Home / Mint-lounge / Indulge /  The life and times of Jack Heuer

Jack Heuer is the great-grandson of Edouard Heuer who founded Ed. Heuer & Co., a small watchmaking workshop in Saint-Imier in 1860 that was the foundation of what is today known as TAG Heuer. Heuer joined the company in 1958 and last year retired as its honorary chairman.

The 82-year-old Heuer is the last member of the founding family who is still active in the industry. Last year, Heuer published his autobiography called The Times of My Life that chronicles his journey of over 50 years with the brand, including the origins of the Carrera and the Monaco case, in 10 chapters and 290 pages. Edited excerpts from the book:

Origins of the square “Monaco" case

One day, a representative of one of our most reliable watch case suppliers, a company called Piquerez, located at Bassecourt in the Jura, came to us on one of his regular visits to show us Piquerez’s latest samples of watch cases in mock-up form. He drew our attention in particular to a new patented square case Piquerez had developed, emphasizing the fact that it was fully water-resistant. We immediately knew this was something special because until then square cases were used only for dress watches because it was impossible to make a square case fully water-resistant. At Heuer, a decision had been taken around 1941 to produce only water-resistant chronographs because any water penetrating a chronograph’s case and reaching the movement causes serious damage that is very costly to repair. We immediately took a liking to the special square shape and were able to negotiate a deal with Piquerez that secured us exclusive use of the case design for chronographs. This way, we could be sure that Breitling would not produce a chronograph housed in a similar case when we all unveiled our new products using the revolutionary Calibre 11 microrotor-based self-winding mechanism that was at the heart of Project 99. The revolutionary square case would be the perfect housing for our avant-garde “Monaco" wrist chronograph. Although we were all cooperating in the development of the self-winding chronograph movement, it must be remembered that we remained robust competitors in business!

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One interesting thing that happened during my school days was that around 1947 or 1948, when I was 15, I made my first professional contribution to the family watchmaking business. One day, my father came home from work and said that Walter Haynes, who was then the president of upmarket sporting outfitters Abercrombie & Fitch in New York, had asked him to create a watch which could display the time of tides. Funnily enough, some years earlier, my father had thought it would be useful to have a watch that showed the phases of the moon because while mushroom hunting he had observed that morels seemed to spring up in greater numbers during a waxing moon. But a watch that could display the time of tides really stumped him. He had not seen the sea for quite a few years and was not at all familiar with the subject of tides. He scratched his head and admitted he had no idea how to do it. I told my father that my physics teacher at school, Dr Heinz Schilt, was a genius and I was sure he would be able to find a solution. Indeed he could, and he performed all the calculations for the wheels and cogs needed for a watch to predict high tides at a given location. Thanks to him and my intermediation, we were able to create our first tide watch, the “Solunar", and later the “Mareograph-Seafarer". This was my very first involvement with the creation of a watch.

I become honorary chairman of TAG Heuer

In the late spring of 2001, I was enjoying the last year of my 60s and already had one eye on my 70th birthday, which was no longer on the distant horizon but rushing towards me at alarming speed. I was certainly taking life more leisurely, with only my seats on the board of Schneeberger AG and IDT International keeping me busy professionally. However, in early July I received another surprise call from Doris Fuhrer, my former secretary, who had stayed with Heuer after it had been bought by LVMH. She told me that Jean-Christophe Babin, TAG Heuer’s newly-appointed CEO, wanted to invite me to lunch at “Le Boccalino" restaurant in Saint-Blaise, a small lakeside town just a couple of miles east of the city of Neuchâtel.

TAG Heuer had by now left Bienne and had moved into new premises on the third floor of an office building in Marin, just east of Saint-Blaise. I was quite surprised to receive such an invitation and accepted more out of curiosity than anything else. Mr Babin brought two other senior TAG Heuer executives with him to the lunch. After some small talk, he asked what I had been doing since being forced to leave my former company back in 1982.

After lunch, Jean-Christophe—we were already on first-name terms—asked me if I would like to see the current collection of TAG Heuer watches back at his office. I agreed and off we went to the company’s new offices, where Jean-Christophe showed me what was then the new collection for 2001 which had been displayed at the Basel watch fair earlier in the year. I examined each piece carefully and made some spontaneous comments on details which I have always believed to be important, especially with regard to dials. Then I drove home to Bern, musing on my little excursion.

A few days later, I sent Jean-Christophe a thank you note and in the same letter put forward ideas for two new products. I seem to remember one of my ideas was that TAG Heuer should relaunch the classic “Autavia" model, given the success of the relaunch of the “Carrera" in 1996 and the “Monaco" in 1998. This they actually did in 2003. My second proposal was to create the first Swiss wristwatch which would display the time based on the atomic clock signal broadcast by the DCF77 transmitter near Frankfurt in Germany. By 2001 only the German company Junghans had mastered this technology. However, I knew quite a lot about it because at IDT we had for years been producing thousands of radio-controlled alarm clocks.

That summer, the Swiss watch industry closed down as usual for the annual “Watchmakers’ Holidays" and shortly afterwards Doris Fuhrer called me again with another invitation to lunch with Jean-Christophe in Le Boccalino. I vaguely remember first going to Jean-Christophe’s office to discuss my two proposals for new products and then going with him to Le Boccalino. What I do remember with great clarity is the moment during lunch when Jean-Christophe asked me if I would be interested in becoming TAG Heuer’s honorary chairman! That really took me by surprise and for a few moments I was speechless. I also clearly remember my answer. I said I still felt hurt at the way I had been treated and confessed that the emotional wounds were still not completely healed. However, I agreed to give the job a trial run until the end of the year.

In September I was invited to a dinner with the entire TAG Heuer management team, including all the country managers who had travelled to Switzerland for the company’s annual business review. The dinner took place in a charming restaurant outside the town of Morges, near Lausanne, and when I arrived I was deeply moved by the very warm welcome I received from the country managers who had flown in from all over the world. Many of them immediately invited me to visit the countries where they were based, saying that their clients would love to meet me, and they all seemed very pleased to have a Heuer on board who could talk about the long and rich history of the company and its founding family.

A few days later, I informed Jean-Christophe that I would be delighted to work as an ambassador and advisor for the brand under his proposed title of “honorary chairman"—which I found very flattering—and we quickly agreed on terms and conditions. So instead of spending my eighth decade pruning roses or shuffling around at home in slippers I was on the road for another 12 years, engaged in many activities and carrying out various missions on behalf of TAG Heuer.

Click here to download The Times of My Life by Jack Heuer.

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