On the surface, the story of the Heuer Pasadena seems like a simple one: a single chronograph model available with either a black PVD or stainless steel case that stayed in the Heuer catalogue for just over three years. But while the Pasadena itself is interesting enough- another niche chronograph from the post-Chronomatic period at Heuer- the greater story of the Pasadena is that it’s a watch that reflects almost perfectly the various corporate travails of Heuer S.A through the early 1980s.
And those corporate struggles are important to understand when trying to un-pick the story of the Pasadena, because there are still some things today that just don’t make sense about the watch, and in particular what made it different from other models in the Heuer range, in particular some variants of the second-generation Valjoux 7750 Montreal.
Just a glance will tell you that the Heuer Pasadena is “strongly inspired” by the Porsche Design Chronograph 1, a revolutionary watch designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, better known as the designer of the iconic Porsche 911. In 1972 Porsche AG became a public company and implemented a policy that removed the family from management of the company, and so Ferdinand branched out on his own and established an industrial design business called Porsche Design. And one of the first products by Porsche Design was a new all-black Chronograph.
“I asked myself the simple question, can watches be made differently? I wanted to create a watch that matched a car. Black like the speedometer and the rev-counter – because that would be the most legible.”
– F.A. Porsche: G. Brunner/ Classic Driver
The Chronograph 1 was launched in 1972-3 powered by the then-new Valjoux 7750 movement, with the watches made by Orfina. While the Porsche Design Chronograph 1 and the Pasadena look similar, sharing an almost identical dial, the Pasadena doesn’t use the same case as the Orfina-made Chronographs 1. That would change in the late 1970s, when Porsche Design moved their watch manufacturing contract to IWC, and it’s common to see these later watches with the same “280 SL” on the caseback as the Pasadena.
Clearly inspired by the Chronograph 1, the Pasadena has a large 41mm steel case with a lug-less design. While there was a stainless steel model, the best-known Pasadena is the blackened model that you see above.
What’s not clear is what type of black coating is used, although consensus seems to be that the base steel is anodised rather than coated via Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD). Today, the term PVD is commonly used to describe a black coating, but as regular readers will know, PVD is a method of applying a coating, not the coating itself.
The dial is beautifully clear and simple. In keeping with the 7750 layout, the sub-dials are placed at 12, 6 and 9 o’clock, with a simple date window at 3pm. The hour markers are set with lume stripes, which tend to turn a lovely cream/ yellow colour as they age, just as on this example.
The hands are also typical of the time- lume coated rectangular hour, minute and central chronograph hands with no taper at all.
And as you can see the case is not only large, but also quite thick- this is a chunky watch with a case depth that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern watch. Note the un-signed crown, which is normal for this model.
Introducing the Pasadena
We see the first mention of the Pasadena in the 1979 Heuer catalogue, with its reference 750.501. While there are several variants of the Pasadena, they all share the same reference number, although some steel models have a “-3” suffix.
The Pasadena joined the Kentucky in using the Valjoux 7750 automatic movement, and while Heuer still offered several models with its own Chronomatic Calibre 12 movement (based on a Buren base calibre), demand had fallen dramatically as quartz watches took over. Jack Heuer recounts the struggles of 1979 in his excellent autobiography:
Heuer in 1979
“My company had been severely shaken and placed in a vulnerable position by developments in 1978 and, quite frankly, the outlook for 1979 was no better. We had to make yet another round of cost-cutting. We decided to abandon the assembly of movement parts that we had purchased from the Buren Watch Company when it folded in 1972. The finished chronographs we had in stock would suffice to satisfy the dwindling demand for mechanical chronographs,but this meant we had to make eight members of staff redundant.
Unfortunately, the future for mechanical chronographs remained dim. Year by year sales of this specialty product had dropped and 1979 saw a fall in sales of 35%, a devastating blow for the industry as electronic LCD chronographs made in the Far East took over the market.”
“After our 1979 deficit, the pressure from the banks increased tremendously and they demanded to take over our accounts receivable, including those of our three subsidiaries, as security. The banks asked me to hand over all 183 of my shares as collateral and they also appointed an expert to analyse our company and judge its chances of survival.”
Pasadena vs. Montreal
On of the confusing aspects of the Pasadena is how it differs from the second generation Montreal, reference 750.503. As you can see above, both watches share an almost identical dial and the same movement, but with a different case- a convex case for the Montreal and concave with a prominent lip on the Pasadena. So far, so good.
But then there is this page from the 1982 Heuer Catalogue that shows the Montreal with the same case as the Pasadena.
It’s tempting to think that this is simply an error in the catalogue, but we have seen example of the 750.503 Montreal with a “Pasadena” case, such as the example below.
So how do we explain this? Well, we can’t. It is right to say that the 7750 Montreal is most usually found with a convex case, but there are clearly a few examples where they took advantage of the fact that the two models had the same movement and dial to use Montreal dials in Pasadena cases. Given the tough financial times, we can imagine that consistent product control took a back seat to the pragmatism of survival.
Heuer Pasadena Day-Date 750.501- Version 1
The first versions of the Pasadena featured a flat back dial. Note the square/ rectangular lume markers at 3-6 and 9, which differ from later Pasadenas, as we’ll show you shortly. On these early models, the sub-dials have no outline, simply hash markers.
This changed in 1981 when we start seeing Day-Date models with a light grey circle outlining the registers, such as this example below.
And we see this change reflected in the catalogue as well- here is the Pasadena in the 1981 Heuer Catalogue.
This second-generation Day-Date with grey sub-dials is perhaps the image that most comes to mind when one thinks of the Pasadena.
Heuer Pasadena Date 750.501- Version 2
The second version of the Pasadena arrives in 1982, but this time without the Pasadena name on the dial. We also see another variant of the model, this time with only a date function, rather than the Day-Date of the early models. But despite this change, the two models share the same reference number.
You can also seen that the lume markers at 3, 6 and 9 are no longer rectangular, but instead small dots.
We also begin to see more subtle changes on the registers, with the sub-dials now indented rather than being a flat surface.
So why did Heuer drop the Pasadena name from the dial? It is likely linked to the exit of Jack Heuer in 1982, which saw Piaget/ Nouvelle Lemania takeover the shares in Heuer S.A. Following this deal, we begin to see many famous Heuer names disappear- Monza, Carrera, Silverstone- instead replaced by reference numbers alone. It’s easy to also imagine that leaving the model name off the dial would make it easier to use the same dial on the Pasadena as the Montreal, although it’s not clear how often this happened.
Heuer Pasadena Day-Date 750.501- Version 3
The third version of the Pasadena is a Day-Date model without the Pasadena name, again introduced in 1982 for a short time.
Heuer Pasadena Date 750.501-3 Steel- Version 4
Also in 1982 we see for the first time a stainless steel version of the date Pasadena, only ever without the model name on the dial. The steel model usually- but not always- has the “-3” suffix on the reference number, but as with most things Pasadena, there are exceptions.
This watch is often confused with the later Lemania 5100 watches, a confusion that we’ll explain shortly.
This model uses the same dial as the black-case equivalent.
Heuer Pasadena Day-Date 750.501-3 Steel- Version 5
The last model in the Pasadena collection is the Day-Date version of the stainless steel case. Like the date-only model, these are very difficult to find, having only been made for 12-18 months.
Movement- Valjoux 7750
All versions of the Pasadena use the Valjoux 7750, the same movement used by TAG Heuer today as the Calibre 16. You can read about the history of the 7750 here.
When you look at the 1983 Heuer Catalogue you see that the Pasadena has disappeared, and in its place is the Heuer 510.50X series with the Lemania 5100 movement. And if you think that these look similar to the Pasadena, then you’d be right- in essence, it’s the same watch but with the dial and hands modified to suit the Lemania 5100 rather than the Valjoux 7750.
The reason for the switch in movement was that in June 1982 Lemania were part of the Piaget consortium that bought Heuer. Their rationale was to ensure demand for watches using their movements, Lemania having been spun out of what is now Swatch Group in 1981. So Lemania dropped the 7750, inserted their 5100 movement and once again changed the name of the watch…but at it’s heart, the 510.50x series is still a Pasadena. You can see the logic in the reference number, the black 750.501 replaced by the 510.501.
These watches continued in the Heuer range until around 1988 when the model was finally discontinued. There are a few 510.50x models with TAG Heuer logos, with Heuer being sold- again- to TAG in 1986.
Looking Back on the Heuer Pasadena
So depending on your perspective, the Pasadena was either in the Heuer range for just 3 years, or it was in the range for closer to a decade, having evolved into the Lemania 5100 series of watches. Putting aside the inconsistencies of the model range naming, the fact remains that the watch itself is one of the better looking chronographs of Heuer’s later period, looking at its best as the steel 510.500, which no longer looked like a Porsche Design clone. Indeed, the Lemania version of the Pasadena is probably better remembered by collectors than the Valjoux version, given the collector preference for the 5100 over the 7750.
But the Pasadena in its all-black case remains an intriguing part of Heuer’s history and one of the first all-black models with a matching bracelet which continue today as a signature of the TAG Heuer range.
Further Reading and Thanks
Stewart Morely from Heuerville has led the research into the vagaries of the Pasadena- you can read his post here.
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