Heuer’s relationship with Lemania in the early 1980s was brief, but intense. As the first part of the Heuer/ Lemania story detailed, Heuer was actually owned by a consortium involving Lemania for a few short years before being sold to TAG in 1984/5. This relationship explains why there were so many Heuer models using the Lemania 5100 movement in the early 1980s.
However what this doesn’t explain is why are there so many other brands that sold almost identical version of these Heuer watches. Based on the trusty formula of two-parts research mixed with one-part assumption and one-parts guesswork, the conclusion is perhaps surprising: Because for the most part, they were not Heuer designs in the first place.
Before explaining why many of these designs were likely owned by Lemania itself, its worth revisiting the basics of the way that Swiss watch industry was structured.
The Swiss Watch Industry- A Model in Specialisation
The Swiss watch industry that emerged in the 1900s was very much one of specialisation- there were very few companies that designed a new watch, manufactured the parts, designed and manufactured the movement, assembled the parts into a complete watch and then marketed and distributed the final product under that company’s brand- that’s simply not how it worked.
Instead the industry was- and still is to a large extent- based on specialised suppliers who worked together. There were the specialist movement manufacturers (such as ETA and Lemania), case manufacturers (such as Piquarez and Schmitz) and bracelet manufacturers (such as Gay Freres and Novavit).
Heuer itself was a watch “brand”. Heuer would design a new model and then source the parts for this design from the range of these specialist sub-contractors. Sometimes a bespoke part was used; sometimes an existing part was deemed to be suitable (which is why, for example, you see many Swiss brands using the same Novavit bracelet).
Heuer would then test, assemble and check the parts before packing and distributing the finished product. And this was exactly the same for the vast majority of the well-known Swiss watch brands.
Lemania’s role was quite different to Heuer- it was essentially one of the in-house movement suppliers to the SIHH group, which included Omega and Tissot. Yes, there were some Lemania-branded watches, but this was not the main role of Lemania. However, indications are that Lemania’s role expanded when it became independent in the early 1980s.
Nouvelle Lemania- More Than Just a Movement Supplier
The theory that seems the most likely is that in order to create demand for its own movements, the newly independent Nouvelle Lemania itself designed several watches in the late 1970s- early 1980s and then offered these watches to other Swiss watch brands. Given the parlous state of the Swiss watch-making industry, the offer of a newly designed chronograph with a low-cost 5100 Lemania movement must have been attractive.
Most of these “Poor Man’s” versions were sold by brands a lot smaller than Heuer- Sinn, Croton and others. Given that Lemania were partially in control of Heuer, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lemania made the decision that Heuer would sell these designs using old Heuer model names and then looked to bulk up volume with sales to other brands.
While it’s certainly possible that Heuer played a role in designing these watches, there is good evidence that it was Lemania rather than Heuer than owned the rights to these designs with two exceptions: The 510.5XX and the Gold “Carrera” 510.508.
With the exception of the 501.5XX, none of the Heuer Lemania watches lived past the time when Lemania sold Heuer to TAG- yet the “Poor Man’s” versions of these watches continued to appear- which is unlikely if Heuer owned the designs.
The other evidence for these being Lemania designs is the lack of the usual Heuer markings- typically the crowns and case backs on the Heuer Lemania watches do not carry the Heuer shield (with the exception of the 510.5XX). This makes sense as it maximised the ability of Lemania to make watches for multiple companies using common parts. The characteristics of genuine Lemania Heuers will be explored in more detail in the third and last part of the Heuer and Lemania story.
Below is an overview of each Lemania powered Heuer and an assessment of who was likely to have owned the design rights to that model.
There are essentially two “Poor Man’s” two versions of Heuer Silverstone- one with the same charcoal dial as the Silverstone, and the other with a herringbone blue dial. While Heuer itself only sold the Charcoal version, the Sinn 105 was available in both colours. Lemania itself also sold its own branded version of the watch.
Some versions of these Silverstone’s come with a 5012 Lemania movement, which is a slower-beating version of the 5100 without the 24-hour register. It appears as though Heuer only used the 5100, which was modified to remove the 24-hour register (a little odd given that the 5012 already had this removed).
Verdict: Lemania design
The Heuer AudiSport was a limited edition watch that Heuer made for Audi in the early 1980s. The watch has no formal Heuer reference number and shares its design with several watches sold by Lemania. The Lemania version was available in the same sand-blasted finish as the Heuer and in a black PVD. Both of the Lemania versions have the 24-hour register, which the Heuer does not.
Verdict: Lemania design
The Heuer Cortina has the most “Poor Man’s” versions of any of the Heuer Lemania watches, being sold by brands including Croton, Lemania, Sinn…and Omega (Although not really fair to categorise the Omega as a “Poor Man’s” Heuer). The Lemania “Cortina” below belongs to reader Thierry Pucci, who kindly provided these photos
The Omega watch below presents the strongest evidence that this is also a Lemania-design, being sold in 1979 as an Omega- before it appeared as the Heuer Cortina and while Lemania was still part of SIHH. The watch also re-appeared in 1993 with a Lemania dial to mark the 75th anniversary of the Football Club FC Vallee De Joux. Perhaps its even possible that this was an Omega design sold to Lemania as part of its break with SIHH.
Verdict: Lemania design
This version of the Heuer Carrera- the last of the Carrera models before the re-edition of 1996, is similar to the Cortina, but with the addition of a 24-hour register and with lugs cut into the case for the fitting of a bracelet with end-pieces. Unlike the other Lemania Heuer’s, there aren’t many “Poor Man’s” versions of the Carrera, the closest being this Lemania Worldtimer that essentially has the same case, but with an external bezel.
Verdict: Hard to be definitive, but lean towards Lemania
The Heuer 510.5XX watches are a little different to the others. There were versions sold by Lederer and Tourneau, but these were very clearly re-branded Heuer’s, and often had Heuer branded parts, such as inside the case-back or on the bracelet. I’ve only seen these in black or olive PVD and have never seen a Lemania-branded version.
This is also the only Lemania powered Heuer to survive into the TAG Heuer era, all the other watches dying out when Lemania sold its interest in Heuer.
Verdict: Heuer design
The Heuer AMI was made for the Italian Airforce and is one of the rarest of the Lemania Heuer’s. Again, there are many other versions of the same watch, including Lemania, Tutima and Sinn. The Heuer branded version is thought to have been produced after these other brands, leaving little doubt about its origins.
Verdict: Lemania design
In trying to identify the origins of the Heuer Lemania series, the purpose is not to denigrate Heuer watches designed by Lemania as not being a “real” Heuer- in my view the Heuer Lemania series is a very worthy collection of watches that bridged the end of the Chronomatic era and the beginning of the quartz and TAG Heuer era. With the exception of the 510.5XX series, the Lemania Heuer watches are quite niche and hard to find today, making them every bit as collectible as many Autavia’s and Carrera’s. In fact, a good AMI or AudiSport Heuer is harder to find than most Chronomatic Heuer’s and command strong prices.
One of the downsides of these watches is fake, or put-together watches. In many cases the difference between a “Poor Man’s” watch and the corresponding Heuer is only the printing on the dial- which opens up lots of opportunities for the less scrupulous. The third and final part of the Lemania and Heuer story will look at the characteristics of these Lemania Heuer watches and how to tell a real Heuer from a watch that probably started its life as something else.
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.
The photos of these Lemania Heuer’s have been gathered from various websites over the last couple of years, for some of which the source has been lost. Many come from message board exchanges involving David S, Pascal and Chuck.
If I’ve used your photo and not credited you, please feel free to get in touch.
Specific credits are:
Lemania Silverstone: Heuerboy.com
Silverstone: OnTheDash; Sinn 105P RLX5513.com; Heuerboy; Chuck Maddox
Heuer AudiSport: OnTheDash; Dave Sweeting; Chuck Maddox
Heuer Carrera: epatz; Chuck Maddox; OnTheDash
Heuer 510.100: OnTheDash; SportMichael
Heuer A.M.I: OnTheDash; Dave Sweeting