At 80 years of age, Jack Heuer felt the time was finally right for full-time retirement. He has recently finished writing his memoirs, which at times has been strenuous work. Now we can read the complete story in Heuer’s book, “Time of my Life”.
by Britta Rossander
Jack is the great-great-grandson of Edouard Heuer, who founded the brand that has meant the most for timekeeping in Formula 1. We have met him many times during the years, most recently at the grand opening of Tag Heuer’s new factory.
– This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Carrera Panamericana, and that’s a party you can’t turn down, Jack says.
– You being Swedish, did you know I was actually in Stockholm in 1949, when I was fifteen years old? We went by car and had to be guided through Hamburg because the city was still totally devastated after the war. We were making the trip to meet our Swedish distributor, who could already back then show some impressive sales figures for Heuer watches.
Jack Heuer started working in the family business at 30 years of age, after a degree in electrical engineering. So how did Heuer get involved in timekeeping for car racing?
– That was because of the Swiss brewer Blancpain, who sponsored Formula 1 and the driver Jo Siffert and suggested we should get involved too, Jack remembers.
– We produced the best chronographs, and who wore those? The drivers, of course. The first time I met Siffert was with Blancpain at a putting green in Freiburg back in 1968. He had great talent and was considered a big hero in Switzerland.
Blancpain told Heuer: ”You’re a watchmaker, so why don’t you join in and sponsor Siffert too?”
– I told him: “OK, you will get a chronograph and I get our logo on the front of your racecar”. And that’s what we did. When Jo Siffert passed away in 1971, I wanted to end the deal – it all felt so empty without him.
But four months after Siffert’s passing, Gilles Liard published a book about the racing driver’s life. In one of the pictures he wore Heuer’s logo on his overalls, which got the ball rolling again.
– Our co-operation with Ferrari is partly because of Siffert. He knew the F1 people and brought some of them to our factory in S:t Imier. Clay Regazzoni once told Siffert that they would visit Longines to have a look at some watches. He answered; “In heaven’s name, why? It’s Heuer you should be visiting!” And they did, and that’s how our friendship with Ferrari started.
Jack signed the deal of his lifetime with Ferrari in 1971.
– The Italians didn’t trust the French technology at Le Mans, Enzo believed they were being cheated. We heard him out and learned what he wanted. Ferrari wanted to be able to identify each car even at nighttime – it was hard enough in daylight and impossible at night. We built a prototype that Enzo liked but he didn’t want to pay for it. So instead I asked to have our logo on all the cars… and we got it. Enzo also complained about the drivers’ high salaries. I told him OK, we will deposit 25,000 Swiss francs in an account for them, but then I want our logo on all of their racing overalls. We can also give each driver a gold chronograph with his name and blood type engraved. That went through as well, and we continued like that for nine years.
Jack became good friends with many of the drivers during this period, he tells us.
– I became a personal friend of Niki Lauda’s and also Jacky Ickx, we used to play a Japanese board game. I met your Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson several times and he was the sweetest guy, and also a much more skilled driver than many of the others. Unfortunately he never drove for Ferrari so he never got one of our engraved gold watches. Just imagine what an honor if Ronnie had gotten it and we could put it on display in our museum.
In 1971 Heuer designed and built all the timing systems for Ferrari’s new test track Fiorano, usually referred to as “the torture chamber” by the drivers. Every-thing could be exactly timed and analyzed, which meant the drivers really had to work their butts off. They weren’t always completely happy with the situation.
– But it all ended in disaster, when the quartz revolution raged. And it wasn’t just the new movements from Japan but also the baisse resulting from the Japanese exchange rate. In a matter of speaking, it was a Japanese double fault for us in Switzerland.
Heuer needed fresh capital, and Piaget became new owners for a short period of time.
– I left the company in 1982. Heuer was quickly sold again, to the Tag group. In my opinion they were only interested in making a quick buck and then sell again, which they did in 1999 when they finally accepted an offer from LVMH.
Jack Heuer went on to working in medical technology and stayed in that field for almost 20 years.
– When LVMH acquired Tag Heuer, a rather humble CEO got in touch with me, listened to my input about future models, and asked me if I wanted to come back. I have never regretted answering yes.