Industry analysts and watch-lovers alike recently gathered in Switzerland for Basel World 2016, where premier brands from around the world unveiled their newest timepieces in an age where innovation and demand is at an all time high. As always the event wasn’t short on trend-setting gear and some big surprises. Everyone from Rolex to Omega brought their “A” game and the gear blogs like us are simply having a field day with the results.
Perhaps causing the biggest stir this year was TAG Heuer, who put competitors up in arms when they debuted the new Carerra Heuer-02T model at a jaw-dropping price of 15K. Now if you’re someone who doesn’t keep up with watch trends and is still paying off his college loans, you might think the CHF 15,000 price tag is “jaw-dropping” because it’s so high, but in fact the opposite is true. TAG Heuer’s Carerra Heuer-02T Watch has everybody talking–Patek Phillipe in particular–because of how incredibly affordable it is. And by affordable we mean the Carerra Heuer 02-T is actually the cheapest watch of its kind currently on the market.
Why is the newest TAG Heuer watch such a steal? Because of its superior Swiss design and the use of a nifty, gravity-defying technology called tourbillon. Tourbillon (French for “whirlwind”) has been around since the 1800s and it negates gravitational influence by continuously rotating a balance wheel and escapement at a slow pace inside a cage. In the same manner (we think) that our planet’s core keeps Earth from spinning off its axis, tourbillon keeps the watch from falling victim to positional errors in the face of the similar (albeit weaker) gravitational forces. Because tourbillon is so awesome and eye-catching, it’s usually featured on the face of luxury timepieces so the buyer can see what he paid for. And that buyer paid a lot.
Tourbillon went out of style for a long time but it’s returned with a vengeance to become an insanely catchy component of the high-end watch industry. In fact by including the complicated feature in their products, manufacturers are known to hike up the price to over 50K per watch with no blowback from consumers. To cash in even more on the craze, some brands aren’t content to stop at one tourbillon. It’s not unheard of for a watch to flaunt two, three or even four tourbillons at a time. Naturally, the honor of wearing a watch with four tourbillons is going to cost a small fortune but if you’re shopping for such a thing you already knew that.
However, thanks to TAG Heuer, the price of wearing tourbillon-powered technology around your wrist is becoming lower than ever. It’s all in step with the company’s agenda to deliver modern visual elements and movements while remaining true to their core aesthetic–an evolution rather than a transformation. One calls to mind the TAG Heuer Connected Watch, considered by many to be a risk for the company because Apple seemed to have the smart-watch market cornered, but it was a risk that paid off whereas the Connected Watch has been selling like hotcakes thanks to a strategic limited supply.
The Carerra Heuer 02-T is likewise part of TAG Heuer’s ongoing campaign to challenge its own conventions without losing sight of core principles. In addition to utilizing tourbillon that was handcrafted by four separate watchmakers, the sleek timepiece also houses chronograph functions, automatic winding mechanisms, counters and a single barrel all within a 32mm diameter case. The case itself features twelve modular components and uses grade-5 titanium to achieve maximum lightness and superior shock resistance. Visually the watch retains the elegant sportiness that TAG Heuer is known for with added components like tourbillon launching the piece into the stratosphere of sophistication. And again it’s all offered at an unprecedented price point. We’re talking a level of craftsmanship and affordability that has other companies baffled and in some cases downright annoyed at how TAG Heuer even pulled off such a feat.
The loudest among those other companies is Patek Phillipe and its chairman, Thierry Stern. Stern is making waves in the press, declaring that high-end technology like tourbillon shouldn’t be offered at such a cheap price. Stern considers the recent move by TAG Heuer to be the industry equivalent of a bargain basement sale where the brand sacrifices profit margins for consumer loyalty and a quick boost in revenue. As a result of the move, Stern worries that TAG Heuer will dilute the general value of Swiss craftsmanship and of course the value of the precious tourbillon mechanism. What Stern also warns of is something akin to a market crash, where the value of tourbillon plummets and watchmakers shift their attention onto other technologies. In a worst case, “sky is falling” scenario, the overall quality of Swiss craftsmanship could deteriorate because it takes a high price point to fuel top-shelf design. Those genius Swiss engineers don’t work for peanuts, after all.
TAG Heuer doesn’t seem to be too concerned with Stern’s apocalyptic pouting. Their focus has always been on bringing premium, dependable watches to consumers at an affordable rate and therefore this latest move makes perfect sense. If somehow the move renders tourbillon as unfashionable among collectors, or untenable among manufacturers, then the technology will likely retreat back to its cave of hibernation only to emerge a few decades from now at an even more outrageous price point. That is, after all, how trends usually work.