WHAT IF… TAG Heuer created their own MoonSwatch moment with a retro Formula 1? WHAT IF… TAG Heuer created their own MoonSwatch moment with a retro Formula 1?

WHAT IF… TAG Heuer created their own MoonSwatch moment with a retro Formula 1?

D.C. Hannay

Welcome to another episode of WHAT IF…, where we ruminate on the alternate reality of a watch industry in a parallel universe. For this installment, we take a look at TAG Heuer’s Formula 1, a legendary part of horological history, famed not for its elevated status, but for its fun-loving appeal to even non-watch people. The Swatch/Omega MoonSwatch collab proved that it’s still possible for brands to impact popular culture at large, so what’s stopping TAG Heuer from having their own moment with a retro take on the Formula 1?

Like an orphaned duckling adopted by a labrador, I was imprinted from an early age by TAG Heuer at their genesis in the 1980s. I had no inkling of Heuer’s long and storied past, filled with Carreras, Monacos, and Autavias, and the motoring history attached to them. I only knew the brand as the one with the modern-looking dive watches, done up in all the bold colours of the New Wave age.


When the original Formula 1 made its bow in 1986, it was exactly the right watch at the right time. Swatch had already made watches cool again with their colourful plastic timepieces, inexpensive enough for young people to pick up more than one (collect them all!). TAG Heuer took a similar tack, but made the racy Formula 1, a watch that could actually stand up to some hard use. The 34mm case was made from coloured fibreglass over a steel core, and featured 200 metres of water resistance and a matching rubber strap.

You didn’t have to take it off for a day at the beach, or while bashing around on your Mongoose BMX. It was a real watch, but one aimed squarely at the MTV Generation, not the country club oldsters with their S-Class Mercedes sedans and gold Day-Dates. The original F1 was a smash back in the day. I mean it when I say they were everywhere.


As time went on, the line expanded to include a rainbow of colours, chronographs, scaled-down ladies’ versions, and even steel versions with Jubilee-style bracelets.

Photo: TAG Heuer

Toward the back nine of the 1990s, TAG Heuer kept with the times as watches grew in size (and cost), until the Formula 1 became more upscale, more sober, more adult. It was still their entry level model, but the brand was inching ever upmarket. Fast forward to present-day TAG Heuer, and you’ll find that pretty much all their current reissue models are based on pre-TAG classics. It seems there’s not a lot of attention given to those audacious early TAG Heuer designs, and that’s a shame. The modus operandi for the main catalogue seems to be one of taking stylistic elements from previous Heuer legends, and integrating them into larger, more contemporary pieces, with a few notable exceptions.

But What If TAG reissued a more faithful version of the O.G. Formula 1? If they nail the look, I reckon they could sell as many as they could make. As many others have suggested, they could do a lightweight plastic quartz version (like the MoonSwatch) for around $300, but why half-ass it with something that’s basically a toy? I’ve been lobbying for what seems like forever (more like crying out in the wilderness) for an evolution of the original concept since TAG grew the Formula 1 to 41mm (and above), doing away with the coloured cases in favour of all-stainless steel.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice watch, but it doesn’t have the same breezy fun factor of the original. It’s become more mature, more competent, and more conservative, and I think the watch world could stand a little more irresponsible youthful energy from time to time.

Image: Render by

A one-for-one reissue of the original F1 is probably a non-starter. The biggest problem with wearing the vintage one is the size, a paltry 34mm in diameter. Works great on a teenager’s wrist, not so much for a middle-aged Gen X-er. So here’s the plan: upsize the diminutive coloured fibreglass and steel first-gen model with a 38mm coloured carbon fibre case, while keeping the contours of the original. Give it the same 200m water resistance, a flat sapphire crystal, a coloured steel DLC bezel, a quality vulcanised rubber strap, and perhaps even a solar quartz movement like the one in the Aquaracer Solargraph.


If it were priced at $999 or less, it would do an absolute killing, giving TAG Heuer an instant cachet boost in the process. It’d be the least expensive model in the TAG Heuer lineup, and though it might seem counterintuitive for the brand to hit that price point, just ask the Swatch Group what sales volume can do for your bottom line.

I’d do an initial release of the first-gen colour combos: the red, white, and black of the old McLaren team cars, the red and green of the Alitalia Lancias, and the all-black version with the pop of red in the chapter ring. After launch, roll out an expanded colour selection over time, because there are plenty in the back catalogue to choose from. And just think of all the tie-in opportunities for special editions: how about a Red Bull team edition with a dark blue case? Super Mario models? The sky’s the limit, and the cheques practically write themselves.


Given LVMH’s size, and the economies of scale that could be brought to bear, I have no doubt that they could hit that price point. Heck, it could be done for a good sight less. Companies pump out loss leaders all the time to put asses in seats, but a revamped F1 could absolutely turn a profit. If there’s such a thing as a “reverse halo” product, this is it. As an added bonus, TAG Heuer could finally be the brand that takes carbon fibre watches wide, bringing the niche case material to a mass audience. Just whatever you do, don’t make a plastic toy that’ll break with the slightest knock. Give us a real watch that knows how to have fun, just like you did back in ‘86, when TAG Heuer was brand new.