IN-DEPTH: The history of the TAG Heuer Carrera is inspired by a race with a serious body countTime+Tide
In 1963, two legends were born that would both go on to become icons within their respective fields: the Heuer Carrera and the Porsche 911. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the model. An enduring design that has remained in favour over the last six decades, it is important to remember where the Heuer Carrera began. Let’s take a look through the history of the watch’s illustrious life.
1963 – 1984
The Heuer Carrera chronograph was launched in 1963, but the real story begins even earlier in 1950 when the Carrera Panamericana car race first ran. Held for five consecutive years, this was an open road border-to-border race in Mexico covering more than 3500km with minimal safety precautions in place. By 1954, the race was attracting professional motorsports drivers, which was reflected in the final 356km stage of that year’s race being won at an average speed of 222kmph. With speeds this high, however, the Carrera Panamericana was deemed too dangerous to organise again with more than two dozen people losing their lives over the race’s five-year lifespan.
Tales of this high-speed, daring and thoroughly challenging event stuck in the mind of Jack Heuer, who assumed leadership of the Heuer watch brand in 1962. Jack Heuer was the the great grandson of the founder of the company, which at that point was well known for producing sports timers, dashboard clocks and, increasingly, wristworn chronographs.
Inspired by the stories of the race, and looking to create a watch that would meet the high-octane demands of motorsports, Jack Heuer launched the Heuer Carrera ref. 2447 just a year after he took the helm of the organisation. Its design was purely focused on the gentleman drivers of the day, with legibility and functionality the key ingredients. The clean and uncluttered dial was housed in a 36mm steel case that featured the distinctive sharply faceted lugs, applied markers and slightly stepped sub-dials. This first design was produced until 1970, in a range of different dial layouts, colours and case materials, before it was superseded by the next upgrades.
This generation was updated with the original Valjoux movements replaced with the all new, and soon to be legendary, Calibre 11. This was one of the first-ever automatic Swiss chronograph movements and marked the beginning of the golden era of the Heuer Carrera in the 1970s. The Heuer Carrera saw dozens of different expressions through the ’70s, before the impact of the quartz technology took its toll and the Heuer brand began to suffer. Jack Heuer had to sell the company in 1982 when he stepped down from running its operations and, in 1984, the Carrera collection was discontinued.
1996 – 2021
In 1985, Heuer was sold to Techniques d’Avant Garde (which we now know as TAG), and a little more than a decade after it had been scrubbed from the catalogues, the Carrera was relaunched in 1996. It was inspired by the very first watch to feature Carrera on the dial, the ref. 2447, and featured the same clean design that had made it so popular more than three decades earlier when it kickstarted the next chapter in the history of the racing chronograph.
Today, the Carrera is still a pillar of the TAG Heuer brand and continues its close ties with motorsports thanks to its relationship with Red Bull Racing. There have been countless executions of the Carrera design DNA, still maintaining allegiance to its original look with its sharp case and lug lines, while meeting the contemporary market with improved movement technology and new case materials.
Last year we saw a wide range of interpretations of that original Carrera design language. There were the two Carrera 160 Years Limited Edition references that echoed the pure form of historical racing chronographs, while Jack Heuer celebrated his 88th birthday with a reissue of his favourite gold chronograph, plus there was an entirely new collection of Carrera sports watches that were unashamedly modern in their design.
In 2021, however, the name Carrera has been reunited with another legend of motorsports in Porsche whose 911 car was born in the same year as the Heuer chronograph. It marks the complete circle of a name that inspired two iconic products now brought together in a collaboration so apt that it feels like it was almost pre-destined.
2021 – 2023
Presently, while the clean lines of the Carrera case and legible dials remain maintained, TAG Heuer has increasingly began to offer takes on their classic icon with bolder expressions. In 2021, a limited edition model was presented with a breathtaking teal sunburst dial. While boasting a hue that offers a new source of excitement for the modern marketplace, TAG Heuer strategically opted to use the classic TAG-less Heuer logo of the past to create a subtle through line to its heritage and a nod to collectors of their vintage pieces.
A year later, the teal dial was then followed up with a cherry red limited edition model that equally sparked intrigue amongst fans and newcomers to the brand. Like its predecessor, it utilized the classic Heuer branding on its dial and found itself in a 39mm stainless steel case that towed the line between more classic 36mm sizing and the modern demand for larger watches today.
TAG Heuer has also continued to celebrate the parallel rise of the Carrera, both the watch and Porsche automobile, with various TAG Heuer x Porsche collaborative editions. Last year in Paris, TAG Heuer returned to where the iconic Porsche Carrera R.S. 2.7 was launched fifty years prior (to the exact day) to unveil two limited edition pieces that tactfully incorporated signatures of the coveted collector car.
This past LVMH Watch Week in January, the TAG Heuer Carrera x Porsche Orange Racing made its debut. As its name suggests, this take on the framework introduced in 2021 utilizes orange accents within a more stealth blackened case and black lacquer dial (rather than the grey textured dial of its predecessor).
The TAG Heuer watch everyone was talking about at LVMH Watch Week, however, was the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 60th Anniversary. The brand wasted no time to kick off their 60th anniversary celebrations for the Carrera, ushering in the new year with a silver-panda dialled Carrera Chronograph as a nod to vintage models of the past. With its aged-colored SuperLuminova®, more compact 39mm case, and classic panda aesthetic, it definitely stirred up collectors who lust for vintage-inspired pieces. If you’re interested, here are 5 more of the best limited edition TAG Heuer Carrera watches.
So, there you have it. You have been brought up to speed on all things Carrera. What does the future hold for the model? Only time will tell, but we certainly are excited here at Time+Tide to see where the collection races off to next.