Tag Heuer is one of the most evocative brands in watchmaking, with its storied history and multifaceted heritage. But has it become too weird for its fans? Or is this just another chapter for the brand?
What is happening at Tag Heuer? That is a question I get asked often. And like always on WLA, I'll tell you about it and let you decide. Your money, your choice, your wrist and my info - Hey, maybe I'll use that for the site tagline this year! and speaking of taglines, you should know Tag Heuer's tagline by now, they have after all, spent tens of millions of dollars on getting that message across - Don't Crack Under Pressure. Add a hashtag for an Instagram search and you'll see the weird in all its glory straight off the bat.
If you are not a fan of Tag Heuer or new to the watch game or you're just curious, here's the situation in a nutshell. For the last few decades, the brand has been built up on being a precision watchmaker. When the Heuer family ran the business back in the day, this was the watch used in F1 paddocks to keep time. When TAG bought the brand to make it Tag Heuer, it was an engine supplier in F1. They had Tiger Woods wearing and later designing a timepiece. I could go on but I think you get the picture, the brand was all about precision that leads to glory.
So when did it get 'weird'?
To answer that, you have to know that two things were going on earlier this decade. Internally, the brand felt that it should get more bang for its buck. So prices went up - like waaaaaay up! I won't bore you with inflation economics by using today's currency levels. Around ten years ago, you could walk out of a watch shop with a Tag Heuer for around USD1000. Today, the prices are about triple! Was the watchmaking worth the price bump? Yes, in short. Tag Heuer is one of those brands always on the cusp of something revolutionary. Their R&D is simply top notch.
The other thing you need to know is that Jean-Claude Biver took over as CEO in late 2014. This is the one man revolutionary who made Hublot what it is, remade Zenith into the resurgent power and runs the LVMH watch division. The idea back then was to get Tag away from rising prices and back to being a watch for the people. And to do that, he did connected the brand to younger influencers like Cara Delevigne and Bella Hadid. He also took on a street artist named Alec Monopoly as Artist Provocateur. Tag Heuer would be the hip and trendy watch that Millennials would want.
And so you have the situation as it is today: For the sublime timepieces that are works of engineering art, you have to sell a limb and an organ. For most of the entry level pieces, you either have it in basic or you have it with some association to the various influencers. In other words, Tag Heuer is like a man who suddenly wants to grow his beard into a majestic statement. But until it reaches a certain length, it just looks kinda dumb.
Can we make it stop?
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Biver named Stephane Bianchi to take over as CEO late last year, as the elder statesman of watchmaking contemplates winding down his colourful career. Don't expect any sudden change overnight but do expect to see some semblance of order being restored. We won't see the end of Monopoly and his version of crazy. As it were, I have yet to meet a single person who thinks his timepieces are worth the money. This is Asia and most folks who are going to shell out a minimum of USD3000 would rather their watch not look like a cartoon knockoff.
And then off course, there are the influencers. The sooner that Tag Heuer realises that the core fanbase are technical minded folks, the better. It's hard to reconcile a tourbillon nanograph or a carbon composite case when you have Delevigne, Hadid and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth flashing it around. You still see it flying around F1 tracks with Red Bull Racing but the thrust of the communications are the influencers, not the team or the drivers. It's all a garbled mess now and the suggestion in the market is that the brand are losing ground to rivals like Bell & Ross, and even Ball Watch and Oris in certain markets.
To keep it simple, once Tag Heuer stops trying to be the haute horlogerie version of Daniel Wellington, and goes back to associating precision to glory and success, you'll see the brand back on top.