Jack Heuer has always been ahead of his time.
“I was a bit avant-garde in some areas,” he said, noting an invention he came up with in the early Fifties. “I was convinced that one could measure pulse easily and put it in a watch. You could put it in your hand and jog with it and see your pulse.”
Heuer’s early prototype failed, and the idea was scrapped. While the company never introduced a pulse watch, others did, and, 20 years later, the pulse watch market is going strong, with an estimated “45 million pulse watches sold a year,” according to Heuer.
Thanks to his innovative spirit, Heuer is being recognized by the Jewelry Information Center tonight with a Lifetime Achievement Award, an accolade that has also been bestowed on Helene Fortunoff of Fortunoff and Gedalio Grinberg of Movado.
Heuer grew up in Bern, Switzerland, where watches and watchmaking were a constant. His family’s company, Heuer (TAG was added to the name in 1985 upon Techniques D’Avant Garde’s acquisition of the brand), was a small business employing about 40 people. After working in the U.S. — ironically at Abercrombie & Fitch — Heuer attended the Swiss Federation of Technology, majoring in engineering.
He joined the family firm, which, in 1958, discovered that as a watch company with a focus on stopwatches, the sports-obsessed U.S. was its most receptive market, even with little visibility of the brand. “They gave me a checkbook and sent me to New York to open the subsidiary at age 27,” he said. “I got hooked, of course.”
Heuer’s passion for all sports — he was on the Swiss ski team during college — fueled many of his innovations, such as a slalom timer that was used to time to one-thousandth of a second, as opposed to its predecessor that estimated time to one-fifth of a second. He also instituted the company’s sponsorship of boats in the America’s Cup in 1967, as well as a 10-year sponsorship with Ferrari in Formula One.
During his career, Heuer created eight of the world’s “firsts” in watches, including the Manhattan, which was launched in 1977 as the world’s premier timepiece with analogical and digital functions.
Now 74, Heuer maintains he’s “basically a product man” and finds he’s still primarily “driven by innovation.” He maintains a consulting position as an honorary chairman at TAG Heuer — now owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — as well as a position as an adviser and board member at IDT International Group. For TAG Heuer, he consults with engineers, submits his ideas to the new product committee and travels to sponsored events as somewhat of a brand ambassador.
“I bring a dimension that they didn’t have in the company,” he said. “I make the liaison with the past and the DNA of the brand.”