use. The Grand Carrera Calibre 36 Caliper Chronograph won Geneva’s Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie in 2009.
Image courtesy of tagheuer.com
The grand Carrera Pendulum is a completely different hypothesis to the way in which accuracy can be determined from a mechanical watch. Once again Tag Heuer have been thinking well outside the box and have come up with a unique, technically brilliant, useful and exciting movement. In a nutshell the new Pendulum concept watch, soon to be introduced as a production model, does away with the 350 year old design (1675 by Christiaan Huygens) of the escapement by using a hairspring to regulate the movement and uses highly tuned magnets instead. Tag Heuer spent four years developing the system to overcome the exponential response of two different magnetic poles. I’m a big fan of the mechanical escapements used now in mechanical movement but I do appreciate the restrictions in accuracy using these age-old mechanisms so I am open to new novelties in movement design if it is technically interesting and aids accuracy. Personally, I hope that Tag Heuer are successful in introducing this concept watch in the near future and realise their fantastical claims of quartz levels of accuracy.
A recent introduction to the extended family of Grand Carreras is the stunning grade 2 Titanium cased RS2, which we will use to highlight in this article.
There is only one element that we could possibly start with during this bullet point introduction of elements that make up the RS2 and that is with the distinctive rotating system for the seconds and chronograph minutes.
I’m not sure why but Tag Heuer deemed it necessary to produce the non-rotatable bezel with an edge grip. Its looks business-like even if it has no purpose I suppose.
The reason the bezel does not rotate is because it is etched with a tachymeter scale which allows for various calculations to be made on relevant subjects that have been chonographically measured.
The crown is nicely detailed in black DLC with a red go-faster stripe, to fit in with the rest of the design philosophy. The push buttons have a protective screw down collar to allow utilisation of the watch in sub aqua conditions without the fear of accidentally operating the buttons.
The strap and clasp are both well made out of exotic materials and distinctively designed. The clasp is made from the same grade 2 Titanium as the case but is not DLC coated, which I think is a nice reminder of the high end material of the case.
Design elements that have been meticulously applied to reflect the luxury and high end aspirations of this range of watches include the applied logo and the chronometer rated movement which can be seen through a two part sapphire glass exhibition case back. The tinted glass of the case back on the RS2 is a nice touch and does suit the overall stealthy aesthetics but it does have the dretrimental effect of impeding close inspection of the Calibre 17 movement, with its Cotes de Geneva decoration and polished screws, facets and bevels. The rest of the range incorporates a clear sapphire glass for the exhibition case back.
The hands are all very nicely detailed. The hour and minute hands are highly polished and contrast nicely with the matt black dial to ensure good levels of legibility despite their slim nature. The chronograph minute hand is one of a few red details that offer good disparity against the stealthy blackness of the rest of the watch. I do think that black-red combinations always look superb on watches when the designers have not been over zealous.
The date window is something that can easily look generic on a watch dial. However, Tag Heuer have managed to create a seemingly new design by making the aperture easy to read from whilst implying great depth due to the raised frame about its perimeter and angles edges.
Another subtle but nicely realised design detail is the hour markers. These are sculptured to look like rolling waves (in my fairly pretentious opinion) and look bold and elegant at the same time.
The lume can best be described as reasonable. It performs its task throughout the night but is not what you would consider dazzling. I like a good solid lume on a high end sports watch but I cannot deny that this example performs its duty.
Due to the lack of weight and the soft, supple strap the Grand Carrera RS2 is incredibly comfortable to wear despite its 43mm diameter.
In conclusion: In creating the Grand Carrera range Tag Heuer have taken a classic and much loved design and slightly re-engineered it to reflect greater attention to detail that befits a luxury product that is immediately contemporary in its design and functionality. The Rotating System could simply have become the whim of one of Tag Heuer’s technical designers but, instead, it has been lovingly incorporated into the Grand Carrera line in all manner of aesthetically alluring and utilitarian ways.
Despite the tribute to a half century old classic timepiece in its title the Grand Carrera range stands out as a unique entity within the Tag Heuer catalogue. You are at once getting a beautifully finished and highly detailed luxury item with a modern and well interpreted method of displaying measured time that has not fundamentally altered in over a century.
All words and pictures by Rick Atkins and Tag Heuer. This article may not be produced in part or whole without the author’s permission.