When it comes to avant-garde and contemporary watch designs, one brand stands out from the crowd: TAG Heuer. After all, ‘TAG’ stands for Techniques d’Avant Garde – a design principle which manifests in the brands timepieces. With industry hero Mr Jean-Claude Biver personally at the helm, the 158-years old maison has been churning out cool watches aimed at budding collectors. Here, we bring you a in-depth look at one such example: the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16.
Review: TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16
Case, Dial and Hands
The watch sports a case size which sits in between the Carrera family of chronograph watches. It measures 43mm wide and is crafted from Grade 2 titanium.
Handling the watch for the first time, its lightweight titanium case left a overall pleasant impression: robust to the touch while offering a nice heft. Though not a small watch by any means, this size is considered to be contemporary by today’s standard. Nonetheless, we found the watch to wear rather nicely with good weight distribution. It sits well on an average wrist and offers a sizable amount of wrist presence – certainly in-line with the desires of its target market. There were several minor complaints however. Some may feel that the thickness is perhaps over-powering for smaller wrists. Another complaint we have heard is that the finishing is a bit rough, which felt sharp at the edges and lugs.
Casting those niggles aside, the case is coated with black PVD which achieves a look that is sporty yet chic. In other words, a modern avant-garde appearance that oozes versatility.
Sidebar: There are broadly 2 options to treat metals to achieve a black appearance, apart from using outright carbon itself.
The first method is a coating: DLC, short for “Diamond Like Carbon. It involves blasting carbon onto the watch case and then supercooling it, resulting in a strong bond to the stainless steel/titanium surface.
The second and perhaps most commonly used method is Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD). It is done by vapourising metal compounds to the watch case, layer by layer, in a heated vacuum. (TAG, for instance, uses titanium carbide [TiC] on their black-finish watches.) That material is then deposited on the case which forms a molecular bond to the metal surface. The result is a smooth and even coat – perfect for precision parts such as watches. In fact, a DLC coat typically uses the PVD process for application.
DLC touts to be the hardest form of black coating ever to exist (equivalent to the hardness of sapphire). In our experience, it holds up well to daily wear and tear. PVD coatings are technically less hard, but technological advancements have improved in toughness (and hardness) to withstand daily usage. That said, the durability of either methods depends on a variety of other factors such as quality of the bare metal itself and the application process. In our test, we experienced no issues with the TAG’s PVD-coated titanium case, holding up well during our daily “abuse”.
The watch dons a handsome black opalin dial which matches well with its PVD case and glossy ceramic bezel. It features several pleasant attention-to-detail touches, such as the beveled and faceted Day-Date window and blacked-out Tag Heuer ‘shield’. In particular, we enjoyed that the day and date wheel are of the same colour as the dial. Protecting the front is a domed sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective treatment, though, we found the crystal to be extremely reflective during our test. It does not affect time-telling experience but made the all-too-familiar wrist shot a chore.
The subdials are placed at 6, 9 and 12 o’clock positions, a tell tale for the ubiquitous Valjoux 7750 family of ebauches. They record hours-elapsed, running seconds and minutes-elapsed respectively. The 6 and 12 o’clock counters are fashioned with a circular ‘record’ finish, while an inner flange surrounds the 9 o’clock sub seconds. All sit slightly recessed into the dial which provides better depth and contrast. Though the dial layout is busy on paper, it is well loved and widely accepted. And in the TAG, it is executed very well and appears discreet, perhaps due to the colour combination. Overall, detailing is done nicely with good all-round proportions.
To top it off, the dial sports appliqué Arabic numerals – a stark contrast to the stick indices found in other models and one that contributes to the modern, sporty mien. Complimenting it is a set of brushed silver hour, minute and seconds hands. Both the hands and markers are filled with vintage-inspired SuperLuminova lume, ensuring excellent legibility in all situations. However, ‘fauxtina’ may not sit well with some (some purists may cry blasphemy!). It is a love it or hate it appearance. We feel that it is an appropriate choice as the vintage lume adds character, and a nod to its heritage inspiration.
Turning the watch over, we find a see-through sapphire crystal case back. It is tinted slightly black. The watch is accompanied on a distressed brown leather strap with curved ends. A friction deployant clasp is included to secure the strap.
Powering the watch is the Calibre 16, a rebadged ETA 7750/Sellita SW-500 elaboré movement with minor cosmetic changes. It features a 42-hours power reserve and beats at 28,800 bph (4 Hz). A rather basic movement. That said, the base 7750 is well-known to have a noisy rotor. Some feel this is a cringe-inducing trait, but others like the feel of the free swinging rotor as one moves the wrist.
Finishing is done to a high engineering standard; nothing spectacular. The movement features several basic luxury decorations such as Côtes de Genève (Geneva Stripes) and Perlages (circular graining). The chronograph pushers feels pronounced upon activation and time-keeping was good, in-line with COSC specifications of -4/+6 seconds per day. It is not a certified chronometer.
The TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16 (ref. CV2A84.FC6394) has a recommended retail price of S$7,150 / US$5,150. In this landscape we pick a few sporty and versatile chronographs. Here is a few that spring to mind.
We start off with a true cult classic: the Zenith Chronomaster El Primero (ref. 24.2041.400/21.R576). The entire watch is nicely executed, featuring a handsome “reverse panda” grey sunburst dial and high quality finishing. For this reference, the case is rather unique, being made out of aluminium and treated with black ceramic. But the main attraction is that movement: a 100% in-house column wheel chronograph with 278 components. It boasts a power reserve of 50-hours and beats at 36,000 VpH (5 Hz). A legendary movement that holds claims as the first automatic chronograph in history. The Zenith is priced at US$ 8,700.
Another contender is the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial Chronograph 44.25mm Vintage Black (ref. 3188.8.131.52.01.006). The highlight of this piece is the use of ceramic: every detail – case, dial and even pushers – is made from ceramic. More specifically, it is zirconium dioxide (ZrO2), which boasts high resistance to cracks. This results in a virtually “scratch-proof” and durable timepiece. Rather impressive. At its heart is the Omega Co-Axial 9300 movement, featuring a 60-hours power reserve and beats at 28,800 bph. The Speedy Co-Axial Vintage Black retails for SGD 16,750.
Within the TAG brand is the iconic Monaco chronograph. Its square design might not suit all, but one cannot glance over the quirky factor. A direct (and worthy) descendant as Steve McQueen’s choice of watch, the watch is the embodiment of cool. The Monaco retails for US$5,900.
The Sinn 140 St S “Space Chronograph” is another choice. Not many timepieces can hold claims for actually having flown to space, but the Sinn is one. Its stealth-black PVD case is rather unique, with the PVD process being applied onto the hardened TEGIMENT case. This results in a ultra durable coating. The dial is very utilitarian and highly legible; it puts functionality first with no attractive decorations. Powering the watch is the Sinn SZ01 movement – a modified ETA 7750. The Sinn retails for €3,490.
As a simple stealth timepiece, the Tudor Black Bay Dark (S$5,688 on leather) is a good option. But the watch does not feature a chronograph. Tudor’s offers the Ducati Black Shield Chronograph (CHF 3,900), (also available with in a black ceramic case) or the Black Bay Chronograph (CHF 4,800 on bracelet). The Ducati is presented with the ETA 7750 and the Black Bay Chronograph uses a Breitling manufactured movement.
For the budget-conscious, Seiko Turtle SRPC49 “Ninja Turtle” – perhaps the most “hyped” watch on this list. Solid build, in-house movement and handsome looks: we’ve covered it all in our review for the PADI Turtle here. Not to mention its extreme strap versatility. The Ninja Turtle retails for €490.
The watch sits well within the Carrera family of watches, and is easy to see what TAG is gunning for with this timepiece. No denying its design will appeal to budding watch collectors or anyone who is looking for their first ‘serious’ watch – a target market that this piece aims to capture. In fact, we liked the overall design execution and attention to detail traits.
However, at its price point, the watch is positioned in a highly competitive market segment with some historically (and technically) significant timepieces: think for instance the classic Omega Moonwatch or even Tudor Black Bay Chronograph with the Breitling movement. That said, the TAG will still definitely appeal to those who find those watches too “mature” and prefer forward-looking, avant-garde style.