Autavia Dial and Case

History of Heuer IV: 1960s

In the 1950s Heuer, at the instigation of some of its senior management, had experimented with a range of non-chronograph watches. This had just exposed them to wider competition amongst the Swiss watchmaking companies though and ultimately didn’t pay off. As Jack Heuer explained to Calibre 11, the problem was that many brands sourced their dials and movements from the same suppliers:

Your creativity was rather limited, which resulted that many manufacturers had very similar models, which in turn created a vivid and brutal price war  which the big (US) importers knew very well how to exploit.

This is exactly why, when I took over, I decided to concentrate on both Chronographs (we were one of the leaders among only 12 or so firms who knew how to assemble chronographs- these still needed to be hand adjusted with filing of the levers etc, a very special know-how) and on stopwatches, where we where also one of the leaders amongst only 10 or 12 competitors ..compared to having 300 competitors in the regular watch business!”

– Jack Heuer

And so Heuer set out with the intent to focus on their strengths in the ‘60s. And those strengths meant chronographs, timers and stopwatches, something the company understood well. They would go on to prove just how well throughout the decade.

Heuer workshop at Veresiustrasse, Bienne, April 1963.[0]

1960-61

P13[1]

Heuer started the ‘60s with a range of both classic and forward-looking chronographs, with design features that would feature on Heuer chronographs throughout the decade and beyond.

Dials had pulsometer, tachymeter and decimal scale options and were typically large and clear. Cases were classical, with strong lugs. All these features lead to these watches today often being referred to as “pre-Carreras”, but let’s not jump the gun on that front…

11DialB [2]

This 404 (above) has a red Tachy scale very reminiscent of later models, with the same stylised numerals. The golden highlights are maybe more reminiscent of some of the ‘50s flourishes but we start to see the removal of excess decoration and focus on the essentials.

DSC007611250x1280 [3]

The Heuer 2444 (above) shows a bridge between the ‘50s chronographs and the beginnings of a more ascetic, less decorated style that would come to characterise 1960s Heuer.

Besides the wrist chronographs, the majority of Heuer’s business was still in timers and stopwatches. And for all sorts of purposes, not just the glamour of racing.

p04[4]

Sports timing was important nonetheless of course, and the range of sports that Heuer would produce timers for was, at times, bewildering.

p12[5]

And the first catalogue shot above reveals something that Heuer had been especially keen on ever since the establishment of Heuer Timer Corporation in New York in 1959.

Advances in timing since Heuer first introduced the Mikrotimer and Mikrograph decades earlier had only been incremental, but the potential of electronics was becoming clear throughout the ‘50s. Transistors and diodes were replacing vacuum tubes and “solid-state” was becoming the new buzzword, even though limited solid-state devices had already been around for some time.

And an individual within Heuer had seen this potential in relation to timing in particular.

Jack Heuer

507Jack Heuer, the great-grandson of Heuer’s founder, started the 1960s working in New York as head of Heuer Timer Corporation. His time in the US was cut short in 1962 when he learned that his uncle had decided to sell his shares in Heuer. Jack Heuer told us this story back in 2010:

Calibre 11: I wanted to start back in 1962 when you found out that your uncle was selling his shares in Heuer- that must have been a defining time in your career?

Jack Heuer: Yes it was, because he had no successor and we were still not in black figures in America, so he saw his losses piling up. So on a Thursday night I got a telegram in my apartment at 10 o’clock at night from my father saying, “My brother wants to sell his shares and we have a family dispute”. And so I went to the airport, found a plane that had arrived late and so it left late, so I got on the flight and the next morning I was in Switzerland asking my father what had happened.

And within a week we managed to solve that. I was a young engineer from the top university in Switzerland, I was tri-lingual and in those years the bank would give you a loan if you had that background, because at the time it was one of the good backgrounds that you could have. Being tri-lingual [English, German and French] was very seldom for an engineer to be fluent in all three languages, so they gave me enough credit so that I could buy the shares from my uncle. I bought enough shares so that I would have the majority and then my father gave me 40% and I bought 12% from my uncle.

Calibre 11: You were very young at the time [28], so what were your ambitions? One week you are in the US and the next you are back in Switzerland owning the company…

Jack Heuer: …It was very simple because I told my uncle, “Listen, either you sell and that is the end of my career in the watch industry- I didn’t break my back for two years here in New York to have the rug pulled out from under my feet, so either [you sell to me] or I go back to what I was originally going to do”. I had an offer from Arthur D. Little to go to Boston as a consultant, so that’s why he gave in and so then I could call the shots.

Jack Heuer’s move back to Switzerland had a major impact on the shape of the Heuer range for the next twenty year, starting with a new Chronograph that used a famous name.

1962

The Heuer dash timers had had names pretty much since they were first introduced. Specific stopwatches had catchy names too. They were easier to remember than numeric codes, after all. But the watches, with very few exceptions, had stuck with the numbers. That was about to change, with a name that was already familiar from the dash timers.

Autavia. Auto + Aviation. It had featured on several different timers but now it was about to feature on a watch.

28Aut7211[6]

Jack Heuer tells the story of how the new watch became to be known as the Autavia:

 “Being at the helm of the company, I felt that we had to review our range of Chronographs. I started out in 1962 with the Autavia (we had withdrawn the Autavia Dashboard 12-hour stopwatch from the market due to the poor legibility of the dial), because the name was now free and  this model enjoyed a very good response when we launched it in the fall of 1962.”

– Jack Heuer

In comparison to later Autavias, these early 2446s and 3646s look a little like they come from an earlier decade but at the time they certainly made a strong impression. Large and clear registers show elapsed time, and large lume plots and fully-lumed hands makes time readily visible even in some darkness.

Autavia Dial and Case[7]

Screw-down casebacks reveal venerable, but classic, movements from Valjoux, like this Valjoux 72.

file-7[8]

1962 was also notable for a significant milestone. The first Heuer in space! John Glenn, on board the Friendship 7 in February 1962, had a lot of on-board instruments to cope with, but also used a Heuer 2915A stopwatch as a back-up for the main timer on the spacecraft.

JohnGlenn_4[9]

The “watch” (strapped to Glenn’s arm in the photo above) is currently owned by the Smithsonian Institute.

1962 Stopwatch_John Glenn[10]

1963-1965

If 1962 had seen the successful introduction of the Autavia, then 1963 was going to see another, even more successful, one.

Yes, the Heuer Film-Master was definitely successful, being used in (and out) of Hollywood for the rest of the decade and into the next for timing film and television.

3626 [11]

Just kidding of course, the Film-Master wasn’t the 1963 introduction I was really talking about! But it does go to show just how widely Heuers were used, in all sorts of spheres, and not just the wrist chronographs we tend to associate with the name.

No, what really made a splash in 1963 was the introduction of a Chronograph inspired by an exciting, but dangerous, road race set in Mexico in the early 1950s. It only ran for 5 years, from 1950 to 1954, before being cancelled in the wake of the Le Mans disaster in 1955 that also resulted in Mercedes Benz withdrawing from competition until the 1980s.

In those 5 years, the race had claimed 27 lives, almost half as many as died on the Mille Miglia over the much longer period of 30 years. Nonetheless, it was a glamorous event and lent its name to a number of products, notably various Porsches.

Carrera_Panamericana_2[12]

But the watch that Heuer named after the event is what we are interested in here. The Autavia the year before borrowed from Heuer’s past and was a successful confluence of many of their traditional influences, but for the Carrera Jack Heuer took away everything that was superfluous and pared the chronograph down to its essential elements.

photo(19)[13]

It resulted in a watch that espoused the Bauhausian theory of form following function, and one of unparalleled elegance and simplicity. That perhaps reached its peak in the watch above, a simple 2447 SN. Simple, slim baton markers surround a dial with no extraneous decoration and equally clear hands.

The dial is surrounded by an internal, non-rotating bezel with markings to show 1/5 second to allow extra precision in the reading taken from the chronograph.

Dials were available in silver (referred to as “Standard” in US catalogues, but distinctly silver in these early models, with a starburst brushed finish) and black, with two or three registers. The latter added a 12 hour counter to the 60 second and 45 minute registers of the 2 register models.

Heuer Carrera_1963_3[14]

The movements were the well-proven 72 (3 register) and 92 (2) from Valjoux.

The watch was more or less an instant success and was soon selling in unprecedented numbers for Heuer wrist chronographs. Indeed, the only other wristwatch model able to withstand its onslaught was the Autavia, the Carrera soon making the others redundant.

Soon, the Carrera was also available with the same specialist scales that had graced some of its predecessors. These arguably lost some of the Carrera’s elegant simplicity but made up for it with increased functionality.

2447t[15]

The Tachy version (above) used a near-identical scale to that used on what are now referred to as pre-Carreras, with red printing to contrast with the rest of the dial. The black-dialled version is monochrome in comparison, but still very striking.

Heuer_Carrera_1963_2[16]

3409[17]

Heuer didn’t forget the engineers and made available a version with decimal seconds, shown in a black print. Decimal seconds allow for easy calculations to take place and are only converted back to seconds after all the mathematical operations have been completed.

The final scale is the Pulsometer, as used by medical professionals and one that Heuer had been granted a patent on decades earlier.

Heuer Carrera [18]

Because of the smaller market for this scale, these watches are now rare in comparison to the other scaled watches and much sought after in some quarters.

Heuer recognised the power of the name, and endowed their range of perpetual calendars with the Carrera name too, although the name never appeared on their dials.

"Carrera" Dato[19]

Forming an effectively unbroken line of DNA from the 30s and 40s, these watches were marketed as an executive range for Heuer. But for the executive who maybe lusted after something a touch more glamorous, Heuer had another answer:

2456s[20]

These 18K gold versions are also rare and sought after.

To learn more about the history of the Heuer Carrera, take a look at the dedicated Heuer Carrera homepage.

1966

On the wristwatch front, Heuer now concentrated their efforts on developing the Autavia and Carrera. The first Autavia looked like it came from an earlier decade than the Carrera, with its dauphine hands and large registers, so was “updated” to closer resemble the Carrera.

11Aut24461st2nd [21]

The Carrera had not been updated since its introduction, but got a new model this year, touted as the first wrist chronograph to include a date window.

Heuer_Carrera[22]

The early versions had the date window at 12 o’clock but it was felt that this was somewhat obscured by the chronograph second hand in its resting position, so later models moved the date to 9 o’clock, losing the seconds register in the process.

TAG_HEUER_3414[23]

Wristwatches had not been the only focus of the mid-60s however. Jack Heuer had always been interested in the potential of electronics for timing accuracy and that became clear with the renaming of the US subsidiary to Heuer Time and Electronics Corp.

Heuer were now researching and producing electronic timing devices that would go on to attract the attention of race teams as accuracy improved notably.

Heuer Microtimer[24]

1967

LeonidasIn 1964 Heuer merged with Leonidas, a competitor who produced a range of timers, Chronograph and military watches. The new company- known as Heuer-Leonidas S.A used the Leonidas brand only sparingly going forward. One watch that did carry the Leonidas logo was a new military watch launched in 1967- the Bundeswehr.

HeuerBundb [25]

The Bundeswehr (or “Bund”) built on Leonidas’ military heritage, with the Heuer- logo model (above) being added later. The Bund has a large 43mm case and a manual-wind Valjoux 220 movement.

The Bund also played a key role in the origins of another Swiss watch company- Sinn. Helmut Sinn gained a contract to service the watches for the German army, and took the opportunity to swap out the original Heuer dials with a Sinn logo replacement- much to Heuer’s chagrin.

1968

Camaro[26]

Having relied on just two wristwatch model lines since 1963, 1968 saw the introduction of a new one that is sometimes overlooked nowadays- the Heuer Camaro.

The Camaro- named after the famous Chevrolet muscle-car from the same era- was the last model launched ahead of the Chronomatic-era. The watch had a square cushion case, and like the Carrera was available with a variety of two and three register chronographs powered by the Valjoux 72 and 97 calibres.

The Camaro had a short life-span at Heuer, being phased out around 1971.

1969

Calibre11_Chronomatic_1969When it came to the 1960s, Heuer saved the best until last: 1969 was perhaps the defining year in the company’s history. It was the year that Heuer launched the Calibre 11 Chronograph movement (the Chronomatic– arguably the world’s first automatic Chronograph, and the movement after which this website is named) and a radical square sports watch- the Monaco.

The arrival of the Calibre 11 also saw major updates to the Carrera and Autavia ranges- models that today are the best-known of the vintage Heuers. In fact, so much happened in 1969 that this single year deserves its own story- which you’ll be able to read here soon.

So, as the swinging sixties came to a close, Heuer looked to be in better shape than ever. It had a dynamic new CEO, was a world leader in both electronic and mechanical chronographs and had launched a series of iconic motor-sport inspired models. But dark clouds were gathering for the Swiss watch industry…the 1970s would change everything.

 ***

References

[1] [2] [4] [5] [6] [21] Courtesy www.onthedash.com

[3] Par Wallstrom

[7] [8] [13] [19] Abel Court

[0] [9] [10] [11] [12] [14] [16] [17] [18] [22] [23] [24] [26] Courtesy TAG Heuer

[15] David Devos

[20] Courtesy Arno Haslinger at http://www.heuerchronographs.com/

[25] Derek Dier: http://watchestobuy.com

 

  • Brook

    Mark/David – thanks for the informative article, great way to start my Sunday morning.

  • Mark

    Thanks Brook, this one was a little longer in the making than intended but glad you found it informative.

  • heuerdiver

    Amazing report.. just the thought of attempting to cover the 60's period is scary – such a important era for Heuer. Best of luck for part V – the 70's! Gulp!

    Stewart
    Heuerville

  • Fabrizio

    Wonderful, many thanks. And what lovely hi -res pictures,
    these are really game-changers to me, adding so much.
    Fabrizio

  • Thanks for the feedback Gents, and thanks to Mark for another great article.

    Yes, '70s is coming up…but the one that I am looking forward to the most is actually the 1980s. There is so much going on during this time. The watches themselves from this period are not that interesting, but in the Boardroom there was plenty happening!

    dc

    • Fabrizio

      Hey David – waiting for the '80s? You bet:-)!!

  • michwir

    danke Mark,

    a synopsis for the eternity

    michwir

  • Peter Moller, Denmark

    Hi Mark

    Both text and pictures are just fantastic. Thanks for shearing your big knowledge.

    Peter

  • Great overview, loved the images!

  • Thanks Viktor