Origins of the Carrera

It’s impossible to separate the watch from the man. The Carrera will always be synonymous with Jack Heuer, the great grandson of the founder of (TAG) Heuer and the man who guided the company as CEO for twenty years, from 1962-1982.

It was under Jack Heuer’s leadership that the Carrera was developed and launched in 1963. And when Jack left Heuer in 1982, it also marked the final days of the model as part of the Heuer range. Who did TAG Heuer chose to re-launch the Carrera in 1996 at Monza? It was Jack Heuer who emerged from his self-imposed exile from the company and generously helped TAG Heuer relaunch his watch.

So when it comes to understanding the history of the Carrera, there is only one place to start- and that’s at the beginning.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of TAG Heuer’s most famous model, we asked Jack Heuer to tell us the story behind the original 1963 Carrera.

In 1962 you had just returned to Switzerland, and having acquired the shares of your uncle, you were now running the company. How did the idea come about to launch a new series- the Carrera?

Jack Heuer: Being at the helm of the company, I felt that we had to review our range of Chronographs. I started out in 1962 with the Autavia (we had withdrawn the Autavia Dashboard 12-hour stopwatch from the market due to the poor legibility of the dial), because the name was now free and  this model enjoyed a very good response when we launched it in the fall of 1962. So in decided in the fall of 1962 to start a new series with the name Carrera, a name that I had just loved and discovered in January 62 and the first Carrera was launched at the Basel Fair in spring 1963 .

Carrera Catalogue

Your 1962 catalogue has a number of chronographs with round cases- how was the Carrera different?

Jack Heuer: Heuer had a complete range of Chronographs in its offer already before WWII and a rejuvenated range after WWII since 1947. We used a standard case for chronographs  and eliminated the Telemeter dials that where popular during the war amongst officers to measure the distance of artillery shells exploding.

Who did Heuer work with on the design of the first watch- for example, Singer for the dial, Piquarez for the case?

Jack Heuer: For the design we would work with a limited amount of suppliers, like the two who you mentioned. They would suggest the case based on some new tools they had created for stamping out the base shape of the case. You normally would not ask for a new shape to avoid having to pay the tool cost, but select a model from their existing collection of  stamping shapes.

Making new tools was expensive and took a lot of time, since no tooling machines existed like today, where you give in the design data and the tool is virtually finished automatically.


How long did it take to develop the new watch?

Jack Heuer: Creating a new model was not that difficult. For the movement you could chose from the mandatory Ebauches SA [ESA, now known as ETA and part of the Swatch Group- C11], who had a monopoly for supplying the  assemblers (Etablisseurs). Once we had decided what type of movement (with date, or day-date etc.) you would then ask the case maker to come by with the dummy cases that could be used for this calibre from existing stamping tools.

Once decided on the case , you would ask the dial maker to come by with dial samples that existed for the selected Ebauche movement. Then you selected the exact dial finish. As you can see, due to the total Government imposed monopoly of Ebauche SA, your creativity was rather limited, which resulted that many manufacturers had very similar models, which in turn created a vivid and brutal price war  which the big (US) importers knew very well how to exploit.

This is exactly why, when I took over, I decided to concentrate on both Chronographs (we were one of the leaders among only 12 or so firms who knew how to assemble chronographs- these still needed to be hand adjusted with filing of the levers etc, a very special know-how) and on stopwatches, where we where also one of the leaders amongst only 10 or 12 competitors ..compared to having 300 competitors in the regular watch business!

1964 Catalogue

Before 1962, Heuer rarely named its watches- why did this change, and how did you come up with the name “Carrera”?

Jack Heuer: Before WWII Heuer only branded some very special stopwatches with a name (Autavia, Mikrograph and Mikrosplit, Semimikrograph, Yachting etc.) a tradition my grandfather had started. 

After WWII they started again to give special stopwatches names (for instance “Ringmaster”). I believe it was the influence of Walter Haynes who started this name-giving on new models, with the Solunar, Mareograph and Seafarer. Haynes was the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch in New York and he visited our factory every year, always with new ideas. He was the one who gave the idea of the Solunar, Seafarer, etc.

When I then was at the helm I systematically would give every wristwatch model a name.

What was the reaction when the Carrera was launched? Was it a sales success immediately?

Jack Heuer: Yes, the Carrera was immediately a success, the new simple clean design that came at the right moment and this is why we at once started to make additional versions, for example models with the date, or 12-hour register, or yachting.

Heuer Carrera

How do you look back at that first model today? Does it surprise you that those original watches are so sought by collectors today?

Jack Heuer: Don’t forget that collecting watches is a relatively new fashion that did not exist in my active years. It is Patek Philippe that started the whole “collecting” thing, but due to the very limited and extremely expensive watches up for auctions, only a few collectors could afford to do this with Patek.

It has now become a big fashion, but to make the collectors happy, they like to have a brand that made easily recognisable models in relatively small series (not like Rolex, who already in the years after WWII years made thousands of the key basic models- except for the Daytona Chronograph).

I must admit that I am not only surprised about the detailed knowledge the Heuer collectors have about the models that I created during my time, but also about the prices today some of my models are traded at!

Heuer Carrera Catalogue images from Chuck Maddox: