Guy Bove of TAG Heuer
Guy Bove is the Creative Director of TAG Heuer. He has extensive experience of the watch industry having worked for IWC Schaffhausen, Chopard Group and Breitling. In this interview, Angus Davies learns more about Guy’s background as well as the story behind the 50th anniversary Monaco models of 2019 and the numerous Carrera creations of 2020.
The Swiss luxury marque, TAG Heuer, was founded in 1860 by Edouard Heuer. From the outset the firm was an innovator. For example, in 1869, the company patented a crown-operated, keyless winding system, Heuer’s first patent. However, his most notable invention was the oscillating pinion (1887), a part which allowed the chronograph to start and stop instantly using a pushpiece. Even today, the oscillating pinion is employed in many chronographs.
Image – The oscillating pinion
Thereafter, the brand’s understanding of stopwatches led it to create a variety of models for an array of applications. In particular, the company became known for sports timing instruments with its name in much evidence at athletic events and motorsport races.
Motorsport also led to the birth of two of the brand’s most iconic watches, the Carrera and the Monaco. Since the inaugural versions of both models were released, they have been sympathetically updated and refined on several occasions.
In 2018, Guy Bove joined the Swiss avant-garde brand and during his tenure he has overseen the release of new Carrera and Monaco models. Both watches are flagships for the brand, hence the responsibility on Guy’s shoulders at times must have been immense. Despite having interviewed Guy at Chopard and Breitling, two companies he previously worked at, I still yearned for more information on him and his work at TAG Heuer.
Interview with Guy Bove of TAG Heuer
What makes TAG Heuer special?
TAG Heuer has a unique history and heritage marked by visionary leaders, an entrepreneurial spirit and a prowess for innovation. With an undeniably sporty DNA, especially in timing and racing, and by pushing the limits of watchmaking, TAG Heuer is known for action, avant-garde design and perseverance.
Can you tell me about your background prior to your role at TAG Heuer?
I graduated from Loyola Marymount University and the Art Center College of Design. Following initial experience in the medical and 3D imaging world, I began my introduction to the world of watchmaking, first by designing products and their environment at a total-design agency, then in-house as Creative Director of IWC Schaffhausen where I was in charge of the brand’s corporate environment and product design from 2002 to 2008. I then worked for the Chopard Group for 9 years, initially as the Product Director for the Chopard brand, then as Creative Director for Ferdinand Berthoud. At the end of 2017, I joined Breitling where I helped Georges Kern in repositioning the brand identity and its iconic products. As for my role at TAG Heuer, I’ve been Creative Director since November 2018.
Image – TAG Heuer HQ in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Last year, TAG Heuer celebrated 50 years of the Monaco. As part of the company’s celebrations, it released a series of limited-edition models, each inspired by a 10-year period in history.
Who came up with this idea?
I did. For the 50th anniversary, we didn’t just want to make a re-edition of the first Monaco, in fact we already had a replica of the 1969 model in our collection with the Calibre 11 and blue dial. We also didn’t want to show the Monaco as a museum piece, but as a watch of today. The goal was to show the Monaco designed for every decade of its history, pushing it towards today and beyond. That’s how I had the idea to create one watch per decade instead of launching a single watch.
What materials did you procure as a source of inspiration? E.g. period wallpaper, furniture, clothes etc.
We did a lot of research on materials. As you say, wallpaper, furniture, clothes but we also looked at art and objects, including Walkmans, computers, cars from each decade that inspired us etc. In addition, we studied the celebrity icons from each decade which helped point us towards the strongest trends in clothing style.
Each model had its own distinctive personality. Were these limited editions designed by one person or several designers?
They were all designed by one of our designers who was also in charge of the moodboards for each decade.
The TAG Heuer x Fragment Design Heuer 02 Chronograph was a collaboration between the company and the Japanese designer, Hiroshi Fujiwara. I noticed that the watch, despite containing the Calibre Heuer 02 Manufacture, did not feature a small seconds. The resultant design was particularly clean. Do you envisage conceiving one or two future models that shun a small seconds indication or date window?
This dial is indeed particularly clean and legible, so why not adopt a similar approach on future models. Nothing specific to share yet though!
The new Carrera model for 2020 is a stunningly handsome watch. However, considering the existing model’s iconic status, you must have been under immense pressure when you designed this recent version to get it right first time. Can you provide an insight into the development of the new model and how you validated the success of the design prior to launch?
We wanted the new models to truly express the purity and edginess of the Carrera spirit, while looking very contemporary but also timeless. We worked on every detail to enhance the finishes and elevate the line to reflect the Heuer 02 movement. I also wanted to be closer philosophically to the first 1963 Carreras. The aim being to reinforce Carrera as TAG Heuer’s most elegant collection without losing its sporty side. The lugs and all the details of the dial and bracelet have been completely reworked so that they echo the Carrera design codes, while at the same time adding a contemporary language to project Carrera into the future.
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to view several pre-launch versions of the Carrera first hand. I was struck by the incredible dial detail, such as the snailed registers with angled tracks, the bezel and the bracelet. What I did found particularly interesting was the cases reciprocity with light. How much does the aspect of light influence the design of your watches?
I do quite a lot of photography and when I am working on the design of a watch, I am actually designing how the different surfaces will interact with light in a photo, so the short answer to your question is: a lot.
Over the last 18 months, TAG Heuer has released an array of new models. I cannot think of one watch that doesn’t hit the mark, however, one model which particularly appealed to me was the Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition. In some ways it reminds me of the extremely collectible Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer watches made by Heuer in the 1950s. Bearing in mind the brand’s incredible heritage, do you envisage making more watches that exhibit a vintage appearance?
The 160th anniversary has been a great opportunity to showcase heritage pieces with a modern flair. I agree with you that the Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition is especially striking, and maybe surprising for some of our clients. We want to show them that we have a true heritage based around graphics and colours; one that can be truly modern as well. So yes, of course our history is a great source of inspiration, but we will never be nostalgic, even our past is forward-thinking!
TAG Heuer has its own museum at La Chaux-de-Fonds. Do you often visit the museum for inspiration?
Having the museum so close is of course a wonderful resource. It gives us an overall view of the entire history of the brand and how themes have developed over the decades. The collections of historical pieces are fascinating and we work closely with the Heritage team to ensure everything we do is authentic, but will also be memorable another 160 years from now.
Several of your recent models have been equipped with the fabulous Calibre Heuer 02 Manufacture. The idea of a fully integrated chronograph featuring a column wheel and vertical coupling will appeal to many purists.
Do you plan to equip more chronographs with the Calibre Heuer 02 moving forward?
Almost all of our collections which include chronographs now have the Heuer 02 movement (Monaco, Formula One, Carrera, Autavia), but we are planning to bring it to even more references in the future.
From a design perspective what changes did you have to make to move from using the Calibre Heuer 01 on existing Carrera models to the newer movement?
Apart from the Skeleton models, all the current Carrera watches using the Heuer 02 movement are brand new and were designed around this movement.
Recently, TAG Heuer unveiled a new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 42mm model. There is clearly a family likeness to the existing collection but the models seem far ‘dressier’.
Can you outline what your brief was in terms of the design of these watches?
The brief I gave myself was to bring the watch towards a more contemporary design, to rework the proportions between the bezel and the middle and to work on the sophistication of the case. Moreover, I wanted to work with new appliques inside the dial and new volumes in the dial to make it more sophisticated, even if it is deceptively simple, by working with the light. Therefore, the dial is worked more in depth and it’s the first time we really have new appliques. Especially with the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 42mm, the aim was to reconnect with the philosophy of the 1963 Carrera models: very elegant, very sporty, very legible, with today’s dimensions and design.
Often in business, experts talk about the need for economies of scale. However, the new TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 42mm has a smaller case, different bezel, different dial design and even different pushpieces. Were you not under pressure to use more parts from existing models?
TAG Heuer Carrera is our flagship collection so we had complete creative freedom to reach our goals: elevate the line, reconnect it with its design DNA and create value for the consumer thanks to the Heuer 02 movement. Above all, it was a question of strengthening the legendary side of the Carrera in a contemporary world.
At first glance, the dial looks like a bicompax configuration, however, a closer look reveals there is a small seconds display above 6 o’clock. Can you explain your rationale behind this detail?
You’ve hit the nail on the head. The idea was for the dial to look like a bicompax by keeping the small seconds very subtle. However, the crosshair design is a typical feature from our history, and having a running seconds makes the watch seem more alive, so we decided to keep it.
Which areas of this watch are you most proud of?
It’s hard to pick because so much has changed; the case and the dial are clearly the showstoppers, but the bracelet also turned out great.
Are there any areas of ‘added-value’ that our readers should be aware of?
Overall the new Carrera offers fantastic value for such a refined chronograph design with a top-of-the-line manufacture movement. I would say to look carefully at every detail, like the appliques sloping to work with the light. I would recommend customers take the watch in their hand and rotate it to understand how volumes and surfaces work with the light. Plus, with the ergonomics of the piece, between the shorter lugs and redesigned bracelet, all models are extremely comfortable on the wrist and feel smaller and lighter than they are. Perfect for a sporty and elegant lifestyle.
I appreciate that most of your plans will be shrouded in secrecy. Nevertheless, can you provide any clues as to the future direction of TAG Heuer’s designs?
Our guiding principles will remain: authenticity – staying true to our brand DNA – and innovation. We can’t discuss 2021 plans just yet, but we still have some very exciting pieces being launched before the end of the year, especially relevant for Carrera enthusiasts.
TAG Heuer, in common with a few other brands, has a rich history and an impressive back catalogue. However, where some brands choose to make facsimiles of former classics, Guy Bove and his team use historical models merely as a form of inspiration. Instead, they prefer to create new and contemporary watches, designed for the future.
Guy’s approach is brave as it is much easier and commercially less risky to echo the successes of the past. However, by taking risks and exploring creativity, Guy and his team have repeatedly created watches encompassing fresh, contemporary and exciting aesthetics.
While the firm makes three-handers and even smart watches, it will forever be linked to the chronograph. This journey started in 1887 with Edouard Heuer’s oscillating pinion and it is alive and well today. During this interview, we mentioned the Calibre Heuer 02. This movement is a purist’s dream. It is fully integrated, pairs a column-wheel with a vertical coupling and delivers a power-reserve of 80 hours. It is clear from Guy’s comments that it will be at heart of many more of the brand’s future creations.
Image – Manufacture in Chevenez where the Calibre Heuer 02 is made
Since Guy’s arrival, the brand has released an array of Monaco models infused with highly imaginative styling (2019) and two Carrera sub-collections, 42mm and 44mm, each with their own distinct character. In addition, Guy and his team have created a plethora of stand-alone models such as the Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition. The fact is, creativity is alive and well at TAG Heuer thanks to Guy Bove and his colleagues. Indeed, the lustre of the avant-garde brand has never looked brighter.