TAG Heuer launched a special Jack Heuer 80th Birthday Carrera Limited Edition, but didn’t stop there. The company this year has added at least five new Carrera models, commemorating both the start of its designer’s ninth decade and the ongoing central importance of Carrera within TAG Heuer’s lineup.
Though the firm will celebrate Carrera’s fiftieth year in 2014, this year it offers plenty of gifts to fans of the round model that has been worn by racing royalty since the mid-1960s when Jack Heuer ingeniously placed his creation on the wrists of Ferrari Scuderia racers like Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve and Carlos Reutemann. In the 1970s Carrera was the watch of choice for racing legends such as Jo Siffert, Emerson Fittipaldi, Denis Hulme and Ronnie Peterson.
This year, as racers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton (among others) sport Carrera models, and as Leonardo DiCaprio touts the line in ads and in person, look for the in-house Caliber 1887 Chronograph inside new rose gold and rose gold-plated editions, as well inside a new steel and gold model.
But up front for Jack Heuer’s birthday is the steel 41mm commemorative model with Caliber 17 inside that sports the now vintage Heuer logo on the dial and a special red “80” on the tachymeter scale. Designed by Mr. Heuer himself, the watch also features the Heuer family coat of arms and Mr. Heuer’s signature on the caseback, a silver sunray dial set off by dark grey chronograph counter subdials and red central chronograph hands. The company will make 3,000 pieces, each priced at $4,900.
Jack Heuer, whose great-grandfather Edouard Heuer founded what became TAG Heuer in 1860, discusses racing, his early years in the United States, and TAG Heuer’s long history of innovation
How did your training as an engineer prepare you for the family watch business?
It was quite unusual for a trained electrical engineer at that time in Switzerland to go into watchmaking. I was also trained in industrial management, so I knew cost structures. My father and uncle didn’t really know the costing structures.
Having the background gave me a balanced, systematic, disciplined approach and I’m very grateful for it. It brought an unbiased approach to an industry that was used to doing things unchanged for a long time. We were using a lot a sub-contractors and suppliers then, and were not as integrated as we are now.
What did you change when you started?
I learned marketing in America; nobody had an idea about it in Switzerland. No clue. The word didn’t exist. We had a small agency here and Al Reis, who was a guru in advertising, invented the positioning marketing area, and today he gives speeches about it. Then, we were his first consumer client. We had to advertise. We were leaders in stopwatches and our big clients were schools and sports equipment and catalogs. It wasn’t jewelers.
Of course, Feldmar in Los Angeles knew about stopwatches because they had Hollywood clients who needed to time scenes when filming. We made one specifically for film directors. But chronographs had to go retail, and we had to advertise.
How did you enter into racing in the United States
with the brand?
In the United States [where Heuer opened the company’s U.S. office in 1959], the Sports Car Club of America organized rallies. They found our U.S. office and came and wanted our dashboard timers. I checked at the races and found that a third of the cars already had our timers. I realized we had something here. It was a market niche and we developed that heavily.
Then I checked at Monte Carlo, and 63% of the cars had our dashboard timers. The SCCA was a chic public. Any car imported was exotic, so anyone who had one was driving them on weekends here. All rallies here were with imported cars and the owners had the means to buy them.
The SCCA organized the 12 hrs of Sebring and that was an outing for these people. I equipped them with the timers and then I would go give them speeches because they knew I provided the watches. And that is how I got involved in the semi-professional racing. That is where I learned about the Carrera Panamericana [the five-day race in Mexico after which Heuer named his 1964 watch design]. And I took race drivers to promote the company, including Jo Siffert to represent us. We have been involved ever since.
How has the business changed since those days?
Marketing and sales are two thirds of the bill; engineering is the rest. Ébauche factories are totally changed today. It’s all oil-free manufacturing, all computerized. Technology has taken giant steps and only a few so far can do this. We have engineers who drive for miles in order to work with us at this new technology.
Sometimes you have a certain number of motors (calibers) and don’t like how they are clothed. Sometimes this makes the exteriors more important. But with today’s tremendous consumer knowledge you have to make sure the inside is what people want. It’s more difficult than people think to make a small four-square-centimeter object that people will get emotionally attached to. It’s a challenge. You see who catches on and those who don’t. But both aspects are important.
Over our five generations this company has been very creative, but we have close to seventy patents on technical breakthroughs—that’s every two or three years we have a breakthrough. I’m very proud. It was Heuer for the first century—it was also easier to protect patents back then too.