History of Heuer II: 1930s and 1940s
Last time out, we looked at the formation of Heuer in 1860 and followed it through a number of decades of ups and downs. We left it in good health, with official representation at 3 consecutive Olympic Games and making inroads into the US thanks to collaboration with Henry Freund.
The article ended in the 1920s. Throughout much of that decade, business had boomed for many companies, fuelled by technological advances in transport, communications and power and it became known as the “Roaring Twenties”. Markets were buoyant and traders ebullient – in the US, the Dow Jones index increased six-fold between 1921 and 1929. However, these increases could not be sustained and by mid-1929, markets were already beginning to look shaky, culminating in the stock market crash of “Black Tuesday” October 29th.
The period following this market crash is called the “Great Depression” and was the most severe economic depression of the 20th century. Although arguably starting in the United States, the impacts were worldwide, with rising unemployment, hyperinflation, drops in production, all significantly impacting international trade. After hitting a low point in 1932, recovery began in some countries in 1933 though business levels remained markedly below the 20s peaks for most throughout the 30s and into the 40s in some cases.
Even if Heuer hadn’t made inroads into the US market, they would still have felt the impacts on their business. Steel production was at around 1/3 capacity, with prices rising accordingly. The British Pound was under considerable pressure, leading to them leaving the gold standard, impacting Switzerland as a pound creditor. The pound was later devalued, causing worldwide impact from limiting imports into the UK and Empire and also impacting sterling reserves in countries worldwide. Other countries soon left the gold standard too, though Switzerland, as a member of the “gold bloc” along with France and the Netherlands was one of the last to leave in 1936.
Domestic demand in Switzerland continued to be fairly strong in the early 30s but without a devalued currency, exports to the majority of her trading partners were significantly affected.
Nonetheless, production continued and was sold where possible. During the 1920s, Heuer had become increasingly aware of the importance and power of “the brand” and had begun to reflect this by adding the Heuer shield logo to letterheads and the like. This also carried through to the watches. Whilst the early wristwatches typically had “sterile” (i.e. without any indication of manufacturer or brand), Heuer and many other manufacturers were now routinely adding their mark to the dial and often also the movement of their watches, helping to build recognition of their brands.
The watches were also beginning to take further steps away from their beginnings as converted pocket watches and to be designed from the ground up as wristwatches. Taking advantage of the advances in aviation, a range of watches were made to appeal to pilots, colloquially often being called “Flieger” or pilot’s chronographs today.
These watches still show many links to those that had been converted from pocket chronographs. Though it is no longer embedded within the winding crown, there is still only one pusher to start, stop and reset the chronograph function. The lugs are welded to the case and use a solid bar rather than spring bars.
This means the strap needs to be sewn onto the watch, rather removed from the convenience we would later have of swapping straps by simply removing the spring bars.
Later watches would have the extra convenience of an additional pusher for resetting the chronograph function, just as we know it today.
More recent Heuer fans may note a lot of similarities between these watches and the “Targa Florio” re-edition watch released by TAG Heuer in 2001.