Entrepreneurship may be a genetic predisposition. At TAG Heuer, it is certainly a trait inherent in the company’s DNA, stretching all the way back to founder Edouard Heuer. He was just 20 years old when he opened a watchmaking shop in 1860 at his family’s farm in Saint-Imier, Switzerland, producing mostly silver pocket watches. The business would move to Brugg under the name Edouard Heuer & Compagnie before finally settling in Bienne for over 100 years.
Heuer may have been young but he was a keen and immensely talented watchmaker. At age 29, he secured his first patent for a crown-operated winding system. The crown replaced a separate key required until then to wind watches, and proved to be a popular innovation. His next patented innovation improved the oscillating pinion by allowing chronographs to start and stop instantly with the use of a push-button, a concept that is still in use today.
TAG Heuer celebrates its 160th anniversary in 2020, and leading the brand into its next chapter is new CEO, 25-year-old Frédéric Arnault. One of the younger sons of LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault, Frédéric took over the mantle from Stéphane Bianchi in July as the latter had replaced Jean-Claude Biver as president of LVMH’s watch division.
This was not an abrupt move for the young CEO. A mathematics and computer science graduate of the prestigious École Polytechnique in France, Frédéric interned at Facebook and worked at consulting firm McKinsey before joining the watch brand in 2017 to head its connected technologies endeavours, namely the development of the Connected smartwatch. He assumed the role of chief strategy and digital officer in 2018 and has since propelled its ambitious innovation and digitalisation efforts with Bianchi’s input. Together, they launched the third-generation Connected watch, introduced ground-breaking innovations such as the Isograph carbon hairspring and launched a new e-commerce platform for the brand, among other accomplishments.
The move to have Frédéric lead TAG Heuer, the largest watch brand by sales in the LVMH portfolio, was in keeping with efforts to attract younger consumers. Not many brands can attest to surviving 160 trips around the sun and this landmark anniversary not only celebrates more than a century of achievements but also introduces TAG Heuer to a new generation at their preferred point of contact: the digital sphere.
“You know, TAG Heuer has a history of being managed by young people,” says Frédéric. “The Heuer family managed the company for almost a century, and those who assumed the role of CEO when the time came were all between 20 and 27. It makes sense, as we also have a youthful customer base. When I was appointed CEO, so many people whom I met told me that their first watch had been a TAG Heuer. It’s a strong statement to have and we want to reinforce that.”
The Connected watch may have been Frédéric’s initiation into the watchmaking world, but it is his work on the flagship Carrera family for the 160th anniversary that could shape his early years at the helm. Born on the race tracks in 1963, the Carrera has achieved a strong following for its sporty yet elegant chronographs.
“It is the leading name of the brand; when consumers think of TAG Heuer, they think of the Carrera,” the CEO continues. “That made it a natural choice to honour this anniversary. We believe it has the status of an icon and it’s important for us to stay true to what makes the brand strong. Even though we are modernising the model and bringing forth new technical features and additional refinement, it still has to be the watch [that] fans recognise and love.”
Frédéric was hands on in the development of the anniversary line-up, which included the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition. It is an exemplar of that spirit of reinvention he spoke about while remaining true to the roots of the collection. This collector’s edition blends the rare White Heuer Montreal automatic chronograph of 1972 with the Carrera of today in a striking composition of elegance, performance and colourful, sporty appeal.
Within a 39mm polished steel case, the white opaline dial features blue subcounters accented in yellow, comprising the minute, permanent second and hour chronograph counters at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock respectively. A 60-second/minute scale in a white flange circles the indicators and the hour, minute and red-lacquered central chronograph seconds hand. Powering them all is the Calibre Heuer 02, a slim 168-component manufacture movement with an impressive power reserve of 80 hours.
Polished steel forms the fixed bezel, crown and chronograph pushers, while the domed sapphire crystal protects the dial and a screw-down sapphire caseback, engraved with the special number indicating the 1,000-piece run, secures water resistance to 100m. A blue alligator leather strap locks in the dynamic aesthetic.
“It feels true to the Carrera but is so modern,” says Frédéric. “We worked on the design of the dial, the integration of the straps and pushes, and the streamlining of proportions so [that] the watch sits comfortably on the wrist.”
The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition is available in boutiques and on the brand’s new e-commerce site for selected markets. That last item is a point of particular pride for the CEO.
“Digital is a key priority for us, and we want to be the best in class for this industry where e-commerce is concerned,” he says. “Our e-commerce site is already gaining traction in key markets where it has been launched and we are looking at expanding it worldwide. We want customers to be as taken care of online as they would be in our boutiques, so service is emphasised. The website is going to be our flagship. That’s where we want to drive people towards, to learn about the brand and establish their first point of contact with us, even a point of purchase for many of them. On the product side of things, we are also heavily invested in development, especially of the Connected watch. We were among the first luxury watch brands to move in that direction and want to build it as a pillar, affirming us as a name built on innovation and avant-garde ideas.”
Frédéric has his work cut out for him, but enthusiasm, creativity and a strong team behind him will make up for anything he lacks in experience. “It’s gratifying to work on long-term projects and that’s what we do here — we build products that last. It is exciting to be able to innovate and create strong products and stories to go with them,” he says.
This article first appeared on Dec 14, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.