An important change occurred in 1940, when Heuer, for the first time decided to put its brand name on each product. Up until that point, while Heuer manufactured each piece, it was the retailer’s or distributor’s name that would adorn the dial. This was standard in the industry at the time, but it marked a big shift in the history of the brand, and one that certainly paid off because of it.
The ensuing decade saw Heuer produce some pretty neat things outside the space of chronographs but no less dedicated to enthusiasts and professionals. I’m talking about legendary oddballs like the Solunar, which allowed hunters, fishermen, and sailors to derive important information by tracking the phases of the moon, as well as the time of high and low tides and the Mareographe, which coupled the aforementioned Solunar with a three-register chronograph. It was the most water-resistant cheap fake watches Heuer would make, and of course, it was famously called the Seafarer when retailed by New York retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. Around the same period, Heuer produced the Twin-Time which was an early dual-time wristwatch and – bringing it back to racing – the Auto-Graph, which allowed the wearer to track speed (which is, of course, simply a calculation of distance over time).
And that brings us to 1955, when we start to see what we now call the “Pre-Carreras” enter the catalog. But before we do that, let’s set the stage for what the industry was back then, and what the other guys were up to.
I’ve mentioned that Heuer didn’t invent the chronograph. Nor did Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, or any other brand we consider in the top tier of recognition today. That doesn’t mean they weren’t present. They most certainly were, in various ways. But before we talk about that, one must understand the effective hierarchy of what watchmakers prized in, say, 1955. It was not, as one would assume today, sports watches or chronographs. Those were tools, created for, and to be used by, professional athletes and tradesmen like actual submariners (pronounced “Sub-mareeners”) and professional, or semi-professional, drivers. As such, these tool watches (always in steel and seldom well-finished) were not particularly expensive.
What were expensive were ultra-slim dress watches. It was around this time period that the first batch of self-winding watches like Patek Philippe’s 2526 arrived. The literal tool watches were marketed almost exclusively to those specific fields, not the average consumer on the street. That is why you see so few chronographs from the likes of Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and other high-end makers from this period – it just wasn’t what was in demand by those who could afford them. When you do see them, they were often special pieces for those in automobile racing, aviation, or occasionally medicine.
And while there’s a myriad of etceterini brands (to borrow a term from 1950s Italian race cars), it was Heuer, Omega, Rolex, and Breitling that played the largest roles in bringing these types of tag heuer replica to the forefront. Breitling’s Premier chronograph, and later the Superocean Chronograph and Navitimer, used mostly Venus and later Valjoux calibers, but the aesthetics were dramatically different than those of Heuer. Omega was already using the rightfully vaunted Lemania-based Caliber 321 before the 1957 introduction of the Speedmaster (which was – if you’ve read our Reference Points of that here – designed as a driver’s watch!), and Rolex – well – this is where you have the most similarity to what Heuer was up to at the outset of the Carrera bloodline.
By 1933, Heuer introduced one of its most iconic names, the Autavia, (AUTomotive and AVIAtion), but it was not a wristwatch as it is today. The dash timers could be either in a single timer or a double timer set with one showing the time, the other a stopwatch, and could be mounted anywhere a sportsman liked, in the cockpit of a plane, or the dashboard of a car. Two years later, as it became quite clear the world was headed for war, Heuer’s Flieger, or pilot’s chronograph, was introduced with a black dial, luminescent markers, and large radium hands.