For much of the past decade, the aesthetic of TAG Heuer’s line up has been divided by the concept of modernity, paying favor to both the resolutely classic and the decidedly modern. As such, the “Heuer Heritage” family stands in stark contrast with watches like the Connected Modular, the colorful Formula 1, or the bold and complex Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02. As a brand forced to balance the weight of its own legacy with its continued existence as a producer of products for an ever-changing market, TAG Heuer has to find new ways of communicating the message, even when speaking to buyers that know nothing of the brand’s history. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a very modern evolution of the Heuer form, the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02.
Ok, so while that name is a bit of a mouthful, it does help to explain what this watch is. First, the “Carrera” name is synonymous with motorsport-derived sporty chronographs and, second, the “Calibre Heuer 02” is the movement used by the watch. Originally launched in 1963, the Carrera was created by Jack Heuer as a (then) modern interpretation of automotive and motorsport style into a race-ready chronograph. As for the Heuer 02 movement, it is an entirely in-house follow up to 2015’s Heuer 01. Officially launched in 2018, the Heuer 02 is an automatic chronograph movement that offers an 80-hour power reserve, a compax layout (with subdials at 3, 6, and 9), a date at 4:30, and a maximum measure of 12 hours.
For this version of the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02, that movement is surrounded by a 43mm sandblasted ceramic case and a matching tachymeter-clad ceramic bezel. Angular, modern, and extra sporty, this case design also preserves the long straight lug shape of the original Heuer Carrera. While the case, which is very nicely made, certainly plays a background role to that of the three-dimensional skeletonized dial, it is a fitting nod to the legacy of the Carrera and it feels appropriately contemporary for the overall ethos of this racy chronograph.
While not my style, I can’t fault the execution of the Carrera Heuer 02. With an appeal that is youthful, broad, and certainly not haphazard, can you think of a watch that would look more at home on the wrist of a modern F1 driver? The case is large and the overall effect of the black finish and the matched black rubber band is casual and sporty – with an almost athleisure vibe. While the Carrera Heuer 02 would certainly work with a t-shirt and jeans, it would likely look even more at home with technical wear or perhaps a polo shirt covered in sponsor logos.
On my 7-inch wrist, the Carrera Heuer 02 wears larger but not without purpose. It’s not accidentally large, but rather a watch designed to be a certain size. To those that do fret over a couple of millimeters in case diameter, the earlier sibling of this design (the Carrera Heuer 01) measured 45mm in width. On the included rubber strap and its black PDV titanium folding clasp, the Carrera Heuer 02 wears big and sits nicely on wrist, feeling neither clunky nor off balance. Legibility is tough for almost any skeletonized dial, but this Carrera does better by way of a brighter hand and marker finish, equally bright silver-tone metal rings for the chronograph subdials, and red accents for the chronograph measures.
Raw function aside, the dial is a very cool treatment of reds, silvers, blacks, and whites and may be one of the few times when I don’t absolutely hate a date application at 4:30. As the dial is essentially a number of exposed floating elements over a backdrop of layered mechanical complexity, the date placement doesn’t feel like an afterthought (as it can in less complicated dial designs). While I think it might have been more visually interesting within the running seconds sub-dial at six, the display at 4:30 remains legible and unobtrusive to the overall balance of the Carrera Heuer 02’s design.
As a mid-tier luxury offering intended for varied and international audiences, the Carrera Heuer 02 faces considerable competition at its $6,400 price point. That said, if you want a ceramic-cased in-house chronograph, the options become more limited. Tudor has the often-overlooked 42mm Fastrider Black Shield for $4,975, and of course, we all know Omega’s $12,000 and 44.25mm wide Speedmaster Moonwatch Dark Side Of The Moon. Along a similar thread, some will recall a couple of models from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s now discontinued Master Compressor line. And we can’t talk about ceramic chronographs without tipping a hat to IWC, who still produces a handful of ceramic sports watches, including their always appealing Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun at $7,550.
There is an issue with that list of competition, though. While those are all really solid and popular watches, none replicate a similar aesthetic to that of the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02. To get something with a similar look, you need to go either vastly less expensive (you can get a similar aesthetic from some Casio G-Shocks) or vastly more expensive with something visually similar from Hublot or Zenith. As an entry-level watch with a quartz movement and (quite likely) a plastic case, the Casio is not even worth considering as actual competition. But watches like the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 ($12,200 on rubber) or Hublot’s $18,800 Unico Black Magic 42mm do show what TAG Heuer has been able to do with this ceramic-cased Carrera.
While I’m not convinced that a buyer who is planning to buy the above Zenith or Hublot might instead turn to the Carrera Heuer 02, I do believe there is a cohort out there with a taste for Hublot but on a TAG Heuer budget. Within that framework, the Carrera Heuer 02 feels well-positioned. Rather than being an elevated expression of the brand’s more entry-level pieces, it functions as a range-topping design that reflects the aesthetic of other aspirational offerings from the luxury space.
As the contemporary ying to the classic yang of Monaco or Autavia, this Carrera is a big, modern, sporty TAG Heuer that does a good job of sticking to the Carrera’s message, while evolving the treatment for a youthful and aspirational buyer.