It’s 12:35 p.m. and the scene is calm outside of The Carlyle Hotel on 76th and Madison. Guests are inside enjoying their afternoon tea when I breathlessly push my way through the revolving doors – five minutes late for an interview with Jack Heuer, a pioneer of modern day wristwatches and chronographs and the great-grandson of TAG Heuer’s founder. Glancing down at my bare wrist, it seems almost appropriate to be late and not wearing one of Mr. Heuer’s pieces. Although I’ve kept everyone waiting – Ulrich Wohn North American CEO of TAG Heuer and Jack – I’m welcomed into their suite and told there’s no rush. The makers of time have time to spare.
Jack Heuer is 80 years old and has been the Honorary Chairman of TAG Heuer since 2001 (LVMH acquired the company in 1999). He is a self-proclaimed “product man,” and is technical and rarely emotional when it comes to his career, but this year will be different. Thursday night, TAG Heuer celebrated the 50th anniversary of his original design – the timeless Carrera – and simultaneously announced that he is set to retire in the next coming months.
1958, Switzerland: Jack was 26 and had recently received his Masters in Production and Management from the Swiss Institute of Technology. His father and grandfather had both joined the family business – which at the time was named Heuer – but Jack had other plans. He told DuJour that he intended to work for an American consulting company in Boston – but things didn’t go his way. “That’s what I wanted to do but my father said, ‘Listen, I’m 61, why don’t you come one year to the company and see how it goes, then my brother and I can continue to run the business until you come back from America.'”
And the rest is history. Keep reading for more from our conversation
DuJour: I see that you have a watch on both wrists, which one is your everyday watch?
Jack Heuer: The limited-edition Carrera that was designed for my 80th birthday is my everyday watch, and the other is a prototype I smuggled in that comes out later this fall (laughs). I don’t usually wear a watch on each wrist, just for the occasion.
Is the Carrera your favorite watch?
Not quite, my real favorite piece is the Manhattan because it incorporates everything a modern chronograph should have as a functional unit. It had all the features a stopwatch needed, and I felt that was the ultimate product. The only weakness was it had a Japanese quartz movement, because Switzerland in those years didn’t have quartz movement that size. They would say that Switzerland slept and was too late with the quartz movements, which was not quite true, because one year later I had the second model called the Senator. So my favorite as a chronograph today is still the Manhattan, but that’s really technical and not an emotional answer.
What was your inspiration behind designing the Carrera?
During my student years I had a lot of friends in the architectural division of the school, they were all fans of the modern design and they transpired that enthusiasm on me. I became a fanatic. I was very much impressed by some of these modern architects and designers such as: Corbusier, Charles Eames, Saarinen, and Niemeyer. On my business trips I would go and visit Niemeyer in Brazil and Saarinen’s building in Helsinki and things like that. The Corbusier furniture I loved, the Eames furniture I loved and I even had an Eames lounge chair in my student digs. That was the environment in which I lived and then I discovered this name Carrera, came home from America and said, ‘Let’s make a Carrera.’ So that’s what I did and then I designed the first Carrera.
What do you think that your great-grandfather would think of the company today?
“I never would have believed that our little specialty brand would be a member of the big boys of our industry.” That’s what he would say.
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
I received a lifetime achievement award Gem Award at Cipriani in New York this past year, and it was very emotional. I had to get up and give a little speech – and I must say – with all these bright lights, they were clapping and they started standing. It was a crowd of over 700 people giving me a standing ovation. I felt honored but also a bit embarrassed, because I am a pretty low-key guy. It’s one of the most touching moment for myself and this is something I’ll never forget. I really must say it really was one of the most emotional moments of my career so far. Maybe the next one will be my goodbye speech…
What do you plan on doing after you retire?
I have a lot of things I was never able to do in my life that I can consider doing now. Visiting things I haven’t visited, going to the opera more with my wife, and things like that. Having a bit more time for the family and the grandchildren. Skiing with my grandchildren, they are getting very good.
Are you good at skiing?
I used to be good at skiing, and I’m still skiing but with two artificial knees.