It’s Panda Time with TAG Heuer
Timepieces
It’s Panda Time with TAG Heuer
The "Panda" dial; legibility will never die out.
17 April 2024 8 minutes

This article was first published and produced by Angus Davies of EscapementMagazine.com for The Edge Magazine

The “Panda” dial; legibility will never die out.

 

Like many watch obsessives, I’ve been known to pick up an HB pencil and sketch ideas for a timepiece. However, after a few minutes, I come to the realisation that it’s a job best left to the professionals.

 

Having met several professional designers specialising in horological works, it is clear they think differently to mere mortals, obsessing over the smallest of details, some barely noticeable to the untrained eye. Lines, curves, proportions, materials, finishes, colours and textures are the artistic media employed by these modern-day artists. Each ticking creation is no less valid than a deftly painted landscape or an imposing sculpture. Indeed, they’re all the product of an innate talent, nurtured in art school and often honed over many years.

 

The Reference 2447 – An Inspired Design

 

With this in mind, I was somewhat surprised to read in Jack Heuer’s autobiography, ‘Times of my Life’ that he was responsible for designing the first Heuer Carrera chronograph back in 1963. While Jack was interested in modern design, especially architecture and furniture, he was, first and foremost, a businessman. And yet, unlike my aforementioned sketches, his vision, subsequently known as the Reference 2447, is widely considered one of the most beautiful and iconic chronographs of all time.

 

Despite not being a design professional, Jack recognised the wisdom of endowing a chronograph with a ‘dial that had a clear, clean design…’. Back in the day, when watch dials were normally glazed with clear acrylic, a steel tension ring was placed inside the acrylic and used to hold it in place, pressing it against the inside of the case. The addition of the tension ring improved water resistance. Jack’s idea was to reposition the track that usually fringes a display and move it to the tension ring, thereby freeing up valuable dial space, enhancing readability. With hindsight it seems a simple idea but then again, the simplest ideas are often the best.

 

Over the years, there have been numerous iterations of the TAG Heuer Carrera, some equipped with one counter, others with two or three counters, but all of them blessed with a clear complexion free of blemishes.

 

The New Reference CBS2216.BA0041

This week, at Watches and Wonders 2024, an up-to-the-minute TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph was unveiled. Unequivocally new, the shield-clad dial sports some delightfully retro details while remaining notably fresh and modern. Inspired by the Reference 7753 SN from the late 60s, the new Reference CBS2216.BA0041 (brand aficionados love reference numbers) pays tribute to the sought-after vintage chronograph with its distinctive ‘panda look’. This latter term, familiar to most ardent Heuerphiles, is used to describe the model’s black eyelike counters that peep out from its silver-hued dial. However, the new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox” (39mm) case is more, much more, than a pair of comely eyes and a bewitching smile. Allow me to elaborate.

 

 

A Family Likeness

Last year, at Watches and Wonders 2023, the Swiss avant-garde brand unveiled the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph with a “Glassbox” case. Housed in a 39mm steel case and equipped with the Calibre Heuer 02 (Ref. TH20-00), the watch looked very different from its Carrera antecedents. Initially, the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox” models were offered in two dial variants, blue (reference CBS2212.FC6535) and black (reference CBS2210.FC6534). Both references, each fitted with a colour coordinating leather strap, remain popular members of the brand’s product portfolio of today.

 

Most notably with these 2023 models, the dials sit beneath a prominent, curved sapphire crystal. Termed “Glassbox”, a traditional form of glazing, this expansive crystal drinks in light, aiding readability. The company’s designers had the inspired idea of positioning the tachymeter scale on the edge of the curved flange, just where it slopes down into the case. By employing a “Glassbox” sapphire crystal, the design team managed to free up valuable dial space; I wonder where they got that idea from?

 

The new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox” (39 mm) shares much in common with its siblings of 2023, but with the shrewd use of new colours and finishes and, most notably, its “Panda” dial, the model looks very different.

 

Baton-style hour and minute hands, lined with Super-LumiNova® make a return appearance, as do the facetted indexes, positioned adjacent luminescent dot-shaped markings. However, this new dial eschews the circular brushed finish employed on the 2023 models, instead favouring a sunray motif.

 

 

Two black counters, positioned at 3 and 9 o’clock, measure the elapsed minutes and hours, respectively. Adorned with an azurage finish, crisp markings and vibrant red hands, they express meaning free of ambiguity. The bi-compax dial also features a small seconds indication at 6 o’clock. This latter function, incorporating a date display, appears quiet and unassuming. Although the small seconds indication plays a deferential role to its black-toned counterparts, it still remains eminently legible.

 

The tip of the central chronograph seconds hand is dressed in an ebullient shade of red, a colour that is also repeated on the minute track. This is a feature-rich dial incorporating delicious soupçons of nuanced detail that grant style without impairing intelligibility.

 

On this occasion, the aforementioned tachymeter scale, located adjacent to the edge of the sapphire, is executed in a stealthy shade of black and marked with crisp numerals. Again, everything is optimised to aid lucidity.

 

Now Available on a Bracelet

Beyond the dial, the 39mm steel case juxtaposes fine brushed and polished surfaces. This requires much expertise to ensure that each finish is discrete and perfectly delineated. Consistent with several other TAG Heuer Carrera references, the intricately faceted lugs slope inwards towards the bracelet. Yes, you read that correctly. For the first time, the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox” (39mm) is presented on a 3-rows steel bracelet. Consistent with the case execution, the bracelet also unites fine brushed and polished surfaces.

 

 

The Calibre Heuer 02 (Ref.TH20-00) – A Purist’s Choice

In common with the aforementioned models of 2023, the “Panda” is fitted with the Calibre Heuer 02 (Ref. TH20-00). An integrated movement featuring a column-wheel and vertical coupling, its specification will resonate with purists. Press the pushpiece at 2 o’clock and the central chronograph seconds hand commences its journey without hesitation and free of annoying tremors. Moreover, the action of pressing the pushpieces confers a smooth, silken action. Courtesy of its impressive power reserve, the watch will run autonomously for 80 hours.

 

Accomplished Design

Jack Heuer was unusual in that he was a consummate watch designer despite not being a design professional. However, before you pick up an HB pencil and sharpen the lead, remember Jack was an exception to the rule. Quite simply, designing watches is a specialist discipline.

 

With such an impressive back catalogue, masterminding a new TAG Heuer Carrera watch must have been a daunting assignment for the company’s design team. Thankfully, the new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox” (39mm) proves a wonderful take on the from the aforementioned classic of the late 60s with its lucid dial and prepossessing appearance. Moreover, with the design brief admirably fulfilled, this latest model serves to show the wisdom in leaving matters of watch style to consummate professionals; oh, and Jack of course!

 

 

 

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