Review TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 36 Racing [live pics, price]
Sports watches and car races have always been a perfect combination. The evidence – Carrera line by TAG Heuer. I had the opportunity to test the jubilee Calibre 36 model for the last three weeks.
(TAG) Heuer and moto sports
If I was to point out the sports that are exploited to their very limits by marketing people, car races would certainly make the top of the ranking. Brand logotypes – including watch brands – show on the cars or clothing of the drivers, as well as on the tracks themselves. Advertising videos and materials do not only involve active sportsmen but also posthumously refer to late champions of the race tracks. Any opportunity seems to be good to create a limited edition – very often they commemorate insignificant events or have been created with participation of drivers from outside the worldwide elite rankings. In brief – marketing people never sleep and will do their best to continuously increase the sales of their watch brands.
With all this in mind, one can boldly say that the relationship of TAG Heuer with motor sports is much more natural and it goes back to the times, where no one paid people for just wearing a watch. In the sixties of the last century the equipment made by TAG Heuer was heavily used on the racing tracks, both for time measurements and by the drivers themselves, who very often wore TAG Heuer timepieces. These included names such as: Carlos Reutemann, Clay Regazzoni, Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve, Jody Scheckter, Jo Siffert, Ronnie Peterson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Denis Hulme, John Surtees and many others. Some of them chose TAG Heuer by themselves, without the need to sing contracts and without getting a check, which in our days would probably have a lot of zeroes on it.
The author of this undoubted success was Jack Heuer. In 1985, he arrived to the USA and decided to initiate collaboration with the motor sports – other companies at that time decided to take the easy short way and earn quicker money by selling watches to government organizations or large corporate clients. Five years later, Heuer launched development of a new chronograph, specially designed for drives and motor racing aficionados – this was the beginning of the famous Carrera line. The name was inspired by the very popular three day Carrera Panamericana race. The itinerary was 3373 km across Mexico. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this ground breaking event, the company presented the Carrera Calibre 36 model.
To explain the design of the dial we need to take a trip back in time – back to 1960 more specifically. Then, for the 100th anniversary of the company – Heuer has presented a re-designed line of chronographs. This is where the so-called „double dial” has been used for the first time. The minute counter of the chronograph has been moved from a small sub-dial to the central section of the main dial. The seconds scale was printed on the outer ring and the minutes on the inner circumference of the dial, with hands of different lengths (longer seconds hand) only touching the dedicated scale. This has significantly improved legibility of the chronograph indications. The idea has not been used for long years. Only in 2011 it has been applied in the Mikrograph and Mikrotimer models (the smaller, inner scale shows the hours and the outer scales account for minutes and seconds). From then on, it stayed with the Haute Horlogerie division of TAG Heuer. The Carrera Calibre 36 from 2013 can be considered as a ground breaking model – a characteristic so far reserved for the premium range of a Swiss company starts being used in a timepiece from the standard (non-limited) portfolio. I will risk the statement that the tested model is a second-best substitute of Haute Horlogerie for the average mortal.
The Carrera Calibre 36 Flyback Chronograph is available in three versions. The first two are steel case with a silver-anthracite or black-anthracite dial. The third one, called Racing (the model in test) is the most sport-oriented option, with a titanium-carbide coated titanium case and anthracite dial.
As I have already mentioned, the watch was first presented in 2013, for the 50th anniversary of the Carrera line. Looking at the historic models in the collection, one could dare saying that in designing its timepieces, TAG Heuer is strongly inspired by the vintage looks. The shape of the 43 mm racing is familiar to all lovers of the Carrera line. It has a cult drive and most importantly, it is designed to achieve 1/10 sec accuracy of time measurement, with an additional flyback function.
The handling of the stopwatch is traditional. The 2 o’clock button launches and stops the measurement and the 4 o’clock button allows reset of the indications. The flyback function extends the functionality of the chronograph, allowing the user to start a new measurement without the need of resetting the previous one. During operation of the chronograph function you just press the 4 o’clock button to reset the indications and automatically start a new measurement. In the case of a normal movement – with no flyback function – this operation would require stopping, resetting and restarting of the chronograph – in such case measurement of intermediate times during a run would be impossible. Even though mechanical implementation of a flyback complication in a caliber is said to be easy from a watchmaking perspective, very few companies decide to have it. It is a pity. Since my everyday watch does not have a chronograph function, I used this in tested Carrera quite often and the hand „flowing” over the dial and the related faster pulse of the caliber (I will come back to this later) pleased my eye (and ear) for three weeks.
One more important piece of information – the hand of the 30-minute counter of the chronograph (at 3 o’clock) does not move smoothly – it is making a leap in 2 seconds preceding a new minute, measured by the central hand of the second dial. Thanks to this, the stopwatch measurements are accurate and easier to read.
The all-black watches have recently become trendy – I have tried many timepieces of this type. Compared to all of them, reviewed TAG Heuer looks really good. Thanks to a good design of the case profile the watch does not look bad on a small wrist like mine, despite its 43 mm.
The multi-level dial, shiny arabic numeral indexes, the snail-brushed sub-dials with polished edges, the tachymeter scale, red details (tips of the central chronograph hand and small hands), ornamented chronograph buttons, logo-engraved crown and perforated strap tell us immediately that we are dealing with a sports watch. The delicate design of the date indicator at 6 o’clock does not disturb the overall harmony. The sunray brushing of the anthracite dial shimmers in light, displaying the entire palette of shades of grey.
Smoky glass of the caseback shows the mechanical drive of the watch – El Primero – with its „Côtes de Genève” finished rotor. The rotor is partially skeletal, to minimize obstruction of the inner works of the caliber.
It is time for a little riddle@. As it turns out, the specimen I got for testing is a real rarity, due to one „special” element visible on the photographs. I hope the readers will not have a problem finding it. I will clarify the mystery at the end of this review.
El Primero legend
We have already described the El Primero at length in CH24.PL. In the context of this review, I should however refer to some events from 1969. This is when Zenith, Heuer and Seiko were racing to present the first automatic caliber with chronograph. There is no unanimous opinion on who won this competition, but one thing is for sure – 45 years later the El Primero is still in production. Since we are talking history, let me add that the creation of the first El Primero with the flyback function goes back to 1997. Two years later (1999), Zenith – manufacturer of the calibre – has been taken over by the LVMH group, also including TAG Heuer. Against all expectations, the merger did not result in a widespread use of El Primero drives in TAG Heuer watches. Even though TAG Heuer has some really good calibers in its offer (the Cal 1887 and since recently the 1969/CH80), it has decided to use El Primero in creating its exceptional models. This is not because this calibre is so much better but rather because of the legend and glory, expected to shine down on the new watches bearing the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture logo.
The Carrera Calibre 36 is driven by an El Primero automatic movement with column wheel chronograph, working at a frequency of 5 Hz. I assure you, for people who enjoy listening to a working watch, the speed of 36,000 oscillation/h (thus the name – Calibre 36) will make a pleasant difference to the ear and the smooth motion of the hand will certainly please the eye too. The inner workings are visible through smoky glass of caseback. The ring frame surrounding this glass bears engravings including: „Swiss made since 1860,″ „Automatic 100 meters” and the serial number of the piece. For reasons I am not able to understand, the serial number engraving has been filled with gold paint. Even though it is rather small, it somehow disturbs the consistent black image of the watch.
The El Primero calibre used in the tested watch is 30 mm in diameter. The application of such a drive in a case that is almost 50% larger (43 mm) required the designers to “concentrate” all the dials in the central part of the watch. I personally do not fancy this kind of solution – it does not look completely natural – even though I have to admit that sub-dials placed in the recess of the dial, at the edge of the hour scale are presenting OK.
Time is adjusted by pulling the crown out to the first step position. The second step changes positon of the date indicator. It is a pity that the small seconds hand is moving forward in both cases, thus making “ideal” time setting impossible.
Wearing the Carrera Calibre 36 for the few weeks of the test was a great pleasure. The watch is lightweight and fits the wrist greatly. When I asked my friends, who have no idea about watches, about their impression of this model, they univocally mentioned motoring. Looks like the goal of the manufacturer has been achieved.
The calibre worked perfectly, in 240 hours I noticed a deviation of a mere -6 seconds (an average of +2/-3 seconds per 24 h). Taking into account other watches I have tested, this is one of the best results in this price range. I have also noticed that if placed on the shelf in a crown-up position, the Carrera Calibre 36 becomes even more accurate (+2 / -1 sec per 24 h).
The watch is delivered with a perforated strap with a snap-lock buckle (also black). The buckle works great, the strap looks perfect but… adjusting its length is a real pain. The adjustment section of the strap wrinkles when pulled through the buckle. I had to shorten the strap to a maximum (all the way to the limit), to make the watch fit my wrist. Fortunately, you do not need to adjust it very often – done once and quickly forgotten.
Everytime I looked at the dial (from a straight angle) and indexing, I could not resist the feeling that… I am looking at a speed dial in a car, and that the two sub-dials are complementing it. Maybe this is why we took photographs of the Calibre 36 in the eminent company of the equally wonderful Porsche Carrera 911 Turbo S Cabrio. To have a TAG Heuer in the tested version you need to pay PLN 32,000 (~7.700Euro). The car costs a little bit more – over a PLN 1 million (~250.000Euro). You must admit that in such a setup the price of the TAG Heuer should not be an obstacle…
And finally, time to solve the riddle. As you have most probably noticed, there is a doubled 25 minute index – the 20 has been forgotten. On the one hand you may think, how come quality control has not found it, on the other, this demonstrates that this watch is made by people, not machines. For sure, I had the opportunity to spend time with an exceptional specimen. Who knows, maybe in a few years it will be sold at an auction, for much more than its current suggested price.
– Sporty personality
– Legendary movement
– High accuracy
– Styling with a reference to vintage and top range TAG Heuer timepieces
– Inconvenient strap adjustment
– Small seconds hand does not stop in time-adjustment mode
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 36 Racing
Movement: Calibre 36, automatic, 50h power reserve, 36.000 A/h, small second, date, chronograph
Dial: anthracite, polished hands
Case: 43mm, titanium coated with titanium carbide, sapphire crystal and see-through caseback
Water resistance: 100m
Strap: leather with perforated layer
We also thank Porsche Centrum Katowice for help in photo session.
Foto: Adam Gawenda / Tomasz Kiełtyka
Photo from Carrera Panamericana, three versions of watch and Jack Heuer – press materials: TAG Heuer