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May 20, 2024

TAG Heuer Carrera, return of the panda

If anyone supposes that after 2023 – which marked the TAG Heuer Carrera’s60th anniversary – the brand will slow down with the modernisation its most famous chronograph, they are mistaken. Indeed, Watches & Wonders 2024 was an opportunity for the brand to launch a new Carrera reference, inspired by one of the collection’s most legendary timepieces from the early 1970s. 

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

Last year’s Geneva Show saw the debut of other new references, including those with 39mm steel cases and Glassbox glass, which immediately became objects of desire for many enthusiasts. This year, both the characteristic glass and the small diameter are back, but the starting point from which the manufacture has developed the new TAG Heuer Carrera moved a few years ahead compared to the references that led to the 2023 models.

JOURNEY TO THE ORIGINS: HEUER CARRERA 7753

This starting point is in fact the Carrera 7753, which replaced model 3647, also with two counters, in 1969-70. The updates included a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, shorter hour markers and a different calibre: the hand-wound Valjoux 7730. The proportions of the case remained unchanged and featured a Heuer-branded crown, a domed plexi crystal and 18mm lugs. Heuer also offered a wider variety of dial options, including those with simple and contrasting scales and colours.  

Heuer Carrera 7753 SN

It was on these different dials that the destinies of the various 7753 references played out, two of which have remained the most famous: the SN and the NS. The two consonants indicate the initials of the words ‘silver’ and ‘noir’ and, conversely, ‘noir’ and ‘silver’. This alternation of letters was used to identify the version with a silver dial and black counters (the so-called panda) and the one with a black dial and silver counters (or reverse panda). Both references had two counters but no date display.

Heuer Carrera 7753 NS

They were references, in addition to aesthetics and mechanics (ultra-readable dial and super-precise movement), that counted on the charisma of their name – borrowed from the Carrera Panamericana – to seduce fans. With it, Jack Heuer was certain to create not only a watch but also a unique and impactful story for its collection. The Carrera quickly made a name for itself thanks to its precision constantly pushing back the limits, and the echo of its success has not yet died down, as we have seen with the 60th anniversary celebrations in 2023.

DESIGN IN THE SERVICE OF PERFORMANCE

This is why Watches & Wonders 2024 features the new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph. While its reference number is a cool CBS2216.BA0041, the watch has already been dubbed by insiders as the new 7753 SN for the reference it alludes to. And much more as well.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

Returning to the original 7753 SN: the guiding principle that inspired that watch was legibility. A key concept for a timepiece that was primarily conceived as a professional instrument for the racetrack. What Jack Heuer wanted was a racing instrument that would allow to easily record lap times, without distraction and with absolute legibility provided by the high-contrast dial.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

In this sense, the first Heuer Carrera watches of the 1960s were a great ‘training ground‘ for the brand’s designers, whose experience led the 7753 SN to further improve legibility at a glance, thanks to design touches that were intended exactly for that. Among them, the stripes along the indices gave greater clarity to timekeeping, as did the stripes in the centre of the hour and minute hands. The double stops at 12 o’clock made the chronograph reset clear, and the white hands and markings on the black counters increased visibility.

TAG HEUR CARRERA: THE READABILITY TARGET

The fact that the new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph is inspired by the 7753 SN suggests that the brand has opted for the panda configuration, i.e. with dark counters and a light-coloured dial. However, it is neither white nor cream, but a brushed silver dial with a soleil finish. The two counters at 3 and 9 o’clock, on the other hand, are in a blued black and give the watch a vaguely retro bi-compax look. To be fair, however, this Carrera would also have a third counter, for the small seconds at 6 o’clock. The fact that it is delineated only by the small seconds markers, however, and that the hand actually runs above the dial, makes it look very much like a bi-compax.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

The lectio magistralis onlegibility continues thanks to rhodium-plated, facetted and polished applied hour markers which become luminescent in the dark. Likewise, the hour and minute hands are facetted, rhodium-plated and polished, with white Super-LumiNova for visibility in low light. Three touches of red enliven the dial of the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 7753 SN: on the two counters’ lacquered hands and on the tip of the central hand. Red is also back on the chapter ring: each 5-second interval is marked in red to help visibility and legibility.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

For this reference as well, as written at the beginning, TAG Heuer has chosen to retain the 39 mm case size that has been so successful last year. Naturally, combined with it, the Glassbox glass remains. In this case more than ever, it is not just an aesthetic choice inspired by the 1970s models, but an element that contributes to further accentuating the watch’s vocation for legibility.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

As we learned at Watches & Wonders 2023, the steel case of the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph topped by the Glassbox sapphire crystal has been redesigned to flow seamlessly over the tachymeter scale running around the dial’s edge and inside the case. A curved rehaut dressed in contrasting black follows the convex glass, bringing further and greater coherence to the aesthetics of the watch, and ensuring legibility from different angles. Which, after all, is none other than Jack’s mission for his Carrera.

THE TH20-00 CALIBRE

In terms of the movement, the new TAG Heuer Carrera reference presented at Watches & Wonders 2024 introduces nothing new compared to last year’s. It is in fact the same movement, the manufacture calibre TH20-00, derived from the Heuer calibre 02. The latter is a self-winding column-wheel chronograph movement based on the original CH80/1969 designs. 

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

The TH20-00 calibre features a bidirectional winding movement and works at 28,800 vibrations per hour, giving it a rather high autonomy of 80 hours. In addition to the chronograph and the hours, minutes and seconds displays, the movement also drives the date display. Its presence at 6 o’clock, inside the small seconds counter, although very discreet does not go unnoticed. The movement is visible through the sapphire crystal caseback; fortunately, because the shield-shaped calibre rotor, echoing the TAG Heuer logo, is worth a glimpse.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

Both the calibre TH20-00 and its base Heuer 02 are excellent examples of how well TAG Heuer’s movement division is working under the guidance of its director, Carole Forestier-Kasapi. She is one of the gurus of contemporary watchmaking, capable in the past of making Cartier one of the top high-end timepieces manufacturer, and of contributing to the birth of calibres such as Zenith‘s Elite – just to remain within the large LVMH family.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

While the two Carrera Glassboxes presented last year were (and are) only available with a leather strap, TAG Heuer chooses to match the new reference only with a quite robust three-row steel bracelet. It is completed by a folding clasp, again in brushed and polished steel, with double safety pushers and adorned with a TAG Heuer shield. Perhaps, given the watch’s strong vintage vocation, a strap would also be desirable in the future.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph

The watch comes onto the market at a price of 6,650 euros. Thanks to this piece, TAG Heuer’s Carrera collection is expanding in a direction ever closer to the aesthetic dictate this chronograph has always embodied over the years. Together with last year’s Glassboxes and the recent Dato 45, Carrera’s heritage vocation is getting even stronger.

By Davide Passoni