Jack Heuer: A pioneer of his time

Jack Heuer celebrates his 80th birthday in 2012. The Swiss, Honorary Chairman of TAG Heuer and the great-grandson of watch company founder Edouard Heuer, has created a lasting legacy in the world of timekeeping, but his achievements go far beyond an iconic range of chronographs. His pioneering influence on sponsorship in Formula 1 and motor racing around the globe set standards that others can still only aspire to.

In his youth, Heuer was a member of his university’s ski team and he carried his sporting interests into his business life when he joined the family firm as a young engineer in 1958.

In these first years of his career, Jack Heuer showed the ambition and innovative thinking that has made TAG Heuer the company it is today. Just a year into his working life he went to America to found the first Heuer sales subsidiary, which still exists, and by 1962 he had become the company’s majority shareholder.

The watch maker’s links with motor racing had begun as early as 1911 when it pioneered dashboard chronographs, but Jack strengthened Heuer’s ties to the sport. In 1963, having been inspired by tales of the Carrera Panamericana previously told to him by the brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, Jack created a watch in the great Mexican road race’s honour: the iconic Carrera chronograph. Motor racing was again an inspiration at the end of the decade, when Heuer was instrumental in pushing for the development of the world’s first automatic chronograph, the Monaco, which was launched on March 3, 1969. It was in this year that Jack Heuer made a key association in racing that would have lasting consequences for sponsorship in all sport. Jo Siffert was a Swiss national hero, famous both for his sports car and Formula 1 exploits.

In a move that would set a precedent for modern sportsmen, Heuer signed Siffert as a brand ambassador, the irst in a line of drivers including Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button who would wear the company’s logo on their race overalls The Siffert deal then led to one of Jack Heuer’s most high-proile associations. In 1970 Steve McQueen directed and starred in Le Mans, a movie that captures the pure essence of endurance racing. Siffert acted as technical consultant, commanding the respect and admiration of McQueen to the extent that the Hollywood legend insisted on wearing exactly the same overalls as Jo – and his blue-faced Monaco watch, which shot to fame around the world on the ilm’s release.

As Le Mans hit the silver screen in ’71, Jack Heuer was building another partnership that would go down in history. Ferrari had opened its Fiorano test track, where so many of the Prancing Horse’s great F1 cars would be developed over the coming years. But in those pre-computer days it had no equipment to record the split-second timing it needed to improve its cars’ performance. So Jack Heuer’s engineers devised the electronic ‘Le Mans Centigraph’, which allowed Ferrari to record timings within 1/1000th of a second. It was an innovation that would contribute to a decade of F1 glory for the Scuderia, as Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter won drivers’ titles in 1975, ’77 and ’79, and the team claimed four constructors championships within the same timeframe.

The Automatic Car Identiication and Timing system, launched in ’76, was a further evolution which applied the principle of attaching a radio emitter on every F1 car to allow for automatic timing, lap counting and car identiication. It’s a system that is basically still in use today.

Jack Heuer continued to inspire innovation and style. In 1974 came the launch of the Silverstone chronograph, its square case with rounded edges in polished steel and its colourful dial making it one of the company’s purest and most emblematic creations. A year later the ‘Chronosplit’ was born, the world’s irst quartz chronograph equipped with a double digital display. Enzo Ferrari was so impressed he ordered a limited edition of 15, embellished with his famous Prancing Horse logo.

In 1982 Jack Heuer left the company and joined a Swiss management consulting irm, but he always maintained contact with TAG Heuer. In 2001 he was made Honorary Chairman with a special advisory role.

Meanwhile, TAG Heuer’s relationship with the world of motor racing continues to grow in depth. Its association with McLaren in F1 has entered its fourth decade, while an alliance with Audi has just reaped a third successive victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours. There have been other partnerships with the Automobile Club de Monaco, the Indianapolis 500 and ‘green’ initiatives with the Tesla car company, adding further depth to its racing repertoire. The sport is part of the company’s DNA, and the same is surely true of Jack Heuer himself.