If you're looking for a watch with a story, the TAG Heuer Kirium should be right up your street. Released at a turning point in TAG Heuer's history, its 1997 launch witnessed the birth of one era and the death of another. As the last series to be released prior to the acquisition of TAG Heuer by LVMH, it marked the dying breath of the “Six Features” tradition, a design style that as calibre11.com notes, had underpinned the brand's collection for over 15 years. The stainless-steel sports watches with a rotating bezel and “Mercedes” hands that had been the mainstay of the brand for so long had had their day. The future lay with the Carreras and the Monacos of the world - retro designs that fitted the new aesthetic of LVMH and the changing marketplace in a way the brand's current pieces simply didn't. But before it got relegated to the pages of history, the Six Features look had one more thing to say. And say it did with the Kirium, a superb example of why the 1990s is often lauded as one of the peak periods in TAG Heuer's long and varied history.
The TAG Heuer Kirium
The development of the TAG Heuer Kirium was tasked to Jorg Hysek, a German artist, designer and watch manufacturer who, as watch-wiki.net notes, had already enjoyed considerable success with the Vacheron Constantin 222, Breguet Marine, Seiko Arctura, and Tiffany Streamerica. Using the Six Features look popularized by the 2000 series several years previously, Hysek set about creating a watch that drew heavily on the TAG Heuer tradition of old, while simultaneously representing a bold step forward in ingenuity and creativity. Like the rest of the TAG Heuer catalog at the time, it included water-resistance up to 200 meters, a screw-in crown, a unidirectional turning bezel, sapphire crystal, luminous hands and hours markers, and a double safety clasp. But while it doffed a cap to the Six Features tradition and was, in many ways, its final evolution, it didn't prostrate itself to the theme. Hysek was looking to make a mark, and you don't make a mark by subjugating yourself to someone else's concepts, or without making some bold decisions along the way.
One of those bold decision involved giving his creation a name. Naming a watch might not seem a particularly revolutionary concept, but when you're talking about a brand that had spent the past 20 years identifying its pieces with no more than a numeric code or acronym, it's something of a leap in faith. But the name, like the watch itself, caught on. Today, the TAG Heuer Kirium is viewed as the 'quintessential 1990s watch', occupying a much loved (and highly prized) part in the collections of thousands of TAG Heuer fans.
The Quintessential '90s Watch
But name aside, what was is about the Tag Heuer Kirium that makes it so special? At least a portion of its success lies in the historical context: when LVMH took over operations in 1999, they bought with them a new strategy and a new focus. The number of series being offered reduced radically, while the Carrera and Monaco re-editions were developed from small scale novelty acts to the catalog's chief players. Mechanical watches that played into the heritage of Heuer became the order of the day, with new series almost entirely relegated. Of the existing series created in the Six Features tradition, only the 2000/ Aquaracer and the Link were carried forward. The Kirium had no place in the noughties era TAG Heuer, and was unceremoniously dumped from the collection.
But you can’t keep a good watch down for long. Thanks to Hysek's exacting standards, the Kirium was head and shoulders above most other watches from the period, utilizing finishes and materials that even now, would be considered advanced - something that may explain why all these years later, it's considered one of TAG Heuer's masterpieces.
Style Meets Function
Buyers could expect a visually pleasing piece laced with some highly desirable features, including a diary alarm, second time zone, daily alarm, dial backlighting, 1/100th of a second chronograph and a perpetual calendar. Dial and bracelet options varied, according to the edition. Like all TAG Heuer's of the 1990s-2000s, movements were supplied by ETA. The movements according to edition were:
- Quartz Watch: ETA 955.112
- Quartz Chronograph: ETA 251.262
- Automatic Chronometer: ETA 2892-A2 (Calibre 7)
- Automatic Chronograph: ETA 2894-2 (Calibre 17)
- Formula 1: ETA E20.231 (above)
With a sporty functionality and elegant aesthetic, the Kirium was designed to take you from office to racetrack, wedding to funeral, and boardroom to bar with aplomb. Had it not been dropped from the catalog, you can only imagine what a watch of this capability could have become. As it is, we have to make do with what we have, and fortunately, there's still enough pieces floating around the used market to keep up with demand.
The Buyers Guide
When it comes to purchasing a TAG Heuer Kirium from the used watch market, the same principles apply as with all other vintage pieces. Namely:
1) Know your stuff
The Kirium was always a reasonably priced piece. Today, it still carries a very attractive price point. But that doesn't mean you can afford to go into a sale lightly. Common sense and caution are musts when it comes to buying vintage watches: for every good seller, there's a bad one, and the only way of telling the difference is to ask questions, research, and put in your homework. Always ask the seller to send high definition photographs of the model before you commit to anything. Once you have the snaps, compare them to what you can find online or in back catalogs. As nytimes.com notes, replica watches are getting closer and closer to the real thing with each passing year, making the vintage watch market something of a minefield. If you spot anything that suggests a fake, beat a hasty retreat.
2) Don't fear a broken bezel
When it comes to vintage TAG Heuer pieces, there are some things that can be fixed and some things that can't. Parts from watches released in the 1990s are easy enough to secure, so don't overlook a great deal if there's a few faulty or broken parts. But equally, don't go into the deal thinking everything can be restored to mint condition - if the dial is faded, for example, it's going to stay faded regardless of how much work you put into it.
3) Look for added value
The 1990s might still seem like yesterday to a lot of us, but that doesn't mean its products will be any less valuable than other vintage pieces in the years to come. Original paperwork can add a heap of value to a vintage watch, as can its original box. If you're looking for something that's going to accrue in value, be sure to seek out warranty papers, deeds of ownership, and the like - you might not be thinking of the resale value now, but that doesn't mean you won't be in the future.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker