In the worlds of watches and sport, the name TAG Heuer is indelibly linked to motor racing - from the production of Heuer's early dashboard chronographs, through to the company's enduring relationships with racing drivers and an F1 team. And 2011 celebrates both this proud history and spirit of innovation with the launch of two new pieces that are light years apart.
Watch companies and, for various reasons, the big four sports watch companies, Breitling, Omega, Rolex and TAG Heuer, are always trying to balance the pull of tradition and the push of innovation. At this year's Baselworld, it was TAG Heuer that turned up the most glaring example. On the one hand, the company announced that the just-released Mikrograph 1/100th was to be surpassed by a 1/1000th of a second chronograph and, on the other, it declared that it would be bringing out a Monza re-issue in time for Goodwood's Festival of Speed.
The flying central hand of the Mikrotimer Flying 1000 makes an astounding 10 rotations per second, indicating 1/1000th of a second and 1/100th of a second on a scale on the external part of the dial, which has 100 graduations over 360°.
This has caused some debate in the QP office as we wondered which of these to devote limited space to in the magazine. Obviously it would have made life a lot easier if the new Mikrographs came in Monza cases. But TAG Heuer's sponsorship of the Festival of Speed pointed to the obvious truth which is that, just as the contemporary Formula One cars from the likes of Ferrari and McLaren will be followed up the hill by a 1966 Lotus 38 once driven by Jim Clarke, so both ancient and modern sides of TAG can sit on the same page.
So, on the principle of age before beauty, let's start with the Monza. Back in 1975 Heuer was the sponsor of the Scuderia Ferrari, a team without a world champion since John Surtees in 1964. But at the Italian Grand Prix that year, the wait was finally over as Clay Regazzoni came in first and Niki Lauda's third place secured him the championship. This so pleased Jack Heuer that he created a new model line, which at first was available only as a limited edition, each watch being presented in a miniature racing helmet.
One of the greatest quandaries of chronograph design is how to keep chronograph operation from disrupting watch operation. Both the 2005 TAG Heuer Calibre 360 and the Mikrograph 1/100th of a second Chronograph overcome this by combining two independent kinematic chains - one for the watch and one for the chronograph.
The idea of the Monza was to offer a younger, more specifically race-oriented watch than the Autavia and Carrera models that were Heuer's mainstays at the time. As well as a tachymeter, the original Monza had a pulsometer scale (a possibly unfortunate medical note in an era when Formula One was desperately trying to make the sport safer). Inside was the high-quality Heuer Calibre 15 automatic chrono movement, essentially the same as the original Calibre 11, but with a faster rate and sweep seconds in place of a 12-hour counter. Most notably, the Monza had a comparatively bulky cushion shaped case derived from the Carrera and was available either in a chrome or black anodised case.
TAG re-issued the Monza in the early 2000s in a more restrained form that reminded several collectors more of the original Camarro than the Monza but nevertheless proved popular. The 2011 Monza takes this tendency further, giving a more discreet case and taking it's dial almost directly from a 1933 mono-pusher chronograph, complete with blocky numerals and cathedral hands - altogether a much more mature watch than the original and very definitely not aimed at a younger market.
From Charles-August Heuer's 1916 Mikrograph - the first-ever 1/100th of a second mechanical stopwatch - to this year's Carrera Mikrograph 1/100th Second Chronograph and Mikrotimer, the names Heuer and TAG Heuer consistently demonstrate innovation and unrivalled mastery of mechanical watchmaking at high, very-high and ultra-high frequencies.
As historically focused as the Monza is, the Mikrograph is looking to the future, even if the name has its own history in the Heuer story. The version that will be available to normal mortals in the very near future is the Carrera Mikrograph 1/100th. Launched in January, the Mikrograph directly replaces the Calibre 360 in that it is a dual-escapement chronograph able to record short times down to 1/100th of a second. There are, however, important differences.
Where the Calibre 360 was essentially a module added onto a highly modified but otherwise conventional base, the Mikrograph is a fully integrated, chronometer-certified, column wheel chronograph, though as with the Calibre 360 it features two different escapement assemblies, each with their own balance wheels, escapements and transmission systems. The conventional part runs at a normal 4Hz with a 42-hour power reserve, while the chronograph runs at 50Hz for a maximum of 90 minutes. Setting aside the technical difficulties of running an escapement at 50Hz, turning the Calibre 360 - which was only just short of being a concept watch - into a design that is chronometer certified and will be made in, albeit limited, series is a serious achievement that the pyrotechnics of the Mikrograph 1/1000th will inevitably overshadow.
From the early days of dashboard instruments and timing stands to the driving stars of today, TAG Heuer's name is inextricably linked to the thrills of F1.
The Mikrograph 1/1000th is very much a work in progress, there being no indication as yet of how the movement might be powered over any period longer than a few minutes, nevertheless, the achievement is quite exceptional. The movement follows the same general plan as the 1/100th version in that it has separate escapements and power trains integrated into a single movement. However, the 500Hz rate is far too fast for the conventional geometry to achieve.
For the chronograph, there is a stripped down escapement, which has no balance wheel, the anchor acting directly against the spring. There are other curious differences too. As the men in the know state: "A dynamic lever/wheel transmission (patent pending) generates a highvelocity impulse unencumbered by pallet/teeth slippage: the lever literally rebounds on the wheel instead of sliding." And, because of the tension in the system, TAG's watchmakers had to develop a launcher system that uses friction to both start and stop the escapement.
There were also some intriguing design problems to be overcome. The flying central hand completes 10 rotations per second. To avoid complications, the seconds and 1/10ths are read on a sub-dial, leaving more room to mark out the 1/100th and 1/1000th of a second graduations on the main dial. A second, smaller central hand indicates minutes in 5-second steps up to 2½ minutes. Similar in basic design to the Mikrograph 1/100th, the concept watch is much more aggressively modern with its black titanium carbide coated case and rutheniumtreated movement inside. Expect to see it in a pit-lane near you very soon.
Further information: www.tagheuer.com