My Visit to the TAG Heuer Museum & Manufacture...

  1. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
    IMG_3921.JPG

    In 2005/2006 (we're not quite sure) my wife and I visited Zurich and had the best holiday we've ever had. Neither of us are big on holidays, a few days at a time is enough for us and we both hate the sun so we would never go for a 'beach' holiday, in fact apart from one fairly unsuccessful 'cruise' a few years ago we've barely been out of the country since.

    We always agreed that the one place we would actually like to go back to was Switzerland, but perhaps not back to Zurich as we'd already been there (lovely as it was). And so when it rolled around to our 25th wedding anniversary, my wife brought up the subject of Switerland and though I was reluctant at first (I don't really like travelling much) the sweetener for me was the chance to visit the HR Giger Museum in Gruyeres.

    And so it was decided, flights and a hotel were booked, currency was ordered, train timetables studied (Gruyeres is two hours from Geneva) and cases borrowed. Then a couple of weeks before we were due to travel my wife (Rose) suggested I put a post on the Calibre 11 forum asking if there was anything we should do or see while we were in Geneva.

    IMG_4049.JPG

    It was then that David from Calibre 11 suggested we make a trip to La Chaux de Fonds to visit the TAG Heuer museum. I must admit I had looked at the map, but had decided it was too far away (actually it's nearer than Gruyeres) and besides I knew the museum wasn't open to the public and it didn't really occur to me to try and contact them myself to ask...

    No matter, David did all the dirty work for me (for which I am eternally grateful) and we were offered two slots, Tuesday at 9AM or Wednesday at 2PM. Since we were staying two hours away the afternoon slot seemed like the more sensible option so we plunged for that.

    I did worry a bit that spending eight hours on the train over two days would be a bit much, but the trains are very comfortable and they have very large windows and the views you get as you speed through the Swiss countryside are pretty spectacular, the time seems to pass a lot quicker than on the train from Northampton to London Euston that's for sure!

    To get to La Chaux de Fonds from Geneva you have to change at Neuchatel, which is also very nice and sits next to another lake (Lac de Neuchatel). As we'd left at 9:15 we got off and had a quick look around there before catching the connection on to La Chaux de Fonds (we returned to Neuchatel to ride the funicular on our way back).

    IMG_3920.JPG

    When we pulled into the station at La Chaux de Fonds it suddenly hit me that this was actually happening and I was actually going to visit the TAG manufacture. While the rest of the holiday had been planned for quite a while, this was relatively last minute and it didn't really seem real until I got off the train and saw the sign on the platform.

    Despite my pre-arrival concerns, public transport in Switzerland is very well organized and once you get used to it, quite easy to use. I had scoped out the journey from the train station to the factory on Google maps, and it seemed a walkable distance, but the weather during our holiday was unusually hot - indeed, two weeks prior the weathermen were promising us 18-22deg, but during our visit it was more like 26-29deg. So walking the distance seemed less enticing than it might have before, so we elected to take the bus.

    We didn't have long to wait and the bus deposited us at the 'Polyexpo' stop quickly and without fuss, and there right in front of us was the TAG Heuer building. We started walking towards it and realised that the entrance was at the far end of the building. As we walked through the car park we saw the famous red and green logo printed on the tarmac, so of course I had to take a picture of that!

    IMG_3922.jpg

    We approached the main entrance and (not knowing if I would be able to take pictures later or inside) decided to snap a few more just in case.

    IMG_3925.JPG
    IMG_3926.JPG

    While I was taking this picture a security guard appeared, perhaps wondering what these two English buffoons were up to, but by the time I'd got back across the road he'd disappeared again and we went through the glass doors into reception. And what a lovely reception it is... I didn't know if it was okay to take a picture (unfortunately) and I was too busy looking around me to ask.

    The receptionist kindly offered us a drink and we both gladly accepted her offer as we were pretty hot even just coming on the bus. When she brought the drinks she also gave us a couple of Goldkenn chocolates, which we slipped into our bags for later (by the time we got them back to the hotel they were completely liquid, but when they'd been in the room's mini-bar fridge for a while they were absolutely delicious!).

    We had to fill out a form each and as we didn't have any other ID with us, they took possession of our credit cards for the duration of the visit. We were given a couple of stylish lanyards with 'visitor' passes attached and then went to sit down and wait for our allotted appointment. We spent the time drinking our water, looking at the line drawings of watches on the walls and the photos of the brand's ambassadors and trying to remember Patrick Dempsey's name and exactly why he was famous. Also I was wondering if they'd notice if I jammed the thick hardback 'Carrera' book laying on the table next to the white leather sofas under my shirt on the way out... (I jest of course, but it was very nice).

    The door into the factory opened and our host appeared. Paul was younger than we anticipated but very welcoming and friendly and after a short wait to clear security Paul invited us to enter the museum itself.

    IMG_3977.JPG

    The museum is very dramatic, it's like walking into a spaceship or something and I'm sure quite unlike any other watch museum out there. Paul explained that the museum is designed to be like a watch, with the watch cases representing parts of the movement, etc. Truthfully you would need two to three hours to see everything in the museum properly I would say, but we had about 45mins so it was a bit of a rush.

    Paul said it was fine to take pictures and while part of me didn't really want to because time was so limited, in the end I'm glad I did because the time went by so fast and at least I have the pictures to look at again. The lighting in the museum is very theatrical and it looks amazing, but it is not the best for taking photographs it has to be said. There are small lights in the edges of the cases which reflect off everything and even though I turned the flash off on my camera it still looks as if there's flash glare on everything.

    I've meddled with all the photos to make them as presentable as possible, cropping them and altering the contrast, but some of them still leave a bit to be desired, but still, it's easy enough to find 'perfect' pictures of all of these watches on the internet - these are my memories.

    IMG_3927.JPG IMG_3928.JPG IMG_3929.JPG IMG_3930.jpg IMG_3931.JPG IMG_3932.JPG IMG_3933.JPG IMG_3934.JPG IMG_3935.JPG IMG_3936.JPG IMG_3937.JPG IMG_3938.JPG View attachment 629754 IMG_3941.JPG IMG_3942.JPG IMG_3943.JPG IMG_3944.JPG IMG_3945.JPG IMG_3946.JPG IMG_3947.JPG IMG_3948.JPG IMG_3949.JPG IMG_3950.jpg IMG_3951.JPG IMG_3952.JPG IMG_3953.JPG IMG_3954.JPG IMG_3955.JPG IMG_3956.JPG IMG_3957.JPG IMG_3958.JPG IMG_3959.JPG IMG_3960.JPG IMG_3961.JPG IMG_3962.JPG IMG_3963.JPG IMG_3964.JPG IMG_3965.JPG IMG_3966.JPG IMG_3967.JPG IMG_3968.JPG IMG_3969.JPG IMG_3970.JPG IMG_3971.JPG IMG_3972.JPG IMG_3973.JPG IMG3961B.JPG IMG_3974.JPG IMG_3975.JPG IMG_3976.JPG IMG_3940.JPG
    The museum really is quite something, and even though there are clearly a lot of pieces they don't have (on display at least, you'd need a huge museum to display everything after all), they have an awful lot of the things you'd want to see. I saw so many things in there that I've never seen before, not just the haute horlogerie pieces like the Lady Diamond Fiction and the Mikrotimer Flying 1000, but also the two tone 3000 Series, the S/ELs and the Monaco 69. Bizarrely I think I was just as excited to see the S/EL for the first time as I was to see the high end pieces, and now I definitely want to add an S/EL to my collection, they really are exceptional looking watches.They even had the TAG Heuer mobile phone in there, although to be honest I barely caught a glimpse of it before we were on to something else, and I certainly didn't have time to get a picture of it, which was a shame.

    The museum isn't laid out as you might expect. They haven't arranged it in strict date order, it's more of a themed collection, so all the Senna watches are together for instance. Around the walls it seems more structured but in the horizontal display cases it's definitely more themed. They had three of my watches in the museum: Aquagraph, Microtimer and the Heuer 01 Skeleton, but they also had the Kirium chronograph. Actually they had two examples of that in different cases, one with a black dial and one with a dark red dial, whereas mine is blue.

    It was fun to see the TAG Heuer 'helmet' alarm clocks, again something I've only seen in pictures, and the 'Airline' watch with printing on the bracelet... the original Formula 1s... the Monaco 360LS... the full lume 1000 Series... the 1000M dive watch... Steve McQueen's Monaco... the Titanium and Executive... the list goes on and on, I just wish I could have had a bit longer in there.

    But still, we were (and remain) very grateful for the opportunity to visit the museum and after the last display case which featured several diamond encrusted ladies pieces, we were taken out of the museum and through the main doors and into the factory proper. We had to put on dust coats before we were allowed into the various rooms, and to be honest mine was more than a little snug - but I sucked my tummy in and just about managed to breathe through the rest of the visit!

    Paul told us he was going to show us the process from beginning to end and so we started our walk through with R&D, which was really just a room full of desks and computers... then moved on to where they make the initial 'prototypes' out of wax and resin. This was quite interesting and we saw an example of an Aquaracer and saw how useful this would be in the process as you could strap it to your wrist and get a good idea if the design was heading in the right direction or not.

    From there (I think) we passed a room that was stuffed full of artwork by Alec Monopoly. Paul explained that this was Alec's studio and that he came to visit twice a year to produce art for TAG Heuer. I mentioned to Paul how initially I wasn't sure about the Alec Monopoly Formula 1 and once I had decided I really liked it it was too late, and he said there will definitely be more watches in the future.

    IMG_3978.JPG IMG_3979.JPG

    We moved on and visited the room where they make the actual 'prototypes', and here I found something that really made me do a double take. By the door there was a display cabinet which contained a lot of watch bits and at about eye level there were four 'prototype' watches sitting next to each other. The first watch was a faux-gold Monaco 360, then there was an Aquagraph, a Link with 'El Primero' text on the dial and then, the big shocker - the Grand Monaco!

    IMG_3980.JPG

    I asked Paul if it was okay to take a photo because I thought maybe that might be one thing he didn't want me take photos of (even though he had said that I should take photos of whatever I wanted), and he said it was fine as long as if I put it on my blog I explained that it was a 'prototype'.

    grand monaco 2.JPG

    It's unfortunate that the lights in the cabinet reflected on the dial, but I can assure you that it definitely says 'Grand Monaco' on the dial in the exact same script as you've seen on a Grand Carrera. I don't know why this never made it into production, perhaps it was planned as a follow up to the Grand Carrera or maybe they were proposed at the same time and the Grand Carrera was chosen instead?

    To be honest, I was so dazzled by the Grand Monaco revelation that I didn't even notice the Link on the right hand side. Paul pointed out the 'El Primero' text on the dial, which of course has never been used on a TAG Heuer (El Primero movements are of course always presented as Calibre 36 by the brand).

    Next we were told that after 25 prototypes are made they are taken to be tested, and we were shown the various testing rooms where the watches are put through their paces. These include G-Testing, strap twisting and compression/stretching, sunlight exposure, extreme weather testing, shaking, bleed testing for leather straps, and then Paul showed us a machine where the watch is put into a plastic container full of 'handbag' debris and then shaken around for quite some time - to see if the watch can survive being 'lost' in a handbag for a period of time.

    Lastly Paul took us over to a contraption where a long-handled mallet was suspended from a frame, then he placed an Aquaracer on the base plate and invited Rose to hit it with the mallet. She didn't quite get the hang of it the first time and it gently knocked the watch off into the catch net, so she had another go and this time the watch was given a good smash but emerged completely unscathed. Paul turned to me and jokingly enquired if I wanted to have a go with my Heuer01... needless to say I politely declined!

    IMG_3982.JPG IMG_3983.JPG IMG_3984.JPG

    Finally we were shown the various stages of assembly, there was a room where the watchmakers were assembling the tourbillons for the Heuer 02T, a room where the dials where put together and the watches were fitted into the cases. There was also a place where the watches were inspected for tiny scratches to the cases and any further polishing necessary was carried out.

    IMG_3985.JPG IMG_3986.JPG IMG_3987.JPG

    At one point during our visit, as he was taking us between rooms, Paul stopped next to a poster of Chris Hemsworth and pointed at the signature. "This is Chris Hemsworth's signature," he said. I didn't realise he meant it was his actual signature so I was probably looking a little puzzled.

    "He was here last week," he continued. "All the girls here were going crazy. He was very tall..." Considering Paul was considerably taller than me, Mr Hemsworth must be very tall indeed - I thought!

    And before we knew it we were back at the stairwell and coming down the stairs one final time to where we had picked up our dustcoats, and then it was time for a final goodbye with Paul, before heading back to reception to give up our lanyards and retrieve our credit cards (which I had completely forgotten about!). Then it was back to the bus stop and back to the station ready for the journey back to Neuchatel and the funicular and then on to Geneva.

    It was an amazing experience, and was a big part of making this without a doubt the best holiday we've ever had. I would love to go back one day and spend more time in the museum, but if that never happens I still feel very lucky to have been able to visit the factory and to have had such a lovely guy as our host.

    IMG_4033.JPG

    The following day, we visited the TAG Heuer boutique in Geneva. It was a bit tricky to find and surprisingly small actually. It must be half the size of the London boutique, but as Paul said to us the day before, England is a much bigger market for the brand than Switzerland. Indeed, I did not see anyone in Switzerland wearing a TAG except for the staff in the factory and the store. But then I didn't see anyone wearing anything except Tissot or smart watches, save for one guy in the street who had on a Breitling Aerospace. It seems slightly strange to me that in Geneva of all places, where you'd expect every other person to be wearing a Rolex, that luxury watches were notable mainly by their absence.

    This is even more surprising when you stand by the lake and look around the buildings on the waterfront, as across the rooftops of every single building there is a sign for one luxury brand or another and the vast majority of those are watch companies. There was even a covered stairwell which led down to a car park (we think) that was adorned with a double sided Hublot wall clock - if only I had a ladder and a screwdriver!

    rooftops.JPG IMG_3809.JPG

    Inside the TAG Heuer boutique we were greeted by a very friendly lady who chatted to us about the Bella Hadid limited edition Link that Rose tried on and our visit to the factory (which she had also been to). I tried on a couple of the new Calibre 16 Carrera's and the new Manchester United Carrera Heuer01 as well before we left and headed for the older part of Geneva. The boutique only had maybe one piece that I hadn't seen before, and that was one of the new gold dial Formula 1 Lady models with the black case. It looked quite nice, but Rose only really had eyes for the 'Bella Hadid' I think...

    IMG_4041.JPG

    Our last watch related experience on this trip was to be found in Rue Verdaine, and again we were greeted by a very friendly and welcoming lady in the MB&F M.A.D. Gallery. You may have seen videos about this place on the Watches TV YouTube channel, and it certainly lived up to expectations!

    Inside there were several very high-end mechanical sculptures / time pieces and also a few of MB&Fs own haute horlogerie wristwatches along with some very cool looking lights that swayed when you walked past them. In the window I spied an Aquapod, which is quite large and I'm not sure how practical it really is to wear, but it looks very interesting and back inside there were a couple more at least, including the Moon Machine 2 Sarpaneva.

    [​IMG]

    I'd definitely recommend searching out the gallery if you are in Geneva, it really was a very pleasant experience, even if most of the pieces are way out of my price range. Unfortunately the piece I was hoping to see in there had sold out - a clock made using old fashioned valves (CHF29,000) which was one of the items shown on the Watches TV, but we did get a glimpse of the prototype sitting in the back office. A fascinating display of items though and well worth taking the time to find.

    And that was pretty much it for our trip to Switzerland, at least as far as watches goes... we also visited the HR Giger Museum and Giger Bar in Gruyeres which was a bit of a trek to get to, but well worth the effort if you like that sort of thing (just make sure you don't miss the very tight train connection at Palezieux or you'll be kicking your heels for an hour).

    IMG_3849.JPG

    One final watch-related moment came at the airport on the way home, I stuck my head into a multi-brand watch boutique for a second and spotted a TAG Heuer display. At first glance there was nothing out of the ordinary to see, save for a double Heuer dashboard stopwatch, then as my gaze drifted upwards I noticed a black dial Grand Carrera... how long must that have been sitting there I wondered, I mean they've been out of production for quite a while now and only usually found in the outlets! Still, I guess if someone likes the look of it they'll still get their two year warranty...

    IMG_4050.JPG

    And so we come to the end of this mammoth post, once again I'd like to thank David for prompting this visit and for arranging things for us, and Paul Buchs and all the nice people we met at TAG Heuer for welcoming us into their manufacture. I don't know what else I can say other than if you get the chance to go, you definitely should... it was absolutely fantastic and I hope maybe one day we can do it again.

    www.tagheuerenthusiast.blogspot.com
     
    Edited Sep 23, 2018
    Remo, wt_guy, Albert-AMG and 12 others like this.
  2. Hubert

    Hubert Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    6,673
    Likes
    5,202
    Awesome post! Reading now.
     
  3. imagwai

    imagwai Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    1,683
    Likes
    1,430
    Greta pictures. I love that 2-register Skipper. And there are some really nice Autavias too.
     
  4. Pitfitter446

    Pitfitter446 Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    751
    Likes
    516
    Thanks for taking the time to do this, most of the folk here will never get to Switzerland? let alone visit the museum so we’ll settle for reading this, hope the rest of the holiday was as enjoyable. Martin.
     
  5. #nb

    #nb Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    49
    Likes
    18
    Great post! Thanks for posting!
     
  6. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
    Thanks guys, this has taken me all day so I'm really glad you like it! :)
     
  7. Hubert

    Hubert Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    6,673
    Likes
    5,202
    Besides the work being done on the Heuer02 Tourbillons, did you see any production for other models?
     
  8. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
    To be honest, we only saw that from a distance... through glass. It was more a case of this is the room where they do it. I don't think they want us in there because of the dust. I think we saw some Aquaracers being cased up and some hands being removed - I'm not sure why they were removing the hands, but that's what they were doing. Paul said that once the watch is cased it's then pressure tested with air, and then tested in water and they do every single watch that way.
     
  9. Hubert

    Hubert Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    6,673
    Likes
    5,202
    Thanks. I assume the primary manufacture for the Heuer01 and Heuer02 lines are in their Chevenez facility.
    https://www.calibre11.com/inside-chevenez-tag-heuer-calibre-ch80/
    • La Chaux-de-Fonds: HQ and Haute Horlogerie
    • Chevenez: Calibre 1887 / Heuer01 and Calibre Heuer02
    • Cortech (Cornol): Cases and bracelets
    • Artecad (Tremelan): Dials
     
    VirgileF and Jim Dollares like this.
  10. Calibre11

    Calibre11 Editor of Calibre11.com Staff Member Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    5,565
    Likes
    8,899
    Excellent post...and loved seeing the Grand Monaco! My guess is that this watch was planned alongside the Monaco Calibre 360, but when that movement was stopped and the model scrapped, they took some elements of the Monaco 360, mixed them with the Grand Monaco and produced the Monaco LS.

    What was the story with the Aquagraph in the photo of the prototypes?
     
  11. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
    I guess it was just the prototype for the Aquagraph... I was too busy asking about the Grand Monaco to be honest! :D
     
    Edited Sep 23, 2018
  12. THJunkie

    THJunkie Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    545
    Likes
    630
    Great write up. Sounds like an amazing experience. Glad to read you had a blast. Thanks for sharing.
     
  13. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
    Thanks TH Junkie, it was indeed a blast!
     
  14. OttoWilliam

    OttoWilliam Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    2,020
    Likes
    1,483
    What a post ! Enjoyed reading it.

    Couldn't stop reading it while having breakfast. Lucky my wife wasn't having breakfast with me today :whistling:

    Cheers
     
    Aquagraph likes this.
  15. Mr_Orange

    Mr_Orange Sep 23, 2018

    Posts
    1,450
    Likes
    659
    Very comprehensive write up of a once in a lifetime opportunity. Nice.
     
    Aquagraph likes this.
  16. Yago

    Yago Sep 24, 2018

    Posts
    623
    Likes
    675
    I like that chronograph for pilots, a lot
     
    Aquagraph likes this.
  17. VirgileF

    VirgileF Sep 24, 2018

    Posts
    107
    Likes
    397
    Albert-AMG and Aquagraph like this.
  18. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 24, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
  19. Aquagraph

    Aquagraph Sep 24, 2018

    Posts
    3,942
    Likes
    3,269
    Me too....
     
  20. SteveP

    SteveP Sep 24, 2018

    Posts
    300
    Likes
    856
    Great post Aquagraph. Lots of info and photos, I'm looking forward to taking some time to read through it all. Sounds like you had a great time!
    Steve