Heuer and Lemania: Part Two

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   17 February 2010   |   14 Comments  

Heuer’s relationship with Lemania in the early 1980s was brief, but intense. As the first part of the Heuer/ Lemania story detailed, Heuer was actually owned by a consortium involving Lemania for a few short years before being sold to TAG in 1984/5. This  relationship explains why there were so many Heuer models using the Lemania 5100 movement in the early 1980s.

However what this doesn’t explain is why are there so many other brands that sold almost identical version of these Heuer watches. Based on the trusty formula of two-parts research mixed with one-part assumption and one-parts guesswork, the conclusion is perhaps surprising:  Because for the most part, they were not Heuer designs in the first place.

Before explaining why many of these designs were likely owned by Lemania itself, its worth revisiting the basics of the way that Swiss watch industry was structured.

The Swiss Watch Industry-  A Model in Specialisation

The Swiss watch industry that emerged in the 1900s was very much one of specialisation- there were very few companies that designed a new watch, manufactured the parts, designed and manufactured the movement, assembled the parts into a complete watch and then marketed and distributed the final product under that company’s brand- that’s simply not how it worked.

Instead the industry was- and still is to a large extent- based on specialised suppliers who worked together. There were the specialist movement manufacturers (such as ETA and Lemania), case manufacturers (such as Piquarez and Schmitz) and bracelet manufacturers (such as Gay Freres and Novavit).

Heuer itself was a watch “brand”. Heuer would design a new model and then source the parts for this design from the range of these specialist sub-contractors. Sometimes a bespoke part was used; sometimes an existing part was deemed to be suitable (which is why, for example, you see many Swiss brands using the same Novavit bracelet).

Heuer would then test, assemble and check the parts before packing and distributing the finished product. And this was exactly the same for the vast majority of the well-known Swiss watch brands.

Lemania’s role was quite different to Heuer- it was essentially one of the in-house movement suppliers to the SIHH group, which included Omega and Tissot. Yes, there were some Lemania-branded watches, but this was not the main role of Lemania. However, indications are that Lemania’s role expanded when it became independent in the early 1980s.

Nouvelle Lemania- More Than Just a Movement Supplier

The theory that seems the most likely is that in order to create demand for its own movements, the newly independent Nouvelle Lemania itself designed several watches in the late 1970s- early 1980s and then offered these watches to other Swiss watch brands. Given the parlous state of the Swiss watch-making industry, the offer of a newly designed chronograph with a low-cost 5100 Lemania movement must have been attractive.

Most of these “Poor Man’s” versions were sold by brands a lot smaller than Heuer- Sinn, Croton and others. Given that Lemania were partially in control of Heuer, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lemania made the decision that Heuer would sell these designs using old Heuer model names and then looked to bulk up volume with sales to other brands.

While it’s certainly possible that Heuer played a role in designing these watches, there is good evidence that it was Lemania rather than Heuer than owned the rights to these designs with two exceptions: The 510.5XX and the Gold “Carrera” 510.508.

With the exception of the 501.5XX, none of the Heuer Lemania watches lived past the time when Lemania sold Heuer to TAG- yet the “Poor Man’s” versions of these watches continued to appear- which is unlikely if Heuer owned the designs.

The other evidence for these being Lemania designs is the lack of the usual Heuer markings- typically the crowns and case backs on the Heuer Lemania watches do not carry the Heuer shield (with the exception of the 510.5XX). This makes sense as it maximised the ability of Lemania to make watches for multiple companies using common parts. The characteristics of genuine Lemania Heuers will be explored in more detail in the third and last part of the Heuer and Lemania story.

Below is an overview of each Lemania powered Heuer and an assessment of who was likely to have owned the design rights to that model.

Heuer Silverstone

There are essentially two “Poor Man’s” two versions of Heuer Silverstone- one with the same charcoal dial as the Silverstone, and the other with a herringbone blue dial. While Heuer itself only sold the Charcoal version, the Sinn 105 was available in both colours. Lemania itself also sold its own branded version of the watch.

Some versions of these Silverstone’s come with a 5012 Lemania movement, which is a slower-beating version of the 5100 without the 24-hour register.  It appears as though Heuer only used the 5100, which was modified to remove the 24-hour register (a little odd given that the 5012 already had this removed).

Verdict: Lemania design

Heuer AudiSport

The Heuer AudiSport was a limited edition watch that Heuer made for Audi in the early 1980s. The watch has no formal Heuer reference number and shares its design with several watches sold by Lemania. The Lemania version was available in the same sand-blasted finish as the Heuer and in a black PVD. Both of the Lemania versions have the 24-hour register, which the Heuer does not.

Verdict: Lemania design

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