Baselworld is over and with this year edition, several new amazing watches were presented. One big news was the launch of the TAG Heuer new CARRERA HEUER 02T. With this watch, TAG Heuer brought a little bomb into the Swiss watch industry by launching flying tourbillon for less than CHF 15’000. Some people say it is a scandal, others say it is the air of times. At LuxuryActivist, we tried to bring a clear view of the situation and hopefully we will understand better TAG Heuer position. First, a little flashback on the history of Tourbillon.
The Tourbillon, a master complication in watch making.
Watchmaking is an Art old of several centuries. In the heart of the art of watchmaking, the Tourbillon is not only a beautiful piece of human engineering but also a very useful tool in the exactitude of control. It is by far one of the most interesting and prestigious complication. In French, “tourbillon” translates into “whirlwind,” but in the watch making industry it is the term of a relatively complex feature present in some high-end timepieces. By default, all wrist watches are assumed to tell the time. Each function beyond that is often referred to as a “complication.” These are features which enhance a watch movement or offer some additional piece of information. A tourbillon is an historic complication originally designed to improve the accuracy of pocket watches.Here is the main principle.
The principle of a Tourbillon
As you can see here above, the tourbillon is a concentrate of ingenuity. It eliminate most of the errors of rate, especially in the vertical position, for a wrist or pocket watch. The principle, despite the fact that each watchmaker has been adding their own touch, is about a mobile-cage in which all components are inside. The balance spring and the escapement are usually in the center. The invention of the Tourbillon, and its first patent was accomplished by Abraham-Louis Breguet.
The famous Swiss brand archives tells us that Breguet invented the Tourbillon idea in 1785 and only in 1801, after some improvements, that the first patent was registered. And the first Breguet watch equipped with the mechanism was finally sold in 1805. With this we can easily say that Mr Breguet is one of the fathers of modern watchmaking. The invention of the Tourbillon came from the need to gain precision and exactitude in what we call mobile timepieces. This means the pocket watches for gentlemen and also, more specifically, the vertical position in airplanes and the oscillations in marine boats.
Because of these specific backgrounds, we need to talk about another important watchmaker and inventor: John Arnold. He was a English inventor who died in 1799. He is considered up to today as the most important british watchmakers in history. We can say that he was the first one to design a practical and accurate watch. This is probably what would be the first closest watch to the definition of modern chronometer.
John Arnold interested himself for marine timepieces and accurate chronographs. His late work brought him to imagine a mechanism that would provide a better accuracy to chronographs, especially in specific positions or situations.
John Arnold’s legacy provided the necessary inspiration to Abraham-Louis Breguet to finalize the idea of the Tourbillon. The pocket watch was the biggest challenge at that time for watchmakers. The watch would remain most of its time in the vertical position and moving all the time. So there was a big enemy called GRAVITY. In deed, gravity would then bring your watch to lose accuracy by the force it would produce on the watch mechanism.
So if we wanted to gain accuracy, we needed to find a way to counter-balance the effects of gravity in the mechanism. So his idea was to place the escapement and the balance-spring in a sort of circled-cage. the entire piece would rotate a full 360 degrees and its complete revolution would take generally a minute. This would then fight back the gravity influence and modern tourbillon was set up! Today, several brands proposes amazing tourbillons, all made possible thanks to the legacy of the above story. During the latter part of the 20th century, the tourbillon experienced a comeback. The onslaught of quartz watches almost killed the mechanical watch industry in the 1980s. As a result, some clever people in Switzerland decided that the mechanical watch would fight back by transforming itself into almost exclusively a luxury item. The more complicated the movement, the more luxurious it would be. The concept was far from new, being borrowed from the reality that very complex watches can be extremely difficult and time consuming to produce. This undeniable fact is a cornerstone of why some mechanical watches are extremely expensive.
A tourbillon is easy to understand if you see one working. It is a variation on an escapement mechanism whereby the entire escapement assembly (often referred to as the heartbeat of a watch) rotates constantly on its own axis. In an attempt to bring more attention to their visual splendor, watch makers moved the location of the tourbillon to the front of the dial – making it possible to see the tourbillon when looking at one’s watch. From a marketing perspective, the tourbillon looks good, is complicated to assemble, and is steeped in history. It makes for a perfect complement to something expensive.
The average price of a Swiss watch with a tourbillon complication contained inside of it is $50,000 – $100,000. That price frequently goes even higher. As more brands offered tourbillon movements, an increasing portion of the public became familiar with the once rare mechanical curiosity. Everybody who wanted to feel rich wanted to own one – though few could afford them. Here is when TAG Heuer comes to change the rules.
TAG Heuer Carrera 02T – Challenging the Tourbillon.
Since its launch in 1860, TAG Heuer has always pushed the classical boundaries of watch-making, always inventing watches for those who love to defy convention. The Swiss watch-maker is well know for extreme accuracy and technicality. For years, TAG Heuer has been producing exceptional high-precision chronographs. The result is an unique combination of technology, innovation and design. Since 2015 and under the impulsion of CEO Jean-Claude Biver, the TAG Heuer brand is gaining a new dynamic with shorter lead times and faster development to better meet evolving market demands. The brand is refocusing on its core business, which is the $2,000 to $6,000 price range. The main novelties, including the «in-house chrono» Carrera Heuer-01 (with the re-designed 1887 movement and a new modular case), and today the Carrera Heuer-02T «in-house» Automatic Chronographe Tourbillon COSC, have all been positioned quite aggressively, thanks to the reorganisation and reorientation of the manufacture in Switzerland, which encompasses movements, cases and dials.
Just six months after the release of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-01- the backbone of a new collection of elegant and contemporary manufacture chronographs- comes the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T, a COSC-certified automatic chronograph combined with a titanium and carbon flying tourbillon. A symbol of the accessible luxury so dear to TAG Heuer, this model forms part of a new concept now being created: affordable Haute Horlogerie. This watch symbolises technology, exemplary quality, performance, manufacture expertise, and the perfect mastery of industrial processes and manufacturing costs which have made it the only COSC automatic chronograph with Tourbillon produced by the Swiss watch industry for under 15,000 CHF. The Black Phantom version priced at 19,900 CHF, is part of a limited edition of 250 numbered pieces.
At 4 Hz, and 28,800 vibrations/hour, the main technical challenge was to house a single barrel, the chronograph functions, the automatic winding mechanism and the flying tourbillon within a diameter of 32 mm, whilst ensuring the counters were well spaced to create a modern, balanced look. The main idea was to start from a Monaco V4 tourbillon and streamline the production and bring a lightweight tourbillon. The main components are manufactured in the brand workshops. The balance spring is produced by the Swiss partner Atokalpa. For the movement, it all started with the CH80 as a base.
The new Tourbillon, sold for less than CHF 15’000 brought a big bomb in the Swiss watch industry as for the first time, a Swiss brand proposes a Tourbillon for such an affordable price. in reaction to this announcement, Thierry Stern, CEO of Patek Philippe, brought a sharp opinion on this initiative. According to him, this levels down the market by allowing everyone to possess a tourbillon. He also declared that if the Tourbillon becomes a banality, certain luxury brands would stop doing them. That is a very strong position. At TAG Heuer, they see things differently. This is what Jean-Claude Biver, TAG Heuer CEO, says in an interview done during Baselworld.
1. When and why did you decide you wanted to make an affordable tourbillon?
Jean Claude Biver (JCB): TAG Heuer has always been since 1860 a Swiss Avant Garde Luxury Watch Brand, with a very high perceived value and what can be called an accessible price level. Independently of the price segment, whether it is a 2’000 CHF watch or a 20’000 CHF watch, the perceived price must always be at least 4 times higher. Since we have build our industrial independency and being able to produce any movement, watch case or dial, we thought it would be interesting to start building our own tourbillon movements. But should we do this, the condition would be to present a tourbillon watch which perceived value would be 4 times higher than the retail price.
2. Was there a price threshold you wanted to hit?
JCB: Yes, we wanted to have a perceived value between 40’000 CHF and 60’000 CHF, which would request a retail price between 10’000 CHF and 15’0000 CHF
3. Obviously you can’t mess with the fundamental structure of a tourbillon so how did you go about making savings?
JCB: We did not do any special savings, but from the first design of the movement to its production and requested tools, everything has been conceived, developed, planed, tooled and produced in order to achieve such a perceived value. I think that it might well be the first time a Swiss Watch brand starts a tourbillon project with such a goal and such a concept
4. Why was achieving COSC certification important?
JCB: It was important to show that contrary to what people can believe, TAG Heuer has not built a cheap version of a tourbillon or has done special savings while building the movement. The best way to convince people about this, was to achieve the impossible bet: make it the first and unique chronograph tourbillon automatique certified COSC Chronometrer.
Toubillon at TAG Heueur, The eye of the expert
From an expert angle, what can we say about this movement? The new TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T Tourbillon features what we could call a semi-skeletonize dial which reveals the skeletonize bridges and plates of the movement. An interesting detail in this transparent work is the appearance of the main spring barrel at 12 o’clock. Of course as you can see in the image below, the main element present in the dial is the vision of the Tourbillon at 6 0’clock that gives you all the added-value of the watch.
Since the announcement of this new watch, everybody wondered how come TAG Heuer made a Toubillon for such an affordable price. This is what we think. Before any consideration, the toubillon is placed in an existing movement built in-house. The existing CH80 was produced and standardized in TAG Heuer processes. The costs are kept at the optimum thanks to the assemble at TAG Heuer’s Chevenez workshops. In order to keep the costs at a convenient level, the movement is not hand-finished as many TAG Heuer’s movements. It allows to maximize the value of the watch and keep it at a convenient cost level. If we take a good look at the Tourbillon itself, we can see 2 interesting details. The first one if that the central sections of the cage are made from Titanium and the top section from Carbon. This means that you do not need any hand-finish on this parts that would generate extra costs. Second, the tourbillon does not have any specific polishing or hand-made “chamfers”, which is traditionally present in high-price-level tourbillons. Again, this maintaining the costs low. As TAG Heuer mentioned, this tourbillon was produced in a base of the Monaco V4 Tourbillon, so probably most of the pieces existed already. The simplicity of the finish provides a very technical and contemporary look to this tourbillon. We are definitely in a more “essential” exercise here than generally provided by more traditional Swiss watch brands.
One interesting fact was to understand why TAG Heuer was launching such an affordable Tourbillon and why now? The brand explains that with the verticalized and integrated process they have in the manufacture, they can show a certain flexibility (dials, cases and movements) which allow them to play with technologies, which have also evolved, not only from a quality perspective but also from a cost point of view. Every single aspect of the production process, from the first stroke of pencil to the white gloves placing the completed watch in the final box, have been thought-through. Only a true manufacture can allow this flexibility and cleverness. If you want to know more about the TAG Heuer new launches check here our article written while we were at the TAG Heuer booth in Baselworld:
Some brands said they would probably stop producing Tourbillon watches because of this “banalization”. At LuxuryActivist we believe it would probably be a mistake. When Quartz watches started giving time even more precisely than mechanical watches, brands did not stop creating mechanical movements and when you can buy nice chronometers for less than USD$1’000, nobody stopped producing them at a high end level. Probably the fact that you can buy a Tourbillon for less than CHF15’000 means that more expensive tourbillons will need to make sure the added-value to the customer is understood.
So why TAG Heuer has launched a true Swiss-Made Tourbillon for less than CHF 15’000? Well, simply because they can.
Info sourced at TagHeuer official communication, details and presentation, ABlogtoWatch, mono-chrome-watches, wikipedia, Forbes, Federation de l’Horlogerie Suisse and internal LuxuryActivist teams. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction