Heuer introduced the world’s first automatic chronographs in 1969, with the Autavia, Heuer Carrera and Monaco models.
Heuer quickly moved from the classic black and white of the 1960s to the vibrant colors and outrageous shapes of the 1970s.
The joint venture led by Heuer would be the first to offer automatic chronographs in worldwide markets, with the Calibre 11 (Chronomatic) movement. The automatic Autavia, Heuer Carrera and Monaco were introduced in March 1969, at press conferences in Geneva and New York City. Beyond the technical innovation of the movement, new cases jumped from the look of prior decades into the radical style of the 1970s.
Three models were powered by Heuer’s first automatic movement, but it was the new Monaco that captured the world’s attention. The Monaco combined an edgy square case, with midnight blue or charcoal dials, to create a chronograph that would be noticed. For the movie, Le Mans, Hollywood star Steve McQueen wanted to follow the style of his racing hero, Jo Siffert, who was an ambassador for Heuer. This led McQueen to select the Heuer Monaco chronograph for his wrist and the “Heuer Chronograph” patch for his racing suit. The bold combination brought worldwide attention to Heuer’s new chronograph. The final version of the Monaco (which today’s collectors call the “Dark Lord”) incorporated the military look of the 1970s, using a black dial in a black-coated case.
Following the launch of its first automatic chronographs, Heuer began to expand the model line-up with bold shapes and colours.
Toward the end of the decade, there was a move to elegance with sleek cases and refined lines.
Bold automatic chronographs introduced by Heuer included the Calculator, which incorporated a circular slide rule, and the massive Montreal, with dial choices in blue, white, black and champagne. The Silverstone celebrated England’s Formula One circuit, with red, blue or fume (smoke) dials. Heuer experimented with monocoque cases, with fiberglass used for the very exotic looking Temporada model.
Heuer’s Electronics Division developed the Centigraph, a timing system used by Ferrari racing team. This system allows racing teams to keep track of their drivers, with great precision. Displaying times to 1/1000 second, the Centigraph allowed a team to time multiple cars, with the number of laps, the time of the last lap and total time, being printed out on the spot. Special features were added, with other racing teams soon becoming customers.
Heuer pioneered electronic timing for the world’s leading racing teams, and this same type of technology soon made its way into chronographs. The 1975 Chronosplit appeared as a friendly robot, with its dual displays for the time and chronograph functions. The Manhattan was far more radical, its six-sided case housing both analog and digital displays. These new chronographs faced huge challenges, however, from difficult exchange rates between the Swiss Franc and the U.S. Dollar and from newly-developed quartz watches from Japan.
After the excesses of the early 1970s, Heuer moved to more refined, elegant designs toward the end of the decade. The Cortina, Jarama, Monza and Verona celebrated European destinations for racing and other sports. The Daytona and Kentucky captured the excitement of racing venues in the United States, one for race cars and one for race horses. The models featured slimmer cases, many of them having integrated steel bracelets, designed for sport or elegant attire.
Heuer’s 1978 catalog was full of automatic and electronic chronographs, but in 1979 the company introduced the rugged dive watches that would become its future. Beginning with a handful of models, the dive watch catalog would be expanded to dozens of models, with automatic or quartz movements. Dials were orange, luminous, olive and pewter, or the traditional black, with sizes ranging from 28 to 42 millimeters.