COLLECTED Collected, Vol. 1, Part One

10 min

Watch Hunters Eric Wind and Nicholas Biebuyck Talk 1158 Carreras, Wild Acquisition Stories and a Niche Piece Unlike any Other.

First of all, for those who need it, an introduction. In the first of our series of interviews with extraordinary TAG Heuer collectors, we sit down with Eric Wind and Nicholas Biebuyck. Eric Wind is one of the best vintage watch specialists in the world, formerly of Christie’s, and the mastermind behind some of the world’s most high-profile timepiece acquisitions. Niccholas Biebuyck, a former watch specialist for Bonhams and Christie’s, is the Hong Kong-based Business Development Director of the Blackbird Watch Manual.

Our conversation took place across three very different time zones… 2pm in Europe, 8am in Florida, and 8pm in HK.

TH: Let’s start with an easy but a hard one…. If you had to choose one Heuer or TAG Heuer watch from your collection to pass down to your kid, which would it be and why? 

Eric Wind:  I have a Heuer Chronograph Reference 2406 from around 1940 – the 30s and 40s are a little bit tricky to date exactly – but it’s an early attempt at a water resistant chronograph from Heuer, and it’s got a beautiful silver dial. To my mind, it’s one of the most beautiful chronographs I’ve ever seen. So that’s going to my son Charlie one day – 

Heuer 1940s reference 2406 Chronograph from Eric's personal collection

TH Lucky Charlie!

E  Yeah. He is lucky! I just love chronographs from the Forties in general. It’s the handcrafted aspect; the early evolution that was taking place; the style of those pieces. And this one, to me,  is the most elegant chronograph I’ve seen from that time. 

TH Can we ask how you came upon it? 

E It actually came on eBay from an estate sale. It was pretty much untouched. Serviced only once in 1943. It had probably sat for decades not working – so I’m glad someone saved it!

TH Eric, be real with us: how many Google alerts do you have set up? 

E (Laughs) Let’s keep it at ‘a few’.

TH And what about you, Nicholas? 

NI’ve not been very good at hiding my love of the gold Carrera Reference 1158. My big fascination with Heuer is the relationships with the racing drivers of the 60s and 70s, which is why I love talking to Eric, because we approach it from two fairly different angles. But for me, my piece to hand down would be  the gold 1158 CHN – the “pilot’s watch,”  which Jack Heuer famously negotiated this relationship with Enzo Ferrari so he could give it to the drivers. The only problem is, I’ve got two boys! I’ve only got one pilot’s watch. Which means I need to find another. The Holy Grail for me is the Mike Hailwood one which sold last year. It now belongs to a close friend of mine, so maybe I can pry it out of his hands to eventually give to one of the boys… 

The Gold Carrera 1158 CHN - the “pilot’s watch" as referred by Nicholas

TH:  Out of curiosity, if you’d had a daughter, would you have given this to her too? Or is it too boyish?

N: No, not at all! I mean that’s why I love the 1158! Because most automatic cases are quite large, but the 1158 wears a lot smaller. It’s a lot more compact, more refined. It really feels like they really focus the case around the watch. The 1153, and the 1158 Carreras are incredibly wearable. I have quite small wrists, so it suits me better than a bigger Viceroy.

TH And the Milanese bracelet, or leather strap? We see a leather strap on your wrist right now… 

N I’ve got the bracelet, but I can’t bring myself to cut it, that’s the problem! I would love to put it on a bracelet but it means sacrificing a decent amount of length out of one of them. So it’s a bit tricky. I should probably have another one made and fitted. That’ll be the way to do it. Gold’s a bit expensive now, though…. 

 

A Twin Time from 1955

TH What’s your take on a suitable age to pass on your watch to a son or daughter? Would you consider an eighteen-year-old too reckless with a timepiece that is one of a kind… 

N I would love to hand it to them at 18, but knowing how I was in my youth… I just think going to university with a vintage Heuer on your wrist with a plexi crystal and no waterproofness might not be the best idea. I think a graduation gift is probably the obvious thing to do – hold out just that little bit longer. 

TH That seems like a sensible option. Is there an elusive Heuer or TAG Heuer that has thus far escaped your reach? Eric, what’s your most evasive Google alert?

E It’s an obscure model, but I really like them. It’s called the Twin Time from the 1950s. I have an Abercrombie & Fitch Twin Time made by Heuer, and I would really like to get the Heuer version of it unfortunately the only one I know of resides in the  TAG Heuer Museum. The Twin Time is basically an early attempt to show a second time zone –  conveyed by a rotating internal bezel. What I love is that it’s a sport watch –  a tool watch – a very, very simple way to track two time zones, but it’s also so elegant.

TH We approve! What is your most intriguing or unlikely story of a Heuer or TAG Heuer acquisition?

Autavia 1163 Viceroy With White Chrono Hands

 

N I was in Tokyo on a valuation trip – it was just after I moved to Asia – and we were going through hundreds and hundreds of watches at a pawnbroker’s. It was one of those places that takes in watches for cash and you have no idea what you’re getting. It was pretty much a sea of gold Rolexes. Suddenly, there’s this vintage Heuer sitting in a bag, and it’s a Viceroy 1163. I picked up the watch, looked at it and realised the watch was untouched. It had never been polished, never been messed around with. I said to the guy, straight away, what do I owe you? It was just so serendipitous. It was the end of the day and I was absolutely exhausted. And there it was, like this ray of light. 

 

TH What’s the physical reaction during those hunting moments where you see the corner of something and then you think, oh, gosh, and the sense of hope is confirmed. What happens physically in your body or your mind at that moment?

N When you go to trade shows, you’ll see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of watches. And it might only be a tiny detail that would distinguish something exceptional. So generally you’re pretty cross-eyed. But when you see something amazing, first there’s this double check, then you have this kind of endorphin rush, like all of a sudden, these nodes in your brain are firing off to say wake up and pay attention to this. Then, if it’s something personally interesting to you, a sense of serendipity, and immense satisfaction. 

TH Did you get a good deal? 

N I paid my due! Generally the watches in Japan, especially vintage watches, are quite highly priced because it’s a pretty hot market, and the market’s pretty astute. So, I mean, I ended up just paying fair market value for the watch. And as Eric will tell you, this is probably the most common vintage Heuer that you can imagine. But finding a great example, even of a common reference, is really, really rewarding. 

TH We love the description of the ray of light…

E Was it on a Gay Frères bracelet?

N It was. It was on a GF, a proper nice GF… There it was. The complete thing. 

TH  Eric, do you have any wild acquisition stories… 

A Camaro Ad from the 1970s

E Yeah. I’ve always liked the very early Heuer Camaros – I think the Camaro a bit of an untold story: the evolution of that watch and just how interesting it was. So on eBay some years ago, when I was first getting into vintage Heuer collecting, a Camaro came up that was from a series of races in 1967 – the Daytona Speedway in Florida.  I was bidding on it. Another friend was bidding on it. And then a guy I later met, won it. So I’ve always loved that watch – but I never was able to purchase it. 

But recently I got in touch with the daughter of one of the winners, and she still had her father’s watch! He wore it throughout his whole life – so it was a very proud possession and it took her a long time to think about parting with it. But finally, she decided she was ready. The thing is, she was in the New York City area, and obviously there is a pandemic going on. So a friend of mine went to get the watch, but it was a quite involved story of them trying to meet each other for maybe two hours. They kept missing each other… like she was in one parking lot, he was in another parking lot. They’re calling and she’s driving away… It was almost comic, but very high stakes. Finally they  connected, and he got the watch and also the trophy that he won from that race. I’m still in touch with her, because she might have some more memorabilia – maybe even tapes of the race. 

The Heuer Camaro from Eric's story

E: What makes it so special is that the Camaro, as far as I know, wasn’t really officially launched until 1968. And this was the year before. They had it in the program of the Daytona races that each winner would get a Carrera, but then clearly they changed at the last minute and gave everyone the Camaro. Which means it was kind of a test to market and these are the earliest ones. The dials are all brown on these models too, which I love. 

TH: That parking lot story’s amazing because it’s half rom-com and half terrifying thriller.

E: Right! 

TH: What do you both think makes TAG Heuer appealing to collectors?  

N For me, it’s the human connection. There aren’t really any other brands with this connection to motorsport. To hear these stories of drivers walking around the pits in the 1960s, selling watches to their teammates and competitors to fund their racing programs, and to see so many great iconic images of these drivers wearing these watches – it’s just second to none. Because it was such an important era for motorsport – so thrilling and so dangerous, and Heuer has all of this wrapped up in it. With Heuer, we know legitimately 100 percent: the drivers were wearing these watches out of choice. These were tools of warriors! Championship winners. These amazing cast of characters. For me, that’s part of what makes it such a romantic brand. 

A Carrera with the Mercury Cougar Racing Team Logo from Eric's personal collection

TH Warriors is a great, visceral way of putting it. 

N They really were –  and they chose to wear these watches in the cockpit whilst driving in these insanely dangerous circumstances. 

TH Eric, what about you? What makes TAG Heuer so appealing to collectors?

E I think, first of all, the company was all about producing tools for purpose. Chronographs and stopwatches conceived for military or sport. And I really find that attractive. I also have a stopwatch collection because I think they’re so cool and undervalued. Dash timers too- They were not meant to be luxury, or there for showiness. It was really meant to be the best of the best to perform under pressure. 

TH: Do you each have a favorite collection from the Maison? 

N For me, it’s the Autavia and the Carrera. I mean, I love the Monaco, but unfortunately it’s a bit big for me, so I’m tied to manual wind watches. 

TH: Nicholas, you can’t pick two, the question was one! Well, I mean…. I guess you do have two wrists.

N I also have two children I can’t choose between them…

TH  I like that the collections are as well-loved and hard to pick between as your children…

N As long as my wife doesn’t hear about that it’s fine….

E  Since Nicholas picked two, I’ll pick two too. For me, that would be the Skipper and the Seafarer – they’re just such interesting and niche watches. No one else made anything like them – period – during that time. 

The very first model from 1967- the Skipper 7754 from Eric's personal collection

Talking of periods and full stops, now might be the time for a little coffee break. We’ll be back next week for Part Two: cases, condition, wrist forcefields and the very dangerous ‘romance phase’.