Whether it’s Steve McQueen unbuttoning his driving suit or Cara Delevingne posing with a lion cub, TAG Heuer has always had an eye for an arresting image, but never let it be said that this is a brand with more style than substance – TAG Heuer is all about the substance.
Founded in 1860 by Edouard Heuer in the chocolate-box pretty Swiss Jura, Heuer, as it was called back then (the brand didn’t get the TAG until private holding company Techniques d’Avant Garde bought it in 1985) was already experimenting with the chronographs that would become its signature, devising a new clutch system that’s still a feature of the complication today.
In 1916, it had gone one further and invented a 100th-of-a-second stopwatch, which won the brand the title of Olympic timekeeper for three years in the 1920s. By the 1930s it was making the dashboard timers for cars and planes that would provide the design cues for its wristwatches to come, as well as crafting chronographs for Luftwaffe pilots to wear. It even had a stint making watches for Abercrombie & Fitch in the early 1950s. The first of its iconic designs didn’t appear until 1962, however, when it launched the Autavia – inspired by the dashboard timers of the same name. It was what we’d now consider a classic sports chronograph: simple, legible and with a tool-watch aesthetic.
Hot on the Autavia’s heels was the more refined Carrera, with its pared-back dial and slim inner bezel, a year later, but the really big launch was to come. In 1969, in partnership with Breitling and Hamilton, versions of the Autavia, Carrera and the unmistakeable square form of the Monaco were unveiled, all of which were powered by TAG Heuer’s first automatic chronograph, with its distinctive left-side crown.
All of which might have made waves in the watch world, but the moment that brought the brand to the attention of the wider world was when the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen, wore a Monaco in the 1971 film Le Mans. Rumour has it that McQueen insisted on wearing the watch because he wanted to emulate his friend and racing hero, the Swiss driver Joe Sifferet, who was then a Heuer ambassador. It was a decision that strengthened the association between TAG Heuer and motor sport and gave it some much needed cool quota.
STEVE MCQUEEN ON THE SET LE MANS I COURTESY OF TAG HEUER
TAG Heuer entered the world of diving watches following its acquisition by LVMH in 1999, unveiling the US Navy Seal-tested Aquagraph – boasting an amazing water-resistance of up to 500m – in 2002. This quickly mutated into the more visually attractive Aquaracer – still one of the few elegant women’s divers that can actually be used to dive in (the reason, apparently, why Cameron Diaz is a fan) – with the more recent Link Lady an altogether more sophisticated proposition again.
The employment of London-based Christoph Behling in 2004 saw the brand experiment with ever-more accurate chronographs, including the 2012 Mikrogirder model, which is precise to 5/10,000ths of a second, and the launch of some gorgeous retro reissues. TAG Heuer has also continued to be clever at leveraging its brand through celebrity, constantly switching up its ambassadors to appeal to a younger, culture-savvy customer that has seen the brand attach its star to the likes of Cara Delevingne, Chris Hemsworth while still partnering with the likes of Aston Martin and the Indy 500.
Over the years the brand has created some of the most iconic watches of the 20th century, devised some incredibly complex movements and even successfully branched out into the previously Apple-dominated smart watch territory with its TAG Heuer Connected. It just happens to know the power of a good image too.
You can’t beat the simple, sporty stylings of the Aquaracer. There is nothing out of place, every element, from the diamond indices to the steel-on-steel case, bezel and bracelet, complements the other and now, if you like something with a little more pizazz it comes with a Kermit-green dial.