Good design and engineering are symbiotic. Add state of the art technology to both of these elements and you have the basis for a good product. It is no surprise to find these principles working in many successful manufacturers, Apple computers being one of the best examples. However, this is a story that is not about computers, and in itself this is unusual considering the topics found on my website. This is a story that embodies the best principles of design, engineering and technology and how they all came together in a timeless classic, the Heuer Autavia Chronograph, model 1163 V. This is also the story of how I found this watch – twice.
Some Heuer History
In 1862, Edouard Heuer patented the company’s first chronograph. At the time, the company was just two years old. With the advent of autos and airplanes, the Heuer company put dashboard chronograph’s into production for these new means of transportation . The timing devices were named Autavia, which comes from the words: AUTos and AVIAtion. In 1914, Heuer patented the first wrist chronograph. In the mid 1930’s and early 1940’s, Heuer made wrist chronographs for pilots in the Luftwaffe. During the early 1950’s, Heuer products came to the “States”, when Heuer produced watches for Abercrombie & Fitch. During the 1950’s and into 1960’s, Heuer watches were extremely popular among pro and amateur racers, and continued to be a leader in watch technology as well. Here is a brief excerpt from Wikipedia about Heuer at this time:
“Heuer was a leading producer of stopwatches and timing equipment, based on the volume of its sales, so it was only natural that racers, their crews and event sponsors began to wear Heuer’s chronographs. Special versions of Heuer chronographs were produced with logos of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as the names or logos of racing teams or sponsors (for example, Shelby Cobra, MG and Champion Sparkplugs).
In 1962, Heuer became the first Swiss watchmaker in space. John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch when he piloted the Mercury Atlas 6 spacecraft on the first US manned space flight to orbit the earth. This stopwatch was the back-up clock for the mission and was started manually by Glenn 20 seconds into the flight. It is currently on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
The Autavia chronograph was introduced in 1962 and featured a rotating bezel, marked in either hours, minutes, decimal minutes (1/100th minute increments) or with a tachymeter scale. All manual-wind Autavias from the 1960s had a black dial, with white registers. Early cases had a screw-back and later models (from and after 1968) had snap-backs. The “Autavia” name had previously been used on Heuer’s dashboard timers (described above).
The Carrera chronograph, designed by Jack Heuer, was introduced in 1963. The Carrera had a very simple design, with only the registers and applied markers on the dial. The fixed inner bezel is divided into 1/5 second increments. The 1960s Carreras were available with a variety of dials, including all-white, all-black, white registers on a black dial, and black registers on a black dial. A three-register, triple calendar version of the Carrera was introduced around 1968.
Most of Heuer chronographs from this period—including the Autavias and Carreras—used movements manufactured by Valjoux, including the Valjoux 72 movement (for a 12-hour chronograph) and the Valjoux 92 movement (for a 30-minute or 45-minute chronograph). The Valjoux 72 movement utilized a ‘tri-compax’ design, with three registers on the dial—one register for the chronograph hours (at the bottom), one register for the chronograph minutes (at the right), and a third register for a continuously running second hand (at the left). The second hand for the chronograph was mounted on the center pinion, along with the time-of-day hands.
Heuer acquired the “Leonidas” brand in the early 1960s, with the combined company marketing watches under the “Heuer-Leonidas” name. One of the designs that Heuer acquired from Leonidas was the “Bundeswehr” chronograph, used by the German air force. These “BWs” feature a ‘fly-back’ mechanism, so that when the chronograph is reset to zero, it immediately begins running again, to time the next segment or event.”
Through 1970, the Heuer Time and Electronics Corporation (HTEC), the American branch of the company, had enjoyed 11 consecutive years of increased sales, and by 1970, the US had become Heuer’s largest market. In 1971, the picture changed, and Heuer’s sales revenue in the US dropped 19%. Indicative of the problem was that Heuer was selling 10 times as many stopwatches as they were chronographs.
What was the problem for Heuer in 1971? From one source:
“Priced from $185 to $220, the chronographs were relatively expensive, complicated, and far more difficult for dealers to explain to customers than simpler watches or stopwatches. Jack Heuer thought Heuer’s retailers—primarily specialty retailers of scientific, industrial, and educational supplies, as well as racing, flying, and boating equipment specialists—were afraid of the chronographs. Whether it was the price, the competition, or the complexity, HTEC sold fewer than 500 automatic chronographs in 1971.”
Advertising Enters The Race
Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company was also struggling due to declining sales revenue. In 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States released a report linking smoking to cancer, and in 1971, tobacco television advertising was banned. Viceroy, the company’s number 2 brand was seeing sales revenue spiraling down.
To counteract Viceroy’s negative sales trend, in 1971 Brown & Williamson decided to ramp up a new advertising campaign making Viceroy the brand of the “Auto Racer”. Viceroy became the sponsor of the Parnelli Jones Racing Team, with now legendary drivers” Mario Andretti, Al Unser, and Joe Leonard. The team would race the entire “Indy” circuit for the year, including the famous “Indianapolis 500”. I presume Viceroy’s message was that men who smoked Viceroy’s were competitive, hard-charging, and of course winners, a picture that men could identify with.
In late 1971, as Heuer was nearly a standard at racetracks with timing devices, Brown & Williamson contacted Heuer and proposed that Viceroy offer a special version of the Autavia automatic chronograph, priced at $88, along with a customer supplied end flap from a carton of Viceroy cigarettes,- now men could wear the watch that Parnelli Jones (presumably) wore. The watch would be a great tie-in to both the Viceroy racing and their cigarette advertising efforts. Needless to say, considering Heurer’s lack of sales growth in chronograph watches, they went for the idea, and assured Brown & Williamson, that Heuer could deliver the 16,000 watches needed for the life of the seven month promotion.
I Buy An $88 Heuer Autavia
It is now sometime early in 1972, and I am sitting on a sofa in my apartment, reading a car magazine. As I thumb through the pages, I see an ad for a $200 Heuer chronograph for $88 (and the Viceroy carton flap). At the time, I was newly married, made $150 a week, and smoked Marlboro’s. After a quick discussion with my wife, we trimmed our financial budget, and came up with the needed $88. Now for the Viceroy end flap. My Uncle smoked Viceory’s. A quick call and I had my end flap. I filled out a form, inserted it along with a check and the end flap into an envelope, and in a few weeks, my Heuer Autavia Chronograph, Model 1163V, was on my wrist.
I loved the watch. Its face was beautiful, and for me the case was a perfect size. In addition, I loved car racing, so the stop watch function was very useful. For me, the Heuer was like a companion, – always with me.
Late in 1974, disaster struck. My little family moved to Duluth, Minnesota where I was running a retail store. One afternoon while unpacking some freight in the store’s stockroom, the watch caught on the corner of the fixture, and as I unknowingly moved away from the fixture, the band became undone, then watch fell to the concrete stockroom floor, face down. I picked up the watch, and it had stopped running, I manually wound it, rotated its hands, and just stared at it. The watch was broken, or at least so I thought.
We did not have a lot of money then, so getting the watch repaired immediately was out of the question. Months went by, and I finally was able to see about getting the chronograph fixed. I took the watch to a jeweler. The jeweler opened the back of Heuer, and said it was too complicated for him, then suggested that I send it off to get repaired. The cost of doing this was too much (actually more than I paid for the watch), so I placed the watch in the top drawer of a chest in my bedroom, and went on with my life without the Heuer.
During the next 40 years, we moved from Duluth, Minnesota to Minneapolis, Minnesota; then to Joliet, Illinois; from there to Braidwood, Illinois; then we moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and finally to Southern California. Through all that time, the Heuer resided in the original cardboard moving box it was packed in from Duluth Minnesota “move”. At each place we lived, that box was stored along with many others, either in attics, garages, or basements.
Several weeks ago, I decided to find the Heuer and take it to a jeweler to see if the watch could be repaired. It took me two journeys to the great “black hole” that is the inside of my garage, and after several hours on the second journey, I found the original packing box that held the contents of that top chest drawer from our apartment in Duluth. I hadn’t seen the watch in 40 years, but if the watch was anywhere, it had to be in this box. I cut the packing tape that sealed the box. I then began to sort through the box’s contents. In just a few minutes, I found the Heuer.
After I restacked all the boxes I had moved due to the search in the garage, I returned to my house, and went into my office. I stared at the watch for a few minutes, my mind beginning to fill with the memories that came from the time frame I originally wore the chronograph. I then thought I’d wind the watch a few turns manually, and see if the stop watch function would work. To my surprise, it did. I decided to wind it some more, and see if the watch mechanism worked. I studied the watch’s minute hand, and I could see it move. I then set the watch to the correct time and let it run for a while. It lost about 10 minutes during its first hour of operation, but after 40 years of stagnation in a cardboard box, I was amazed that it was working at all. I then grabbed the watch, got in my car and drove to a jeweler I know and trust. I wanted the watch checked out.
After the jeweler looked at my Heuer Autavia Chronograph, she said the watch appeared fine, it was auto-winding, and that for now, I should just put a band on it and begin wearing the watch again. She also said that as the Heuer had not been worn for 40 years, the fact that it was loosing some “time” was not surprising, and that by simply using the watch as it was intended, its accuracy might well return.
The fact that the watch was dead after the drop onto the concrete floor in my Duluth store is not in question. The local jeweler I showed the watch to in Duluth also pronounced the chronograph DOA. How the Heuer came back to life is anyone’s guess? The only conclusion I can draw is the drop to the floor somehow jammed, but did not break, any part of the internal watch mechanism. After the watch was bounced around in moving vans, and/or stored in differing climates and endured seasonal weather changes, the metals inside would have expanded and contracted. Somehow, either of these two events, or some combination of the two, unjammed the watch.
The watch holds a great deal of sentimental value for me. It takes me back to my first year of marriage with a woman who has now been by my side for over 43 years. It is also the watch, when on May 26th, 1974, as I sat in the waiting room of St. Mary’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, I kept viewing and wondering how long it would be before my daughter would be born?
As I write this article, I am wearing the Heuer. It is running at the correct time, and has been for a while now. It is a testament to good design, engineering, and technology. The Heuer Autavia Chronograph is a timeless design, that now keeps really good time. My old friend is back.
For Viceroy, the ad campaign failed to generate new cigarette revenue. The advertising program was a failure.
As for Heuer, 5,000 watches were sold during the seven month ad campaign, considerably more than the 500 chronographs they sold the prior year. More importantly, the Viceroy ad campaign took Heuer from a niche market, and introduced it to a broader audience. It did not sell the 16,000 units Viceroy had anticipated, so Heuer had plenty of parts. They made Autavia’s for 12 years, the longest run for any dial/hand combination in Heuer’s history. They were, and still are, a terrific watch.