Jack Heuer, the former CEO and current Honorary Chairman of TAG Heuer, is a living legend. A man whose work will stand the test of time. A century after the luxury watchmaking company was founded by his great-grandfather, Heuer’s cutting-edge innovations elevated the brand to global recognition, placing it at the center of the mid-century style revolution. It’s his constant search for something new that has kept TAG Heuer at the forefront of the industry.
In the forward to Jack Heuer’s autobiography, The Times of My Life, former TAG Heuer President and CEO Jean-Christophe Babin credited Heuer as being the enduring inspiration behind the brand’s ‘technical and aesthetic masterpieces, thanks to his forward-thinking and pioneering spirit’. But creativity does not happen in a vacuum, and Jack Heuer’s most iconic models were a clear expression of his deep admiration for the technical and aesthetic values of his ground-breaking contemporaries. His well-developed sense of style extended to furniture, architecture, and industrial design. The towering figures in these fields inspired his principles.
Charles Edouard Heuer and Jack Heuer in 1963, Switzerland
Perhaps the most significant influence on his career, Jack Heuer often spoke of his early admiration for Le Corbusier’s furniture alongside that of Charles Eames, and later Le Corbusier’s architecture would also greatly inspire Heuer’s outlook. The creative connection was perhaps fate – Le Corbusier was born and raised in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the small Swiss village which is TAG Heuer’s spiritual home and headquarters – and was described by The New York Times as ‘destined for the glory of time’. Le Corbusier’s father made dials there, while the aspiring architect learnt how to engrave watches. His prowess was soon apparent, and a professor ignited his prolific career.
Just as Heuer wanted to remove the common components of chronographs in favor of less cluttered dials, Le Corbusier preferred elegant minimalism to fussy or superfluous detail. Le Corbusier had a fixation with functionality which can be found in Jack Heuer’s rationale for the Carrera’s key features: ‘I knew it would be a racing chronograph, so the dial needed to be uncluttered and easy to read at a glance at high speed. Then I put to use my knowledge of industrial design, and refined it’. Heuer took the functionality of Le Corbusier’s work and added touches of individuality to ensure an original, recognizable aesthetic. As a result, the Carrera’s sophisticated minimalism, like Le Corbusier’s designs, is ageless.
Haus Le Corbusier, Weißenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart, Germany
Centre le Corbusier (Heidi-Weber-Museum), Zürich, Switzerland
One of Heuer’s earliest inspirations as a student was the designer Charles Eames. Eames and his wife Ray were among the most important American designers of the 20th century. They were responsible for ground-breaking contributions in architecture, furniture, and photography. Heuer wrote in The Times of My Life, ‘During my student years I had become a great lover of modern design. As a student I even managed to save enough money to buy a Charles Eames lounge chair, although it did look a bit out of place when I put it in my rather shabby student digs in Zurich.’
Heuer specifically cited Eames’ work as an inspiration for the ‘clean dial’ of the original Carrera. Launched at the Basel Fair in the spring of 1963, the Carrera is a chronograph that transcends time, and its legacy runs through TAG Heuer’s veins. Jack Heuer had considered prior chronographs too cluttered: ‘many of them were equipped with artillery telemeters with spiral scales which made their dials difficult to read. I wanted a dial that had a clear, clean design…this was the secret behind the fresh, clean and uncluttered appearance of my first Carrera’. The smooth simplicity of Charles Eames’ work was instrumental in the Carrera’s remarkably crisp look and enduring status. As Heuer later said, ‘The Carrera exudes modernity and elegance thanks to its clean, ultra-legible design. This timeless style, as well as its bold and daring spirit, have been the keys to its longevity’.
Eames House interior
The plastic chair by Eames.
As well as furniture designers, Heuer was inspired by giants of modern architecture whose creations were a similar blend of beauty and functionality. In the year he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his original Carrera, he looked back on the beginning of his passion for architecture: ‘I had a lot of friends in the architectural division at school. They were all fans of modern design, and they transpired that enthusiasm onto me. I became a fanatic’. One of these modern designers was Eero Saarinen, a Finnish-American who had also been a friend and collaborator of Charles Eames. Eero Saarinen was a second-generation modernist who constantly pushed technical and aesthetic boundaries – just as the young Jack Heuer aspired to. Saarinen’s visual sensibilities and the curving, sensual lines of his buildings can be seen reflected throughout Jack Heuer’s early designs, and later in life he would make a point of visiting Saarinen’s buildings in Helsinki.
Jack Heuer has repeatedly stated his admiration for the work of another key figure in modern architecture, the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Niemeyer began working in Brazil in the 30s, and by the time Jack Heuer was a student he was already well known for the free-flowing curves in his radical, ambitious designs – which greatly influenced Heuer’s own early ambitions. A complicated and extravagant figure, Niemeyer’s work projected a vision of egalitarian utopia which still maintained flares of individuality and extravagance. He was still working well into his 90s, and Heuer would often visit him on business trips to Brazil. As well as their mutual love of geometric purity and functional elegance, Heuer and Niemeyer had another shared inspiration in the legendary Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier.
The free-form marquee at Casa do Baile
Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Centre, Asturias, Spain
The key to Jack Heuer’s models maintaining their long-standing status as touchstones of excellence in the world of luxury design lies in their rich variety of influences and the deeply considered values behind every detail – a dedication to the idea that functionality should be both inspired, and inspiring. As the man himself said, ‘a timepiece is not just about getting you to your dentist appointment on time. It is a complex synergy between art, dreams, emotions, desire, status and beauty’.
Jack Heuer’s aesthetic principles were a constant conversation with that complex synergy. By immersing himself in the world of design while still refining his own instincts, Heuer learnt how to incorporate a range of influences – the functionality of Le Corbusier, the simplicity of Saarinen, the elegance of Eames, and the ambition of Niemeyer – and shape new cohesive forms that both stood out and spoke to the era. The unmistakable design language that emerged through his work launched a thousand timepieces and set the gold standard in watchmaking for decades to come.