How This Funky Sub-$500 Watch Became One of 2023’s Biggest Hits

In 1989, Tag introduced F1s with chronographs. This is Peters’s favorite.

That identity paired Heuer’s racing chops with Swatch’s color-mad sensibility. Although the original series was produced for five years, Tag Heuer made a fleet of Formula 1 pieces. Some are happy to just mimic a Jolly Rancher; somesport the signature of legendary Japanese driver Ukyo Katayama; others come equipped with a chronograph, like Peters’s favorite CA1212-R0. “It was a wise decision by Tag Heuer to come up with the Formula 1 series,” Peters said. “It was as colorful as Swatch, with a more sustainable case made from metal, a unique look, and many functions.”

The watch also attracts a customer who might be slightly ahead of the curve of today’s prevailing trends. While serious stainless steel sport watches (think the Rolex Submariner or Omega Speedmaster) are still king, the Formula 1s are the ultimate vibe shifter. “People are a little burnt out by the super luxury releases in precious metals and NASA-grade materials,” said Wallner. “It’s refreshing to have a simple plastic/rubber watch that feels considered and watch-y, but lighthearted and casual.”

The F1 scores off the charts in what is quickly becoming the most important metric for a hit watch: the fun factor. It’s a watch in the same vein as the Omega and Blancpain Swatch pieces: colorful and affordable, served up with plenty of nostalgia and a veneer of vintage styling. “The colors, material, and size feel so novel,” said Wallner. “When certain people revisit designs like that, talk about it, and position them as “cool,” that’s when new life is breathed into vintage models. Sometimes it just takes a fresh eye and a shift in perspective to appreciate what you had all along! And now it’s collectible!”

Unlike the recent Swatch collaborations, which many watch obsessives turn their noses up at, the F1s attract real-deal Heuer collectors, too. When I asked collectors to recommend their favorite sub-$500 watches, Tag Heuer collector Jeff Stein submitted a gorgeous tangerine F1. “TAG Heuer’s Formula 1 watches from the mid-1980s seem to be having a moment,” he wrote. “It’s amazing how many of today’s collectors tell you that a Swatch or Formula 1 was the first watch they loved.”

Earlier this year, Tony Traina, an editor at Hodinkee, called on Tag Heuer to bring the Formula 1 back. After ascending to It-watch status in 2023, it feels only right for the model to emerge as a hit once again. Here’s to hoping.

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