If you think about the 1960s and 70s as being Heuer’s motorsport era, then the 1980s and 90s were without doubt the era of the Heuer (and TAG Heuer) Diving watch. Models like the 1000 and 2000 (today’s Aquaracer) series drew their design inspiration from the dive watch template established by Rolex.
While much of the range during this period had some link to diving watches, the watches that stand out the most for me are the hard-core, “Professional Diver” watches- real tool watches for when you need to dive deeper than the swimming pool. Heuer and TAG Heuer have released three watches that fit into this category- the Super Professional from the 80s and 90s, the Aquagraph from the 2000s and this watch from the 1980s- the Heuer and TAG Heuer 1000m diver.
Despite being one of the brand’s pioneering dive watches, the series doesn’t really have a model name, but for the sake of this article, let’s call them the TAG Heuer Deep Dive series.
The Deep Dive was part of the Heuer and TAG Heuer range for around 10 years (1982-1992), and along with the Super Professional is the most collectible TH watch from this era. While the majority of the Deep Dive watches are quartz-powered, there are two Automatic versions that sit at the top of the range in terms of rarity, the most special of which is the TAG Heuer Spirotechnique.
But the Deep Dive did not die out when it was discontinued by TAG Heuer around 1992/3- it had a second life as the Auricoste Spirotechnique, which was available directly from Auricoste until around 2008. Little is known about the connection between TAG Heuer, Spirotechnique and Auricoste, but having spoken with Auricoste, we can now shed some light on how these three companies came together.
And just when you thought that the Deep Dive had finally been retired comes the news that there is a Spirotechnique re-edition on the way- the first TAG Heuer re-edition not made by TAG Heuer…
The Early Days- Heuer 1000m
The Heuer 1000m Diver (Ref. 980.023N/L) was launched in 1982- the same year as the 2000-Series. While the watch shared its dial and hands with the regular 1000 Series family, the 1000m Diver is distinguished by a thicker, heavy-duty 41.5mm stainless steel case and a recessed crown that sits at 4 o’clock.
While the regular 1000 series was rated to depths of 200m, the Professional diver was rated to 1000m.
It’s common to talk about the Heuer 1000m as being an “over-sized” diving watch, which is true if you compare it to a 1000 Series from the same era. However when placed alongside the current Aquaracer 500m Chronograph, you can see how much watch sizes have changed over time.
The design of the Heuer 1000m was similar to the template established by Squale in the 1970s, as seen on this Squale Spirotechnique watch (don’t worry- we’ll get to Spirotechnique later)- you can see from the position of the crown and bezel design where Heuer’s designers got their inspiration.
While the Squale cases were made by Von Buren and featured a domed crystal, the Heuer case was made by M.R.P SA (who made many of Heuer’s and TAG Heuer’s cases during this period) and featured a flat mineral crystal.
M.R.P SA also made cases for other brands, such as Dodane and Sinn. Both of these brands shared an identical dive watch with a very similar case and bezel design to the Heuer, but with a different dial. Both of these watches used Automatic movements and a slimmer case than the original Heuer, meaning they were only rated to a depth of 200m.
While these cases are not interchangeable with the TAG Heuer versions, they are very close in terms of design.
While some of the Heuer 980.023 casebacks have an engraved Heuer logo, the early watches had no logo at all, and are simply marked with the Reference number and depth rating.
TAG Heuer Professional Diver
The 1000m Diver made the transition from a Heuer to a TAG Heuer watch with little change. The watch continued to use the same reference number from 1985 through to 1991, when it changed from 980.023 to WH1111, although I have never seen a 1000m diver with the updated TAG Heuer reference code.
As ETA phased out the older ESA movements, they introduced much thinner movements, allowing brands to use shallower cases, which explains why the second generation Deep Dive is shallower than the original Heuer model, but still rated to a depth of 1000m.
While the quartz model continued in the catalogue, TAG Heuer also released two Automatic versions of the Deep Dive- the first being this fantastic “glow-dial” model from the late 1980s (Ref. 180.123). These Automatic versions used a thinner case than the original Heuer version, and combined with their Automatic movements, meant that the watches were only rated to 200m- the same as the other TAG Heuer diving watches.
TAG Heuer used the “glow-dial” on several of their watches during the 1980s and they still look great more than 20 years later.
It’s perhaps ironic that this “non-tool” version of the Deep Dive was the basis for perhaps the most famous of these watches- the collaboration with French Scuba company Spirotechnique.
La Spirotechnique is a French company founded in 1947 to develop the Aqua-Lung regulator developed by Jacques Cousteau, who was also a Board member of Spirotechnique.
While the main focus of Spirotechnique was high-end diving equipment, there has been a long line of watches with the Spirotechnique logo that were co-branded with watch companies and sold by Spirotechnique, including Dodane, Squale and Doxa. As well as being a supplier to professional divers, Spirotechnique also supplied equipment, including watches, to the French Army and Navy.
When I interviewed Jack Heuer in 2010, I asked about how the Heuer dive watches grew in popularity:
“We would go the world’s sporting-goods fairs and our importers would go the local sporting-goods fairs because the sporting-goods dealers would buy stopwatches.
And in these fairs we would have a stand and also show wrist watches, because in those years we were happy for any sale, we didn’t care about distribution in the late 70s in the middle of the crisis!
And so people came from the skin-diving companies and they said that we have problems getting a good quality skin-diving watch- they couldn’t get it from a big brand, they didn’t want to allow them to buy it with the [Skin-diving] brand, and so we started making and double-branding with some of the big names in skin-diving equipment, such as Spirotechnique.
And would you believe it, these watches started selling like crazy! The company came out of trouble because of these watches”
But TAG Heuer never held the Spirotechnique licence itself, but as you’ll soon see, they worked with someone who did.
The TAG Heuer Spirotechnique (Ref. 180.023) used the same slimmer case and Automatic movement as the Glow watch mentioned above, with the only design change over the Quartz model being the addition of the Spirotechnique name and brown Diver logo.
Heuer and TAG Heuer Deep Dive Movements
The first versions of the Deep Dive with the over-sized case has the model number 980.023N. These watches use the thicker ESA 536.121 quartz movement, while the newer 980.023L model uses the newer and slimmer ETA 955.114. This means that the “N” watches are thicker than the “L” watches.
While parts for the ETA movement are easy to find, the ESA version is more of a challenge- it took me more than a year to find the parts that I needed to repair the movement in my quartz Heuer 1000m.
The two Automatic versions use what TAG Heuer today call the Calibre 5- the reliable ETA 2824-2.
The story of the TAG Heuer Deep Dive doesn’t end when the watch was phased out in 1992/3, because TAG Heuer then licenced the design to Auricoste for this watch- the Auricoste Spirotechnique. The Auricoste model is identical to the TAG Heuer, with the exception of the hands, and of course the Auricoste Logo.
Auricoste is a French watch brand that focuses on supplying watches to the French military and Navy, meaning that many of the Auricoste watches were military issue, coming to the second hand market with decommissioning papers.
Auricoste is today owned by the Tordjmann family, who have been focused on reinvigorating the brand. And as you’ll see below, there is some exciting news coming from the House of Auricoste.
Auricoste, TAG Heuer and Spirotechnique- the Link
So just what was the link between TAG Heuer, Auricoste and Spirotechnique? I spoke to Laurent Tordjmann at Auricoste to find the answer.Laurent’s father Claude was the exclusive French importer and distributor for Heuer and TAG Heuer going back to the 1970s and 80s and so knew TAG Heuer well, especially Willy Gad Monnier, who was one of the the senior principals at both Heuer and TAG Heuer.
While Auricoste had the licence to market the Spirotechnique co-brand watches, they did not have a suitable dive watch in their range to market as a Spirotechnique. And so, Claude Tordjmann used his connections with TAG Heuer to secure the rights to produce the Deep Dive under the Auricoste/ Spirotechnique branding.
In exchange, TAG Heuer not only gained some income from the licencing deal, but also negotiated the rights to use the Spirotechnique branding on a limited number of the watches using their logo.
And the last piece of the puzzle involved who made the watches. One of the secrets of the Swiss watch-making industry in the 1980s and 1990s was the use of contract manufacturers. And in the case of the TAG Heuer and Auricoste Spirotechnique, the watch was actually made by Zodiac. And who owned Zodiac? Why, Willy Gad Monnier, who had by now left TAG Heuer.
Zodiac’s “Deep Dive”
Here are a couple of shots of Zodiac’s version of the Spirotechnique watch
The story does not end there, because the original intention of Auricoste was to fulfill the Military contract, but there were problems when Zodiac entered bankruptcy in 1997, and even more problems when Fossil bought Zodiac in 2001 and replaced the whole workforce.
According to Laurent Dodane (Principal of French watchmaker Dodane, who was also close to Spirotechnique, having made the first Spirotechnique watch under the “Triton” logo) in this thread, Spirotechnique became unhappy with Fossil owning Zodiac and so refused to accept supply of the watches, meaning that Auricoste now had stock that it could sell to the public.
And that explains why you could still buy an Auricoste Spirotechnique up until 2008, even though production had ended some years before.
Auricoste today: The New Spirotechnique
Auricoste has chosen to release two versions- stainless steel and an all-black PVD design. Both cases are available with either circular hour markers (like the original) or the over-sized numerals. Both watches use the same movement as the original Auricoste Spiro (ETA 2824-2) and come with three straps, including the NATO and Zulu straps you see here.
The design of the new Auricoste Spiro is spot-on- it’s exactly what I think a re-edition should be. Yes, it is based on an old design, but it has been thoroughly modernised to give the new Spirotechnique a contemporary edge.
Take a look over the design and you see all the details are there- the Bezel design, the gentle slope of the shoulders of the watch leading into the lugs and of course the Spirotechnique branding. Of the two designs I prefer the stainless steel version and definitely with the circular hour-markers.
So the new 2012 Auricoste Spirotechnique feels like the perfect way of rounding out the story of the Heuer 1000m series. A Design that set Heuer and TAG Heuer down the path of gaining credibility in the dive-watch market that has now been re-invented 30 years later. Just a shame that its took Auricoste to bring back a classic TAG Heuer.
With Thanks to:
Laurent Tordjmann, Auricoste