It would be an understatement to say that Jack Heuer was one of the most influential men in the industry. Not only did he establish Heuer as a maker of quality chronographs in the 60s, he also made them a household name in the 70s by associating the brand with motorsport and pioneering product placements and celebrity endorsements.
A 25-year-old Jack, who had initially set his sights on a career with one of the large US management consultancies, joined the family business (that his great-grandfather Edouard Heuer set up in 1860) on a temporary basis in 1958. “Jack was a front-runner in that he was quick to embrace America’s superior expertise in marketing, a science then unknown to Europeans,” writes Jean-Christophe Babin in the foreword to Jack’s autobiography, The Time of My Life. According to Babin, Jack’s greatest coup was getting a Heuer Monaco chronograph on the wrist of Steve McQueen during the filming of Le Mans in 1970. It’s an association that TAG Heuer continues to benefit from to this day.
Jack himself designed some of the most famous chronographs produced in the second half of the 20th century, including the iconic Carrera in 1963. He might be best known as the man behind the Carrera, but Jack also developed the Autavia wristwatch, Monaco and Monza – all of which would go on to become much sought after timepieces in the decades to come.
In another stroke of genius, Jack persuaded Enzo Ferrari to feature the Heuer logo on the cockpit of Ferrari’s Formula One cars in 1971 in a move that would lead to the globalization of the Heuer brand. There is not an F1 enthusiast who followed the sport in the 70s who’s unaware of the Heuer brand, worn as it was by legendary drivers like Joe Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti and later Ayrton Senna.
Extraordinary circumstances forced him out of the company in 1982 but he was back as the brand’s honorary chairman in the less than 20 years. Now permanently retired, Jack turned 85 last month, was happy to have a chat with us. Here are the excerpts
You were among the first to understand the potential that associating with motorsport would bring to the world of chronographs and sports watches. Why do you think the two worlds are so strongly interlinked?
Jack Heuer: The two worlds are so strongly linked because both worlds used each other to evolve. Motorsport racing is highly dependent on accurate time measurement, and in the past this need for accuracy was filled by dashboard clocks and wristwatches. In return the watch industry used the racing world to increase its fame and to communicate its technological advancement in the field of time measurement accuracy. This created a symbiosis between both worlds.
What are the qualities that you most admire in a good chronograph?
The most important thing is the legibility of the dial. Chronographs are tools for professionals (drivers, scientists and doctors). If they cannot read the result of their time measurement properly, it means that we have not worked well. I am proud of all the chronographs I have invented. They all have a cutting-edge design, they are all equipped with good movements.
But are you partial to any of the watches you have created or are they all equal?
I must say that my favorite remains the Carrera 2447 SNT. Purity of the dial, modernity of the design, harmony of the colors. It is chic and convenient.
When you created the Autavia wristwatch, did you ever think that this chronograph would go on to become such a success? What do you think has been key to this model’s longevity?
The Autavia was well ahead of its time, the name was distinctive. The rotating bezel was a must-have, colors and proportions were perfect. I think those were why the Autavia became a great a success. But in all fairness, no I did not think it would become such a great success. But when I entered the watch industry, one couldn’t foresee many of the fundamental changes that have happened to it in the years since. I would have never imagined, for example, that watches with Swiss-made movements would move into such a small niche — only about three percent of the world market in units, in a market of 1.5 billion watches a year. This was unimaginable in my early years.
And what did you think of the relaunch of the Autavia this year?
As for the new Autavia, the dial has been designed following my guidelines and design rules to the letter, so I guess you can say that my mark is found in the final result of the dial.
What should the mechanical watch industry do to stay relevant in a world where people can tell time by just looking at their phone?
It is true that your phone or your computer are more precise and reliable than a watch. But a timepiece is not just about getting you to your dentist appointment on time, it is much more. It is a complex synergy between art, dreams, emotions, desire, status and beauty. It is crucial for the industry to find new ways to foster these emotions in people.
You pioneered product placement with the Monaco’s association with Steve McQueen and it worked very well for the Heuer. Purists and watch collectors say too much emphasis is placed on celebrity endorsement today? Do you agree?
A luxury brand must have the customer in the center of its business. All what matters is the customer and the closer you are to him, the better you know him and the better you can serve all his desires. We want to be so close to him and so present that he gets the impression that your brand belongs to his lifestyle. That is why endorsements are so important, we all need models, heroes or examples during our life and that’s a fact for everybody. That explains why influencer or ambassadors are so important, which is the reason why brands are using them.