TAG Heuer Goes Big with Synthetic Diamonds

With the bold and surprising Carrera Plasma.

TAG Heuer is injecting advanced materials technology into what was the most affordable tourbillon-chronograph on the market, creating the Carrera Plasma Tourbillon Nanograph.

The new watch makes liberal use of carbon in all its forms, most notably with a carbon-composite hairspring along with a dial and crown made entirely of synthetic diamond, reflecting chief executive Frederic Arnault’s interest in technology and industrial processes. Priced at the equivalent of US$375,000, the Plasma is the first luxury mechanical watch to utilise artificial, or lab-grown, diamonds.

Initial thoughts

TAG Heuer has developed a suite of cutting-edge technology unusual a brands in its price range, though the brand’s most significant innovation, the carbon-composite hairspring, has never really gotten the recognition it deserves. While extremely expensive and slated to be produced in tiny numbers – just a handful a year according to Mr Arnault – the Plasma will certain broadcast TAG Heuer’s accomplishments in innovation, as well as that of its in synthetic diamond suppliers.

While lab-grown diamonds aren’t new, they have never before been used in high-end watch. As befits their unconventional status, the synthetic diamonds have been set in an abstract manner on the case, as opposed to typical gem setting. Combined with the synthetic diamond dial and crown, the result is a watch that is weird yet compelling.

But more important than the decorative use of synthetic diamond is the other form of carbon in the watch. Both the hairspring and tourbillon cage are carbon composite, a material that is highly conducive for good timekeeping. The carbon hairspring is light, strong, and non-magnetic, while the carbon cage is similarly featherweight. Together they enhance the efficiency of the movement by reducing the energy needed to move the tourbillon.

Synthetic diamond

A product that took off in the mid-20th century, synthetic diamonds have long been used for industrial applications like diamond-tipped cutting tools or abrasive agents. And they have also been used in affordable jewellery, but practically never in pricey jewellery or watches.

The world of high-end mechanical watchmaking is no stranger to lab-grown diamonds, though they have only been used for functional components in the past. In 2007 Ulysse Nardin debuted synthetic diamond coating for silicon escapement parts as a method of increasing hardness and wear resistance.

In contrast, the Plasma uses synthetic diamond for purely aesthetic purposes. It shrewdly capitalises on the versatility of synthetic diamond to form the dial as well as the geometric forms necessary for a perfect inlay on the case.

The case is anodised aluminium, while the bezel is black ceramic

In fact, the entire dial is made of diamond, including the chronograph registers. The counters are each made of a single piece of polycrystalline diamond attached to a brass base, the same construction used for the main dial. This represents a new approach to textured, reflective dials, which usually rely on galvanic treatment, PVD, or lacquer.

Also notable is the crown, which is a single, 2.5 carat diamond made by a Capsoul, a start-up specialises in synthetic diamond. The size of the crown, as well as the 48 largish diamonds on the case, perfectly illustrate the advantage of lab-grown diamonds. It would have been impossible to cut natural diamonds into the necessary shape.

Mechanically, the movement is identical to the standard Heuer 02, save for the carbon-composite parts in the tourbillon and the decoration on the movement bridges.

TAG Heuer has used its carbon hairspring sparingly in the past – it hasn’t yet managed to produce the hairspring on a large scale – but the carbon tourbillon cage is a first for the brand (though not for the broader industry).

While less novel than the carbon hairspring, the carbon cage is nevertheless practical. It solves one of the biggest inherent problems of a tourbillon: the large amount of energy expended to rotate the cage, which can take a toll on timekeeping if not accounted for during the movement construction.

The chequerboard decorative on the bridges was inspired by the Carbon Monaco created for Only Watch 2021


Key facts and price

TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma Tourbillon Nanograph
Ref. XCBN5A90.FC8315

Diameter: 44 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: Anodised aluminium and lab-grown diamond
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: Heuer 02 Tourbillon Nanograph
Functions: Hours, minute, tourbillon, and chronograph 
Winding
: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 65 hours

Strap: Black calfskin with titanium buckle

Limited edition: No
Availability: At TAG Heuer boutiques and retailers
Price: CHF350,000

For more, visit Tagheuer.com.


 

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Breitling Introduces the New Navitimer B01 in 41, 43, and 46 mm

Refining a classic and reviving "AOPA".

Distinctive for its slide-rule bezel, the Navitimer is synonymous with Breitling. Having been in near continuous production since its introduction 70 years ago, the Navitimer has been offered in a bewildering array of iterations, but the 2022 Navitimer B01 returns to the roots of the model with a vintage-inspired design, but livened up with bright, metallic dials.

Initial thoughts

If you already like the Navitimer, the 2022 version is an appealing proposition. It’s essentially the traditional Navitimer design with Breitling’s in-house chronograph movement that has an excellent construction.

The model is consistently priced given the in-house movement, while the design has enough vintage elements to give it a classic Navitimer feel. The dial colours, however, are modern, so this avoids being a vintage remake (which Breitling has done enough of).

Of the three sizes, the 41 mm is identical to the vintage original, so it’s probably the perfect size. The 43 mm is probably still acceptable on most wrists, but the 46 mm will be enormous.

If there is to something to criticise it is probably the wide range of models – two case metals, three case sizes, and a dozen or so dial types, though not every dial is available in every size. The number of choices feel too ambitious and confusing for a launch of a new model.

Throwback design

The new Navitimer is the first redesign of the model since current chief executive Georges Kern took the helm of Breitling in 2017. Unsurprisingly, the makeover was modest, comprising minor nips and tucks while retaining the recognisable timer look.

Amongst the most obvious changes is the addition of the winged AOPA emblem under 12 o’clock. This is a nod to early Navitimers that had the same logo on the dial, after the watch was made the official timepiece of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in 1954. Breitling is a corporate partner of the AOPA today naturally.

The 2022 Navitimer is available in three sizes, 46 mm, 43 mm, and 41 mm, like many of Breitling’s other models. The choice in case diameters results from the different taste of the brand’s customers across the world: although most watch buyers around the world are gravitating towards smaller cases, Breitling’s core clientele in many Western countries still like the very large 46 mm size.

The smallest case size is identical to the vintage, early-generation Navitimer models like the ref. 806, making it the most historically correct. That said, the new Navitimer is thicker than the original due to the automatic movement inside (the vintage original was manual wind).

From left: 46 mm, 43 mm, and 41 mm

Notably, the dial colours for each case size are unique to that size. Mint green with the slide-rule bezel and registers in white, for instance, is only available in 41 mm. But the 43 mm case has the option of a mint green dial with a black bezel and registers. The 43 mm case is also available with a copper dial that’s not found in any of the other sizes.

Mint green, 41 mm

Mint green, 43 mm

Copper, 43 mm

All versions of the new Navitimer are powered by the Caliber 01, Breitling’s in-house chronograph movement. It’s kitted out with all the features expected of a modern chronograph movement, including a column wheel and vertical clutch. The construction puts it on par, in broad technical terms, with equivalent movements from Rolex and Omega, though the Caliber 01 lacks the materials innovation (like silicon) that its competitors boasts.


Key facts and price

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46, 43, and 41

Diameter: 46 mm, 43 mm, or 41 mm
Height: 13.95 mm, 13.69 mm, or 13.6 mm
Material: Steel or 18k red gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance:
 30 m

Movement: Caliber B01
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, chronograph
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Alligator or matching bracelet

Availability: From Breitling’s online store, boutiques and authorised retailers
Price:
Navitimer 41 in steel on strap US$9,000
Navitimer 43 in steel on strap US$9,100
Navitimer 46 in steel on strap US$9,200

Navitimer 41 in gold on strap US$18,500
Navitimer 43 in gold on strap US$19,000
Navitimer 46 in gold on strap US$19,500

(Steel bracelets are an extra US$400, while gold bracelets cost an additional US$18,500 to US$20,000 depending on the model)

For more information, visit Breitling.com


 

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Introducing The Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute 50th Anniversary

50 years ago Lt Commander Scott Carpenter orbited the Earth in the Aurora 7 spacecraft with a Breitling Cosmonaute ref. 809 on his wrist. It was Lt Cmdr Carpenter who first mooted the idea of a 24 hour version of the classic ref. 806 Navitimer in the late fifties because it enabled him to keep track of the time while in space. 

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