History of Heuer III: 1950s

Posted by: Mark Moss   |   23 April 2012   |   8 Comments  

By the start of the 1950s, the post-war boom in sales of chronographs to war veterans was beginning to tail off, leaving Heuer with additional manufacturing capacity. The decision was made to branch out into the sale of non-chronograph watches to make use of this otherwise excess capacity. Since the first wristwatches appeared in the teens, the majority of Heuer’s wristwatch production had been chronographs but with that niche shrinking, management decided to explore straight time-keeping watches. The majority of the business continued nonetheless to be in stopwatches and timers.

[1]

Notable for Heuer was that these time-only watches used an automatic movement, rather than the manual movements of the chronographs. Although automatic wristwatches had been in circulation since John Harwood developed the first in the UK in 1923, Heuer’s focus on chronographs meant their offerings until now had been manually wound. These early automatics used a moving weight to wind the mainspring, with “bumper” springs each side to prevent full rotation and are therefore commonly called bumper movements.

Heuer’s long-time movement supplier Valjoux was also primarily concerned with the manufacture of chronograph movements, so Heuer turned to Adolph Schild SA (commonly A. Schild) instead for these. By modern standards, these watches are rather small, commonly being no more than 30mm wide but were indeed considered men’s watches.

[2]

Meanwhile, over at another movement manufacture, Büren, development was underway on a feature that would have a significant impact on Heuer over a decade later. Their first micro-rotor movement was launched in 1957 and went on to feature in watches from Hamilton, Dugena and Bulova and others. Those three names will crop up again later in the Heuer story and the link through Büren is of note.

1950s Models

Heuer had its 90th anniversary in 1950 and used this occasion to run advertising showing what it calls its “mid-century” models:

[3]

These were triple calendar models without any chronograph function, in steel or 14 or 18 K gold. These models continued throughout most of the decade, with a variety of date hands, sometimes strikingly shaped:

[4]

[5]

This demonstrates that Heuer, already familiar with chronographs, was happy to offer watches with various complications rather than just a straightforward line of time-only watches. Another such watch was the Twin-Time of 1955, able to show a second time zone and presaging a similar watch that would form part of the re-issue Carrera range in the 2000s.

[6]

Triple calendars were mentioned earlier as a staple of Heuer production in the 40s and 50s, but they were further complicated in this decade to produce some models with the addition of a moonphase indicator.

[7]

There were also moonphase watches without chronographs in the range.

Home » History