History of Heuer I: Foundation- 1920s
In the first of an occasional series where David and I will look at decade by decade events in Heuer and TAG-Heuer’s history, I take a look at significant events that happened to the company between its foundation in 1860 and the end of the 1920s.
So much for decade by decade you might think, but I will still break this first article down by decade, it’s just that we don’t have as many documented watches to show you from this period. That’s not to say nothing happened, it was certainly a busy time as you will soon see.
It all started in 1860, with Edouard Heuer (above) setting up a workshop in Saint-Imier (the original workshop shown below) in the Bernese Jura. This is a predominantly a French-speaking area of Switzerland, close to the French border and a little north-east from their current home of La Chaux-de-Fonds.
It’s a small town even now, with a population under 5000, but is no stranger to watch companies, having also been where Breitling was founded before moving to Grenchen and has been home to Longines and its forerunners continuously since 1832.
Of course, none of those companies operated on the same scale as we see now. They were artisanal workshops producing small numbers of mostly silver-cased pocket watches.
Even small workshops have ambitions though and Edouard Heuer, after several difficult years of business, took the opportunity offered by 3 years of tax exemptions to move to the much larger Biel/Bienne in 1867. Called Biel at that time but now officially bilingual, German is still the prevalent language (over 50%), which shouldn’t have posed much of a problem to Edouard with his French forename and German surname. Biel/Bienne is another watchmaking centre of considerable repute, being the home of Omega and now also Swatch.
At this time, it was normal for pocketwatches to be wound by key, once the caseback had been removed or hinged open. This required keeping a key on the same chain as the watch and was something Heuer considered as somewhat inconvenient and could be improved on. The workshop (shown above) therefore set about designing a watch that could be wound from the crown, without removing the caseback and not requiring a key at all.