One of the more interesting chapters in Heuers history is its relationship with Lemania in the 1980s. Heuer watches with Lemania automatic movements first appeared in the 1983 Heuer catalogue alongside what was to be the last appearance of the Chronomatic watches. Featured in the 1983 Heuer catalogue are the following watches, all powered the Lemania 5100 movement.
- 510.50X series- “Lemania 1000” series
- 510.511/523- “Lemania Carrera”
- 510.513- “Lemania Cortina”
- 510.403- “Lemania Silverstone”
- 510.508- “Gold Lemania Carrera”
Heuer would later add two other limited production Lemania models- The Heuer AudiSport (seen right with its Lemania branded counterpart) and the Heuer A.M.I.
And yet by 1986, almost all of these Lemania watches are gone.
So how can this all be explained? Why did Heuer and Lemania form such a close relationship? Why did it all come to an end so abruptly? And why do these Heuer watches look the same as designs offered by other companies?
In this two-part story, each of these questions will be examined as the Heuer and Lemania relationship is explored. Part One will focus on the corporate relationship between the two companies and Part Two on watches produced during the union.
The History of Lemania
Lemania has a rich history, tracing its roots back to 1884. The Lemania name first appeared in 1930, right before the company was integrated into Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), where it joined Omega and Tissot. SSIH along with AUSAG were the two dominant Swiss watch collectives that would later be combined to form the Swatch Group in the early-1980s.
Lemania was always predominately a manufacturer and designer of movements. Yes, there are quite a few Lemania-branded watches from the 1950s, but these weren’t the main focus of Lemania. The partnership between Lemania and Omega was especially strong, and today Lemania still supply movements for the Omega Speedmaster.
From a Heuer- perspective, things get interesting in 1978 when Lemania launched the 5100 movement- an automatic movement specifically designed as a response to the arrival of the low-cost Japanese quartz movements that were having a devastating impact on the Swiss watch industry. You can read more about the legend of the 5100 movement here at the late Chuck Maddox’s website.
1981 is a pivotal year in the Swiss watch industry and in the Lemania-Heuer story. Both SSIH and AUSAG were in serious financial trouble and as a result, the Swiss banks forced SSIH to sell some assets- after considering selling Omega to Seiko, it eventually decided to instead sell Lemania to its management team, which is backed by outside investors, including the Piaget family.
This new company was called “Nouvelle Lemania” (“New Lemania”) and it’s not hard to imagine that now free of its corporate role as a pure movement-specialist, Nouvelle Lemania started to expand its horizons and starts to look at designing and assembling watches under the Lemania brand.
Below is an example of this- a rare 5100/ quartz hybrid.
Meanwhile at Heuer…
By 1982 it was Heuer’s turn to face major changes, with Jack Heuer being forced by the Swiss banks to sell Heuer-Leonidas to a new group of investors. Who were these investors? They were led by Piaget and included Nouvelle Lemania. So effectively, Heuer was now owned by Nouvelle Lemania- and its no surprise that in 1983 we see Heuer phasing out its own Calibre 11/12/14/15 Chronomatic movement, to be replaced with the Lemania 5100 automatic movement- a low-cost movement that was significantly cheaper to produce that Heuer’s own Chronomatic design.
The partnership extended beyond just Heuer using the Lemania 5100 movement. Heuer also used the LWO 283 movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, which is an ETA 2890/92 base movement with a Lemania chronograph movement- a design later sold by Lemania to Dubois Depraz.
I have heard that Heuer actually played a role in developing the LWO 283 movement and in exchange had exclusive use of the new movement so long as the company was partly owned by Nouvelle Lemania, which as it turned out was not very long at all.
The End of the Alliance
Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania’s ownership of Heuer ended in 1985 when the investor group decided to sell Heuer to the Middle-East investment group Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG). From this moment on, the use of Lemania movements at Heuer/ TAG Heuer quickly declined. After 1985, only the TAG Heuer 510.50X model used the Lemania 5100 movement- a significant shift from just two years earlier when Lemania provided the automatic movements for the majority of the Heuer range.
It wasn’t until 1995 and the Heuer Carrera re-edition that a Lemania movement would again be found inside a Heuer- this time the manual-wind 1873 movement. And sadly, this is almost certainly the last Heuer or TAG Heuer that will ever have a Lemania movement- because at the same time that Heuer was sold to TAG, Nouvelle Lemania began its path back towards the Swatch group and towards being swallowed by Breguet.
The Path Back Home
Just like Heuer, Nouvelle Lemania itself was acquired by a Middle- Eastern investment house- Investcorp- in 1991. This was the second investment in watches that Investcorp had made, having acquired Breguet SA from the French Government in 1987. At this time of the acquisition less than 10% of all Breguet watches used Lemania movements, a percentage that increased significantly over time.
Investcorp would eventually sell the Breguet Group to Swatch in 1999, where Lemania was reunited with the rest of the old SSIH Group, including Omega and Tissot.
The End for Lemania?
Having Lemania back in the Swatch Group created an obvious overlap with ETA, which supplied the majority of movements both to the Swatch Group and to outside customers. Swatch quickly announced that Lemania’s 5100 movement would no longer being supplied outside the Swatch Group- ending its use by the likes of Sinn, Tutima and others.
Swatch were determined to increase the prestige and reputation of Breguet and so decided to rename Lemania as “Manufacture Breguet”, thus allowing Breguet to claim that it designed and manufactured its own movements “in-house”. Today, what was Lemania is really just part of Breguet- below is the site today where Manufacture Breguet makes its movements- there is no sign of the great name of Lemania anywhere.
In the context of the story above, you can see that the decision of Heuer to use Lemania movements was a very simple one, and in fact was probably not Heuer’s decision anyway. Using Lemania movements in Heuer watches was an obvious way for Lemania to increase its volumes and help ensure its success as an independent company. But Lemania did much more than just instruct Heuer to add Lemania movements to existing Heuer watches- it played a key role in developing several new Heuer models, as will be covered in Part Two of the Heuer-Lemania story.
Part Two of the Heuer and Lemania story can be found here.
My thanks to those who helped supply photos and input to this story- either directly or through posts at various message boards- David Sweeting, Fabrizio Rebella, David DeVos, Pascal Straatsma and of course Chuck Maddox.
1) Chuck Maddox/ OnTheDash
2) Alistair @ ATG Vintage Watches
3) Jim/ Eeeb @ WatchuSeek