History of Heuer V: 1969 in Focus
By now you may have read that TAG Heuer has called its newest in-house chronograph movement the Calibre 1969. We’ve told you that 1969 was a pivotal year in the history of TAG Heuer, but who better than Mark Moss to bring you in detail a look back at the year that everything changed- 1969.
Yes. We have covered the 1960s already in our occasional history series. But 1969 is a particularly significant year, so we thought it worthwhile to highlight it individually with its own article. There were significant world events in 1969. Your author was born. And mankind landed on the morning or something too, which seemed to garner much more coverage in the press. Presumably because it happened first I suppose…
We’d left Heuer in pretty rude health in our ‘60s article. The Autavia and Carrera were going great guns and the Camaro had just been introduced to round out the range, offering a Heuer chronograph for those who wanted a cushion case. Jack Heuer (below) was a confident hand at the tiller and, while electronics were making inroads into timing (including those made by Heuer), the threat of the quartz crisis was still distant.And yet there was soon another battle to be fought, both at home and abroad. But this wasn’t another of Heuer’s last ditch defensive fights, it was an attempt to break some new ground in horology. We have perhaps become accustomed to this now with a series of innovative haute horlogerie watches from TAG Heuer, but here we’re talking about a period where Heuer knew what they were doing with the mechanical chronographs and stopwatches, and did it very well but where the real invention and innovation was happening more with HTEC on the electronic side. This battlefield was one where Heuer, as one of the major Swiss makers of chronographs, knew it would have to take to the field. It did, and it brought some allies.
Automatic watches had been around for a while. We saw Heuer dip its toes into that market in the ‘50s and, though it later withdrew from time-only watches, they still sold for the less specialist watch houses. The early “bumper” automatics were refined to make movements with rotors that were subtler in their approach, and smoother in operation. Some offered so-called “microrotors”, to allow for a smaller, slimmer movement overall. Automatics were being offered by traditional movement manufactures, rather than just through automatic specialists.
Some time around the mid-1960s, various entities in the watch industry started to think seriously about how to put an automatic movement in a wrist chronograph. And those thoughts all started to culminate in 1969.
On one front was Zenith, a true manufacturer of its own movements, although not one traditionally known for chronographs. On another was Seiko, which had produced Japan’s first automatic, and was keen to get its products seen by the wider world. And in the final corner, a 4-way partnership of Heuer, Breitling, Büren and Dubois-Depraz.
The former two are well known of course. Büren was a movement manufacture of some standing, with a line of notably thin automatics. Dubois-Depraz made modular complications that could be added to movements to offer additional functionality, including chronographs. The slimness of the Büren micro-rotor movements made it possible to overcome an inherent drawback of the modular automatic chronograph, its height, a tricky problem even to this day.