Why TAG Heuer’s Golden Carrera Is the Sports Watch of the Moment

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In 1971, TAG Heuer’s then CEO, Jack Heuer, great-grandson of the watchmaker’s founder, made the drive from the company’s Swiss headquarters to Maranello, the Italian town where Ferrari is based. Walking straight into Enzo Ferrari’s office, he proposed a deal: In exchange for exposure on the cars and uniforms of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team, TAG Heuer would offer them free state-of-the-art timing equipment. What’s more, he would supply Ferrari drivers with an elegant variation on the Carrera, TAG Heuer’s iconic stainless steel chronograph, which racers loved for timing their laps. Named for a notoriously treacherous rally race in Mexico, the Carrera was infused with its own automotive history. And this model, known as the 1158 CHN—CH for its champagne dials, N for its noir subdials—was especially appealing to the luxe carmaker: It came in 18-karat gold.

The golden Carrera became the watch of choice for Ferrari’s legendary drivers: Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda, and Clay Regazzoni. (Mario Andretti gravitated toward a slightly different variation without the black subdials.) And it wasn’t just for show. “Those guys actually wore the watches,” says Jeff Stein, an expert on the brand and the founder of the website OnTheDash, which specializes in covering the world of TAG Heuer. “This was before you had stylists handing racers watches for the podium.” According to Jack Heuer, who turns 91 this year, the plan paid off. “We immediately saw a sales boost,” he says. “We were amazed to see them selling so well.”

Over half a century later, that endorsement by the drivers of Ferrari’s golden age is still paying dividends: The CHN is one of the brand’s classic pieces, and recently made a cameo on Ken’s wrist in Barbie. Only a few hundred of the original model were made, but now it’s slightly more attainable. This year marks the Carrera’s 60th anniversary, and the brand is reissuing the CHN (the new model costs $21,500), along with other grails from the archives: a sleek panda-dial modeled after the original Carrera; the colorful Skipper, which was made for yachting. In fact, you might say we’re living in the era of the Carrera: Enthusiasts have long been in the thrall of stainless steel sport watches like Rolex’s Daytona, and TAG Heuer is staking out its own spot in the pantheon.

The new Carrera is dressed up exactly how collectors will want it: almost identical to the 1971 original. But history for a watch brand is a double-edged sword. As Nicholas Biebuyck, TAG Heuer’s heritage director, has said, remaking a classic is a challenge, given that modern updates are sure to grate on the legacy-obsessed. The new version includes details collectors will certainly quibble with, like the addition of a third subdial, but most will be delighted by the chance to finally own a version of a rare watch that often sells at auction for upwards of $30,000.

According to Stein, the 1158 CHN ranks among the brand’s all-time grails. “It’s coveted,” he says. “There is almost a club mentality to guys that have the 1158.” It’s certainly the club I’m most interested in joining. If I had a horological fairy godmother, this is the TAG Heuer I would add to my collection. The CHN was initially an oddity: a watch worn by race car drivers that was made out of solid gold at a time when every other model came in steel. But in 2023, when the coolest watches in the world check both the sport and luxury boxes—think the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus—nothing makes more sense than a lavish golden watch made famous by Ferrari.

Cam Wolf is a senior style writer at GQ.

A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of GQ with the title “The Carrera Takes a Victory Lap”

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