SAVOIR FAIRE A Short History of Infinity

5 min

To ∞ and beyond.

Jack Heuer, great-grandson of the brand’s founder, former TAG Heuer CEO and current Honorary Chairman

To mark the 88th birthday of our honorary chairman, Jack Heuer – great-grandson of our founder and former TAG Heuer CEO – we’ve decided to share the celebration with watch lovers around the world – by creating a limited edition TAG Heuer Carrera, engraved on the back panel with a special memento of Jack’s inimitable spirit.

But you might say that the symbol we’ve chosen is the exact opposite of limited… because the number ‘8’ is an unusual mathematical treat. Seen from another angle, it becomes the mysterious ‘infinity’ sign, or ‘lemniscate’ to number nerds. But what’s the meaning of this little loop, really, and what’s it ever done for us?

Check out these 8 fascinating facts about the history of the infinite – and why you might want to pay this symbol a bit more attention.  But don’t worry, with our TAG Heuer Carrrera on your wrist, there’s definitely no need to get it tattooed on your ankle. 


1) Endlessness 101

The infinity symbol we recognise today, a figure eight on its side, signifies the idea of limitlessness or eternity. It’s used not only in mathematics and philosophy, but in cosmology, computing and the arts. Its name, ‘lemniscate’, comes from the Latin word lemniscus which means ‘ribbon’, while the word ‘infinity’ comes from the latin infinitas which means ‘endless’. Head spinning yet? We’ve only just begun…

2) Ancient debates

Since the days of the Ancient Greeks (and Romans), the nature of infinity has been the subject of discussion amongst philosophers and intellectuals.
The Greek philosopher Anaximander used the word apeiron to refer to the infinite. And as early as the 4th century BCE, Jain mathematicians assigned numbers as enumerable, innumerable, or infinite.

3) An English Eternity

The lemniscate was first used by the English priest and mathematician John Wallis, in 1655. While its origins are still a bit of a mystery (and perhaps always will be) Wallis may have based the symbol on the Roman numeral for 1000, which was also used to mean ‘countless’. It might also have been based on the Greek letter Omega (Ω or ω). As a result of this introduction, 17th Century Mathematicians were then able to work with infinitesimal calculus. We won’t go into too much detail about that, suffice to say it changed the math world… forever.

Ouroboros is an millenia old symbol, emblem of infinity. Carved on a Victoarian gravestone in Glasgow's Necropolis cemetery - iStock.

4) Mystical meanings

In the 17th c., the infinity symbol also began appearing on the Tarot card known as the ‘Juggler’ or the ‘Magus’. It’s an interesting coincidence that the Qabbalistic symbol associated with this particular Tarot card is the Hebrew letter À (pronounced alef); Georg Cantor, the founder of the modern mathematical theory of the infinite, used the symbol À0 (pronounced alef-null) to stand for the first infinite number. Spooooky. Similar ideas are seen in religious symbolism and artwork with the ‘ouroboros’, the ancient image of a snake eating its own tail. Sometimes the ouroboros is depicted as two snakes entwined, as a circle, or sometimes the snake(s) make the figure-eight shape.

5) A Piece of the Pi

How on earth (or in space) do you imagine the infinite? It’s a problem that many great thinkers have tried to put into layman’s terms. If you’re into math, one good example of infinity is the number π or pi. Mathematicians use a symbol for pi because it’s impossible to write the entire number down. While it’s often rounded to 3.14, no matter how many digits you write, you’ll never get to the end. And, as you’ll remember from school, you need pi to calculate the area of a circle (shout out to the engineers). Another example? The Monkey Theorem. According to which, if you give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time, eventually it will write Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Whether that’s to be (or not) has yet to be determined…

6) Digital dreamlands

In computer programming, an infinite loop (or endless loop) is a sequence of instructions that, as written, will continue endlessly, unless an external intervention occurs (what’s known as “pulling the plug”). Computing makes various uses of what are called ‘infinite sets’, and we’ve used computers to model vast systems approaching infinity, that might have taken eons (a.k.a. ages and ages) with mere brain-power.

7) Trapped in time

A causal loop is a theoretical proposition – or paradox – in which, through time travel, a sequence of events (actions, information, objects, people) causes or contributes to another event, which is in turn among the causes of the first-mentioned event. This interlinking relationship is…. that’s right, infinite. Confused? Try to wrap your head around whatever it is Leo’s up to in Inception. And then blow your mind with Interstellar. (Caution: for sanity’s sake, it might not be wise to watch these both in one sitting).

Jack Heuer wearing the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer 88th Birthday Gold Limited Edition

8) Infinity’s Plus One

If you’ll give us one last chance to frustrate any hope of getting your head around the concept of infinity, try this on for size: infinity is boundless, yet it comes in different sizes. Example? The positive numbers (those greater than 0) and the negative numbers (those smaller than 0) are both infinite ‘sets’, both equal in size. But what happens when you combine the two sets? You get a new set, which is doubled in size. And somehow, even a child understands the most bewildering idea of all: infinity plus one is a little bit bigger than infinity.

And so, to mark the occasion of Jack’s birth, we’ve grappled with the ineffable nature of infinity. But if you turn that symbol upright again, the wonders continue… because, by some strange synchronicity, the number 8 has appeared again and again in Jack’s relationship with TAG Heuer.

In 1958, Jack accepted his father’s offer to join the Heuer family business for a year, before devoting himself to his own projects. Three years later, at the age of 28, he was called upon to direct the family company, where he remained until 1982. And shortly before the eighth decade of his life began, Jack Heuer was appointed Honorary Chairman of the family business, founded in 1860 by his great-grandfather Edouard Heuer.

Coincidence? We’ll let you decide.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Jack Heuer Birthday Gold Limited Edition