TAG Heuer (Est. 1860 – ) Despite its establishment date of 1860, the name and brand TAG Heuer did not exist until 1985. It was then that Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) acquired the Heuer Company that was already famous for making the first crown-winding pocket watches, the first automobile chronograph to record trip time, and the first truly accurate stopwatch.
In the course of its operation, Heuer has been celebrated for innovations such as intricate dials that tell high and low tides and displays that show the phases of the moon. The brand TAG operated privately held companies involved in the automotive and aviation industry. The coupling of the two firms proved fortuitous for both.
LVMH, the French luxury goods group conglomerate, purchased TAG Heuer in 1999 and made it a subsidiary. Today, Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer is also President of the Watches Division of the LVMH group.
The Heuer Watch Company was originally founded in 1860 by Edouard Heuer. Described on the LVMH website, Heuer was, “A bold young man [who at age 20 would] revolutionize the watchmaking industry by breaking away from the established rules.”
Heuer’s first watchmaking shop was in St-Imier in the Swiss Jura region. The company quickly became known for quality workmanship and precision timekeeping. In addition, a series of technical innovations in the 1880s led the company to become a specialist in timing sporting events.
Edouard patented his first chronograph in 1882 and in 1887 patented an “oscillating pinion” that is still used by makers of mechanical chronographs. In 1889, at the Paris exhibition, the firm received a silver medal for its chronograph collection.
In 1911, Heuer had received a patent for the first automobile dashboard chronograph known as the “Time of Trip.” Designed for automobiles and aircraft, two large hands mounted from the center pinion displayed the time of day as on a traditional clock. A smaller pair of hands, mounted at the top of the dial in the 12 o’clock position indicated the duration of the trip for up to 12 hours. A top-mounted crown let the user set the time, and a button mounted in that crown operated the start/stop/reset functions of the “duration of trip” counter.
Heuer introduced its first wrist chronograph in 1914. The crown was at the 12 o’clock position because the first wrist chronographs were adapted from pocket watches. In 1916, Heuer introduced the Micrograph that was the first stopwatch accurate to 1/100 of a second. The model was soon followed by the Semikrograph, a stopwatch that improved the accuracy to 1/50 of a second and added a split-second function which let users determine the interval between two contestants or events.
From 1911, when Heuer first began manufacturing the dashboard timepieces, there were a variety of models designed to meet the specific needs of racers and rallyists. In 1958, Heuer introduced a new line of these timepieces that included the Master Time (8-day clock), the Monte Carlo (12-hour stopwatch), the Super Autavia (full chronograph), Sebring (60-minute, split-second timer), and Auto-Rallye (60-minute stopwatch.) Heuer continued to manufacture dashboard timepieces into the 1980s when they were discontinued. Complementing it time-keeping inventory, Heuer also introduced timing devices for ski and motor racing events, including Formula One.
During the 1920s, Heuer watches were used at the Antwerp, Paris and Amsterdam Olympics. In 1933, the brand launched the Autavia, the first dashboard stopwatch for race cars.
From about 1935 to the early 1940s, Heuer manufactured chronographs for German Luftwaffe pilots that were known as Flieger (pilot) chronographs. The early version featured a hinged-back case and one pusher (for start/stop/reset.) Later versions had a snap-back case and added another pusher (for time-in and time-out). All Flieger chronographs had two-registers with a capacity of 30 minutes.
In the mid-1940s, Heuer expanded its line of chronographs to include both two- and three-register models plus a three-register chronograph that included a full calendar function (day/date/month). This represented the highest development of Heuer’s chronographs. The “triple calendar” chronographs were offered in stainless steel, 14 carat gold, 18, and 22 carat gold cases. Dial colors were white, black or copper.
In the early-1950s, Heuer produced watches for American retailer Abercrombie & Fitch including the Seafarer and Auto-Graph. The Seafarer had special dials—with blue, green and yellow patterns—that showed the high and low tides. This dial could also track the phases of the moon.
The Auto-Graph was produced in 1953 and 1954 and featured a tachometer scale on the dial and a hand that could be preset to a specific point on the scale. This allowed a rally driver or navigator to determine whether the car was meeting its desired pace over a measured mile. Advertisements and literature claimed that this hand could be rotated to count golf scores or other events.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Heuers were popular with both professional and amateur automobile racers. As a leading producer of stopwatches and timing equipment it was natural that racers, their crews and event sponsors began to wear Heuer chronographs. Special versions of Heuer chronographs were produced with logos of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as the names or logos of racing teams or sponsors such as Shelby Cobra, MG and Champion Sparkplugs.]
In 1962, Heuer was the first Swiss watchmaker in space. John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch when he piloted the Mercury Atlas 6 spacecraft on the first US manned space flight to orbit the earth. This stopwatch was the back-up clock for the mission. Glenn started it manually 20 seconds into the flight. It is currently on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
Heuer also introduced the Autavia chronograph in 1962. It featured a rotating bezel, marked either in hours, minutes, decimal minutes (1/100 increments), or with a tachometer scale. All manual-wind Autavias from the 1960s had a black dial, with white registers. Early cases had a screw-back and later models (beginning in 1968) had snap-backs. The Autavia name had previously been used on Heuer’s dashboard timers (see above.)
The Carrera chronograph, designed by Jack Heuer, was introduced in 1963. It had a very simple design with only the registers and applied markers on the dial. The fixed inner bezel was divided into 1/5 second increments. In the 1960s Carreras were available with a variety of dials, including all-white, all-black, white registers on a black dial, and black registers on a black dial. A three-register, triple calendar version of the Carrera was introduced around 1968.
Most Heuer chronographs from this period used movements manufactured by Valjoux including a Valjoux 72 movement (for a 12-hour chronograph) or the Valjoux 92 movement (for a 30-minute or 45-minute chronograph). The Valjoux 72 movement used a “tri-compax” design, with three registers on the dial—one register for the chronograph hours (at the bottom), one register for the chronograph minutes (at the right), and a third register for a continuously running second hand (at the left). The second hand for the chronograph was mounted on the center pinion, along with the time-of-day hands.
Heuer acquired the Leonidas brand in the early-1960s marketing watches under the Heuer-Leonidas name. One of the designs that Heuer acquired from Leonidas was the Bundeswehr chronograph used by the German air force. “BWs” featured a “fly-back” mechanism, so that when the chronograph was reset to zero, it immediately began running again to time the next segment or event.
In the mid-1960s, Heuer partnered with Breitling and Hamilton (in competition with Seiko and Zenith) to introduce an automatic chronograph. These projects were conducted in secret, as none of the competitors wanted the other companies to know of their efforts. Heuer-Breitling-Hamilton held press conferences in Geneva and New York in March 1969 to tout the new lines of chronographs.
In 1958, Edouard Heuer, who was 65 asked Jack Heuer to assist him in managing the family business and Jack reluctantly agreed. To get Jack interested in the family business, he received a checkbook and was sent to New York to organize a local shop. Within four years, Jack proved a worthy successor to the family business and owned a majority share in Ed. Heuer & Co. SA.
By the end of 1968 when the company had successfully completed development and testing for the world’s first chronograph movement with automatic winding system, Jack began preparing for the simultaneous presentation of these new chronographs in Geneva and New York.
Not long after this, the Swiss watchmaking industry dealt with its quartz crisis. It proved nearly devastating to the chronograph industry. By 1985 the number of employees was reduced from 90 000 to 30 000 people.
Jack Heuer, a qualified electronics engineer with expertise in transistor circuits, created a number of developments in the timekeeping field including the Chronosplit Manhattan GMT, electronic wrist chronograph with analog display and a normal time and a digital stopwatch. Unfortunately, though, he underestimated the capabilities of quartz for miniaturization and cheaper watches.
In the post crisis years, much of the specialized watch equipment, machines and tools were sold for scrap and precious complications were obtained for practically nothing. Jack could not survive independently and, like many others, lost his company. Consequently, he entered a Swiss consulting firm as a partner. In addition to consulting, in 1983, Jack began organizing a European Marketing bureau for a Hong Kong-based group of consumer electronics firms. Eventually he became managing director for Europe.
After taking control of the Heuer Company in 1962, Jack led it until it was acquired by the TAG Group in 1985 which was when he left to join the electronics industry. Jack’s leadership covered the years that made TAG Heuer famous.
Among other things, he led the Carrera development and launch as well as the Calibre 11 development program. He was there when Steve McQueen wore the Monaco for the film “Le Mans.” Jack had also presided over Heuer from 1971 to 1979 when the company served as the official timer for Formula 1 racing.
In 2001, Jack returned to TAG Heuer as Honorary Chairman and, not long after his return, TAG Heuer again reached new heights. Jack Heuer retired from TAG Heuer on November 18, 2013, the day before his 81st birthday. Asked why he chose that date, he replied that he’d promised himself that he would not work beyond the age of 80.
London-based Christoph Behling has been lead designer for TAG Heuer since 2004. The collaboration has resulted in some of the brand’s most celebrated pieces including the world’s fastest chronograph, the Mikrogirder launched in 2012.
However, the brand’s ascent that began in 2004 came with improvements to its already famous, Monaco. TAG Heuer took it to a new level when it launched the Monaco V4 concept watch at Baselworld. CEO Jean-Christophe Babin intended to use the upgraded model to make the statement that TAG Heuer would climb to new heights, developing cutting edge, avant-garde mechanical movements.
The V4’s birth was not easy. It took a few years to perfect the design and the first Monaco V4 sold at the 2009 Only Watch charity auction held in Monaco. Since that sale, several limited-edition series have sold out.
The Monaco V4 was a challenge because its movement represented a major break from traditional watchmaking. Rather than the usual gear train and wheels with teeth, the V4’s movement was belt-driven; the design inspired by an automobile engine. Many were skeptical about its success but TAG Heuer solved its problems due, in large part, to the work of Guy Sémon.
In November 2015, the Wareable website was among those that announced the unveiling of the TAG Heuer Connected model. It was promoted as the first luxury Android Wear smartwatch. As well as a partnership between Tag and Google, it was also the first smartwatch to boast an Intel chip inside.
The Tag Heuer Connected has a 46mm build with the case and lugs made from grade 2 titanium. It’s covered by a crystal sapphire instead of the toughened glass others use and makes the model more luxurious.
The Tag Heuer Connected measures 12.8 mm deep making it fatter than most Android Wear watches. However, the material weighs only 52 grams. The Connected comes with a black rubber strap that can be changed for color versions that are sold separately.
Jean Claude Biver promised all-day battery life using a 410mAh battery which offers a minimum 25 hour battery life. Users also have access to Android Wear apps – voice search, Maps, Translate and Fit are all key apps on the Android Wear platform and the TAG Heuer Connected offers all these and more.
At its initial launch, the Tag Heuer Connected sold for $1,500 and was limited to 1000 pieces.
Precious metals and jewels in TAG Heuer timepieces are combined in never seen before patterns and exude a special and ornamental quality. Their appeal lies in their richly jeweled presentation and are said to instill confidence in those who buy and wear them.
Women gravitate to the pink faces on some TAG Heuer watches that are ringed with circular rows of diamonds, while men often prefer the intricate pattern of instruments and readings on other watches that are encased in solid silver and gold.
Tag Heuer has paid numerous celebrities to endorse its products including: Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Jeff Gordon, Maria Sharapova, Jeremy Lin, Uma Thurman, Fernando Alonso, and Cameron Diaz.
Buying and collecting vintage Heuer models can be challenging since the data and records kept for these watches was poor compared to today. In addition, many watches have been modified – sometimes because the right parts were no longer available – and some vintage models pretend that the watch is something that it is not.
The company also manufactures TAG Heuer mobile phones and sunglasses. Current watch lines include the Monaco, Carrera, Silverstone, SLR, Link, Aquaracer, Formula 1, Microtimer and its women’s collection.
According to current owner, LMVH, “The heart of TAG Heuer … is to create reliable watches and chronographs with an innovative design, … which is bold, a little rebellious, young, self-confident and already connected to tomorrow’s world. The … brand [links] the worlds of motor racing, sports in general, music and the arts [and] reflect[s] TAG Heuer’s deep-rooted values: team spirit, a taste for innovation, challenges and performance.”