The Link is one of the most important TAG Heuer Link series, having been a critical part of the TAG Heuer collection since 1987 when it was launched as the S/el. When the watch was revamped in 1999, it was decided to change the name of the S/el, with the new name “Link” chosen to reflect the watch’s defining characteristic- the distinctive “double S” shaped links in the bracelet. Despite the change in name, the positioning of the watch remained consistent: “Sports Elegance”, which is where the “S/el” originally got its name.
In the first 20 years of the models life more than 2 million Links and S/els were sold, making it one of the most iconic watch series from any brand and at the time the most important TAG Heuer series- remember that back in 1999 the Carrera was a low volume retro novelty rather than a full-scale range. Yet by 2013/14 it appeared as though there was no longer a place for the Link in the TAG Heuer line-up. The Carrera had expanded into the Link’s sophisticated-yet-sporty sphere, and other models such as the Grand Carrera were also crowding out that space. There had been few new Link models since 2011 and no sign of any impending redesign.
The revival of the Link quietly began in 2016 when TAG Heuer decided to launch a new women’s series featuring an entirely new case. Even then there wasn’t enough confidence in the new range for it to be a global launch, with the 2016 Link Lady only launched in a few markets.
But the success of the Link Lady not only led to the expansion of that range- both geographically and with new dials and finishes- but the expansion of the new design language into the men’s series with the 2017 series launched last month at Baselworld. While it’s too soon to know whether this will signal the revival in sales, it’s a major new chapter in the life of the Link series and the inspiration to look back across the almost 20 year history of the TAG Heuer Link. And if you’d like to read up on the S/el before you get started, then take a look here.
The 1999 Link was the last watch launched by TAG Heuer Link before its acquisition by LVMH in September 1999. Yes, the Link used the same basic case shape as the 1998 S/el, but the pebble-like rounded nature of the S/el and its bracelet began to be squared off slightly, with flatter bracelet links and a redesigned crown guard and crown. The first Link watches- such as the example above- do not have “TAG Heuer Link” on the dial, with the model name being added to the dial in 2002. The Calibre 16 (Valjoux 7750) model (below) was the only of the new models not to gain the oversized numerals, but the other changes did get picked up. The Link was launched with a new, albeit short-lived, marketing campaign called “Beyond Measure”
The second-generation Link followed in 2004 and reintroduced an S/el design feature- a two-part dial. The new Link had a starburst small centre circle, while the outer circle featured a azurage pattern. The over-sized 3-6-9-12 numerals were dropped, as were the stick hour-markers, which were replaced by triangular-shaped applied markers. Completing the new-look dial were newly designed hands that were smaller and sleeker than the previous look.
The Chronograph models- such as the quartz model below- also gained newly styled pushers, dropping the cylinder-shape parts carried over from the S/el. Completing the new look was an updated bezel design- larger and flatter than the previous models and with a polished finish and smaller flat teeth (as against the triangular shape that had been a hallmark of the series back to the first S/el).
There were more significant changes to the Calibre 16 Chronograph, even though the first generation model stayed in the range with a single reference Chronometer model (below- Ref. CT5110). The 2004 Link Calibre 16 launched a new look with a smaller, flat fixed bezel, as shown on Ref. CJF2110 below with the black dial.
The redesigned flat bezel of the second-generation Calibre 7 and 16 models was adopted across the Link range for the third-generation series. In 2006 TAG Heuer rolled out the first of the new models, including another fresh look for the 42mm Calibre 16 Chronograph and a range of new 39mm Calibre 6 (ETA 2895) watches which have running seconds displayed in a small sub-dial at 6 o’clock. The 2006 Calibre 16 Chronograph saw a fixed polished bezel with a tachymeter scale (formerly on the inner flange) and an intricate new dial design. The silver rings surrounding the sub-dials were removed, while two new colours were offered- anthracite and blue. Despite the anthracite and blue Calibre 16 models being only a year old, the 2007 black dial Calibre 16 model was subtly changed, with silver rings added to the sub-dials…adding and then removing these rings seemed to be a popular strategy of the TAG Heuer designers to mark a new model.
The Link was the first series to use the new in-house TAG Heuer Calibre S movement. You can read all about the movement here, but essentially the Calibre S is an electro-mechanical movement. It has 230 components, yet is powered by a battery. Following the launch of the fourth generation series, there were few new models or changes in the years that followed. However one of the more interesting Link models was launched in 2013- the Link Calibre 18, shown above next to the Calibre 16 Chronograph. The Calibre 18 was the first two-register Link Chronograph and offered a new look for the series, especially with its smaller case (40mm vs. 43mm for the Calibre 16) and thinner bezel.
One of the best-loved Link models is this Calibre 36 (El Primero) model launched in 2002-3. The design is based on the Calibre 16 Chronograph of the day, and while that model was updated in 2006, the Calibre 36 versions stayed basically unchanged in the range until 2008. There were two variants- the black and white dial options you see here.
While the first of the Ayrton Senna edition TAG Heuer’s was a 6000 series, the remaining four watches from the original collection are based on the Link. You can see the full collection here. Shown above is the 2003 Link Senna, while below is the 2004 model, the last of the original TAG Heuer Senna series.
The Link holds a unique place in the TAG Heuer range. While the Carrera, Formula 1 and Monaco are clearly linked to Motorsports, the Link has no such cool linkage and has to live with being the “sensible” watch in the TAG Heuer range. No colourful limited editions, no skeletonized dials and no headline grabbing concept watches. The more sombre positioning of the Link, combined with a “love it or hate it” bracelet means that for many enthusiasts it is the forgotten part of the TAG Heuer range.
But it is a vitally important part, because with the ever-growing Carrera line heading more towards the avant-garde, the Link now has the right design and size to be successful in the dress watch segment of the market, which is especially strong in Asia.
Has this article been written two years ago it would have been looking back on a series that seemed to have no future, but with the fantastic redesign of the fifth generation series, there’s a great opportunity to create a new chapter in the story of the TAG Heuer Link.