Tag Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon Is The First Belt-Driven Tourbillon

It is mind-boggling to think that one of Tag Heuer’s most extraordinary creations, the Monaco V4 is already a bold ten years old. Today, we are looking at the piece with which the brand celebrates the tenth anniversary of what is one of the most technically impressive watches it has ever produced. The story goes that it was in 2004 when the brand presented a concept watch which, as a world first, utilized ultra-thin transmission belts in its movement. Called the V4, it was nothing short of a shocking concept which, somewhat embarrassingly, was a long way away from functioning without problems.

For quite some time–for 5 years, to be exact–it remained just that, a concept. And although it is a rare phenomenon to be equally as shocked by something that you have already seen (although I could think of a few exceptions which I will not elaborate on), Tag Heuer surprised us all in 2009, when they announced that the Monaco V4 would be commercially available – even if in very limited quantities and at a rather steep price of around $100,000. For further details about one of the latest non-tourbillon V4’s, check out Ariel’s hands-on article here. And when I said “non-tourbillon,” you might have guessed just how exactly Tag Heuer will celebrate the 10th anniversary of this piece: that’s right, by revealing a new and further enhanced version, called the Monaco V4 Tourbillon, the world’s first micro-belt driven one-minute tourbillon. Talk about coming a long way from a problematic concept to a most impressive horological achievement!

Tag Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon
Tag Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon

The watch is still operated by four barrels, mounted on a unique, V-shaped main plate, reminiscent of the V-configuration of engines found in sports cars and some bikes as well. From our perspective the truly interesting bit is that these barrels are mounted on ball-bearings (those tiny little “dots” that you see above, by the center of the four barrels are in fact the bearings) and that they are connected by incredibly small and yet rather strong transmission belts. Actually, Tag Heuer spent most of those five years between the 2004 concept and the 2009 “commercialized” version looking for a way of manufacturing these tiny little belts.

The problem was that these have to be incredibly precisely manufactured–to give you an idea on the scale of these things the thinnest belt is a mere 0.07 millimeter “thick”–so that they would reliably drive the wheels and pinions under all circumstances. Other major sources of issues included the variations in heat and other external factors, as well as the mid-to-long term durability of these truly microscopic components. Tag Heuer eventually found the answers to all these issues and treats them extremely confidentially. What is clearly visible though through the sapphire front and back of the V4 Tourbillon’s titanium case is that these transmission belts, as their name implies, serve as the vehicle that transfers drive from one wheel to another, and hence also to the pinion of the tourbillon.

Tag Heuer Tourbillon
Tag Heuer Tourbillon

Speaking of which, let’s cut to the point that makes this year’s V4 a true novelty, and also a more important advancement over any of its predecessors: it’s single-axis, one minute tourbillon. I will admit that the trend of putting a tourbillon on just about anything that is considered capable of fetching six-figure prices is something I feel I need some strong medication for… and yet, I really enjoy the technological and temporal contrast this creates in the V4. On one hand there is the tourbillon, this two-centuries old–and by now bafflingly ubiquitous–invention, which Breguet designed to be so amazing and so arresting that it just fails to lose its power to impress no matter what. On the other hand, however, there is this very impressive sci-fi inspired movement (which Tag Heuer partially redesigned for the V4T) with its matte black belts stretching between comparably monumental gears and skeletonized bridges, all done in blacked-out metal…

And the end result is a watch that looks rather cold and intimidating, and yet also something that deserves to be appreciated, even if such on-the-wrist technocracy is not one’s cup of tea. The two large, V shaped and open-worked bridges and the beveled openings highlight the wheels which seem to be floating scattered around the dial, without any obvious connection between one another. When I first saw a V4 “in the metal” what amazed me most was just how minuscule the belts actually were–no image can truly imitate how difficult it really is to properly spot them with the naked eye.

Tag Heuer Monaco Watch
Tag Heuer Monaco Watch

One aspect where I would expect to see some further advancements–or rather, more creativity–concerns the decoration of these movements. Since these haute horologerie pieces are hand decorated and assembled by the brand’s master watchmakers, I am sure there would be a way to implement newer designs. What I mean by this is that while the tourbillon fits surprisingly well into this otherwise futuristic environment, I find that the Côtes de Genève decoration on the plates shows some lack of imagination, meaning that I feel some new, more modern patterns could be created that would look as elegant and refined as the “Genevan stripes”, and yet would not remind us of nearly all traditional pieces out there, showcasing this decoration in one way or another.

Even with that in mind, Tag Heuer has not only created what appears to be most refined Monaco V4 thus far, but also the first ever belt-driven tourbillon. With that, the V4 strikes its third time as being positively surprising: after the bold idea behind the concept watch of 2004, then its commercialization in 2009, and now the rather unorthodox approach to something as traditional and as iterative as the single-axis tourbillon. Considering Tag Heuer’s developments regarding its high-tech chronograph movements I wonder if–or rather when–will there be a belt-driven chronograph… But until then, the V4 Tourbillon is here to carry on this microscopic world of belt-driven fine mechanics.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Automatic & Chronograph Watches For 2014

For 2014, TAG Heuer has once again released a brand new version of its iconic Formula 1. This time, the Formula 1 gets a totally unique automatic mechanical range to supplement the Formula 1 quartz watch offerings. Over the last few years, TAG Heuer has really gone all over the place in regard to trying to figure out what to do with its Formula 1 range. The TAG Heuer Formula 1 Automatic collection for 2014 is pretty good in regard to design and personality, but the question is… should this be the direction TAG Heuer takes its Formula 1 watch collection?

Let’s put things into context again. The TAG Heuer Formula 1 was for a long time a great looking entry-level quartz watch for the brand. Early on, they had cool colorful plastic bezels and really neat dial designs. A few years ago, they grew up to be the daily quartz beater watch we all wanted. After that, TAG Heuer took what I believe was a step backwards in regard to both design and quality, while kicking up the price and also including an automatic version. For 2014 TAG Heuer seems to have begun to figure out how to get the Formula 1’s groove back, but these pieces are all mechanical.

TAG Heuer Formula
TAG Heuer Formula

You won’t hear me complain often that a watch is mechanical, and in theory I appreciate these automatic watches. I do however feel that TAG Heuer had a great thing going with an more accessibly-priced entry level range that focused on quartz offerings at a price of under $1,000. If you wanted to get into something more high-end and mechanical you had the Link, Aquaracer, Monaco, and of course, Carrera families to do so. While the Formula 1 collection is still technically entry-level for the brand, and there are quartz versions available, I think the consumer is left wit a lot of confusing choices.

Perhaps I am simply being nostalgic that I want the Formula 1 range to be available to the widest possible demographic and be a fantastic daily sport watch for everyone. TAG Heuer has experimented with the Formula 1 collection making it more mainstream, more masculine, and more “racing.” Each of those steps has had its share of good ideas, but I don’t think that Formula 1 right now is as attractive an offering as, say, a Carrera or a Monaco.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Automatic watches
TAG Heuer Formula 1 Automatic watches

The new for 2014 TAG Heuer Formula 1 Automatic watches come with two movement options. There is the three-hand Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic, as well as the Formula 1 Calibre 16 Automatic Chronograph. The three-hand Calibre 6 comes in a smaller 41mm wide case while the Calibre 16 Chronograph comes in a slightly larger 44mm wide case. As of writing, only the three-hand Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic model has been released, as the older generation Formula 1 Calibre 16 Chronograph watch is still available.

Available in either brushed or PVD black coated steel, the new Formula 1 watches take a new step in design compared the outgoing generation’s models. The case is now tonneau-shaped and the dial looks very little like the last few generation Formula 1 models. TAG Heuer’s historic Autavia models had similar case shapes, and I suppose one could suggest that TAG Heuer designed the new Formula 1 in its honor.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic watch
TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic watch

On the wrist, the new for 2014 TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic watch is very attractive with a refined sporty design and legible dial. TAG Heuer should be commended for its design restraint, and focus on legibility. The last few generation Formula 1 models never quite had hand/hour marker combinations that visually pleased me. While these new ref. WAZ2112.FT8023 and ref. WAZ2110.BA0875 Calibre 6 models are not what I would imagine a new Formula 1 to look like, they are pretty nice evolutionary steps that take a new direction.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 Automatic & Chronograph Watches For 2014 Hands On   hands on

The three-hand Calibre 6 is a base Swiss Sellita, I believe, and offers a rare layout for sporty race watches with a subsidiary seconds dial. Hands are all the right size and visually these are very sharp. The cases have sapphire crystal and, as they have been for a long time, are water resistant to 200 meters. Of course, I am a fan of the rotating diver’s style bezel, which here is a matching color to the case.

That latter design element is a bit odd to me even though TAG Heuer introduced it on the last generation of Formula 1 watches. The original Formula 1, as well as a few past generation models have always had distinctive black rotating bezels which in my opinion are very much part of the Formula 1 design DNA. That element is now gone for 2014, but perhaps it will make a return in the future.

In addition to the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic three-hand models is the Formula 1 Calibre 16 Chronograph models. In my opinion, this is where TAG Heuer brings in internal competition between models as they already have a lot of chronograph offerings (like, a lot). I don’t mind a quartz chronograph in a Formula 1, but I am not sure how I feel about a mechanical one. Again, in the abstract, I don’t mind it, but in the context of the TAG Heuer lineup it feels like an odd decision.

The TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 16 Chronograph will also come in either a brushed steel (CAZ2010) or black-coated case (CAZ2011). Note that all the models in brushed steel will come on a bracelet while the black models will come on a strap. A bit larger to make room for the movement and subdials, this is also a nice collection but I can’t help but feel that if you are going for a classic TAG Heuer chronograph you should get a Carrera. The Calibre 16 movement is a base Swiss Sellita SW500, I believe.

TAG Heuer chronograph
TAG Heuer chronograph

Where things get dicey, in my opinion, is pricing. TAG Heuer continues to maintain the Formula 1 as an entry level model – which is good. However, the definition of entry-level continues to change. Just a few years ago a fantastic TAG Heuer Formula 1 model with a quartz movement was under $1,000. Now the basic quartz movement retails for $1,300. That puts the Formula 1 quartz chronograph at $1,500 – which for 2014 are actually lowered prices that the year before I believe. So what do you think the mechanical models cost?

The three-hand TAG Heuer Formula 1 Calibre 6 Automatic in brushed steel (WAZ2110.BA0875, WAZ2110.FT8023, WAZ2111.BA0875) retails for $1,800 and in black-coated steel (WAZ2112.FT8023) is priced at a heftier $2,200. The Formula 1 Calibre 16 Chronograph in steel (CAZ2010.BA0876, CAZ2010.FT8024) is slated be to available in September 2014 and similarly priced at $2,900 in steel, and $3,400 in black-coated steel (CAZ2011.FT8024). At these prices, the market is extremely competitive and there is so much available. TAG Heuer has some wonderful mid and upper range models, and my hope is that they will continue to focus on quality designs and attractive prices to secure their place as a brand which offers an excellent entry-level proposition for those interested in Swiss watches.