Carrera, Monaco, Autavia... These are names of some of the most noteworthy and influential watches in history, and the man responsible for their creation is Jack Heuer. A giant of the industry, he's now honorary chairman of TAG Heuer and celebrating his recent 88th birthday with a new watch called the Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer Birthday Gold Limited Edition.
Though he's the founder's grandson, Jack Heuer can reasonably be considered the father of the brand as we know it. The essence of TAG Heuer today draws upon the groundwork and iconic models he conceived during his time running the company, then called Heuer, until 1982, when it was acquired by Techniques d'Avant Garde.
Heuer watches from those golden decades were, ironically, never intended for collectors, as their reissues are today — rather, they were intended for action. Jack Heuer's mix of pragmatic design and business acumen somehow always resulted in watches equally sporty, elegant and unfussy. He's sharp, down to earth and charming, and we were fortunate to have a chance to ask him a few questions.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. First, I want to wish Mr. Heuer a happy birthday and personally thank him: a Carrera was my first watch and what led to my passion for watches.
Thank you, and very nice to hear that.
Q. Would you describe yourself as equal parts businessman, engineer and designer? Or does one role take precedence?
Above all, I am an engineer. My studies at ETH [the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich] trained me, trained my mind and my vision of the world. I owe to these years a lot.
Then I am organically, maybe even genetically, an entrepreneur. Since Edouard, the four generations of the Heuer family have demonstrated a certain ability to drive the Heuer business. As far as I am concerned, I transformed the company from a supplier of timing devices into a worldwide watch brand.
Of course you cannot do this without a sense of design, an understanding of customer preferences and mainly a vision of what the brand means and stands for. This is what I brought to this company.
Q. Is there a guiding principle or philosophy behind the watches you created?
When I was at the head of the company, our reason-to-be was to invent perfect chronographs that were fully reliable and the best suited for sports. Motor racing was the one discipline I had defined as the one to explore at full speed, if I may say so.
So to achieve this, you need to think as a racer, as a team coach — and the answer is legibility. This is absolutely key. There is a rule for the proportion of the indexes of a dial, coming from learning industrial design during my studies, that I applied all life long. It guides the eye and makes it simple to read time on the dial.
Q. The Carrera is one of your most potent legacies. What about it do you think drives its success?
Well, I would love to hear your answer to this as you chose a Carrera as your first watch. What inspired that decision of yours?
Q. My Carrera was chosen for me as a gift, but it's influenced every watch purchase decision thereafter! What do you think makes the Carrera different?
As, let’s say, the father of Carrera, my intention was to break from previous styles and have the purest, most elegant sports chronograph, featuring a dial that would be the most legible one. And normally, sports and elegance don’t match so well, but this was my ambition. And looking at the echo through time that Carrera has had, I imagine I did not fail too much!
Q. Heuer is particularly associated with motorsports and chronographs. What interest do cars and racing hold for you personally?
I love speed and I love competition. Skiing, horse riding, and of course cars! And fast cars. My father granted me a lovely red MG for my graduation – this was a good start!
More seriously, in terms of business, as Heuer had an international reputation for timekeeping devices, I was looking for disciplines to time. And the various championships using cars sounded right for Heuer. Back in the '60s, it was the very beginning of this excitement. So I went for it: it appeared to be the perfect move.
Q. What's the proudest marketing moment in your career?
No hesitation here: placing the Heuer logo on the nose of the Ferrari F1 cars. Signing a deal with the Scuderia in 1971 about a bespoke timekeeping system for their private training circuit was a great achievement, but combining it with a visible sponsoring partnership was a dream come true. Everybody could see our name, our colors, our organic link with the aces of motor racing, the modern knights. Amazing times.
Q. How does it feel to see the watches you designed decades ago produced as modern reissues today?
I must say that the new versions of the Carrera line, the dearest one to my heart, are perfect. They respect the guidelines I drafted almost 60 years ago and the attention to details that the team placed in it is fantastic. I am both proud and grateful.
Q. What are the main differences you see in the watch industry today compared to when you were running Heuer?
Well, I would take it by the other end: what are the similarities between 60s-70’s and today. Because this is what stuns me! We are still using, producing, developing mechanical watches, using the very same basic idea to do so. This is amazing. We really preserve our savoir-faire and craftsmanship. It makes me happy, you know.
Q. Do you feel that smartwatch technology is a positive or detrimental force for the industry?
I wish I could have invented the smartwatch. I am an engineer and developed many electronic devices in the 70s. This was then not only the expression of modernity but also the normal evolutionary path. It never restrained the flow. TAG Heuer has done a hell of a job and is now a leader on this new business. We are very well equipped for this very unstable time.