HERITAGE The Essence of an Era: The 1960s

Iconic timepieces with campaigns to match, from the 1960s to today

8 min

Rewind time with us and Ad Patina, a world-leading authority in vintage watch advertisements, as we reflect on previous decades of Heuer and TAG Heuer history, as immortalised in unforgettable campaigns.

Today, Ad Patina, the expert of all things vintage watch ads, is taking us on a swinging journey back to the 60s, a decade which in several ways marked the dawn of a new era for Heuer. In 1958, Jack Heuer became the fourth-generation leader of the family company, and the decade would bring extraordinary innovations for Heuer: new chronograph models, ingenious stopwatch designs, and special dashboard timing instruments. Join us for this guided joyride through the retro paper-trail of Heuer’s print ads from the 1960s.

“New from Heuer…”: The Carrera

Finding a particular watch model advertised in print can be hard, especially from the 60s, and let alone on a full page.

 

Take this 1964 Heuer ad for example:

Notice the first line, “New from Heuer…” As you’d expect, it shows a very-early Carrera reference 2447 with a white (or eggshell) dial. If you’re looking for an original Carrera ad, this is a prime example, in the form of what can be described as a “strip” ad because it’s skinny and extends down the length of a page. 

The quest for an ad showing other variants of the 2447, such as with a pulsations dial or “Panda” dial, will at best turn up similar results: small, fractional page ads. Most likely, ads showing more unique executions don’t exist. Often, the closest you’ll come is an image on the pages of a catalogue.

And speaking of a catalogue, you’ll notice at the bottom of this ad (above), a stub-like portion welcoming you to fill in your personal information and send away for a free Carrera “folder”. This is a common component of vintage magazine ads and just another endearing quality of retro advertising that’s as cool as the little details on a dial that fascinates us.

Classified Cool: 1966 Autavia

 

It’s hard to avert your eyes from this 1966 advertisement (just below) with those oversized “Big Subs” staring back at you in the first execution of the reference 2446 Autavia. However, this print ad is significant beyond it being a resource in furthering the scholarship on the model. It’s also important because it tells part of the story of how vintage watches were marketed back in the 60s.

 

For example, many watch ads were quite small; while the watch shown has those large sub dials, this ad is in fact very tiny, measuring only 6cm x 7cm. 

It appears that this classified-style ad was placed by the Feldmar Watch Company, which has a special place in the history and success of Heuer. According to Jack Heuer’s autobiography, it was Barney Feldmar, a loyal and trusted client, who set the wheels in motion to ultimately get the “King of Cool” Steve McQueen, to wear a Monaco in Le Mans. 

 

Curiously enough, this advert does not mention the model name. What you may recognise immediately as the “Autavia” is quaintly described as a “Wrist Chronograph”, a charming, straightforward moniker reminding us of a time when watches were most valued for their functionality.

Once (Or Twice) Upon A Wrist, Part 1: The Carrera Date

According to Jack Heuer’s autobiography, Heuer’s first full-page, colour advertisement in the US was for the Carrera Date, or “Dato”, reference 3147. It seems fitting that a new design language for Heuer was introduced through a brand-new advertising campaign.

Thanks to the agency that dreamed up the Dato ad above, Heuer ran a series of ads throughout the decade that featured their timepieces in situ, that is to say, on wrists. These images of clenched fists are recurrent in Heuer and TAG Heuer iconography, affirming the brand’s philosophy of unerring strength. Furthermore, the arm of the model is always shown donning the uniform of the target market. For example, if you read the copy of this Dato ad, it seems Heuer has skiers in mind, which is why a chunky, knit sweater is the outfit choice. 

 

This is a strong Heuer ad, with clear visual communication of the Carrera Date’s functions. Besides the vibrant visual language, there’s also clever copy written both to educate and to amuse. There’s so much technical information and inspiration packed within the paragraphs, just as there are so many functions fitted into the watch. One of the key bits of text? The mention of where Heuer products are sold, a quaint reminder that we’ve journeyed back to the past: at “jewelry stores, pro-shops, sports car accessory shops and select specialty stores.”

Once (Or Twice) Upon A Wrist, Part 2: The Autavia

 

This 1967 magazine ad features the rare 2446 Autavia, which probably caught your eye with its shimmer and bi-colour 24-hour bezel insert, which are of course trademarks of a GMT watch.

 

While Heuer products were (and are) often associated with motorsports, the Autavia — its name a compound of “automobile” and “aviation” — targets audiences at another altitude.
The gold stripes adorning the sleeves of the watch wearers offer a knowing nod to the expertise (and elegance) of the airplane pilot.

If you’re wondering how a model advertised as a serially-produced product ended up being produced in low numbers…here’s an anecdote for you: The story goes that after this particular advert ran, featuring the early screw-back case iteration, a new design went into production with a round compressor case. The round compressor style ultimately prevailed, so the life of the screw-back was short-lived, and thus this advert remains a snapshot in time.

Once (Or Twice) Upon A Wrist, Part 3: The Autavia with timers

 

Nowadays, social media influencers are often key players when it comes to selling products. Back in the days before the Internet (hard to imagine, right?), endorsements were still a powerful selling tool, but they were conveyed in print. This magazine ad (below) from 1968 is an example of Heuer creating a strong association between its products and instrument-rated pilots.

 

The ad celebrates the innovative functionalities of the watch by answering the question it poses at the start: “What kind of pilot would need all three Heuer timers?” Connecting their products to this group of well-trained, skilled aviation professional implies the quality and reliability of these timepieces, instilling confidence in potential buyers. 

 

At the time, the objective of the ad was to sell these analogue products, which likely reflected the era’s latest technology and required functionalities for flying safely. Of course, technology has evolved since the 1960s, and some pilots no longer require such instruments, thanks to the rise of digital computers and GPS. Though the featured timepieces may be technically obsolete, this ad is valuable in that it reminds us of other moments in time, and of the rich Heuer heritage.

Chronograph chronology

 

This 1968 advertisement is technically not a Heuer ad; rather it’s an ad for a retailer that specialises in chronographs from many brands. Print advertising comes in many forms: whether a traditional magazine ad (in any size) or a catalogue, any documentation that shows a product, describes it and informs about it, should be considered a relevant and important piece of advertising media.

 

The Heuer trio in this ad, including a Camaro, are pictured posing like podium winners, but perhaps the real champions in this ad are the text-filled blocks surrounding the watches. Reading (and researching) the content yields incredible insight into the sales and ownership history of Heuer watches.  

In case you couldn’t tell from its name, Chronosport UK was a major distributor of chronographs. They not only sold to the public, but also supplied timing equipment to racing teams. Today, with so much value placed on provenance and the stories behind watches, Chronosport ads like this should be cherished as each one adds context to the chronology of chronographs. The only thing that could make this ad better? If a Carrera was in the group.

Ad Patina, our guide on this journey back in time, is a trusted authority in vintage watch advertisements and sourcer extraordinaire when it comes to this particular kind of printed matter from yesteryear. Ad Patina appreciates the way a watch’s patina tells its story and firmly believes that advertisements from the past are a key resource in the ongoing watch collecting conversation.

Until next time…