The TAG Heuer Carrera
After taking over the Heuer brand in 1962, Jack Heuer set his sights on the world of motor racing. The Carrera watch was his initial venture. First launched at the Basel Fair of 1963, the name comes from the notorious Carrera Panamericana. Today, the TAG Heuer Carrera watch is one of TAG’s most popular watches. We look at some common models and prices, original vs reissue, and the Carrera Panamericana.
The Carrera: The Race, the Watch, the Icon
From 1950 to 1954, the Carrera Panamericana was a border-to-border road race along the new Pan-American Highway. It covered 2,170 miles from Mexico’s northern border with the U.S. to Ciudad Cuauhtémoc in the south of the country. The first Carrera race attracted the crème de la crème of international racers. NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. took part, as did Italian Formula One racers Piero Taruffi and Felice Bonetto. It also attracted the who’s who of car manufacturers, from Cadillac and Oldsmobile to Porsche and Alfa Romeo. From its very first year, the Carrera race earned a reputation for danger. Three competitors and one race spectator died during the first event. These marked first of 27 people who lost their lives during the race’s five-year history. Despite its bloody history and incredible danger – or perhaps in part because of it – the Carrera Panamericana became something of a legend among racing enthusiasts. Porsche named their iconic 911 after the Carrera race, as well as their four-door Panamera. The Carrera Panamericana also inspired one of the world’s most iconic models: the Carrera watch.
1962: A Big Year for Heuer
1962 was a big year for the Heuer brand. Jack Heuer gained control of the company after buying his uncle’s shares. Later that year, the world watched as American astronaut John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch aboard the Mercury Atlas 6. This made Heuer the first Swiss watch to travel to space. In 1962, Heuer released the Autavia. This innovative chronograph featured a rotating bezel and received its name from one of Heuer’s discontinued dashboard stopwatches. 1962 was also the year Jack Heuer found the inspiration for what would go on to become one of the brand’s most recognizable collections: the Carrera sport watches.
The Sports Car Club of America invited Jack to the 1962 12 Hours of Sebring event. Jack gravitated towards the Ferrari pit and found himself chatting with the parents of Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez de la Vega. Then just twenty and twenty-two years old, the Rodriguez brothers had become international names. During the course of their conversation with Heuer, the boys’ parents mentioned that they were happy their children’s’ careers had started after the Carrera Panamericana had ended. Sensing an opportunity in the name of the event, Jack took note of it and later registered it for Heuer. Carrera, which simply means “race” or “career” in Spanish, was an ideal match for Heuer. It was closely associated with racing, it was easy to remember, and it was easy to pronounce in any language.
Designing the Carrera
Unlike the Autavia, which evolved from racing stopwatch to chronograph, Heuer designed the Carrera watch from the ground up. It had a clean, easy-to-read dial with none of the “unnecessary” features found on other chronographs. At the time, Heuer was a small watchmaker who relied on other suppliers for many of their watch components. Instead of viewing this as a limitation, Jack Heuer found an opportunity. He could source the very best components for his new wristwatch to create something truly unique. The first of these components was a steel tension ring. This element featured a unique design to hold the watch’s crystal in place and improve its water resistance. Instead of marking the ⅕ second lines on the dial, Heuer asked that the demarcations be part of the tension ring to reduce clutter on the dial. Decades later, the painted and marked tension ring is one of the Carrera’s most iconic design features. The case, sourced from Piquerez, with its long and obvious lugs, was another specific design choice. It helped signal a progression from Heuer’s older chronographs to the cleaner design of the Carrera sport watches.
Carrera Chronograph CV2A10
First released: 2008
Price Range: $2200 – $2600 Pre-Owned
Maintaining the beautifully simple design that is a hallmark of the Carrera, the CV2A10 is part of the Carrera Calibre 16 Day Date range, simultaneously rugged and luxurious. Clearly designed for the sports and racing market, with three subdials for 12-hour, 30-minute and 60-second timing function, the CV2A10 has the ever-reliable automatic Calibre 16 movement, and a sapphire crystal caseback so hard it can only be scratched with a diamond. The TAG Heuer Carrera CV2A10 has a slightly larger-than-normal stainless steel casing which is water resistant to a depth of 320 feet.
Grand Carrera CAV511B
First released: 2007
Price Range: $2800 – $3500 Pre-Owned
The Grand Carrera range takes the elegant simplicity of the Carrera Heuer watch and elevates it with design flourishes such as the hand-applied logo, the unique rotating system disc, and the refined Côtes de Genève finishing. Currently the only model in the TAG Heuer collection not to offer a quartz movement version, the CAV511B is fitted with either a stainless steel or crocodile leather band and comes powered by the groundbreaking Calibre 36 movement.
Grand Carrera CAV5185
First released: 2007
Price Range: $4200 – $5200 Pre-Owned
Supremely sporty, the Grand Carrera CAV5185 has a beautifully crafted 43mm titanium-coated case, a sleek black dial, and luminous hands for ease of reading. It also contains the Calibre 36 movement, the first mechanical chronograph ever to achieve 36,000 vibrations per hour. With an open caseback so you can see the workings, it has a black rubber deployment strap and clasp, and is water resistant up to 320 feet.
The Original vs. the TAG Heuer Carrera Reissue
The original Carrera Reference 2477 had a number of key features. Heuer constructed the model with a 36mm, diamond polished stainless steel case, giving it a bright finish. It had prominent beveled lugs reminiscent of the brand’s 1940s chronographs. The dial layout was clean and straightforward, particularly compared to other chronographs at the time. It featured thin, beveled baton hour markers and fifth-of-a-second calibrations on the ring around the dial. Of course, it also came equipped with three registers. However, it’s worth noting the Carrera didn’t have contrasting registers. Instead, the dial color was completely uniform. Finally, inside it housed a Valjoux 72 movement.
Two decades later in 1982, Jack Heuer decided to retire, and with his departure, the Carrera was retired as well. Shortly after in 1985, the Heuer brand faced another pivotal moment of change. Techniques d’Avant Garde acquired the company, and they officially became the brand we know today, TAG Heuer. Under new leadership and a new name, TAG Heuer sought to place an emphasis on the heritage of Heuer. As part of their efforts, they decided they wanted to revive the Carrera. However, they felt they couldn’t authentically and successfully reintroduce the iconic model without one key individual: its creator, Jack Heuer. So, TAG Heuer approached him about returning to help bring the model back. He generously obliged, and in 1996, the TAG Carrera was born.
In sticking with TAG’s mission to honor the Heuer legacy, the TAG Heuer Carrera reissue paid homage to the original. It was nearly an exact replica of the Ref. 2477 with the same dial layout and measurements. The TAG Heuer Carrera reissue even went so far as to place the original Heuer logo on the dial. However, there were two key differences. First, the iconic Carrera name was noticeably missing due to a temporary conflict over the brand rights. Second, the new 1996 TAG Carrera housed an all-new movement. They replaced the original Valjoux caliber with a Lemania 1873 hand-wound caliber.
Like the debut of the original 1963 Carrera, the TAG Heuer Carrera reissue was wildly successful. The TAG Carrera continues to be part of the brand’s catalog today and has seen many new iterations. Some notable variations include the 50th anniversary models from 2013 and the brand’s first smartwatch, the Carrera Connected, from 2015. One of the latest addition to the TAG Heuer Carrera family is the Caliber Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph.
Images ©: Header, 1-4; Crown & Caliber. 5; TAG Heuer.