TAG Heuer recently released a watch that garnered quite a lot of controversy. This was the watch manufacturer’s collaboration watch with the American fashion brand Kith. The TAG Heuer Formula 1 × Kith — or “Kith Heuer” — was controversial but not because it was in any way a bad release. In fact, in many ways, it was a piece of marketing genius. For a couple of weeks, it seemed everyone in the watch world was talking about the TAG Heuer Formula 1 × Kith. And as they say, any publicity is good publicity.

In a recent episode of Fratello On Air, my colleagues Mike and Balazs noted the global reaction to the Kith Heuer. You can listen to their thoughts on the subject here.

A controversial limited release

TAG Heuer’s collaboration with Kith developed notoriety because of the €1,500 asking price. According to a downloadable TAG Heuer catalog from 1987 (the year after the Formula 1’s release), the original watch cost just £79. Adjusted for inflation, that would equal £278.49 — about €329 — today. But the release was not just controversial because of the asking price. I also believe it spawned debate because it fundamentally shifted the entire ethos of the original watch. You see, the original had been designed with attainable and affordable fun in mind. With most versions of the new release limited to 250 or 350 pieces, the Kith Heuer was neither very attainable nor (comparatively) affordable.

Granted, the new Kith Heuer has updates, particularly with better build quality and construction than the original. But I am here today to review the original for you, Fratelli, because the Kith Heuer has already sold out. Thankfully, many original TAG Heuer Formula 1 watches are out there on the secondary market, and I picked one up for this review for just €250.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 ref. WA1214

The original TAG Heuer Formula 1

The original Formula 1 was a momentous model for TAG Heuer. It was released the year after Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) acquired Heuer. In a sense, it announced to the world the watchmaker’s new direction under TAG ownership. Eddy Burgener designed the first-generation TAG Heuer Formula 1 watches.

These timepieces used a mixture of a stainless steel inner case and a fiberglass exterior. They came in either 28mm or 34mm case sizes and a dazzling array of colors. Stainless steel versions with metal bracelets also came into the collection. These watches were truly avant-garde. Using plastic bezels from which the paint would chip and fade, they developed a rustic quality to them as time wore on. Inside was a simple Swiss quartz movement.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 ref. WA1214

Acquiring a TAG Heuer Formula 1

The watch I ended up buying on Chrono24 was a black-dial reference WA1214. A seller here in Australia was thinning out his collection. He had owned the watch since it was new, having bought it in the early 1990s. It had clear signs of wear, which I like, including marks on the case and plastic bezel.

When I went looking for a secondhand TAG Heuer Formula 1, the prices seemed to fluctuate pretty drastically. But good ones seem to be for sale for a few hundred euros. I bought the watch from the Australian seller, and it arrived a couple of days later. I remember my first reaction when opening the well-packed box: “Man, this thing is small!” I was also impressed by the bezel action, which was positive and precise.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 ref. WA1214 wrist shot

Putting on the TAG Heuer Formula 1

I like smaller watches and tend to veer towards more compact designs as I feel they usually fit my 15.25cm (6″) wrist better. But the 34mm case size of these original TAG Heuer Formula 1 timepieces feels particularly small. I think this is due to the combination of a dive bezel and the consequently small dial. This accentuates an overall impression of a small watch. The thinness of the case, aided by a flat quartz movement, also contributes to this overall sensation.

The other thing I noticed is how tinny the bracelet feels. It’s comfortable enough, but the clasp feels like it was made from the same metal as a tuna can lid. The bracelet has a diver’s extension and plenty of holes for micro-adjustment, though. The bracelet design seems to elevate the playful nature of the watch while giving it a little more versatility than its colorful siblings. The 34mm models all have an 18mm lug spacing, giving us plenty of options for aftermarket straps.

These small watches have big significance 

It is no exaggeration to say that these original TAG Heuer Formula 1 watches played a big role in making the brand what it is today. TAG Heuer is one of the most recognized names in watches, particularly among the general public. So while these are small watches, they have big historical significance for the TAG Heuer name.

This makes me scratch my head all the more when I consider my old secondhand TAG Heuer against the latest collaboration with Kith. Sure, the watches sold out, but will they do anything meaningful for the brand moving forward? I honestly doubt it. Some have said that a rendition of the original Formula 1 watch would have been a natural competitor to the Omega × Swatch MoonSwatches. I see things a little differently, though, as these Formula 1 watches are the original hot-ticket item. If anything, the Omega × Swatch release cleverly combined a similar winning formula (see what I did there?) and introduced it for the 21st century.

Closing thoughts 

I must say I was impressed with this original TAG Heuer Formula 1. I had known about these watches and often considered them a novelty, relegating them to “interesting but not for me” status. The more time I have spent with this watch, the more it has grown on me. The thing is, I would much rather own one of these original TAG Heuer Formula 1 watches than one of the TAG Heuer × Kith releases, particularly after spending some time with it. For the moment, at least, secondary-market prices of these original Formula 1 watches have increased. But once the madness settles down, keep an eye out for a reasonably priced one. I think you’ll find it’s worth considering.

Perhaps, then, TAG Heuer’s next step could be to introduce a truer rendition. But even if the brand did so, I struggle to see it having a retail price of less than, say, €1,000. And that’s a shame because it goes against what made these original watches so good — a combination of affordability and cutting-edge design. These original watches were a true design departure for the time, in a good way. But what do you think, Fratelli? Let me know in the comments.