The (Vintage Heuer) Year in Review — 2019
Back in the old days, before the emergence of Facebook and Instagram, participants in the watch discussion forums would often post “Year in Review” messages. Key topics might include matters such as watches that arrived or departed during the year, changes in collecting objectives, meetings with other collectors, and news in research and writing. I’m not sure when I posted my last one, but this posting from December 2009 will give you a taste of the “Year in Review” genre.
One of our hard-core enthusiasts, Peter Moller, just posted his reflections on the year 2019, in our discussion forum, so let me follow suit with this quick (??) posting covering some of the highlights of 2019.
Our Community – 50th Anniversary of the Chronomatic
2019 was definitely the year of the 50 Year Anniversaries. We had Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton, Zenith and Seiko celebrating the introduction of their first automatic chronographs in 1969, and Omega celebrated the first moon landing, in July 1969. It was good fun collaborating with our colleagues on the Breitling side of the aisle to mark the 50th anniversary of the “Chronomatic” automatic chronographs, and we saw some amazing postings, showing the Heuers and Breitlings, as well as some Hamiltons and Burens. Use the Instagram hashtag — #Chronomatic50 — to see some amazing watches and photographs.
TAG Heuer – 50th Anniversary of the Monaco
TAG Heuer marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the Monaco with a series of five limited edition watches, that were released between May and November 2019. Each of the watches represented a decade in the life of the Monaco, with the colors ranging from green and red for the 1970s and 1980s, to black and gray models for the later decades. With each model limited to 169 samples, these Monacos were not really available to collectors, but they did generate some interest in the Monaco heritage, which is a good thing for the brand and its collectors. See our posting for an overview of the five 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Monaco chronographs.
I was most intrigued by the last watch that TAG Heuer introduced to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Monaco. The “Monaco Piece d’Art” was a unique watch that TAG Heuer produced, with the single sample being sold in Phillips “Game Changers” auction (December 10, 2019), with all the proceeds going to a charity. The watch was a new old stock “McQueen Monaco”, Reference 1133B, with the movement finished to become a “Piece d’Art”. The engraving on the main bridges uses a psychedelic style that evokes the concert posters of the mid-1960s, consistent with the design trends that gave rise to the Monoco chronograph. This unique timepiece sold for $81,250 in the Game Changers auction.
Favorite Stories Told
The Hunt for John Glenn’s Watches. I have been a lifelong John Glenn fan, and first started following his watches in 2006, with the discovery that he wore a Heuer stopwatch strapped to his wrist, on his flight in February 1962. In March 2018, an estate sale was held in his former home, in Potomac, Maryland, and I was fortunate to be able to purchase three of his watches that were included in the sale. In December 2019, with Phillips selling two of the former John Glenn watches, in its “Game Changers” auction, it was time to tell the story of the estate sale and John Glenn’s watches. I had a posting on Hodinkee about my hunt for John Glenn’s watches and on OnTheDash about John Glenn’s watches.
Ford v Ferrari. The movie “Ford v Ferrari” was released on November 15, 2019 and, as we might have expected “everyone” (at least everyone in the watch world) began asking the questions, “Which watches are Matt Damon and Christian Bale wearing in the movie?” Our friends at TAG Heuer soon confirmed that the costume crew for the movie had requested some vintage Heuer chronographs for the filming, and that Damon was wearing a Carrera 30 (Reference 7753 SN) and Bale was wearing a “Rindt” Autavia with a tachymeter bezel (Reference 2446).
Mike Hailwood and His Carrera. Among all the racers who wore Heuers back in the 1960s and 1970s, Mike Hailwood was one of the guys who I had mostly ignored. I thought of him more as a motorcycle racer than as a car racer, and I had never really dug into his biography. When an 18 karat gold Carrera, Reference 1158 CHN (second execution) came up for sale, in October 2019, it was time to get serious about Mike Hailwood, and I really enjoyed learning about him.
Favorite Acquisitions (Heuer)
It seems like 2019 was the year in which I “circled back” and bought a couple of the models that I had sold in previous years. At the top of the list is an Autavia Reference 11063 “Diver 100”. I had owned one of these a long time ago; enjoyed it; but for some reason sold it or traded it away. In recent years, I have thought of this as a $10,000 watch. In the current market, we are seeing some of these change hands for well-below that price. The one that I purchased was either new old stock or, at worst, near mint, and at $5,500 I am a buyer.
This Carrera Reference 2447 D (decimal minutes) is another vintage Heuer that made its return to my collection. I really like the early version of these watches, and couldn’t let this “polygon back” sample get away. Again, when you think of a watch as being a $10,000 watch and find yourself able to snag one at a deep discount to this price, the “bottom fishing” becomes tempting.
So yes, there’s a theme here – if prices on these two vintage Heuer chronographs are down 30% from the top of the market, I’m a buyer. We’ll have to look at this again in a couple of years to see how this worked out. In the meanwhile, it’s great to have these two watches back in the rotation!
One of the recent trends in the vintage watch collecting community has been a preference for the watches that are in their original, unrestored condition. I have always been a fan of the watches that show their age, and it was fun buying this Orvis Solunagraph, in early 2019. As the old saying goes, “They are only original once”, and this one seems to have made it from the early 1970s through the 2010s without any restoration.
Favorite Acquisitions (Non-Heuer)
Consistent with the pattern of “owed it; sold it; bought another one in 2019”, there is the story of my second Breitling “Scott Carpenter” Cosmonaute. I owned one of these a long time ago, but the condition / originality was poor, as the lume had been stripped from the dial and the slide rule scale had been replaced with a later, incorrect version. I didn’t fully appreciate the historical significance of the watch (developed and worn by Scott Carpenter) or its scarcity. Over the last couple of years, the “Scott Carpenter” had moved to the top of my “Most Wanted” list, and I found one during the Summer of 2019.
At the other end of the spectrum, I bought this Seiko as my new “beach watch”, but wore it long after our return from the beach. It was probably my “Most Worn” watch, for late Summer 2019. On a Gray NATO podcast, someone suggested that you can get great quality at numerous price points on the Seikos, leaving it to the collector to decide how good you want the movement to be and how deep you might want to take the watch. For me the answers was “$750”, and I have really enjoyed this one as a “grab and go”, everyday watch.
Let me add one more in the “Favorite — Non-Heuer” category. This watch from Habring is very different from most of the watches in my collection. It’s modern, not vintage; it’s a three-hand watch, rather than a chronograph; and it is made in Austria, rather than in Switzerland. It’s Habring’s “Felix” model and the dial is called “Scientific”. I had always been intrigued by the Habring chronographs, but when I saw the display case full of Habrings, it was a couple of the three-hand watches that caught my eye. [Shout out to the awesome Philadelphia watch destination, Martin Pulli, Fine Jewelry and Watches, for introducing me to these watches. Visit Martin when you are in Philly; even better, go to Philly to meet Martin.]
Two Favorites — Re-Issues and Heritage-Inspired
In the “heritage-inspired” category, the most interesting watch of 2019 was the TAG Heuer Monaco, powered by the Heuer 02 movement. The use of the Heuer 02 movement in this watch marks a significant milestone for TAG Heuer, as we now have the movement powering the “Big Three” – Autavia, Carrera and Monaco. Yes, just like we did in 1969. Based on my experiences with the Autavia and the Carrera (Fragment Design), I like this movement a lot, so I am looking forward to seeing how it handles in the Monaco.
In terms of re-issues and heritage-inspired models, the Breitling Navitimer Reference 806 1959 Re-Issue, introduced at Baselworld in March 2019 and delivered to purchasers during the course of the year represents a very different approach than the Monaco Heuer 02. While the Monaco was clearly inspired by the vintage Monacos, few details of today’s watch match up with the original models. By contrast, the Breitling Navitimer Reference 806 1959 Re-Issue is identical to the original Navitimer, except where changes were required because of the use of a modern movement. Whether the number and size of the beads on the bezel, to the exact dimensions of the hands, to the geometry of the bezel, the new Navitimer seeks to offer a one-to-one reproduction of the original model. The newest Navitimer is powered by the in-house Breitling Caliber B09, a hand-wound COSC-certified movement based on the Breitling Caliber 01. Breitling developed this new movement specifically for historical re-editions.
The Navitimer 1959 Re-Issue was issued in a limited edition of 1,959 watches and I am the proud owner of serial number 1955. I have enjoyed the watch greatly, over the last month of 2019. The look is awesome — just like the original from 1959. The watch runs well, keeping excellent time (plus 3 to 7 seconds per day). More than anything, the watch represents how a brand can take full advantage of its glorious heritage to create watches that will be as well-received in 2019 as they were 60 years earlier. This particular model also captures how a modern brand can engage with its community of collectors to create a brilliant watch.
The Ones That Got Away
In previous “Year in Review” postings, this heading was reserved for a watch or watches that I tried to acquire, but the watch managed to slip away. For the year 2019, this award goes to a super cool piece of racing memorabilia that I bought, in a private transaction. The problem came a few days later, when it was stolen from a UPS facility just a few miles from my office. The good news is that Parcel Pro paid the insurance claim, in full, within days. The item that was stolen was the only sample that I have seen, of what is likely to be a series of approximately 10 pieces. I won’t go into the details now; hopefully, someday I will find another one, and tell more about this one that “got away”.
Another one that “got away” was the three hand Autavia with the new Isograph movement. No need to go into the details of the disappearance here. Suffice it to say that I was very enthusiastic about the Isograph Autavias that we saw at Basel (March 2019), and was disappointed that TAG Heuer suspended production of the Isograph Autavia later in the year. The good news is that the three-hand Autavia, with the Calibre 5 movement, is already available on the TAG Heuer website, and the price is lower than the Isograph model. I am definitely looking forward to trying one of these, early in 2020!!
Some Favorite Podcasts
Georgia enacted a strict “hands-free” / no texting law in mid-2018, and with the move to AirPods, I became a podcast enthusiast. If I drive back and forth to work 250 times in a year, then I am probably listening to almost that many episodes of podcasts, so let me recall some favorites from 2019. The mainstays are from the watch world — Hodinkee every Monday morning, the Grey NATO podcast every couple of weeks, and Fratello, which just started in July 2019. Add Blamo! to the list in the fashion category and Spike’s Car Radio for automotive content, and the 10 weekly slots are pretty well filled. Beyond these regulars, some podcasts that I enjoyed in 2019 included:
- 13 Minutes to the Moon — the focus is on the landing on the moon, but the series provides an excellent recap of the U.S. space program, from its origins in the 1950s; from BBC World Service
- Larger Than Life — the story of Big Willie, and street racing in Los Angeles; from the Los Angeles Times
- Dolly Parton’s America — Spending most of my life in the South, I have known of Dolly Parton forever. But it was only when I listened to this series that I realized her impact, her following, and — yes — her genius.
- The Life and Music of Janis Joplin — part of the NPR Fresh Air series; features Janis Joplin biographer Holly George-Warren . . . Amazing to look back and see the impact that Janis Joplin had on music in the 1960s, and culture more broadly.
- Carroll Shelby — The Lost Interview — Technically, this is not a podcast, but rather a video interview with Carroll Shelby. Regardless of how you classify it, this was the single best hour and 38 minutes of my listening year. Give it a try, to learn about Carroll Shelby, the whole Ford v Ferrari thing, Detroit in the 1960s, and how a chicken farmer from Texas achieved his dream of building the fastest cars in the world. From MyClassicCarTV.
Favorite Artwork of 2019
Vintage Heuer collectors and other watch enthusiasts are probably familiar with the artwork of Julie Kraulis. Julie does amazing pencil drawings of watches, and people in the Heuer world know her for her drawing of the 2017 Autavia (on the cover of the book “Story of an Icon”, published in 2017) and a Monaco limited edition for the Bamford Watch Department. Julie was busy with the Heuers in 2019, creating a drawing of the Monaco “Piece d’Art”, with the original drawing included with the watch, as well as a drawing of a Heuer Caliber 11 movement, that is available as a limited edition print. You can order the Calibre 11 print in charcoal, marine blue, or rust red.
At Last – The Trip to BaselWorld
After hearing about BaselWorld for so many years, I finally made the trip, in March 2019. As a first-time visitor, the presence of so many brands and so many friends from the watch world was fantastic. So much to see and do, in only a few days.
For TAG Heuer, the big story was the introduction of the first “three-hand” Autavias. While some vintage collectors suggested that there was something inherently wrong with the Autavia being only a watch, rather than a chronograph, I am enthusiastic about the Autavia becoming a three hand watch. Both the Carrera and the Monaco have transitioned from their origins as chronographs to becoming full collections of watches, and it seems appropriate for the Autavia to also become a full collection of watches. I like the look of the three-hand Autavias, and also the positioning as being an “adventure” watch.
Of course, there was the constant chorus of people suggesting how much better the show had been in previous years, when there were so many more brands participating, but this hardly mattered to me. In the limited number of days that I had at the show, I couldn’t really see all the watches that were on display, so I couldn’t worry about the brands that had been there, in previous years.
It was amazing seeing so many watch friends at Baselworld 2019. It was enjoyable to catch up with some old friends who I have known for many years, and also to meet some long-time pen pals, for the very first time. To the extent that the large watch industry trade shows are replaced by a series of smaller events, spread across the calendar and the continents, these opportunities for socializing will be diminished. In any event, it was great catching up with the crew at Baselworld 2019.
State of the Vintage Heuer Market
We all know the basic shape of the curve that we have seen in the vintage Heuer market. To call it a “bubble” or a “balloon” would be an overstatement, as when these items pop, there is nothing useful remaining. What we saw in the market for vintage Heuer chronographs was a quick and extreme increase in prices over the years 2016 and 2017, with the Summer / Fall 2017 representing the top of the market. We saw the very best / rarest Autavias selling for almost $200,000 in real auctions; we saw “Franken” Autavias and some relatively common watches selling in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, in some “questionable” auctions; we saw lots and lots of three-register, manual-winding Autavias in the band between $12,000 and $30,000.
And for the next two years, in 2018 and 2019, we have witnessed the “correction” of this overheated market. In recent public auctions, top prices achieved by the vintage Heuer chronographs have been in the $50,000 to $75,000 range. Looking at some of the “benchmark” models, we have seen prices for good samples of “Rindt” and “Andretti” Autavias in the $12,000 to $15,000 range, with some nice McQueen Monacos in this same range. The 1960s Carreras have struggled, some models falling from $10,000 to around $7,000. But fear not, the shape of the curve for vintage Heuer chronographs roughly matches the curves for many other vintage brands. I don’t follow it closely, but hear some of the same remarks about the market for vintage Paul Newman Daytonas, after the sale of “Paul Newman’s Paul Newman”. This sale was held in Fall 2017, weeks before Phillips Heuer Parade sale.
One “problem” in the market over the last couple of years is that with prices still relatively high, compared with historic levels (say, from 2010 to 2015), the law of supply and demand has brought out a lot of supply, with much of the supply being poor to average quality. While much of the “good stuff” changes hands quietly, in private transactions, at strong prices, we are left looking at the flotsam and jetsam on eBay, Facebook and other public sites. Over the past few weeks, for example, we have seen rare, early Autavias that were either missing the bezel, had the wrong bezel or hands, or had significant damage to the dial. When these watches change hands in the $20,000 range, we are only left to imagine what the same model in excellent condition, that is new to the market, is actually worth. Not $200,000, but we can be sure that it’s way more than $20,000. Hopefully, many of the average to poor quality pieces have been flushed through the market, and we can hope to see some of the prime quality stuff, in the year ahead.
As we get to the end of 2019, I am optimistic that the market for vintage Heuers has become more predictable, with supply and demand being more stable. Perhaps some of the speculators who jumped in and contributed to blowing up the bubble have moved on to the next big thing, and it seems that the Heuer market is a healthier place without them. If the best vintage Heuers will top out in the $75,000 range, that will be OK with me. Yes, it’s a lot less than $200,000, but there are probably only a handful of watches that ever changed hands in the range between $75,000 and $200,000, and the market looks much healthier after the “reset” that we have seen over the past two years. Interest in the vintage Heuers seems to be on the rise again, after some dealers and collectors were scared away over the last couple of years.
On to 2020
TAG Heuer. Looking ahead to 2020, we have good reasons to be optimistic that TAG Heuer will be introducing some great watches. The new leadership team has been in place at TAG Heuer since Fall of 2018. So 2019 was the year of transition, we can expect the new team to be on its feet and read to run in 2020. After celebrating the Year of the Autavia in 2017, the Year of the Carrera in 2018, and the Year of the Monaco in 2019, we can say that TAG Heuer can choose whatever part of the catalog that it likes for 2020, with no specific anniversary forcing their hand. Having completed the core curriculum of the “Big Three” over the past three years, it’s time for some interesting electives in 2020. Let’s not forget that in addition to the Big Three, TAG Heuer can do some great things with the Formula One, Link and Aquaracer.
The Vintage Collectors Community. Having collected the vintage Heuer timepieces since 1998, it is interesting to look back and get some perspective on how the community has evolved over this period. In terms of how we communicate and share information, we have moved from e-mail conversations, to the discussion forums, to the blogs, and now it’s all about the “instant” social media, Instagram and Facebook. While traffic is lower on the OnTheDash discussion forum, it is interesting to see how the crew shows up when there is an interesting watch or an event to discuss. So Instagram and Facebook are quick and easy for the daily postings, but I continue to believe that the old-time forums remain valuable for more in-depth discussions. There is also the advantage that the forums are searchable, providing a valuable long-term reference for the community.
Of course, it has become painfully clear that we need to move the OnTheDash discussion forum and ChronoTrader onto a modern discussion forum platform. My apology for all the crooks and noise that we have endured on our existing forums. And for every five of these annoying messages that make it onto the public side of the forum, know that there are usually 50 that are caught by the filters, requiring regular clean-up.
In my view, the community of vintage Heuer collectors remain very strong. Looking at the year-end Instagram postings from several members of our community, it seems clear that some of the very best vintage Heuer chronographs remain in “strong hands”. Whether it’s @Neutrino14, or @Timeist_Insta, or @PrimeTimeVintage, or countless others, it’s clear that these collectors remain committed to the Heuer brand and our community. Look at their Best of 2019 postings and you will see that this is not about the market value of these watches, but about passion for some amazing watches. A softer market is not a cause for panic but an opportunity to add some watches at safe, reasonable prices.
The market has changed, but the vintage Heuer chronographs and their history are as cool as ever. These are the watches that the racers wore in the 1960s and 70s, the timepieces that we saw in the pits at Le Mans and Indianapolis. Markets may shift and change from one year to the next, but the Heuer heritage is a constant, that continues to inspire collectors. I’m confident that working together as a community we will “Make Vintage Heuer Cool Again”.
OnTheDash. As always, I have a long list of the postings and projects that I am hoping to undertake in the year 2020. Some are simple postings covering an interesting watch and some are projects that have resided in folders on my C-drive for several years already. I enjoy the fact that after two decades in this hobby, there are always new subjects to explore and mysteries to try to solve.
Seventeen months after launching the updated OnTheDash website, the work flow has become much easier than with the previous site, and the process of going from the messy project on the C-drive to the posting has become much easier. Recent trends in traffic to the site suggests that there is renewed interest in vintage Heuer chronographs; see above about the state of the state of the vintage Heuer market. Traffic to OnTheDash may be a leading indicator of interest in vintage Heuer watches, as some collectors do the research before taking the plunge.
So thanks to everyone for a fantastic 2019, and here’s looking forward to a great 2020, with interesting stories to tell and watches to explore, and with an amazing community to share the passion for these awesome watches.