IN-DEPTH: The two TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Limited Editions – are they the perfect Two-Watch-One-Brand collection of 2020?Thor Svaboe
For me, the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition (available for purchase here) could quite possibly be my favourite from the maison in the last 20 years, and I am not exaggerating. This is a pure Carrera chronograph, a sharp, clear and distilled version of its forefather, the silver monochrome Carrera 2447SD. It approaches the epitome of what a chronograph should be, and sits in the Goldilocks zone of a slender 39mm steel case.
We are looking at a supremely comfortable size, though with a visual impact more like 40mm due to its delicate polished bezel and light silver tone. This is a powerful yet discreet presence on the wrist. The razor-sharp monochrome visage on a classic black leather strap means this will go with any outfit, from a summer shirt to a dark winter merino knit, and that sharp Italian cut suit.
It might be the perfect one-watch collection, had it not been for its colourful namesake fighting for attention — the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition (available for purchase here). Though I admittedly want them both, I will carefully dissect each detail with a loupe to see what differentiates these two Carreras, down to a macro level. The Silver is of a slightly more serious demeanour, though still fresh, whereas the Montreal is all about the colours, from the navy blue strap to the inspirational summer freshness partying up the dial. Red, yellow and blues strong enough to lighten up any dull day – though not as all-purpose crisp as the Silver Limited Edition. I can feel myself being torn even while searching for my loupe.
The Carrera case
Both watches come with the same clean lines of the iconic ’60s Carrera case. From angular lugs through to the slim polished bezel, easily recognisable as the quintessential well-proportioned Carrera. Side by side with the Carrera 2447SD, it’s as though the 160th limited edition is identical, yet drawn with an engineer’s laser-sharpened pencil. All the visual clues are intact, with the lugs ever so slightly widened, the chrono pushers and crown a little more wide and squat, with a closer fit to the case. All this does is underline the way the original 2447SD represents timeless proportions.
The simplicity is as evident as it is perfect. This is the ABC of ’60s chronograph design, and should I look for faults, this story will never get done. I can’t seem to find a single negative here — except knowing the mindset of the remaining few suffering from sub-40mm nervousness. But my personal small diameter preference is too strong to be swayed.
As in the ’60s, the case is fully polished, so more prone to a few nicks and hairlines. But view it as the unfussy tool watch it was launched as – designed by the engineer Jack Heuer — and you’ll be OK. The re-envisioning of the venerable 36mm 2447S is heartfelt perfection.
The movement is where the main difference lies compared to the original Carrera, with the 160th Anniversary duo being fitted with the reliable Heuer 02 movement rather than the original iconic hand-wound Valjoux 72, the ’60s chronograph movement of choice. This is one of the reasons for the slightly enlarged case size, and this is only the second classic small Carrera powered by the Heuer 02 calibre, if we count the brilliant limited Carrera 02 by Fragment Design in 2018. A trained eye will also spot the swapping over of the 12-hour counter and running seconds, dictated by the Heuer 02.
The pros and cons are unbalanced in the 02’s favour, with the pros being reliability, superb detailing and the amazing 80-hour power reserve – a sign that we are really being spoiled for longevity in 2020. The only con is the case is a chunky 14.5mm, though TAG Heuer has balanced this by a clever, sharp downturn of the angular lugs, making the comfort hit home and blowing away any questions of girth. These two references also have a special black 160th rotor visible through the rear sapphire, winding what is a superb choice of calibre.
The difference a dial can make
A different dial within the same case can make a big impact on how formal, sporty or legible a watch can be, and what better example to be seen here in the two Carreras.
We have two distinct takes on chronograph design. TAG Heuer has managed this with what is an identical dial layout, and shows you exactly how much colours and textures can change perceptions.
The layout, sizes of registers, and handset design is the same, but notice how much the textures and colouring details give us two very distinct takes on a classic chronograph.
The layout is the same, so let’s start with the only two identical details: logo and applied indices. The capital Carrera over the Heuer shield epitomises the ’60s, motor racing, Steve McQueen, Le Mans and chronographs like no other wristwatch around, and it is equally perfectly printed in semi-gloss black on both dials. The applied indices are also identical: sharp, sloping ends, a double width index at 12 o’clock, and little stumpy wedges at 3 and 9. Perfection from a 2447-inspired point of view, if all a little thicker, and perfection in the execution and proportions.
What sets the two 160th Anniversary models apart?
What makes these two so different? Jack Heuer’s inspirational use of the functional angled rehaut to print the minute, seconds and ¼ seconds is where it starts. Crisp legibility in black on silver in the 160th Silver versus a red + blue first 15 on the Montreal rehaut. The rest of the dial surface of the Silver version is a pure, delicate sunray brushed silver, whereas the Montreal has a smooth navy band between the rehaut and the matt white dial livening things up.
Lume plots within this band are a bright lemon yellow on the Montreal, and then the colours take off. Bright navy snailed surfaces on the registers with polished pointers, three sections of lemon yellow 10-second markings on the 30-sec register matching the bright yellow lume on the handset. The pièce de résistance is the flame red chrono seconds.
Then we have a distinctly different restrained tone for the Silver 160th piece. One of cool composure and effortless elegance to balance out the outré life of the Montreal. The same recessed registers as the Montreal, though here looking larger – a trick of the mind from the uniform lighter colour. All three have a perfectly snailed silver background for black pointers matching the chronograph central seconds hand, and exact black print, unlike the fresh white on the colourful brother.
On the Silver 160th, lume plots and filling on the perfectly sharpened sword hands are a calm cream, but I keep noticing the silver main dial surface. So many watches make the mistake of having a very matt surface – making the silver seem hospital grey. Make it too glossy and you tip onto the cheap-looking side of the scales. This TAG Heuer silver pushes all my buttons. It has shine – but just so, imbuing it with a vintage visual, yet like every other detail on the watch, a deep sense of precision.
I have serious doubts this would ever inspire boredom — it is that good of a colour and surface texture. The Montreal version is matt white, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s a canvas onto which the bright colours of red and blue take centre stage. It gives off a happy, carefree vibe which simply makes you smile, yet there is no shortage of exquisite detailing to fix your gaze.
What if I had to choose one? Both, thank you, I’m done.
What more needs to be said after this detailed dissertation? Should you ever consider a two-watch collection, this would be a superb duo. Except for maybe wanting a bracelet on one of your only two timepieces, you have everything you need and more. Vintage perfect and versatile classic elegance from the Silver 160th and fresh vibes from the late ’60s in the summer party of a dial fitted to the Montreal.
TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Limited Editions price and availability:
The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition is AUD$9350 and limited to 1860 pieces. For more details, or to purchase, visit TAG Heuer right here.
The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition is AUD$9800 and limited to 1000 pieces. For more details, or to purchase, visit TAG Heuer right here.