I swore to myself I’d never do it.
I’d never write clickbait headlines.
I’ve been writing professionally in one capacity or another for over 20 years, and even in my most desperate search for a hook, I’d never stooped that low.
But every word is true.
Let me back up a tad.
Blame it on a collector’s tendency to fetishize even the most mundane of objects, or the rise of online watch journalism, or maybe the FOMO of not fitting in with the hedge fund crowd, obsessed with scooping up every last tropical-dialed steel sportswatch (or vintage air-cooled Porsche). But finding something both old and cool, in anything other than a decrepit state, is something of a challenge, to put it mildly.
Finding it at a bargain, well that’s a miracle altogether.
But that’s where I live as a watch collector.
Well, scratch that.
I’m not really a collector. I’m more of a watch enthusiast.
A true collector tends toward the mindset of a completist, if not one that needs to hunt down every iteration of the Tudor Sub, at the very least a collector that has themes, or favorite brands, or something.
I have none of that.
Other than a very broad preference toward tool watches, my tastes are all over the place.
I have divers, chronographs, field watches, even a couple old dress watches, and perhaps sadly, a particular weakness for beaters, especially weird old quartz watches from the 80s. And if something happens to say Casio on the case, so much the better.
But my real passion is for the unloved. The overlooked. The forgotten. When the vintage watch world seems entirely picked-over, you’ll find me looking for the unturned stones hiding in the margins. And sometimes those stones turn out to be real gems.
Which leads me, finally, to the headline.
It’s no secret that some of the most hyped, most celebrated, and just plain cool vintage Swiss sportswatches to be found are Heuers.
Carrera. Monza. Silverstone. Autavia. Monaco. Legendary models from a legendary marque, drenched in gasoline, covered in skidmarks, and steeped in the lore of auto racing history. Good Lord, Steve McQueen wore one. Good luck finding a bargain, especially one that’s been sitting in its original box for 40-plus years.
And here’s where a bit of, pardon the expression, out-of-the-box thinking comes into play.
Heuer, along with Omega, Rolex, Longines, and other Swiss brands have long been associated with sports, and with those sports comes the need for precision timing. Swiss timing. And timing all those auto races, Olympic events, downhill ski trials and the like, were Swiss stopwatches.
I’ve noticed vintage stopwatches picking up a little heat with collectors lately, from the lost Swiss brands that vanished in the 1970’s, to the venerable names everyone knows. And it’s worth remembering that vintage watches were once just called…watches. They were functional tools, not collector’s objects to be kept in a case.
But sometimes, we get lucky, and someone long ago kept them in a drawer.
Which is the case with this one.
The Heuer Trackmaster was an entry-level Swiss stopwatch, came in several variations, and was produced in great numbers, under several brand names: Leonidas, Sears (for the US market), as well as many private labels. Most were made with a plastic case in red, blue, black, or white, although some were available in a chrome-plated case. These were available in two basic versions, either a 1/5th or 1/10th second model, and Heuer sold upward of 100,000 units a year worldwide. If you’re curious, there’s no better place to learn about vintage Heuer and TAG/Heuer timepieces than the Calibre 11 website.
So no, they’re not especially rare. And they weren’t expensive. But, given their age, and the rough use they saw at various sporting events (or hanging around the neck of every high school track coach in history), survivors can be hard to come by. And finding one that works flawlessly, in its original packaging, with nary a hairline crack in its case, basically untouched by time, well that’s another story. I mean, just look at this thing.
And the story is this: hiding among a raft of Heuer stopwatch listings, all in dubious condition, and at wildly varied starting prices from under $10 bucks to several hundred, was this gem.
And here’s another eBay Pro Tip: if your stellar listing is hidden in a sea of similar objects, chances are good it will be overlooked if you don’t somehow make it stand out.
And I lucked out.
The asking opening bid was $30 (or maybe $35), and unbelievably, no one had bid. Maybe the pictures weren’t clear enough. Maybe the listing should have said something closer to BRAND NEW FORTY YEAR OLD TIME CAPSULE HEUER, or something along those lines. You gotta sell the sizzle, folks.
Regardless, I put in a last second offer of $25 bucks, not thinking that it would fly, and wonder of wonders, I’m now the proud owner of a time capsule piece of racing history, minus the ‘curated’ hipster markup that usually goes with such things.
Bargain balling at its finest.