First and foremost I need to thank Dan @afterworkproject and Liam @the_art_of_horology for sharing their photos and stories. Without their contributions this article would have been little more than a dry history lesson. In pulling together this article I re-read the articles by Calibre11 and Hodinkee.
In my opinion, the Heuer 1000 is undervalued both in terms of its historical significance in the world of horology and its current price on the second-hand market. My aim with this article is to unpack some of the history of the Heuer 1000 and to explain why I think it deserves your attention. This article isn’t intended to be a deep dive, reference points style article but I would certainly be interested in writing one if there are any Heuer 1000 collectors out there.
Our story begins in the late 1970s. Heuer is a company best known for its chronographs and mechanical timing instruments, the quartz crisis is starting to take hold, the traditional Swiss watch industry is in trouble and Heuer is struggling.
Actually, no, lets go further back. Our story begins in the 1860s when twenty-year-old Edouard Heuer, the great-grandfather of Jack Heuer, started Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG. In the 1880s Heuer received a couple of significant patents – their first chronograph and an oscillating pinion.
In many ways this established the path that the company would take for the next 90 years. Jules and Charles Heuer took over the business after Edouard Heuer’s death and by 1902 they had made the decision to focus on speciality watches. In 1910 they produced a doctor’s chronograph with pulsometer. In 1911 they received a patent for a dashboard chronograph for automobiles and aircraft that allowed up to 12 hours of elapsed time to be recorded on a second register, and in 1914 they created their first wristwatch chronograph. Heuer was the official appointee of the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920. In 1933 they introduced the Autavia which was a dashboard mounted clock that could last eight days after being wound, and in the 1940s they produced pilots chronographs for the Luftwaffe. The range of chronographs they produced expanded in the late 1940s to include two and three register chronographs in a variety of metals. The late 1940s was also when Heuer’s relationship with Abercrombie and Fitch began; they produced a number of double signed specialist chronographs such as the Soluna manual wind watch with a tidal indicator in 1948.
I think it would be reasonable to describe Heuer’s output of chronographs as prolific in the period from 1950 through to the early 1980s. There are a number of strands that would easily be worthy of articles of their own such as the military issue chronographs like the Heuer Bundeswehr (German Air Force) Fly-Back Chronograph which was powered by Valjoux 230 and supplied by Heuer and then Sinn (Sinn being a supplier of parts to Heuer before taking over the German Air Force contract) in the 1960s and 1970s, the Argentine Air Force Fly-Back Chronographs that featured a 12 hour bezel and were powered by a Valjoux 7733 and supplied in 1975, the Israeli Defence Forces manual-wind chronographs that were powered by the Valjoux 7734 in 1973 and the Israeli Defence Forces Automatic Chronographs that used the second generation Calibre 12 movement in 1985. The launch of the Carrera in 1963 and the launch of the Monaco in 1969 would also make for a good article. You could focus on the development of automatic movements with Breitling and Hamilton in the mid-1960s – the Calibres 11 and 12 (the 12-hour chronographs), the Calibre 14 (a 12 hour chronograph with additional GMT complication), and the Calibre 15 (a 30 minute chronograph). You could write about the transition from manual wound Valjoux movements in the 1960s to the extensive use of the automatic chronograph movements in the Autavia, Carerra and Monaco ranges by 1975. Then there are the weird and wonderful watches such as the Heuer 73473 Driver which featured a manual wind Valjoux 7734 and a Tourneau case in the 1970s, and the Heuer Autavia Decompression Bezel Calibre 12 Chronograph from the late 1970s that was set up to measure water depth in meters, or the Heuer Autavia 30 that was sold through “Chronosport Rally Magazine” in the late 1960s.
At this point you are probably wondering what all of this chronograph talk has to do with the Heuer 1000 (and where on earth I am going with this article). I think it is helpful to understand that Heuer has a storied history with a number of patents and innovations. They have also worked with other manufacturers to develop watches and movements. The sharing of technology and parts, including movements and cases in the 1950s – 1980s was widespread. Often components or even entire watches were made under licence. Heuer were not afraid to innovate, to try things out and to experiment with different trends (such as the Torneau case shape). Often there would be small runs, with outsourced watch parts, that were used to test the market and to see what would be popular.
Okay, back to the Heuer 1000 story. It’s the late 1970s and the quartz crisis is starting to cause problems for the traditional Swiss watch industry. For a company that has focused on speciality timing instruments and chronographs, it is especially problematic. Their unique selling point was being undermined by relatively cheap digital devices. In order to survive, they need to innovate and change direction. Up until this point Heuer had not produced a pure diving watch and they certainly hadn’t entertained a quartz watch.
Over the preceding 30 years diving had evolved from a dangerous pursuit undertaken by adventurers and the military into a relatively safe recreational activity. As diving became a hobby for an increasing number of people the number of dive shops and accessories available also expanded. As with many things, diving culture became popular. How many people wearing surf-shop T-shirts actually surf? How many people wearing skate shoes have actually been on a skateboard? Industries spring up around aspirational lifestyles. Watches that were once the tools of professionals were increasingly being adopted as fashionable accessories. The dive watch was growing in popularity beyond its tool watch roots.
So how was the Heuer 1000 conceived? Below is a quote from Jack Heuer’s Autobiography (that I have copied and pasted from Calibre 11’s website https://www.calibre11.com/tag-heuer-1000/ )
“ISPO is Europe’s leading international trade fair for sporting goods and sports fashions, and for several years Heuer had taken a stand at the fair in Munich where we often found ourselves next to manufacturers of skin-diving products. They were mostly American firms and while chatting with their representatives at the 1979 fair I heard about the difficulties that they had buying private-label watches for underwater sports. They had had some bad experiences with watches bought from an importer in New York – in next to no time the watches let in water and they had had to deal with many angry customers.
That gave me the idea of trying to enter this market with a range of sturdy, Rolex-style diving watches with quartz movements, which would avoid overusing the winding crown as was inevitable with mechanical movements. To our great surprise our new diving watches were very well received by the market. We could not imagine then that this model – we called them the 1000 Series would be the very watch that was to help the company recover and get back into the black following the takeover by Piaget in 1982.
The following year, we extended the series to four sizes: two large ones for gentlemen’s watches and two small sizes for ladies. We also added a special piece to the metal bracelet so it could be stretched to fit over the sleeve of a wetsuit. All four models had a rotating bezel and extra-luminous dials, both features that TAG was to include a few years later in the full TAG Heuer range of sports watches.”
So the Heuer 1000 was intended to be a robust Rolex-style diving watch with a quartz movement. It was roughly a quarter of the price of a Submariner and despite a relatively under the radar launch it performed well for the company. It is worth noting that the watch was also available with an automatic movement but quartz was always at the heart of Jack Heuer’s vision for the watch. Jack Heuer is also quoted as saying “We could not imagine that this model would be the very watch that was to help the company recover.” A common criticism of the Heuer 1000, and later the TAG Heuer Aquaracer, is that it is a cheap Submariner copy, but I think this misses the points that it was always intended to be a more affordable dive watch in a popular dive watch style, that Heuer have used outsourcing for years to deliver quality at a price, and that it was the watch that saved Heuer. Heuer may be best known for their chronographs but it was a humble quartz diver that kept the company afloat during the quartz crisis.
As Jack Heuer alluded to, the range of watches under the Heuer 1000 banner quickly expanded to include various sizes and dial colours. This just broadened the appeal and made the watch accessible for a wider audience. I know Rolex fans love to scrutinise details and obsess over transitional models, the scope to do the same with the Heuer 1000 models, given the ever evolving range and the parts made under licence, is vast. Heuer also embraced features such as full lume dials and black coatings.
Dan’s father-in-law had a late pre-TAG Heuer 1000 from 1985 (the year that TAG Group brought a majority share in Heuer). This is what he had to say about the watch:
“So my father in-laws Heuer. What he can recall is the following:
Watch was gifted to him by his wife around 1985 and he recalls it being bought in the Bahamas.
It was his everyday watch, whether he was working at the bank, water skiing on the lake or wearing it whilst at the beach. He did mention that the only time that he would not wear the watch is when he went spearfishing, as the light would reflect off the crystal and scare away the fish!
He pretty much wore it for 30 years however when it stopped working he took it in to get it looked at and the watchmaker at the time said it’s not worth fixing (i could only assume that the watchmaker was suggesting it would not be worth fully overhauling – e.g. DLC on the bracelet had come off, the bracelet pins are little loose, gaskets do need changing etc.). The watch was then put into a drawer and left there, and he was then gifted by his father a Seiko Solar watch, again black DLC coated.
My father in law knows I’m into watches, mainly from when he met me and we would go on the boat I would try to get a cool watch / boat picture shot, to the point when my wife and I came back to the UK, he would send me pics of his Seiko with crabs, star fish or on the stern anchor in shallow water. So when my wife and I returned to Nassau to live, we initially lived with him and he was cleaning out a few things and was like oh, Dan I have these watches they’re not working but let me know if you can get them working. One was quartz Accurist chronograph, black DLC coated as well and then the Heuer. I managed to get both working with a battery change. Albeit the Accurist runs a little fast, but managed to set that back by 4 minutes and now is on time and the Heuer I’m waiting for my watch maker to open back up and get the gaskets changed. The clasp needs some attention to it, but waiting for an 18mm Barton black silicon strap to arrive here.”
So the first-hand experience of someone who owned one from new was that it was a good everyday watch for wearing at work or when undertaking watersports, and that is still the appeal of dive watches for many people today. It is the quintessential go anywhere, do anything kind of watch.
The range of Heuer 1000 models is truly remarkable, with two-tone, ani-digi and day-date versions being available in the early 1980s. The watches were also available in a range of sizes from 28mm to 42mm. Heuer were trying to ensure that there was something for everyone within the Heuer 1000 family and to capitalise on their popular creation. The Heuer 1000 continued to evolve after Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) purchased a majority share in Heuer. The most notable early changes were the update of the logo from Heuer to TAG Heuer and the removal of the word “quartz” from the dial.
Drawn in by the combination of vintage diver charm and quartz practicality Liam recently purchased a steel TAG Heuer 1000 on a jubilee bracelet. This is what he had to say about the watch and his reasons for buying it.
“When I first became enthusiastic about watches sometime in 2015 I remember trawling forums at night and finding what I’d consider to be my next grail. Like many I guess, during this time my grail was a Rolex Submariner.
At the time, my Wife and I were expecting our first child and in the process of moving house so I didn’t have that kind of money to drop on a watch (would still need a lot of consideration now!) and I remember reading about alternatives. I think back then a lot of the options to get anything kind of similar were your homage pieces such as the Steinhart and Squale 1545. I wasn’t too kean on the idea of the homages back then, not that there was anything wrong with them per sé, but I think I wanted something that I felt people would recognise (I was young and naive…). I recall seeing the Tag 1000 in a post on Watchuseek and it immediately caught my eye. Back then I never managed to find one so eventually settled on an SKX007. I think it was in March/April time this year when I came across one on eBay, it was an absolute steal so I ended up finally getting my hands on one.
I was fairly skeptical that It’d be a keeper to be honest but when it arrived I was pleasantly surprised! It reminded me how I felt back when I first saw it and I absolutely love it.”
During the 1980s the Heuer 1000 range continued to be expanded with different colour variants such as the version with the red bezel and dial. It also spawned the 1500, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 6000 series of watches. Between the various ranges there are hundreds of different models of TAG Heuer dive watches.
In the early 2000s TAG Heuer started to move away from the 1000 series reference. In 2004 they released the 2000 Aquaracer, which is really the next chapter of the Heuer diver story. The Aquaracer has the hallmarks of the original Heuer diver watches but the style has continued to evolve over time. The case has become a little more bulbous and the Mercedes hands have been dropped. TAG Heuer have been quite good at recognising and reacting to trends when it comes to the Aquaracer, with new models being released every year.
There have been steel bezels, striped dials and, more recently, ceramic bezels and cyclopses. While the look has evolved and adapted to trends the philosophy of an affordable yet robust dive watch has been maintained. The range still has a mixture of quartz and automatic models and they are still generally less than a quarter of the price of a Submariner, which fulfils their original brief. There is a school of thought that they are overpriced when compared with many of the other offerings available nowadays, especially when you consider some of the micro brand offerings, but that doesn’t take into account the heritage and the story of the watch. It is something that I don’t think TAG Heuer capitalise on as much as they could. I thought it was strange that on the 40th anniversary of the Heuer 1000 (well the 844 and 8440 which became the 1000), TAG Heuer chose to release the vintage-inspired Autavia (Auto-Aviation!?!?) Isograph rather the drawing on their own heritage and releasing a classically styled, robust dive watch. I think that a limited edition reincarnation of the original design in steel on a jubilee bracelet and in black DLC with a full lume dial would have been much more exciting for fans of the brand and the original watches.
I purchased my TAG Heuer Aquaracer in 2013. I was approaching a significant birthday and I wanted to buy my one good watch, little did I know it was actually going to be a gateway watch into the wider world of horology. I did a lot of research before making my purchase. I knew that I wanted a classic black dialled dive watch on a bracelet because it is a look that will go with virtually any outfit and in any setting. I also knew that I wanted it to be a Swiss automatic watch from an established brand. I guess in an ideal world I wanted a Submariner, but it was way beyond my budget. I narrowed my choices down to a second hand Omega Seamaster or a new TAG Heuer Aquaracer. As this was going to be my one watch I decided that I didn’t like the idea of someone owning it before me, I wanted it to be mine and mine alone. The Aquaracer did have a number of other factors that helped me to make my decision. The off-the-shelf rather than in-house movement means that it could be serviced by an independent watchmaker if needed, the aluminium bezel is a more traditional look and the lack of cyclops is a cleaner look in my opinion. They were all features that appealed to me. For five and half years it served me well as my daily watch, the only reason it’s not my daily watch now is because I purchased my Tudor Black Bay GMT just over a year ago, you can find out the story behind that one and my first week of ownership in a previous Scottish Watches article.
Back to the Heuer 1000. Like I said at the start of the article, this isn’t a “reference points” guide or a complete history by any stretch of the imagination, but I hope that I’ve made a case for the Heuer dive watches, why I think they’re undervalued and why they are deserving of your attention. There are some great, affordable vintage diver watches out there and in my opinion bargains to be had. I would love to know your thoughts or if you have any experience of Heuer dive watches so comment below and let’s have a conversation.
Full time engineer and part time watch writer, Chris’s passion for watches started from a young age with his first Casio, ordered from the Argos catalogue. His interest in how things worked soon led him to mechanical watches, resulting in him wearing a 17 jewel Citizen watch throughout his teens when most of his friends were wearing digital watches. His fascination with watches waned during his time at university, but never fully went away. As a significant birthday approached Chris decided to get a proper Swiss watch, the one watch that he would have for the rest of his life. Little did he know that this would reignite his passion for watches, a passion that has expanded to include photography and writing.