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Balancing tradition and innovation

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 9 min read
Balancing tradition and innovation
You have to understand where the brand is coming from; you have to understand the heritage fundamentals to think about where you want to bring the brand
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Despite being new, Julien Tornare is already gearing up for TAG Heuer’s future releases, aiming to boost its success further

Each year, with every new collection release, one watch stands out. For TAG Heuer, it is the Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph, available in red and blue editions. These watches represent a fusion of tradition and innovation in Haute Horlogerie d’Avant-Garde. 

Proud of this achievement is Julien Tornare, the new CEO of TAG Heuer, who has nothing but high praises for these timepieces. He says: “I deeply admire high watchmaking and I was truly astounded by the Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph. Not only the technical precision but also the level of attention to detail in its finishing.” 

“This particular timepiece holds a special place in my heart. It represents a superb example of drawing inspiration from the past and reinventing it stylishly. It beautifully balances vintage charm with contemporary functionality, making it a delight to wear.”

Renowned for his meticulous attention to detail and profound appreciation for craftsmanship, Tornare lauds the Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph for its exceptional quality, intricate detailing, and subtle vintage charm, underscored by a captivating narrative. He applauds the watch’s flawless comfort, ergonomic design and precise execution.

While recognising the collection predates his tenure, Tornare prepares for the next line, praising TAG Heuer’s positive direction. Just three months into his role, the former Zenith CEO is credited with propelling Zenith’s growth since 2017 and is set to continue his success at TAG Heuer.

See also: Fashion and time converge at the Met Gala

Under Tornare’s leadership, Zenith has reinvigorated its position at the forefront of the watchmaking industry, focusing on product innovation and brand revitalisation. Notable timepieces like the DEFY Inventor showcase Zenith’s dedication to groundbreaking advancements. Despite its esteemed heritage and affiliation with LVMH, Tornare’s entrepreneurial vision has revitalised Zenith’s legacy of innovation while shaping the future of Swiss watchmaking.

Lessons from the past
In preparation for his new position at TAG Heuer, Tornare met with Jack Heuer, the founder of TAG Heuer. He is widely acclaimed for his notable contributions to the watchmaking industry, especially during his time as the honorary chairman of TAG Heuer. He was instrumental in creating timeless timepieces like the TAG Heuer Monaco and the TAG Heuer Carrera. 

Tornare describes his conversation with Heuer as emotional: “It was more almost a spiritual and emotional moment for me. I respect him and I read his book before meeting him,” he adds. The 2013 book The Times of My Life: Passion for Speed is based on Jack’s journey and the evolution of the watchmaking industry through his eyes. 

See also: Craft to conservation

In his memoir, Heuer shares his experiences, achievements and role in shaping the brand’s legacy. The book delves into his family’s watchmaking heritage, his dedication to precision timekeeping and his contributions to luxury watches, offering readers valuable insights.

“When I arrived at his apartment, his children and grandchildren were there and I could sense it was all a bit emotional. However, I told him, ‘Listen, I’m a new guy. I’m Julien. And you know what? I will take care of your brand. I know it is no longer his, but I plan to elevate it to the next level, bring it to the next league.’ I could see that he smiled and responded, ‘Great, I’m happy.’” Tornare says he had a “fantastic and emotional connection with Jack, “ which was an important moment for him. 

He adds that this is the approach Tornare used at Zenith. “I met with the creators of El Primero. I sought out these individuals and engaged with them. These folks in their 80s experienced the enchanting era of the 1980s; there’s so much to learn from them.” The El Primero, a legendary mechanical chronograph movement, is celebrated as one of the earliest automatic chronograph movements, crafted by the renowned Swiss watchmaker Zenith.

Following his discussion with Heuer, Tornare notes that people of this age group are typically seen as nostalgic and conservative, often believing the past was better than the present. However, his conversations with the founder and the creators of El Primero revealed a contrasting attitude.

These distinguished figures commended the past achievements but encouraged a forward-thinking approach, emphasising the essence of innovation and the evolution of the brand’s DNA. Their message was clear: Draw inspiration from the past but continuously strive to introduce new ideas, maintaining the brand’s innovative essence essential for progress.

Challenging himself
After meeting with the 92-year-old Heuer, Tornare was impressed by his avant-garde spirit and commitment to preserving it. Heuer entrusted Tornare with elevating the brand, highlighting the need to maintain its avant-garde legacy.

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“I assured him of my commitment to take the brand to new heights while keeping the avant-garde spirit alive and integrated into its core identity. Despite the technical term “TAG Heuer” emerging years later, Jack was already pioneering the fusion of motor racing sports with watchmaking, setting a precedent for innovation and creativity in the industry,” says Tornare.

Apart from that meeting with the legend, Tornare is already aware of the richness and heritage of TAG Heuer. He explains: “You have to understand where the brand is coming from; you have to understand the heritage fundamentals to think about where you want to bring the brand. With this in mind, when I joined, I focused very much on the products and looked at the details of the company to realise that today, TAG Heuer is very well known because it’s a cool brand; we have ambassadors, we are in racing cars… all these elements are quite well known.”

Tornare says TAG Heuer’s extensive expertise, deep knowledge, rich heritage and history are often overlooked. He aims to highlight these aspects and stresses the importance of balancing tradition and innovation, as well as past, present and future. Navigating these dynamics is a key focus for him as the new CEO.

He has set a challenging pace for himself, recognising that time is crucial since TAG Heuer is a brand known for its rapid progression. “It’s my responsibility to accelerate our pace,” he explains. He has been actively engaged with the brand for the last three months, a commitment that will persist: “I don’t allow for much downtime. The products may not solely represent my creativity since I’ve only just started and watchmaking takes time.”

Yet, Tornare is already deeply involved in planning for the upcoming year and beyond, beginning to influence various aspects of the brand’s direction. “It does take time. Initially, you have to immerse yourself in the brand and adapt. After a few months, you start to form a clear vision of your goals and then you begin to implement changes that will become visible later on.”

His goal is straightforward. “The brand is repositioning itself with higher quality and better finishing. Being deeply connected to product development and from a background in high-end watchmaking with a rich heritage, I feel quite at home here,” he says, underscoring his comfort with his role and the ongoing transformations at TAG Heuer.

The AI era
Speaking of transformations, Is TAG Heuer prepared for the AI era? “During my discussions with professionals from various fields — doctors, bankers and lawyers — I gathered that AI might automate aspects of their jobs, as it can perform certain tasks more quickly than humans.”

Tornare adds: “In the watch industry, AI could be useful; it might help develop new models and streamline some processes. However, the human touch remains integral. Watchmaking is not just about functionality; it’s a profoundly human and emotional business. We don’t necessarily need watches to tell time anymore since we have cell phones and ubiquitous digital displays. The value of a watch is more about the emotional connection to time that we carry on our wrists.”

He also says he is not overly worried about AI replacing or eliminating the watch industry. Instead, he sees it as a technological aid in certain areas. Unlike in more transactional professions such as legal or medical services, where emotional engagement is low, the watch industry is deeply rooted in emotional elements.

Watches are less about necessity and more about personal expression and connection. Therefore, integrating AI into the world of watches will likely enhance their significance rather than diminish it.  

An ode to avant-garde
The TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph, available in red and blue editions, blends tradition and innovation in avant-garde haute horlogerie. It boasts the new TH81-00 mechanical split-second chronograph calibre and is crafted entirely in titanium, representing one of TAG Heuer’s lightest automatic chronograph movements.  

The latest addition to the collection is available in two colour variations: A sporty red inspired by the racing heritage of the Maison and a classic blue that is a nod to the original Monaco colour palette.

Collectors will appreciate the Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph for its “rattrapante” feature, a term derived from French that refers to the split-second function. This complex mechanism demands the highest expertise from watchmakers due to its intricacy. It allows for the simultaneous measurement of two distinct time intervals, offering functionality beyond a standard clock. Ideal for timing laps on a racetrack or managing multiple events at once, this watch provides exceptional accuracy and adaptability.

The sapphire crystal case back is designed to create the illusion of an oscillating weight suspended in the air, showcasing the watch’s intricate architecture. The oscillating weight is shaped in the TAG Heuer shield and boasts a brushed finish with a hand-painted, powerful red or blue gradient. This design detail is a signature of TAG Heuer’s most exclusive models.

A checkerboard pattern is found on the centre bridge and a finely brushed balance wheel bridge with polished bevels is hand-crafted, demonstrating Maison’s commitment to exceptional finishing. Sandblasted surfaces and polished screws enhance the expert craftsmanship evident in the movement finishes.

The red Monaco variant features dial arches with fine brushing and a black DLC coating, complementing the watch’s lightweight titanium case. The blue version sports gradient blue dial arches that transition from a light to a rich royal blue, imparting a sense of movement and vitality even when the watch is still.

This colour gradient is crafted using an anodising process that involves applying varying voltages at distinct stages of the treatment — a technique refined for each piece. At 9 o’clock, the red or blue titanium rattrapante pusher is colour-coordinated with the rattrapante hand, accentuating the split-second functionality and adding a splash of colour. The small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock mirrors the shape of the arches, while inscriptions “Rattrapante” and “Chronograph” on the subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock subtly highlight the technical prowess of the watch. 

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