Heuer and Lemania: Part One

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   24 January 2010   |   2 Comments  

One of the more interesting chapters in Heuers history is its relationship with Lemania in the 1980s. Heuer watches with Lemania automatic movements first appeared in the 1983 Heuer catalogue alongside what was to be the last appearance of the Chronomatic watches. Featured in the 1983 Heuer catalogue are the following watches, all powered the Lemania 5100 movement.

  • 510.50X series- “Lemania 1000″ series
  • 510.511/523- “Lemania Carrera”
  • 510.513- “Lemania Cortina”
  • 510.403- “Lemania Silverstone”
  • 510.508- “Gold Lemania Carrera”

Heuer would later add two other limited production Lemania models- The Heuer AudiSport (seen right with its Lemania branded counterpart) and the Heuer A.M.I.

And yet by 1986, almost all of these Lemania watches are gone.

So how can this all be explained? Why did Heuer and Lemania form such a close relationship? Why did it all come to an end so abruptly? And why do these Heuer watches look the same as designs offered by other companies?

In this two-part story, each of these questions will be examined as the Heuer and Lemania relationship is explored. Part One will focus on the corporate relationship between the two companies and Part Two on watches produced during the union.

The History of Lemania

Lemania has a rich history, tracing its roots back to 1884. The Lemania name first appeared in 1930, right before the company was integrated into Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), where it joined Omega and Tissot. SSIH along with AUSAG were the two dominant Swiss watch collectives that would later be combined to form the Swatch Group in the early-1980s.

Lemania was always predominately a manufacturer and designer of movements. Yes, there are quite a few Lemania-branded watches from the 1950s, but these weren’t the main focus of Lemania. The partnership between Lemania and Omega was especially strong, and today Lemania still supply movements for the Omega Speedmaster.

From a Heuer- perspective, things get  interesting in 1978 when Lemania launched the 5100 movement- an automatic movement specifically designed as a response to the arrival of the low-cost Japanese quartz movements that were having a devastating  impact on the Swiss watch industry. You can read more about the legend of the 5100 movement here at the late Chuck Maddox’s website.

Breaking Away

1981 is a pivotal year in the Swiss watch industry and in the Lemania-Heuer story. Both SSIH and AUSAG were in serious financial trouble and as a result, the Swiss banks forced SSIH to sell some assets- after considering selling Omega to Seiko, it eventually decided to instead sell Lemania to its management team, which is backed by outside investors, including the Piaget family.

This new company was called “Nouvelle Lemania” (“New Lemania”) and it’s not hard to imagine that now free of its corporate role as a pure movement-specialist, Nouvelle Lemania started to expand its horizons and starts to look at designing and assembling watches under the Lemania brand.

Below is an example of this- a rare 5100/ quartz hybrid.

Meanwhile at Heuer…

By 1982 it was Heuer’s turn to face major changes, with Jack Heuer being forced by the Swiss banks to sell Heuer-Leonidas to a new group of investors. Who were these investors? They were led by Piaget and included Nouvelle Lemania. So effectively, Heuer was now owned by Nouvelle Lemania- and its no surprise that in 1983 we see Heuer phasing out its own Calibre 11/12/14/15 Chronomatic movement, to be replaced with the Lemania 5100 automatic movement- a low-cost movement that was significantly cheaper to produce that Heuer’s own Chronomatic design.

The partnership extended beyond just Heuer using the Lemania 5100 movement. Heuer also used the LWO 283 movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, which is an ETA 2890/92 base movement with a Lemania chronograph movement- a design later sold by Lemania to Dubois Depraz.

I have heard that Heuer actually played a role in developing the LWO 283 movement and in exchange had exclusive use of the new movement so long as the company was partly owned by Nouvelle Lemania, which as it turned out was not very long at all.

The End of the Alliance

Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania’s ownership of Heuer ended in 1985 when the investor group decided to sell Heuer to the Middle-East investment group Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG). From this moment on, the use of Lemania movements at Heuer/ TAG Heuer quickly declined. After 1985, only the TAG Heuer 510.50X model used the Lemania 5100 movement- a significant shift from just two years earlier when Lemania provided the automatic movements for the majority of the Heuer range.

It wasn’t until 1995 and the Heuer Carrera re-edition that a Lemania movement would again be found inside a Heuer- this time the manual-wind 1873 movement. And sadly, this is almost certainly the last Heuer or TAG Heuer that will ever have a Lemania movement- because at the same time that Heuer was sold to TAG, Nouvelle Lemania began its path back towards the Swatch group and towards being swallowed by Breguet.

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