TAG Heuer and their Calibre 36 movement make for some powerful chronographs despite being strange bedfellows. This ironic pairing not only identifies TAG Heuer’s top-end chronographs, but also creates a collectible watch with a back story. Digging into the chronicles of horology, we find fierce competition begets innovation, and in 1969, when TAG Heuer, in a collaborative effort, first unveiled the automatic chronograph, movement Calibre 11, the competition was close behind if not neck and neck for a photo finish. Moving from the past to the present, we find that for 2013, TAG Heuer offers the Carrera 36 and Monaco Twenty Four 36: two watches whose future value is tied to the past.
The 2013 Monaco Twenty Four 36 is a COSC certified chronometer with an over-sized 24 at the 12 o’clock position in honor of the 24 hours of the Le Mans race. Even though the original Monaco was intended as an artistic watch that someone like an architect might wear, it was Steve McQueen’s wearing the watch in his film Le Mans, which forever made the watch a symbol of auto racing. The watch had a bright blue dial, and that azure dial with the square case shape make the Monaco instantly recognizable, but this new model sports a traditional cobalt blue or as pictured, a black dial.
Since 2010, when the first Monaco Calibre 36 arrived, the model launches each year completely re-designed. This kind of attention reinforces the Monaco Calibre 36’s identity as their premiere Monaco model. What makes these watches visually striking is the “advanced dynamic absorber,” which protects the movement from shock and suspends the dial/movement within the case. On the back, the rotor is shaped like a steering wheel. On the black model, the rhodium-plated hands stand out well against the black dial.
The top model Carrera is the Carrera 36, available in racing titanium or steel. The double-scale styling for this watch comes from the company’s vintage stopwatches as seen in the large chapter ring highlighting the chronograph seconds. What makes this watch truly special, however, is its flyback function. Normally, a chronograph requires a stop, reset and then re-start, but a flyback function allows a reset/re-start without stopping the watch. Pilots use the flyback function for navigation, and timekeepers can use it to immediately start timing a new lap. This is TAG Heuer’s first commercially produced chronograph with a flyback function, further distinguishing it as a collectible.
Calibre 36 means a top tiered TAG Heuer watch. Earlier Carrera models used the reliable Valjoux 7750. With the arrival of an automatic chronograph, Valjoux refined the idea for mass producing, introducing a cam and lever system in place of the column wheel. These refinements reduced production costs and increased reliability. An everyday watch for every man. For the re-issues of the Autavia, Monaco and Monza, an ETA 2892 plus a Dubois-Depraz chrono module served well to be followed by the ETA 2894. Using these work-horse movements meant that TAG Heuer was delivering solid, dependable chronographs, but nothing extraordinary. These watches are plentiful for collecting, but collecting tends to reward the opposite – rarity. A Calibre 36 chronograph has its own status and offers its own unusual rarity.
Things have changed since the days of the Valjoux 7750. TAG Heuer has recently doubled the movement manufacturing capacity of their existing facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds by building a new site in Chevenez (Canton of Jura) to make, finish and assemble key components. TAG Heuer wants to be the world’s largest manufacturer of in-house mechanical chronographs, and their first in-house movement, the Calibre 1887, came in 2009, followed this year by the Calibre 1969.
These movements each have column wheels, but only the Calibre 1969 uses a vertical clutch instead of the Calibre 1887’s patented oscillating pinion. They are impressive movements and propel TAG Heuer closer to realizing their goal of largest supplier, but as exceptional as these movements are, they still beat at the standard 4 Hz. Today, there are many TAG Heuer chronograph movement choices. When it comes to considering performance and value (present and future), the Calibre 36 reigns supreme.
The performance of the Calibre 36 is legendary. Calibre 36 is TAG Heuer’s renaming of Zenith’s El Primero movement for their use. The conglomerate LVMH owns both TAG Heuer and Zenith, making this cross-platform pollination possible. What makes the El Primero/Calibre 36 such a special movement is its higher frequency of 5 Hz, which allows accuracy to a tenth of a second, the same fraction used for timing most motor racing. Even at that high rate, the Calibre 36 offers a power reserve of approximately 50 hours. For a company who prides itself on its relationship with automobile racing, it now has some serious Hz under the hood. Who would have ever imagined an El Primero movement in a TAG Heuer watch? Not that this combination is a bad idea, in fact it is a great idea, but from the vantage of history, it seems oddly incongruous – wonderfully so.
Zenith’s El Primero movement is the historic rival to the Calibre 11 in the race for an automatic chronograph. At that time, Zenith and TAG Heuer were fierce rivals, competing to bring the first automatic chronograph to market. TAG Heuer, then only Heuer, partnered with Breitling, Buren (later bought by Hamilton), and Dubois-Depraz. Zenith, who was known as a masterful movement maker, stood in opposition to Heuer (as did Seiko). Who would be first? Heuer had no intention of settling for second place. The battle was so fierce, the rivalry so heated, that a clear winner is still a source of controversy. The idea of Zenith and Heuer watchmakers sharing technology in 1969, much less sharing a coffee, was anathema, so this modern twist of history affords a unique, even sardonic, collecting opportunity.
Last year, TAG Heuer released the last version of the Monza Calibre 36, and the Monza is now phased out of their offerings, becoming a newly vintage piece ripe for collecting. The Monza Calibre 36 was first released in 2000 and with the cushion case and distinctive crown, hearkens back to some of the earliest chronographs circa 1930 as its inspiration. What is inside, a Zenith El Primero movement or Calibre 36, is the abiding source of value. Combine the competitive history between Zenith and TAG Heuer with the stellar performance of the El Primero movement, and you have a collectible with a strange pedigree. From ironic to iconic, the TAG Heuer Calibre 36 chronographs redefine unique, and the vintage Monza Calibre 36s are an opportunity calling to the discerning collector.
The 2013 Carrera 36 with flyback and Monaco Twenty Four 36 are available without having to search the forums or comb back alleyways. There are many other fine choices of TAG Heuer chronographs; the new in-house movements are exceptional, but the TAG Heuer Calibre 36 adds gravitas to the brand and elevates to the top whatever model it graces. Gone are the days of the Zenith and Heuer competition, replaced by an LVMH synergy, which generates some spot-on watches. Whether a collector contemplating future appreciation, or a buyer looking for quality-to-price value, the TAG Heuer Calibre 36 chronographs are not merely impressive… They are the best.
More resources about the TAG Heuer Calibre 36 on the Official TAG Heuer Website.