SAVOIR FAIRE Collected, Vol. 2, Part Two

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. If you missed Part One (feat. racetrack models and a $750,000 mistake), read it first. Otherwise stay tuned for Part Two: meetings with Jack, gold’s comeback, and a terrifyingly generous offer…

© Arno Haslinger. Heuer Chronographs and Motorsports. Photographed by Clemens Kois.

The Edge:  Which brings us to the Haslinger collection. It’s just hit its 10 year anniversary – but for readers who hadn’t heard it before, it’s going to sound crazy. You built up this incredibly impressive collection over many years and did enough research about them to write a book, and then you just put…. all of them up for auction.  How did you let them go? And why? 

Arno:  I have all my watches in a bank – in a bank safe. After 10 years collecting, I brought them all together and I thought, wow, what do I do with these watches now? And then I thought, I have to let go. I have to let something new in. It has to be a kind of flow. 

I remember when I was working in Vienna as a watch specialist and we had people coming in to show their watches for these kinds of valuations you do for auction houses. I was valuating watches all day long and then in the evening that night, I had a beer and I called my father and I said, you know what I’ll do? I think I’ll sell my collection. And he said, why? And I said, I want something new to move in. Because when you hold onto something so badly, you always do the same thing.

Heuer was turning 150 in the next year, and I thought, OK, wow, this could be an amazing story. And it was! We showed the watches at vintage car auctions and watch shows all over the world. Paris, Monaco, Goodwood, Hong Kong, New York, then finally London for the auction.

And it was kind of a dream for me, having two passions reunited around my Heuer Collection – having the car collectors and race car collectors interested as well because the brand has such fantastic links to motor sports. In fact, Heuer is one of the few brands who has this strong history with car racing. So suddenly you enlarge the number of people interested in these stories, and during the year, there were wonderful friendships made and it was so much fun. It didn’t feel like “losing” anything, on the contrary it was a great experience.

Nick: Can I ask you, Arno, when you were going through that process – a process that obviously had quite a big impact on the Heuer collector market! – at what point did you realise the auction was going to go so well? Was it during the roadshow? Was it the day of the auction, or was it not until the auction was over? 

Arno:  It was not until the auction was over! Because personally, I was not allowed to look into the books! Paul said, no way are you sitting on the auction side. So I was completely held out of this. I was allowed to see that there was a good audience, but I didn’t know any more than that! And funnily enough, the first watch in the sale, this Autavia didn’t sell, because it didn’t hit the minimum price. And it was sitting there and the auctioneer was quite clever because he went over it very quickly. So he was able to channel the momentum of the next watch. But I thought to myself, gosh, what if we do the whole 81 watches and nothing sells!

Nick: The funny thing is, I remember watching the auction as a collector. Obviously as the auction progressed, it was obvious that the market was picking up quite well. And I sat there cursing you, thinking, ‘God, I’m not going to be able to buy the watches I love now because they’re going to become too expensive!’. So on the one hand, I was thinking, oh what’s he done here? Damn you Arno!

But then I sort of came full circle because to me, aside from the relationships and getting to own beautiful pieces of history and meeting people throughout this hobby, I think the most important and the most rewarding part of this has been to see the support and the praise. Jack Heuer for example: everybody’s been able to celebrate what Jack Heuer has done. They were beautiful moments where we got to meet him at the factory. He would walk into the room full of all these collectors. And I don’t think he had ever faced it before – seeing how many people were coming up to him and thanking him for the work he’d done. They were really moving moments. That’s one of the nicest things. To me, it’s a privilege to have been a very small part of that story. And it’s one of the more important aspects. It’s not just watch collecting as a hobby – it’s more about passion and history as well.

Jack Heuer wearing the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Gold Special Edition for his 88th birthday (CBN2041.FC8306)

The Edge: Do you have any Jack Heuer sound bites from that meeting or any kind of little details from that encounter? 

Nick:  Well, I remember being with Jack, and another lovely collector from London called Nic, who’s the person that helps fix my watches when I break them. We went into the coffee room with Jack Heuer. It’s just…. he was such a generous chap! He was very happy to talk about the history, but he was almost a little bit overwhelmed by it. And I remember  – I don’t like to ask for this sort of thing – but it was quite an important moment, so I asked, “Would it be possible to have a photograph with you?” And he was almost taken aback that anybody would almost want to have a photograph taken with him! It was just charming in that respect. It was almost like a surprise to him that people appreciated the work and the history that he created so much. And that to me was one of the nicest things – he was a truly humble man. 

Arno: I think back to many nice moments and meetings and encounters we had together with Jack. I think back to this time a lot. Also moments with Jean Christophe Babin, the TAG Heuer team back then, and today, Catherine of course, who’s done such a wonderful, fantastic job. She’s absolutely the best host I can think of who gave events a unique bonding character. 

Nick: Catherine has been a wonderful host, a great asset for the brand, and talking about bonding makes me think back to when my father gave me my Heuer watch when I was 14 years old. It’s a funny thing. I don’t think either of us then would have realised how much pleasure that would have given me for my whole life. 

The Edge: Which Heuer was it? 

Nick: He wore an Autavia 2446C GMT virtually his whole life – I can only ever remember him wearing that particular watch  – but he bought me a Daytona, which was my first serious mechanical watch. 

Arno: When was it? Did he give it to you in 1976 when it came out? 

Nick: I’m not going to tell you how old I am!

Heuer Daytona from 1976

The Edge:   OK, OK, let’s move into more of a quickfire round. You both have a soft spot for 60s and 70s models. What’s your favourite decade? Bonus point for favourite year. And we’re going to start with you, Nick. 

Nick:  Oh god. I can’t do these sort of quick fire things. The problem for me with the Heuer watches is I like so many of them. 

Arno: Suddenly you are a politician!  

Nick: No, no. But seriously, I always get asked this question and I find it’s the most difficult thing. And I still haven’t even after the years. I haven’t prepared a proper answer for this yet. But I think the Heuer clarity and beautiful design of a 2447SN Carrera from the 60s is something that really stands out for me. And then the history of the 1158CHN from the 70s… but then also the colourful pieces from the 70s for something slightly different. I think that there are standout pieces for me from each decade. But I couldn’t select one that I liked more than another. Really. 

The Edge:  Arno, can you be more precise on your favourite year ?

Arno: Yeah, I’m very much a 70s guy. 

Nick: We can see that with the clothing…

Arno:  I think it’s just the more creative period for Heuer! Because it’s generally a more creative period than the 60s, because the 60s had to evolve and warm up for the 70s. But then in the 70s, you had the clash coming and you had the power, you had colours, you had bigger sizes. It was more freedom. 

Nick:  That’s a funny thing, isn’t it? Everybody thinks that Audemars Piguet – with the Royal Oak Offshores –  introduced the concept of really large wristwatches that have become so commonplace these days. But if you look at the early 70s Montreal and Autavias, they were much bigger than anything!

Arno:  Yes, absolutely. 

Nick:  Ahead of the curve. It’s quite interesting.

« Buy what you love and buy the nicest example you can afford. Because at the end of the day, if you buy something that's good quality, you'll always be able to sell it if you want to, then put the funds towards something else. Don't try and beat the market. »

Nick Gatehouse

Arno:  And look at the Calculator! The Calculator is a fantastic watch. It is one of the watches which stayed the longest in the Heuer portfolio. Thinking about the 70s, when you look at the colourful Montreal Blue it was amazing. Then you had the Silverstone, which was the successor to the Monaco. And it had these wonderful rounded edges. It was still television-square, but wonderful rounded edges and colourful tiles. There was the Exotic Autavia, you had the Daytona with the integrated bracelet. You had the wonderful Cortina in white…. 

Nick:  I believe it was the quickfire round, actually! 

The Edge:   No, no, no. We’re loving this. It doesn’t have to be quick fire at all. 

Arno: The Cortina was the first automatic Heuer watch with a Roman dial. And for me, what was so important was that it reflected the design, the kind of octa shape design and the integrated bracelet. And before that, in 1974, we had the automatic Carrera coming in, the blue tri-band with the orange accents. You had the thicker case and the thinner case. The thinner case 1153 Carrera also kept his blue dial, and it is really rare to find. Find one like this. This would be a collector tip from me! And then you had the last real new chronographs series with the Verona. The Verona was playing with classic 50s design but beautifully transformed by the 70s. You had the bicolor, for example, already on the Verona even before bicolor was a real fashion statement. So I think it’s another trend Jack Heuer incorporated in the 70s. The 70s were utterly, utterly creative. And you obviously had to link it to fashion. You have to link it to racing. You have to take towns like Cortina, Verona. You had the culture! The culture of a city which he brought in. And then the early eighties, you had a run of special models like the Autavia 100, Autavia Bund, Autavia Green Black pewter and gold plated Autavia and a black dialed Skipper. There’s a big hype about the very early Carrera Skipper. But I think you can still  find very interesting watches for low money, or rather less money than the main ‘big fishes’ now. That’s what you said before, Nick. And I think that’s an important point – for young collectors, for new collectors, you have a chance to acquire great things in a decent condition. Or maybe 3000 euros, which, at the moment for a chronograph, is the absolute entry price.

The Cortina with Roman dial, as mentioned by Arno

Nick:  It’s actually the beauty of the Heuer collection, isn’t it? There are so many really rare pieces that are really underappreciated and still extremely affordable. 

The Edge:   That was going to be our next question. You guys are incredible at doing our job for us. We were just about to ask your take on the most currently undervalued piece for you and why? If you could pick one model each.

Arno: Yeah, Cortina would be another model I would go for. Or the Verona, with the beautiful black dial…

Nick: And I’m just going to say the Jarama! It seems to have been ignored for so long and it’s got all the pieces of Heuer heritage behind it. It’s got the famous motor racing circuit name, it wears really well on the wrist and it’s very hard to find in excellent condition. So it’s really underappreciated. That would be my pick. 

The Edge: These are fantastic little hints for any emerging collector. Let’s talk material. There are many collectors who are really uniquely into steel and silver tones. But we see an affection for gold amongst the two of you. Can you talk us through your relationship to material and colour? 

Nick: It’s quite funny. I’ve almost always collected steel watches or single colour watches, never bi colour. And I would say 95 percent or almost all of my collection are steel or white gold or platinum watches. This 1158CHN on my wrist is probably the only gold watch that I own. And for me, it’s purely about the history and the connection to motor racing and the drivers. It’s quite an important watch from that standpoint. The way I see it, with Heuer watches especially, it’s important that they’re in a harder, more durable metal. That seems to fit the genre better rather than a fashion watch or a jewellery watch. When I compare it to motor racing, I’m thinking about machines made of steel and aluminium and titanium. So I think for me, that’s the obvious connexion as to why most of my collection is like that. 

Arno:  During the 70s, gold watches were much more normal. All the wildest racing drivers like Mike Hailwood, Niki Lauda, and many others actually wore gold watches. Then you have periods of minimalism coming in –  periods where gold got a little bit forgotten – but I think gold is back now. When you look at it from a professional point of view, from auctioneering. I think gold watches are very, very, very highly valued now because the material gold has a return for, I think, eight years, six years now. So people are buying gold. People rely on gold. People think that gold is a very secure investment. 

Nick: It’s the new Bitcoin!

Arno: I think gold is very pleasant to wear. Don‘t get me wrong, steel is cool, but gold is at least as cool as steel…. [Arno’s line starts to cut out]

Nick:  So is it just me or is it? 

The Edge:   No, he’s breaking up there – 

Nick: Saved by the bell! But actually, you’re right. But maybe it goes more with grey hair… 

TAG Heuer Silverstone, as mentioned by Arno. © Arno Haslinger, Heuer Chronographs and Motorsports. Photographed by Clemens Kois.

Arno:  I think gold is a very warm material. It’s a very good material to wear. And it does give the same cold touch as steel. Don’t get me wrong, I think steel is cool, but gold is at least as cool as steel. And I think the whole attitude towards gold has reinvigorated over the last five years. When you go to the big Italian watch shows in Parma, for example, you definitely have gold coming in. It’s been coming back the last few years. And prices are rising a lot!

Nick:  And actually, there aren’t that many gold watches in the whole portfolio. So it’s harder to collect them anyway. They’re certainly hard to find. 

Arno:  Yes, absolutely. 

The Edge:  You’ve touched upon this a little bit, both of you. But in case there’s anything else you’ve missed, is there anything else you would really say to a young collector, to your young self perhaps? 

Nick:  To me, it’s really simple. There are two things. Buy what you love and buy the nicest example you can afford. Because at the end of the day, if you buy something that’s good quality, you’ll always be able to sell it if you want to, then put the funds towards something else. Don’t try and beat the market.

The Edge:  Arno, do you have any extra advice for any aspiring collectors? 

Arno: Well, I’d say: I would advise you if you want, so you can always call me. You can send me pictures on Instagram or WhatsApp. And when you want to buy a watch, I tell you ‘good’. ‘Not too good’. If you want, I offer this service absolutely for free for Heuer lovers. 

The Edge:  Are you for real? Is this a real invitation for any dedicated Heuer lover who reads the article? 

Arno: Absolutely. I do this all the time. Give them my Instagram. I get around 10 a day. “What do you think about this?” “Do you think it’s a good buy?” And I do it for free for young collectors. 

I had so much luck and good time with Heuer. For me this is a little payback.  I think my advice would be to rely on consultants at the beginning, rely on the best dealers, on dealers who have to take back the watch if it’s not OK, which is very important. And I would be careful!

70s Heuer Montreal from catalog, as mentioned by Arno

Nick: And I was going to say that’s one of the best pieces of advice my father gave me when it came to anything like this, was ‘buy in haste and repent at your leisure’.

The Edge:  I like that advice. 

Nick: But I think what Arno said is right. The nice thing about the Heuer community again is that I get people asking me through my Instagram and I’m always happy to answer questions and obviously Arno does the same as well. So that’s absolutely fine. It’s a very nice community from that point of view. There are forums out there  and everybody’s always happy to answer questions. You see it all the time. People say, Oh, I found this watch. What do you think? And maybe unlike in other worlds, you don’t get other people suddenly going off trying to buy it. You get people giving genuine advice and helping people to buy the right things. As I say, like Arno says, giving that generosity back to other people is an even more important part of the hobby than owning all the watches yourself. 

The Edge:  Lastly, since both of you petrolheads and watch fanatics – if you had to pick one, which would it be?

Arno: That’s unfair! Because for me they both go hand in hand…

The Edge: Another diplomatic answer! Nick, are you going to be diplomatic too? 

Nick:It’s not diplomatic per se, it’s just I would find it impossible to separate the two – they go so well together! Maybe watches are a lot easier than cars. But I’m not sure what gives me most enjoyment. On a good day when I’m driving a nice old car down a country lane, does that give me more enjoyment than sitting at my coffee bar having breakfast and looking at the time on my vintage timepiece? I’m not sure. It depends what sort of mood I’m in, but I think it’d be impossible to choose…. 

Arno: Ok, ok. In the end, I think I’m a little bit more towards the watches than the cars. 

The Edge:  See, finally! We got you Arno! It’s down on paper.  Gentlemen, on that note, thank you so, so much. We’ve run over by 20 minutes, but it was an absolute pleasure speaking to you both.