The Swiss brand that wants to be everyone's first watch

It's a steamy September night in Singapore and I begin to sweat the moment I leave the air-conditioned car at Gardens By The Bay. It's like something out of Avatar, with towering fake trees glittering in the purple sky and green foliage dotted with tropical flowers. We're here for the annual TAG Heuer bash to celebrate the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, which takes over the city streets in the coming days. Although rival Rolex is the timekeeper, TAG Heuer has a key ambassador, Max Verstappen, on the grid, and a rich connection to motorsports it's keen to promote.

I arrive with TAG Heuer's latest Australian signing, model and ex-The Block star Elyse Knowles, who recently joined as a Friend of the Brand. Knowles is the quintessential Aussie beach babe, and refreshingly down to earth.

"Let me know if you can see any sweat patches," she says as we approach the neon-lit entrance to the party. No chance: Knowles looks a million bucks in a khaki green suit, jacket slung over the shoulders just so. Meanwhile I look like I've just got out of the shower.

Red carpet affair

We strut down the red carpet through an eight metre tunnel which is lit up like a Christmas tree in Tag-Heuer's signature tones of red and green. Inside the party, about 300 of Singapore's hottest movers and shakers mill around taking photographs on their oversized smartphones. The country's first ever Olympic gold medallist, swimmer Joseph Schooling, is here - he's also a Friend of the Brand. In the distance, the epic Marina Bay Sands hotel looms large, three giant towers topped with what looks like an enormous spaceship.

Strapped to my wrist for the duration of the party is one of the latest chronographs in TAG Heuer's range, a jet black Carrera Calibre 16 with black leather strap and siren red stitching. It retails for around $6000, and is just making its way into boutiques around the world after debuting at watch fair Baselworld back in 2018. It feels amazing to wear: reassuringly heavy, chunky, stylish and sporty. I catch myself wanting people to notice that I'm wearing it, as it peeks from my cuff, which is getting damper by the minute. 

It's the first watch you own, your graduation watch, the first watch you buy when you get your first big job

Amelia Sillard

We're all waiting hfor the arrival of one of Australia's most recognisable exports: actor Chris Hemsworth. He's the face of TAG Heuer, alongside model Cara Delevingne, and offers significant bang for buck for the Swiss brand, appearing tonight for about 25 minutes alongside Max Verstappen for a premium social media moment. The crowd has been tagged, as it were, with two different glowing wristbands: green bands are for the general party population, but those with red bands have the chance to pose for a photo with Hemsworth. Knowles has a red band, but I am not so lucky.

When Hemsworth takes the stage an hour or so later, the crowd roars into action, held back by a barrier as they surge towards the front. After exchanging pleasantries, Hemsworth and Verstappen complete a Formula 1-inspired "Pit Stop Challenge", changing tyres on a display F1 car against the clock. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the experienced driver Verstappen is declared the winner. A few more photo opportunities later and Hemsworth is on the next flight back to Byron Bay - commercial, if you're wondering.

Timeless heritage

The following  day I head to the flagship TAG Heuer boutique on bustling Orchard Road to meet with Amelia Sillard, TAG Heuer's managing director of Asia Pacific, who declares the party a success.

"It's one of the key events of the year [because] we are the official timekeeper, official watch, the official partner of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing," says Sillard.

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"When you go back to our history, we've been associated with motor racing almost from the beginning. From 1933, until today, we have been able to be in most of the racing cars ... Jack Hauer, the great-grandson of our founder, was a diver himself, so it was his passion."

Take a look at the gallery up top to see three gamechanging timepieces from TAG Heuer.

TAG Heuer even has a full-time heritage director, Catherine Eberle-Devaux, who explains the link further.

"A huge part of our business was made with dashboard timers, specifically for cars and racing cars," says Eberle-Devaux. "Heuer was appointed timekeeper in many major races, like Sebring, Indianapolis, Daytona, and drivers since the 1950s (have worn) wrist chronographs of Heuer."

Eberle-Devaux says despite the vintage title, her role is not about wallowing in the past.

"We never look back to the past, and never have," she says.

"This is the secret, don't spread it." Yet the TAG Heuer back-catalogue is impressive, with the brand's iconic Monaco timepiece, made famous by Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. "We have to preserve the icon and keep the legend alive by inventing the new chapter of the Monaco story," adds Eberle-Devaux.

The brand was most recently under the formidable direction of Jean-Claude Biver, a legend in the watch world, who last year stepped down from the top job of president of the LVMH watch division (which alos includes Hublot and Zenith).

"We now have Stéphane Bianchi as our new CEO," says Sillard.

"His vision for the brand is focusing on the product and focusing on the quality. Next year we'll be able to show you more of his vision."

Traditional values

TAG Heuer is sticking with Baselworld as its main event to announce several new releases in late April - despite many big players such as the Swatch Group (Omega, Longines) and Breitling pulling out of the fair in recent times.

"The idea is that we are the first booth at the entrance of Baselworld," says Sillard.

"We are about accessible luxury – it's the first watch you own, your graduation watch, the first watch you buy when you get your first big job. Then you might graduate to a Patek Philippe or a Rolex watch from there. The value comes from the emotion - we ensure that [TAG Heuer] stays young and creates this desire among young people for our product."

The year 2020 is set to be another big year for the brand, with more releases, more ambassadors and, of course, more parties.

The Australian delivery of one of the brand's key new releases, the Autavia, has been delayed until 2020 – "The only information I have is that it will be early next year. It's very in demand, we sold out in fact," says Sillard – and there are rumoured to be new boutiques in the works.

TAG Heuer also signed a fleet of "Next Gen" tennis players including local talent Alex de Minaur, to smash the brand into the next decade.

"When it comes to ambassadors, we look for a person who loves the brand and wears the brand," adds Silliard.

"Chris Hemsworth was wearing TAG Heuer before he came on board. We have to continually invest in a new generation of talent."

Before I leave the boutique, the worst part of the trip has arrived – it's time to give back my borrowed Carrera Calibre 16. I'll miss the weight of it on my wrist, and the few extra inches I stood while wearing it. I keep looking longingly at my bare wrist for the whole of the next day, and the day after that.

The writer travelled to Singapore as a guest of TAG Heuer.