A little Heuer History…

With Baselworld 2016 having come to a close, next up is those watches we fawned over – and those that missed the mark – being delivered to boutiques the world over… But before the new releases hit ADs, get ready for a sequel to Baselworld in the form of advertisements to further promote the latest marvels of horology – on the pages of magazines, banners on websites and maybe even stretched across highway billboards. With this in mind, I wanted to take a look at original advertising for two watches that – at one time – were new to the market: Heuer’s Autavia and Carrera chronographs.

Oh to be alive in the ’60s and have an eye for wristwatches… In 1963 a 4th generation Heuer by the name of Jack designed the Carrera chronograph. And design a watch he did… In his autobiography The Times Of My Life he reflects on his days as a student in Switzerland and the influence furniture designer Charles Eames and architect Eero Saarinen had on his aesthetic sensibilities. Incorporating the principles of these modern designers and their contemporaries – along with his own – Jack Heuer created a model that became the flagship product for his family’s brand.

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According to Jack “a manufacturer of plastic watch crystals had invented a steel tension ring that fit inside the crystal and kept it under tension against the surrounding steel case, thereby greatly increasing the degree of water resistance. [He] decided to use the inside bevel of this tension ring to carry the markings measuring 1/5 of a second. The flat dial surface no longer had to carry these markings… this was the secret behind the [Carrera’s] fresh, clean and uncluttered appearance.”

Whether looking at a two-register or three-register Carrera, the first thing that jumps out at you is the sub dials not seeming squished together – a layout execution few chronograph dials can claim. Originally referred to as the “Carrera 45” or “Carrera 12” to denote the maximum elapsed time it could record – 45 minutes or 12 hours – all 1960s Carreras, including the one-register “Carrera 45 Dato,” are the epitome of the “less is more” approach to good design.

In the 1960s the entry-level Carrera ref. 3647 was priced at $69.50 and could be bought at “jewelry stores, pro-shops, sportscar accessory shops and specialty stores.” I realize hindsight is 20/20, but if I were alive back then I’d like to think I’d be just as fanatical about watches as I am today – and have the foresight to legally loot stores of all their Heuers…

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And then there’s the Autavia – the other chronograph from Heuer you could’ve bought brand new during the Kennedy administration.

To paraphrase Jack’s recounting of the Autavia’s product lifecycle, he apparently misread the dial of a dashboard stopwatch – a product Heuer was well-known for at the time, which resulted in the car he was co-piloting coming in 3rd place instead of first. He blamed his misread on “the dial of the stopwatch [being] unclear, confusing and very difficult to read correctly in a speeding rally car.” This poor instrument was called the Autavia.

Jack’s negative experience caused him and his team to redesign the Autavia dashboard stopwatch, which they renamed the “Monte Carlo.” The defunct Autavia versions were phased out, and the name became available for a new product…

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This all took place around 1961 – before the Carrera. Jack decided – along with his production team – to relaunch the “Autavia” as a wrist chronograph. It was unveiled in 1962 and its target demographic was sportsman, primarily the motor racing contingent – as evidenced from the tone of their marketing: “Which Heuer chronograph is the most popular with drivers?”

Whereas the Carrera – even in its infancy – was being touted by Heuer for its legibility, the value proposition of the Autavia was its functionality. Wearers could use it to “time races, long-distance phone calls, speeches, polaroid shots, anything you can think of.” The Heuer team even felt it was a tool for skindivers – as their copy proclaimed it seaworthy to the depth of 330 feet…

Do you think any of the latest Basel releases will end up being as sacred to watch collectors as the Carrera or Autavia?

* The hard copy edition of Jack’s autobiography is tough to come by, but you can download the digital version from Tag Heuer’s website. Here’s the link: The Times Of My Life – An Autobiography by Jack Heuer, Honorary Chairman of Tag Heuer

* feature image of Heuer patch from www.chronocentric.com

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