The Hottest Watch of 2023 Is Only Getting Started

The Tag Heuer Carrera is, for my money, the hottest watch of the year so far. It’s the Carrera’s 60th anniversary, which Hodinkee marked with a 9,000-word testament to the collector enthusiasm for the watch, as the brand commemorated with the revival of a legendary vintage model. “The Tag Heuer Carrera is our flagship collection,” Frédéric Arnault, the brand’s CEO said in an email. “It’s also our bestselling line, commercially speaking. Although we animate all pillars of the brand, this year, with the 60th anniversary, the Tag Heuer Carrera is definitely the highlight.”

Tag Heuer came out swinging with grail Carreras in January, at LVMH Watch Week, where the brand debuted a watch inspired by a very desirable (and rare) version of the Carrera with a panda dial. The watch isn’t flashy, but as a reincarnation of a beloved racing-inspired watch with a black-and-white dial, it turned all the right knobs for watch collectors. 

Whenever I talk to experts about why certain brands, trends, or particular watches seem to be making a comeback, I usually hear the same word: scholarship. As people learn more about a particular watch, it tends to become more desirable. Collectors find an enchanting colorway they didn’t know existed, or connect emotionally with a previously unknown quirk. “Comprehensive information and interesting stories drive interest in watches,” Jeff Stein, founder of Heuer-dedicated website OnTheDash, told me. The Carrera, he said, benefitted from a “Reference Points” bump—the attention created by Hodinkee’s legendarily long breakdowns that run through every version of a particular line of watches. This is where funky, defining details are given the spotlight. And the watch world is ruled and organized by funky, defining details. Stein is now getting texts about the Carrera’s idiosyncrasies: “Most collectors had never heard about the difference between ‘eggshell’ and ‘sunburst,’ and now I get messages from people looking for the eggshell models.” 

If the panda-dial Carrera is an elegant throwback, Tag Heuer’s new Carrera Plasma came to party. It comes fitted with 108 lab-grown diamonds, or a in version with a neon-pink dial.

But the favorite new model among the watch community will likely be another version deeply indebted to a vintage Carrera. This new chronograph is inspired by a ‘70s watch known among collectors as the “glassbox” because of the large sapphire (the transparent piece that protects the dial) that looms over the face. It’s a small detail that’ll appeal to in-the-know enthusiasts—but it doesn’t require much homework to fall in love with that black-and-silver dial. 

The “glassbox” Carrera with a navy dial

In hindsight, it’s inevitable that the Carrera would have such a moment. The watch was born the same year as the Rolex Daytona, and the two have a lot in common. Both offer legendary chronographs that come straight from the racetrack. “These designs and models grew out of the same industry in the same timeframe,” Stein said. But while the Daytona, especially the panda-dial versions, remain almost impossible to find, the Carrera is more affordable and easier to track down. That’s one good reason that, according to a representative from secondary market Chrono24, “Tag has tripled its market share in the $5,000-$10,000 range (where most Carreras fall) since 2020.”. 

Tag also flourished during the great watch-crypto crash of 2022: “TAG Heuer watches saw value growth year-over-year (2022 value over 2021 value) of an average +20%,” the Chrono24 representative said. Meanwhile, Rolex and Patek Philippe declined 18% and 24% on the platform, respectively.

The most iconic watches tend to be versatile. Whether it’s the Daytona or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, these watches play nice with different colors, materials, and dial layouts, expanding in every direction until there’s a version that will appeal to almost anyone. The Carrera is proving itself to be one of those watches. “There were many different looks and themes for collectors to embrace: the racing connection, the military models, the scientific models, the celebrities,” Stein said. With this latest collection, Tag continues to find novel ways to turn up the heat. 

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