The former CEO of Heuer and honorary chairman of TAG Heuer, Jack Heuer, talks new and vintage with Aaron Sigmond.
Occasionally, Japan will bestow formal recognition upon a “Living National Treasure” (人間国) — an outstanding individual lauded for his preservation and perpetuation of the country’s heritage. If the Swiss did the same, one certain honoree would be Jack William Edouard Heuer — the former CEO and current honorary chairman of Heuer, and the spiritual father of TAG Heuer.
The great-grandson of Edouard Heuer, who founded the company, Jack is also the final Heuer to own his family’s storied watchworks. He’s also the man behind Heuer’s Big Three — the Autavia Chronograph, Carrera Chronograph and Monaco Chronograph — as well as the Silverstone, Daytona, Monza and Camaro wrist chronos, plus the stopwatches. He covers it all in his autobiography, The Times of My Life.
Today his principal role is brand ambassador, and he’s surely pleased by Heuer’s burgeoning legacy, as well as the innovative corporate culture he fostered — a charge now led by another Swiss-timepiece legend, Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer and chairman and president of the LVMH Watch Division.
What’s perhaps most striking about Jack Heuer, now 84, is his gentlemanliness. He’s quick to compliment and give credit to others, and is self-effacing in a way that only the truly successful can be. It’s easy to understand how Heuer’s personal credo, “never give up,” became the company’s motto.
He had just returned from a three-week summer holiday when I got in touch to talk about many of the same subjects I’d recently discussed with Biver, to whom he often defers.
WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
To what does Heuer attribute the renewed interest in the Autavia Chronograph, both the vintage item and the forthcoming 2017 reissue? He responds like a proud father: “I’m of course delighted about this long-overdue matter,” he says. “I’m not quite sure exactly why TAG has decided [to reissue it next year], but Jean-Claude Biver will know. Based on the success of our relaunched Carrera and Monaco, he completed the trio with the Autavia, involving the public and creating a big buzz before we even finished the product.
“The Autavia has a long history and was one of the early dashboard instruments that Heuer produced,” he continues. “When I entered [the company] after my engineering studies, in January 1958, I mounted the Rally-Master pair [a side-by-side Master Time clock and Monte Carlo stopwatch combo] on the dashboard of the MGA I had received from my father for successfully finishing my studies. That month I drove down to Monte Carlo with press credentials and was allowed to check the timing equipment on every car. I was pleased to see that more than half of the competitors had not only an Autavia mounted on their dashboard, but a Rallymaster combination.”
This planted the seed for the Autavia wristwatch in Heuer’s mind. “The Autavia was our first wrist chronograph, with two turning bezels,” he says. “It immediately became one of our top models.”
Heuer’s thoughts about the surge in popularity of vintage editions of his namesake watches are similar to those of Biver, and it’s clear the former holds the latter in high regard. “The buzz that Jean-Claude Biver and his super PR team have generated has created a brand renaissance,” he says. “The company is growing fast, [even] while the watch industry is going through a rough period. This buzz around our brand has strongly increased the interest of many collectors, provoking a surge in the prices of the favored collector models. Furthermore, compared to other collectors’ brands, production [was scant]. The factory was never very large, so the available merchandise is limited.”
Reassurance about the scarcity and value of vintage Heuer timepieces, straight from the source: It’s music to Heuer collectors’ ears.
Aaron Sigmond is the author of DRIVE TIME: Watches Inspired by Automobiles, Motorcycles and Racing, with a foreword by Jay Leno and a Rolex Daytona Chapter by Ariel Adams of aBlogtoWatch.