The time has come: the least expensive tourbillon watch yet from a major Swiss brand is officially here. Naturally, we were eager to go hands-on with it at TAG Heuer’s massive Baselworld 2016 booth. This is the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T, a watch that is actually as powerful and surprising in the metal as it was when originally announced one full year earlier. Let’s see just what makes it so remarkable.
The initial news of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T was a big deal because it was a tourbillon watch from a major Swiss brand with the promise of an extremely competitive price. It was easy to overlook the actual quality of the tourbillon’s execution and welcome it simply as a tourbillon, finally at a relatively more affordable price.
So, the big surprise at BaselWorld 2016 came when we entered our meeting room inside the TAG booth and first saw – and immediately reached for – the watch tray on the table, holding two versions of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T. First impressions: “WOW, do these look great in the metal!“
Seriously, I was afraid I would be a little disappointed by a hands-on experience with the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T. Part of me was expecting to see a watch that sacrificed too much “in the metal” in order to be able to boast a competitive price “in the ads.” I will have to retract my expectations, though, and say that the engineers at TAG Heuer really managed to make wonders and create a watch that doesn’t simply make you feel as though you went for a “low-budget,” cheap, and cheerful option. The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T is large and bold-looking, yes, and it does have Heuer twice in its name, which is still rather baffling… but the watch itself, once you take a closer look, is genuinely impressive.
That’s a big claim, though, so let’s take a closer look. The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T comes in the same case design as the Heuer 01 (that I reviewed here) – so whether you liked it or not on the 01, your opinion will probably not be changed by the 02T. It is a very modern evolution of the Carrera case, one that maintains the rather long and straight lugs (bad news for those with smaller wrists), and features a black coated insert between them to make for a visually more seamless integration of the straps.
We did see some smaller, scaled-down versions of the Heuer-01 chronograph, so there is a faint chance that maybe the tourbillon will also be installed in a sub-45-millimeter-wide case.
For now, though, there is only one case size option for the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T: at 45 millimeters wide, it is unapologetically bold and modern in its design, and does sit rather high on the wrist. With that noted, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T carries its heft rather gracefully and remains very comfortable to wear, thanks primarily to the integration and clever rubber-padded material choice for the strap, as well as the standard, but still very comfortable TAG Heuer clasp.
The exterior’s rather generous proportions make for a funny combination with the tourbillon and, in fact, all other dial elements. It may sound like a weird thing to pick out, but the watch’s overall proportions is the part that was the most positively surprising (to me at least) about the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T.
In the computer generated images that TAG Heuer used to debut the watch, the one-minute flying tourbillon’s cage and balance wheel looked way too small in relation to the dial, the thick bezel, and the long lugs. However, in the metal, the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T works well as a complete package aesthetically, one that almost appears to have been designed from the ground up to look like this.
Now that I have reviewed all our images that we took of this watch and have stumbled upon the one just above, I think I have figured out why this watch often looks so awkward in images. You see, in close-ups of the dial, the tourbillon looks petite and the rest of the dial just dwarves it even more. However, when you look at it as you normally would – and as is shown by the image above – things fall into place, and the tourbillon appears to be the same size as the other two sub-dials.
As we previously reported here, though, “designed from the ground up” it wasn’t. Instead, the Heuer-02T movement, as it’s imaginatively called, is based on the TAG Heuer CH80 in-house caliber. Remember the CH80? The CH80 was originally codenamed Caliber 1969, and it was an impressive new movement that TAG Heuer debuted in 2014 in the genuinely pretty Carrera CH 80 watch. We covered the Carrera CH 80 hands-on here back then.
For financial reasons, TAG Heuer decided to drop the CH80 movement altogether and discontinue the watch very shortly after the official debut in 2014…
…TAG Heuer did, however, manufacture a batch of these movements and – you guessed it! – the CH80 now serves as the basis for the Heuer-02T. The brand has re-engineered the CH80 so that it now houses a tourbillon at the 6 o’clock position, where the running seconds subdial originally was.
Think about it, a 60-second sub-dial has been ditched for a 60-second tourbillon: such an ingenious and also quite fortunate thing that they had chosen such a sub-dial layout for the CH80 years ago that today allows for such a symmetrical design of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T.
The tourbillon appears small – perhaps too small, even – in photographs, but again, it actually works fine when seen live. Not something I had expected, but was ultimately very glad to see. The final size of the tourbillon has all to do with the compromise engineers had to consider: a relatively small tourbillon is of course considerably lighter, which in turn allows for a higher operating frequency (and hence better timekeeping), and/or a longer power reserve.
Making the right compromises have paid their dividends: the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T operates at 4 Hertz or 28,800 semi-oscillations per hour, which is a modern, reliable, and precise frequency. Furthermore, it offers a 65-hour-long power reserve, which again, is a lot for a tourbillon chronograph. Last but definitely not least, the Heuer-02T is COSC certified to run between -4 and +6 seconds per day – a rare feat for tourbillon watches, whose accuracy tends to be more often advertised than actually tested.