COLLECTED Collected, Vol. 2, Part One

Nick Gatehouse & Arno Haslinger

10 min

Our Collected interviews have always run on so long, and taken us into the wildest corners, that we’ve had to cut them into two. Here’s part one of Collected Vol. II, with major-player Heuer collectors, Nick Gatehouse and Arno Haslinger - of 2010’s legendary Haslinger Collection sale at Bonhams. We talk ‘brothers from another mothers’, racetrack models and a $750,000 mistake….

© Arno Haslinger, Heuer Chronographs and Motorsports. Photos by Clemens Kois

The Edge:  Since we’re all kind of trapped in our homes, let’s do a little escapism. Could you set the scene a little bit for where you are? Because Nick, you’re in Portugal, if I’m right? And Arno, you’re in Salzburg, no…. 

Nick:  Shall I go first, or do you want to go? 

Arno:  Go ahead! 

Nick:  Well I’ve lived in Asia for the past 30 years, though obviously – as you can tell from my accent – i’m slightly British. But i’m trying hard to be European which is why we moved near to Lisbon a few months ago to settle in Cascais. Amazingly we’ve had great weather so far, so I’ve been doing my best to upset everyone by posting up pictures of the bright blue skies..

The Edge:  Who thinks we should take Nick off the call right now for having too nice a life?

Nick: Here’s the view… People keep thinking I’ve been sending them photoshopped images. I have friends close by in Spain and they’ve had snow, floods, torrential rain etc which somehow we’ve avoided. By sheer luck we’ve ended up in some sort of strange microclimate of temperate weather..

The Edge:  Make it stop! What about you, Arno?

Arno: Ok, so I was born and raised in Salzburg, which is where I am again now. But between then, I was in Vienna to study. Then in Frankfurt, London and Paris for work.

Nick:  And now you’re just showing off on you see. All I did was shuffle from London to Asia!

Arno:  I live the European way, you know! Vienna, Frankfurt, Paris, London. 

Nick:  The cities you’d read on the side of a perfume bottle! It’s funny because I was obviously meant to be a professional stockbroker working in these places – London, Tokyo and then Hong Kong –  and that was actually how I got into watches: I got so bored sitting at my desk looking at computer screens and stock prices which I didn’t really understand, that I started buying watches on eBay. That is how most of my journey started, although I was actually given a Heuer by my father when I was 14…

Arno: 10 years ago, right? You’re 24 now, 25 ?

Nick: Thank you very much. You should write the article, I think, Arno.  

The Edge: Well, this is a perfect moment to say you gentlemen clearly know each other quite well. How did you two meet? 

Nick:  I think we were both invited to the historic Grand Prix in Monaco by Catherine. Historic motor racing and classic cars is my other big hobby, so I knew quite a few people already. But, despite knowing of Arno through the watch collecting community, I don’t think we’d ever met before that weekend. And now it seems bizarre that we didn’t meet because he’s sort of like my brother from Austria.

I always say that that is the nicest thing about this whole collecting hobby. It’s not just that the watches are great, but it’s actually the people you meet and the stories behind the people, and the stories behind the watches as well. That’s the thing that’s given me the most enjoyment of all.

The Edge:  It’s something so many collectors say. Also that the Heuer community in particular has a real warmth….

Nick:  Yes, totally. I think the Heuer brand is a little bit different because… I don’t know how to say this, but it’s not always an obvious brand to collect for a lot of people. It doesn’t say an enormous great deal about you in terms of your wealth. It’s just a little bit different! I mean, I come from a motorsports and classic car background, so to me, it’s the obvious choice. But amongst people collecting watches, it’s not always the brand they first think of. And I think because of that, you get real enthusiasts and people that really love the watches for what they are, but not for what they say about you, if you see what I mean. I think that’s why it’s a slightly different community, because certainly I haven’t met a single person in the Heuer community that hasn’t been a lovely person to spend time with and chat to. And they’ve all become friends around the world. And I think that’s quite unusual in any sort of community, really. 

The Edge: And for someone new to collecting, how would they find you? How would they kind of come upon fellow collectors? 

Arno:  I’d say Instagram… (@arnohaslinger)

Nick: I’m only on Instagram because of the watches (@chronomatik).

Arno:  You’re very famous on Instagram!

Nick Gatehouse & Arno Haslinger at the Grand Prix in Monaco

The Edge:  You both have really impeccable Instagram feeds. We snoop about sometimes and they’re both excellent. 

Nick:  I’m very lazy, actually. I can’t spend too much time posting. I feel like these social media things suck you in too much. There’s also the big forum set up by Jeff Stein, On the Dash, where people can also ask questions. That’s great…

Arno: On the Dash has a great database. Also, I think people find you when you publish things. When I did my book in 2008, the Heuer Chronographs and Motorsport, it connected with so many people. We sold the first edition of three thousand five hundred copies really quickly, which was quite a lot for a specialised book. 

The Edge: That would put you on the bestseller list in the UK! If you sold those in a week you’d be almost Number one. Those are very, very impressive book sales. 

Nick: He is equivalent to J.K. Rowling, really.  And the terrible thing is, you still haven’t signed my copy of the book either. 

Arno: Oh, I’m sorry!

The Edge: Arno, what are you going to put in your dedication to Nick in the book? 

Arno:  You won’t be able to publish this. 

The Edge: Just try us.

Arno:  You’re my best buddy. My brother from another mother. Happy collecting my Heuer and Porsche buddy !

The Edge: See, and they say romance is dead, but it isn’t. 

Arno:  No, it isn’t. It isn’t. And I think it’s also important what Nick said before – the Heuer brand is one of very few that has those credible links to the heydays of motorsports. And I think that’s a unique point, because Jack Heuer went out and signed these amazing contracts with Porsche race drivers. And later, in the early 70s, the contract with Ferrari. And so he became one of the first non-automotive sponsors in the world of motorsports, even before Marlboro, if I remember correctly. Jack was before cigarettes, which is amazing!

Jack was such a visionary man. The watchnames, and the model ranges: Monaco,  Daytona, Monza. Monza is a very important watch for the community because it was one of the first limited editions, and it was launched in late 1975 when Niki Lauda became world champion for Ferrari. Heuer was just under the windshield of the car, a very prominent place, so it gave Heuer such a boost in visibility going into the King class of motorsports. 

The Edge: Why do you think that is such an intersection between motorsports and watches? Is it the shared intricacy of the internal engineering? Is it this idea of a race against time? Why do they pair so nicely, apart from the direct history? 

Nick: Heuer is really about chronographs and timing, and motorsport is really about beating the clock as well. So I think there’s the obvious link there. And going back to what Arno said, I’m essentially a child of the 70s. I grew up watching Formula One and the first advertising logos I saw on the cars were the Heuer logos. So for me, it was an obvious connection, I suppose. But then if you look deeper, yeah, you’ve got beautiful engineering inside watches and beautiful engineering inside racing cars. 

Arno:  The little clutchers, the little wheels, the pushers, the rings… 

Nick:  I don’t mind tinkering with cars, but for one of my birthdays somebody bought me a beautiful set of tools for taking watches apart. And it’s the most dangerous thing in my office because I’m really not qualified, but I can’t resist trying to tinker once or twice. I’d take something off a watch thinking “I can change it. I’ve seen, you know, Nic Green or somebody do this” and I take it apart. And of course, just like a child, I can’t put it back together again. No way. So then I have to go humbly with my watch-part to my watchmaker and ask him to put it back together again. But that’s another story…

Nick's personal set of tools

« There's a huge amount of research that goes into it. Probably for every watch that I've owned or every car that I've owned, I've probably looked at a hundred. And actually, for me, that's part of the fun of the hobby. »

Nick Gatehouse

Arno: To go back to motor racing, the portfolio is very interesting. When you look at the Heuer portfolio, it’s more narrow in the 60s. You have the Carrera and Autavia. Towards the end of the sixties, you have the Camaro, 1969, Monaco coming in. Suddenly portfolio explodes: later the Silverstone, the Jarama, the Daytona. Boom. All named after race tracks. Jarama, for example, was introduced in ‘74 when Niki Lauda won the Jarama race in Spain for Ferrari. You have to understand that it had been 12 very dry years for Ferrari. And suddenly they had the winning team! They grew better every race, and finally, they were world champions in 75, which was amazing. And Jack was just so prominent in the cast! That’s why he decided to do the Monza. When you look at the leaflet, first you see it’s a limited edition, and secondly, that it was made together with Ferrari. And you know what? What more could you look for, if you’re a collector?

Nick:  I always think it’s worth stressing that Jack Heuer was really ahead of the game. I mean, like you said Arno, he was almost the first person to put sponsorship on the side of racing cars. He was one of the first people to use product placement in movies! Steve McQueen at Le Mans. From a business point of view, I think he almost did everything right. Obviously, the quartz crisis was another issue that was bigger than an individual company. But in terms of a business model, I’ve always thought he did everything right. He produced watches that move with the times. Most watch companies basically produce the same watch for decades. But Heuer came up with so many different, beautiful, colourful designs that really reflected the era that they were born in. It’s such a creative portfolio and a gift to collectors in that way.

The Edge:   Arno, when you were speaking of the racetrack models earlier, you sounded almost like a race commentator – this came, and then this came, and then this came, in these whizzes. And you’re right – they really are extraordinary moments in history. And I wanted to ask, what for both of you is the sensation that comes from being close to or owning those pieces of history, whether it comes to watches or other racing memorabilia? Does it feel like an intellectual thing? Is it emotional? Is it physical?

Arno: I think it’s about going very deeply into research. I’ll tell you how it was with Heuer. I was a marketing guy for a long time at Premier Automotive Group, and I was in a big presentation of … I think it was a Land Rover? Range Rover? Anyway, the head of design had put a slide with a Monaco on it. It was one of those mood board things – where you have future cues, cool images from different industries, certain products which you feel are cutting edge. The slide popped up with the Monaco, and I thought, wow, that’s it. I’d never seen this kind of square watch. And then I started my research. And when you’re a new collector, the best is to buy new stock watches, because to understand an old product line, you have to try to understand the finish of a watch when it was new. All the tiny little details – it’s the detail and the research that makes the difference in collecting these pieces. 

Nick:  It’s very true. It’s similar to car collecting. There’s a huge amount of research that goes into it. Probably for every watch that I’ve owned or every car that I’ve owned, I’ve probably looked at a hundred. And actually, for me, that’s part of the fun of the hobby. The research. We do it because we enjoy it. And I think that’s a challenge that’s probably shared by people that collect anything. It’s all the background work that goes into it. And the chase is almost as much fun as the end result, I think. And especially with a brand like Heuer, it can be hard to find beautiful examples of each reference. So yeah, it’s rewarding when you eventually get there. 

Niki Lauda wearing the Monza and writing: "Wherever timing, performance and precision count, men like me rely on special watches from Heuer. Heuer chronographs are regarded as the watches of the international elite because of their series-proven reliability and visible sporty elegance. With the new Monza Automatic Chronograph - released on the occasion of the 1975/76 Automobile World Championship - Heuer has achieved another top performance. See for yourself. Yours. Niki Lauda."

Arno:  When I did my book,  of the 81 pieces in the book, I think 65 ish were new old stock. as Nick just said, first you have to do your homework! Collecting is not something where you just jump in and think, OK, I will get the best price. I always warn when I consult people on their collections that they will not be the guy who gets the best buy at the beginning, because you have so many experienced dealers specialist in the market. What I always say is – don’t go for the cheapest, go for the quality. Because when you go over time, quality never goes out of fashion. 

Nick:  I do want to interrupt you on that point for a second or I’ll forget. Basically, I think what Arno says is quite interesting. Obviously with collecting, if you can afford to buy the best, you get to appreciate how something should be in its most correct form. But for me, one of the nice things about the Heuer brand is that if you don’t have a great deal of money, you can still collect Heuer or you can still find pieces that maybe aren’t the perfect new old stock examples, but they’re still beautiful watches to own. So I think it’s a much more democratic sort of market in that way. I wouldn’t put people off buying something that they love, even if it’s not 100 percent correct or not in the best condition, because it’s not necessarily all about investment and appreciation. I think it’s also just about owning a beautiful thing and a piece of history. 

Arno: Absolutely. 

Nick:  And then the other problem with the new old stock watches is… well, I’m wearing one now. This was essentially a new old stock, which means nobody’s worn it since it was produced. But I’ve ruined it! Because I like cars to drive, and watches to wear. So even though it was new old stock, I’m wearing it now. Same with cars –  I restore a car and make it perfect and then I go and take it on rally and ruin that asset anyway. I think I’m just one of these people. I always had friends who kept their toy cars in boxes when they were children, and they still have them now, pristine. Well, mine are all pretty well scratched up and bashed about in. The boxes are gone. But we have the story!

Arno:  Same here. I also drive Porsche 911 Turbo, which has a great history coming from the Martini Rossi Family. I even drive it hard on the German Motorways!

The Edge: Arno, is it a taboo to ask you how many pieces you have approximately currently in your collection? 

Arno: I’m still very, very on Heuer. I was very lucky after I sold my collection, a former Heuer employee called Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, who is one of my big mentors in the watch industry, invited me to see his collection. He has an amazing collection – I’d say more than fifteen hundred chronographs. 

The Edge: Wow. 

Arno: He was also the guy who brought the watches to the film Le Mans. He sold part of his Heuer collection to the museum. After my auction, I was able to buy a larger number of pieces from him, some new old stock, all very, very original pieces. Did I answer the question ? 

Nick: No you didn’t.

Two Carrera from Nick's personal collection

The Edge: The question was, how many pieces do you currently have ? 

Arno: I think roughly 80 percent of my watch collections are Heuer. 

The Edge: Avoiding the question still, but at least we got one number out of you. Nick, how do you feel about answering that question? 

Nick:  I think my wife’s not in the room, so I can probably tell you how many watches. [long pause] I actually don’t know exactly, but I think 75% of those would be Heuer. 

The Edge: And if we’re in the market for a story, would you tell us about a great acquisition? A particular stroke of luck, a piece of provenance you discovered after coming across the piece? 

Nick:  My favourite story is absolutely the opposite to luck. When I started looking at Heuer in the 90s, I was sitting in the bank with nothing much to do apart from what was on the screens, somebody was advertising a watch and he said he was the property manager from Le Mans movie sets. And at the time, he puts up this Heuer Monaco, which had been used in the movie, and he had a letter to accompany it. And I remember the guy wanted something like twelve thousand US dollars for this really nice Heuer Monaco, that had been used in the movie. 

Arno:  I think it was eight thousand. 

Nick:  OK, but let me finish my story. 

Arno:  OK, sorry, but like a politician, you know, you’re too long winded. 

Nick:  What can I say? I need to be more concise like Your Honour. But anyway, I remember chatting back and forth with Jeff Stein at that time and we could buy three normal 1133B Monaco. The same watch for the same price as this one. So I think we both conclude it probably wasn’t worth buying and I think eventually somebody bought it and eventually that watch went on to sell for three quarters of a million. And obviously we saw one that sold for 2.2 million. All this to say –  don’t ask me for expert collecting advice! My advice for collecting is just buy what you love. And I think that’s the most important thing with anything, actually, in terms of collecting cars, watches. 

Arno:  And it’s very sweet of you. I think it’s this love aspect which is amazing. 

The Edge:  Arno, do you have an acquisition story with a happier ending? 

Arno: Yeah… I think for me, one of the happiest acquisition stories is the  absolutely original untouched collection I was able to buy from Gerd-Rüdiger Lang. And actually acquiring maybe I don’t know how many Heuers in my life, maybe 500 over the years, maybe it was the one I got from Niki Lauda personally, from his former wife’s family…

But I guess the world of watches is like anything really! Some good experiences, some not so good experiences! 

Nick: I have to say for me… I’ ve bought many, many more watches that I own now, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience buying a Heuer watch. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. I’m not sure, but I can’t recall ever finding a watch that is not how it was represented. I mean, more often than not, the little FedEx package will arrive, which is still so exciting. You open it and the watch is normally nicer than I expect it’s going to be. Actually, if I’m honest, the thing that I prize the most in collecting these days,  which is quite funny, is when I find a watch that Arno doesn’t know about, or that he hasn’t seen, that’s really the target these days. 

Arno:  You can tell Nick actually moved to Europe to see me more often… 

Nick:  Exactly. 

 

Stayed tuned for Part Two, where Nick and Arno talk meetings with Jack, gold’s comeback, and a terrifyingly generous offer…