The Story of the Rarest TAG Heuer F1 Watch: the Ukyo Katayama

The Swiss marque has teamed up with American brand Kith to resurrect a line of cult timepieces, but one stands out from the rest
Published: 4 May 2024
Tag Heuer/Getty

Unless you're a hardcore horologist or petrol head, you can be forgiven for not knowing the name Ukyo Katayama. To motorsports enthusiasts, he's the journeyman F1 driver who racked up five Championship points across 97 Grands Prix in the Nineties. For watch enthusiasts, it's his signature emblazoned on the hardest-to-find TAG Heuer F1 (we're talking the OG, candy-coloured, Swatch-like plastic versions, btw). And not just on the dial, or tucked away on the caseback. It's on the glass, obscuring most of the bottom half of the watch. (Deep breath, date window ultras.)

Eagle-eyed Esquiristas may recognise this model from the wrist of Nicholas Biebuyck, TAG Heuer's heritage director, who was wearing it during our recent trip to Watches & Wonders. He called it his "travel watch", and it stood in refreshingly saccharine contrast to all the steel and gold on every other watch boss's wrist.

That he was wearing it was the latest clue that Tag was belatedly about to relaunch a watch fondly remembered for being affordable and fun, and the gateway to a world of watches where those two things are often in short supply. Sure enough, the bright and beautiful F1 is back, launched in a collaboration with Kith.

Tag Heuer X Kith

Hand on heart, we're a little disappointed with its departure from those two founding principles. Which is why we're still more than a little obsessed with the Ukyo Katayama version, which is the only signature model in the entire, nine-year run of the first era of F1s. Though his record might seem unimpressive, he was racing in an era when points were scarce and only a few manufacturers had competitive cars. His 97 races is still the Japanese record, and despite failing to finish 63 of them—largely thanks to mechanical issues—he was a phenomenon back home, so much so that TAG Heuer stepped in as a personal sponsor, with a spot on the sleeve of his race suit.

We love the watch not so much for Katayama, but because it embodies everything that made the original F1 such a brilliant piece of watchmaking; its four primary colours, that bonkers signature, the accessible retail price. They were originally aimed at the Japanese market and, whereas you can pick up most of the original F1s today for a few hundred dollars on resale sites, Japan is where you'll find one now, and only if the horology gods are smiling on you.

Paul-Henri Cahier

While Kith Heuer has all the makings of a down-the-street-queues day-one sellout, we're still holding out for something that's got a few more miles on its clock.

Originally published on Esquire UK

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