Carrera 160 Years vs. Jack Heuer Carrera 81

Jack Heuer 80th Birthday Carrera money shot

If you want to spot interesting watches in the wild, a cigar bar is a happy hunting ground. That’s doubly true if the OFWGs (Old Fat White Guys) and GOCs (Gentlemen of Color) know you’re a watch blogger. I’ve reported my close encounter of the horological kind with the Lange 1. I recently made my acquaintance with an aficionado’s Jack Heuer Carrera 81, not to be confused with the Carrera 160 Years . . .

Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition

That’s the 2020 TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition above. The new watch is is a gussied-up, all-silver Carrera re-imagining, complete with a double-branded rotor underneath an exhibition caseback.

Jack Heuer 80th Birthday Carrera caseback

Other than the rotor’s obvious sop to collectibility – compared to its predecessor’s all-business stainless-steel caseback – a close comparison between the two watches highlights the fact that less is more.

TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition

For one thing, my fellow cigar smoker’s watch – officially the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 17 Jack Heuer Boutique – has two subdials. The new watch has three. Why? A true racing chronograph is a lap timer, not an international flight timer. More than that, the 2020’s third subdial crowds the watch face, dinging its at-a-glance legibility.

Jack Heuer 80th Birthday Carrera close up

To my mind – but not everyone’s – a chronograph’s legibility, it’s functionality as a stopwatch, is a non-negotiable. If I can’t use it easily, effortlessly and automatically to time an event and read the result, I consider the chrono function an affectation.

Check out the difference between the subdials’ indices. Jack Heuer’s version are clean, clear and uncomplicated – remarkably easy to read. The new watch’s, not so much. The older watch’s white subdials’ contrast against the anthracite dial, making those bad boys pop. The new watch’s monochromatic color scheme creates a kinda silver blur.

Notice the space between the new model’s hour indices and the rehaut. The Jack Heuer Carrera 81’s indices butt right up to the flat outer ring. The 2020 model’s are floating in space.

Carrera 160 Years closeup

I’m not a fan of tachymeters on modern watches, but the tachymetre completes the Jack Heuer Carrera 81 in a way that the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition seconds’ index does not. Finally, Jack’s timepiece has a red second hand, complementing a Heuer-only red logo. The new one’s black.

Heuer Carrera 1964

To be fair, the original Carrera was all silver, had three subdials, a black second hand, floating indices and no tachymetre. So, really, the Carrera 160 Years is faithful to the original piece and the Jack Heuer Carrera 81 is a nostalgic reimagining. Go figure.

Jack Heuer 80th Birthday Carrera wrist candy

Taken as whole, the older watch has a playful sense of purpose. You can almost smell uncombusted fuel. The new watch has modern monolithic macho. It projects the finely engineered strength of a 1.6 litre four-stroke turbocharged 90 degree V6 reciprocating engine.

No points deducted for preferring the 2020, which has the good grace to not be any of the abominations added to the TAG Heuer Carrera catalogue since Mr. Heuer’s ignominious departure from the family firm. Whether it has as much soul as Jack’s comeback kid, and whether that’s important, is a question for its observer to answer.


My compadre bought his Jack Heuer Carrera 81 last year to celebrate his tenth anniversary. He paid $6k for the privilege. Here’s the kicker: the watch was New In Stock, sourced directly from Heuer. Yup, a classically-styled timepiece from 2013 is still out there, somewhere, box fresh, competing with its brother-from-the-same-mother.

We horophiles live in interesting times, with an astounding amount of choice. It’s our job to make you aware of those options. It’s TAG Heuer’s job to stay true to the brand’s tradition. That the Carrera 160 Years does, more than any other latter day Carrera. But not enough for some.

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