Exclusive: TAG Heuer CEO Frédéric Arnault on why the brand’s growth is down to value, not volume
As luxury watch brand TAG Heuer celebrates 60 years of the iconic Carrera, Frédéric Arnault shares the importance of collaboration, meaning and embracing smart technology
© Gian Marco Castelberg
60 years after Jack Heuer first launched the Carrera timepiece, Swiss watch brand TAG Heuer has marked the milestone of the iconic timepiece with a range of novelties that blends historic design with a bold visual identity. The collection is led by brand CEO Frédéric Arnault–who has shaped TAG Heuer since 2020–and epitomised by the timeless style of actor and brand ambassador Ryan Gosling in a new campaign, The Chase for Carrera.
The TAG Heuer Carrera was first launched in 1963 and named for the short-lived Carrera Panamerica rally – the most dangerous racing event in the world. It was an instant hit with motoring enthusiasts and collectors alike, thanks to its sleek design and high legibility. An icon of cool, the new 2023 Carrera Chronograph pays clear homage to its design roots, with functionality and legibility still the driving concepts behind the anniversary update.
“There’s a straight line of design from 1963 to today. We’ve really distilled down what makes the Carrera special,” says TAG Heuer’s heritage director Nicholas Biebuyck.
The next-generation Carrera collection – which includes a range of Dates in vibrant dial colours and a Chronograph Tourbillon, powered by the brand’s powerful Calibre TH20-00 or the TH20-09 movement for the tourbillon – isn’t the only evolution for the brand. To mark the milestone, TAG Heuer partnered with Golden Globe-winning actor Ryan on a short action-comedy film, The Chase for Carrera.
TAG Heuer CEO Frédéric Arnault says: “The movie we’re launching with Ryan is exceptional; a first in the luxury industry,” he says. “It is a brand statement for us but it’s also a proper Ryan Gosling movie, with real cinematographic quality, and helmed by one of the best directors out there.”
“There are a lot of Easter eggs relating to the history of the Carrera in the movie,” Ryan told Tempus. The actor first became an ambassador for TAG Heuer in 2022, but his first brush with the Carrera was 12 years earlier, while filming his breakout blockbuster, Drive (2011). “The watches are very elegant – I genuinely love the product. I think it matches my aesthetic and style. It’s a great collaboration; I always feel that they allow me to contribute creatively.”
Here, Frédéric tells Tempus about the importance of collaboration, producing products with meaning, and embracing smart technology…
Frédéric, why is the Carrera such an iconic timepiece?
There aren’t many watches with this strong heritage. It was unique from its first launch in 1963. It’s both elegant and sporty, with its links to the Carrera Panamerica. Our 60th anniversary edition is more modern, yes, but you can still recognise many of the original design ideas that are so iconic. I’m really excited about what we have achieved with this release, especially the black [Chronograph] that has a real racing feel with its perforated strap.
Tell us about your partnership with Ryan Gosling?
TAG Heuer is the first brand that Ryan ever worked with, and I think he liked the industry and history of the brand. We really got to know Ryan, his aspirations, and gave him a lot of freedom of expression. I think that’s one of the reasons the result is so exceptional.
What inspired The Chase for Carrera?
We wanted to make something strong with Ryan since the beginning of our partnership; not only use his image, but his talent. I think we really reached that goal. Ryan was involved in the script, the screenwriting, choosing the director and other actors. And he improvised a lot on the set. Initially, we didn’t know it was going to be a five-minute-long movie but, once we had all the footage, we thought it was so exceptional. We needed to share it with the fans of the brand.
Is collaboration something that’s important to you in your work?
It really comes down to our culture. Internally, we have a great product team, design team, engineering team, and that ensure that the best ideas are what cut through. It’s a very collaborative process, from product to campaigns, and we have a lot of energy.
How would you describe your personal horological style?
It depends on my mood, the occasion, what I’m wearing. I’ve been very involved with all of the watches we’re launching this year, and you can see very different visions and styles. I love the 36mm pink dial Carrera, which is quite exceptional, and the Monza watch we released in January with a carbon case and sapphire open dial. I also wear the Monaco Dark Lord, which I think is very unique because it was so avant-garde when it first launched 50 years ago.
How has your vision for TAG Heuer evolved since joining in 2020?
We had one north star, which was brand elevation. We have seen market dynamics and customers change with the rise of the smartwatch. It has impacted the industry; when people buy a watch now it has to be something very special. They want real meaning. Even if we are having exceptional growth – and last year was our best year ever – that growth comes more through value than volume. Through true innovation.
Why did you want to embrace smart technology with your Connected line?
Your watch is part of who you are, it defines your identity. We saw that there was not the same flavour or feeling in the smartwatch market as you could have with a mechanical watch, so we wanted to recreate this emotion. We see it as a new segment that doesn’t compete with our traditional watches; rather it’s a different customer profile and mindset. Our first principle was really having an amazing ergonomic design that would make the wearer feel special. Our users love the variety and the functionality. We also invested heavily into the world of sports with Connected – we have the ultimate end-to-end golf experience on a smartwatch with Tommy Fleetwood, for example. We’re improving year after year.
How do you balance your respect for heritage and quest for innovation?
One of the most important things for us is to talk to the customer of today and also to our collectors. I think we have a responsibility to talk to our young, modern customers without alienating those who already love and collect the brand. This is the balance.