Interview With Jack Heuer: “Time Never Stops, Why Should We?”
On the eve of his 88th birthday, Watchonista talked to Jack Heuer about his early days working for the family business, the Ferrari connection, and the famous Steve McQueen Monaco that just fetched $2.2 million at auction.
This year, on November 19th, Jack Heuer marked his 88th birthday. To celebrate, the brand released the special TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer 88th Birthday Gold Limited Edition. Limited to 188 pieces, this anniversary timepiece is inspired by Jack’s favorite Heuer watch, the vintage Heuer Carrera Ref. 1158CHN. Crafted from 18K rose gold – also his favorite material – it includes his motto: “Time never stops, why should we?”
Watchonista chatted with the great-grandson of TAG Heuer's founder and the brand's former CEO about memories of his early days working in the family business and his thrilling years on the racetrack.
Marco Gabella: There is a famous picture of you and your father at the manufacture in 1959. Did you already know that you would work for the family business when this photo was taken?
Jack Heuer: I studied and graduated from ETH Zürich, in micro technics, in 1958. I was planning to work for one of the big consulting agencies in the USA. I was not really into the family business as it felt too narrow for my wishes and hopes. But I made a deal with my father: I would study the ropes of the business for one year and decide then. After all, our family company had been in business for almost a century when this conversation took place.
You have guessed the conclusion of my year of observation: it was a massive “go for it” on my side, and my father had never been happier. My uncle was relieved too that the Heuer company would remain in the family for another generation.
In 1960, during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, you noticed that 60% of the drivers were using Heuer Dashboard Chronographs. A few years later, you started to name watches with motorsport-inspired names. How did this idea come to you?
Actually, it is a family tradition to christen our timepieces. My father realized that naming the watches creates a bond with the customers, and it is easier to talk about a name rather than a number. So, I kept this tradition. Think about the Mikrograph, the “Time of Trip,” and the Autavia. Since our brand, Heuer, fit so well with racing, it was only natural to go for names that bear this flavor.
In 1970, McQueen starred in the “Le Mans” film and one of his iconic Monacos was recently auctioned for $2.2m. Any interesting stories there? How did your relationship with McQueen start?
It was a stroke of luck that drove Heuer and, more specifically, the Monaco to the middle of the Le Mans movie. The Calibre 11 automatic chronograph movement had been launched in 1969 in three collections: the Carrera, Autavia, and Monaco. The first two were selling well, but the Monaco was a bit behind.
With sales being a bit slower, I had more stock than I liked. So, when the property master for the film called me, I was able to send him six Monacos plus a few stopwatches, instead of one Carrera and one Autavia.
The watchmaker who delivered them directly to Le Mans was caught at the border because we had no time to fill out the proper customs paperwork. He even ended up using all of his money to pay a large fee! As he was super smart, he had succeeded in hiding the timepieces from the customs officers and continued on his journey to the movie set.
In the ‘70s, you started to consolidate the brand’s presence worldwide; how did you become Ferrari’s official timekeeper in 1971?
Heuer became the official timekeeper of Ferrari in the 1970s, at a time when the power and attraction of Ferrari was a strong connection for the brand.
But it is through my ski club network, the Eagle Ski Club, that the partnership came to be. I called my ski mate, who was the technical director of Ferrari at the time, and we started to talk about a partnership that would be based on Heuer’s timekeeping expertise.
What do you think when you see TAG Heuer today, and where do you see the brand in 10 years?
I have had my time at the head of this company. It’s been in good hands since I left, and I am happy and proud to be Honorary Chairman, keeping an eye open on what’s going on.
I am very confident in the strategy of the new management – Frédéric Arnault is bright and has a great passion for the brand. He took the helm at about the same age as past Heuer executives who ran the company with success, so it must be a good sign! I enjoy discussing new models with him and look forward to the future.
(Images © TAG Heuer)