Origin of the Pasadena

In the early 1970s, the combination of three factors led to the development of an entirely new style of chronograph. These three elements are the development of black-coatings for cases, the creation of a new style of chronograph patterned after dashboard instruments of sports cars, and the introduction of the Valjoux 7750 movement. 

First, in the late 1960s, Swiss brands producing “tactical” or military style watches developed processes to coat stainless steel watches with black material. The black-coated watches were thick, slab-like chunks of steel, coated with a durable black material, with the traditional lugs yielding to the solid top and bottom surfaces of the case, with the strap or bracelet attaching underneath these surfaces.

Second, in the early 1970s, brands developed a style heavily inspired by sports car instrumentation: the dials were solid black, with white paint for the minutes, seconds and chronograph registers and painted luminous markers for the hours.

Third, with the introduction of the Valjoux 7750 movement, which used a 6-9-12 arrangement for the three registers, with chronograph minutes at 12 o’clock, chronograph hours at 6 o’clock, and running seconds at 9 o’clock. Traditional chronograph from the 1960s had positioned the three registers across the center and bottom of the dial, in the 3-6-9 o’clock positions. 

Heuer took an incremental approach in developing black-coated chronographs in the 1970s. First came the Monza, in 1976, which was basically a black-coated version of the Carrera case that had been introduced in 1969. With the success of the Monza, Heuer would offer black-coated versions of several different models of its chronographs – a barrel-shaped Carrera, one of the Calibre 12 Montreal and even the radical square Monaco. But after producing black-coated versions of these four models, in 1979, Heuer took the bold step of introducing an entirely new model chronograph that would be designed from the ground up as a black-coated chronograph – the Pasadena. 


The Heuer Pasadena has a large black-coated steel case with the top surface of the case having a concave finish (as if metal has been scooped out) and the case using the lug-less design common to these 1970s chronographs. While there was a stainless steel model, the best-known Pasadena is the blackened model. While physical vapor deposition (“PVD”) is a common method of coating watches today, this technique was not used in the watch industry in the 1970s, with the coating of the Pasadena (and many other watches of the period) being a plasma coating process. The plasma coating process is similar to the use of spray paint, but produces a far more robust and durable surface than ordinary paint. 

Consistent with the style of instruments used on sports cars, the dial of the Pasadena is clear and simple, with legibility being the most important attribute of the design. The dial and registers are all-black, with markings of the registers and minutes and seconds in bright white, and luminous strips marking the hours. In keeping with the layout of the Valjoux 7750 movement, the sub-dials are placed at 12, 6 and 9 o’clock, with a simple date window at 3 o’clock.

The hands are also typical of the time -- lume coated rectangular hour and minute hands, generally matching the hour markers, and a central chronograph second hand in bright red, with no taper at all.

Even by the standards of 1970s instrument-style chronographs, the Pasadena was a large watch, measuring 41 millimeters across the dial and 45 millimeters from the top of the case to the bottom of the case, with a thickness of 14 millimeters.  


We see the first mention of the Pasadena in the 1979 Heuer catalogue, with its reference 750.501. While there are several variants of the Pasadena, they all share the same reference number, although some steel models have a “-3” suffix.

Heuer had first used the Valjoux 7750 movement in 1977, with the movement fitted in the Kentucky chronograph, as well as the second generation version of the Montreal chronograph (described below). At this time, Heuer was continuing to use the Calibre 12 (Chronomatic) movement in several models. It was, however, a difficult time for the Swiss watch industry, as Jack Heuer recounts in his autobiography:

“My company had been severely shaken and placed in a vulnerable position by developments in 1978 and, quite frankly, the outlook for 1979 was no better. We had to make yet another round of cost-cutting. We decided to abandon the assembly of movement parts that we had purchased from the Buren Watch Company when it folded in 1972. The finished chronographs we had in stock would suffice to satisfy the dwindling demand for mechanical chronographs, but this meant we had to make eight members of staff redundant.

Unfortunately, the future for mechanical chronographs remained dim. Year by year sales of this specialty product had dropped and 1979 saw a fall in sales of 35%, a devastating blow for the industry as electronic LCD chronographs made in the Far East took over the market.

After our 1979 deficit, the pressure from the banks increased tremendously and they demanded to take over our accounts receivable, including those of our three subsidiaries, as security. The banks asked me to hand over all 183 of my shares as collateral and they also appointed an expert to analyze our company and judge its chances of survival.”

Heuer’s transition from the Calibre 12 family of movements to the Valjoux 7750 was important to the success of the Pasadena collection. From the start, the Valjoux 7750 movement was regarded as a “workhorse” movement, with the movement being used by numerous Swiss watch brands to power their most rugged chronographs. The movement has had tremendous longevity, with today’s Calibre 16 movement having its origins in the Valjoux 7750 movement.  


The first versions of the Pasadena featured a flat back dial, with the registers having no different finish or outline, but simply being created by the use of white hash-marks painted on the dial. Note the square/ rectangular lume markers at 3, 6 and 9, which differ from later Pasadenas.

This changed in 1981 when we start seeing Day-Date models with a light grey circle outlining the registers, [such as this example below].

This second-generation “Day-Date” version of the Pasadena, with grey “Daytona rings” around the registers is perhaps the image that most comes to mind when one thinks of the Pasadena.


The second version of the Pasadena arrives in 1982, but this time without the Pasadena name on the dial. We also see another variant of the model, this time with only a date function, rather than the Day-Date of the early models. But despite this change, the two models share the same reference number.

The lume markers at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock are no longer rectangular, but instead have been changed to small dots.

We also begin to see more subtle changes on the registers, with the sub-dials now indented rather than being a flat surface.

In the early 1980s Heuer began marketing several of its chronographs with no model names, but instead only a simple reference number. The Pasadena followed this approach, with there being versions of the Pasadena that had only the “Heuer” shield and the word “Automatic” on the dial, but not the name Pasadena. Other models that moved to this “no name” approach in the early 1980s included the Silverstone and Cortina.  


The third version of the Pasadena is a Day-Date model without the Pasadena name, again introduced in 1982 and produced for a relatively short time.


In 1982 we see for the first time a stainless steel version of the date Pasadena, with these chronographs not having the “Pasadena” name on the dial. The steel model usually, but not always, has the “-3” suffix on the reference number.


The last model in the Pasadena collection is the Day-Date version housed in the stainless steel case, with these models having been produced for only 12 to 18 months.


By 1983, the Pasadena collection of chronographs was no longer included in the Heuer catalog, and in its place is the Heuer 510.50X series of chronograph, powered by the Lemania 5100 movement. These Lemania-powered chronographs were offered in stainless steel cases, as well as models with either black, pewter or olive coating. While the “Pasadena” name was gone, and along with it the Valjoux 7750 movement, the Lemania 5100-powered chronographs should be viewed as the successors of the Pasadena.  

The reason for the switch in movements from the Valjoux 7750 to the Lemania 5100 was that in June 1982 Lemania were part of the Piaget consortium that bought Heuer. Their rationale was to ensure demand for watches using their movements, Lemania having been spun out of what is now Swatch Group in 1981. So Lemania dropped the Valjoux 7750 movement from the Heuer chronographs, inserted their Lemania 5100 movement, and once again changed the name of the watch. The Lenamia 510.50X watches continued in the Heuer range until around 1988 when the model was finally discontinued.


When Heuer introduced the Montreal chronograph in 1972, it was powered by the Calibre 12 (Chronomatic) movement, but in 1977 Heuer introduced the second generation of the Montreal chronograph, with this new version being powered by the Valjoux 7750. The general look of the dials and hands for the second generation Montreal and the Pasadena are very similar. It is easy to distinguish the cases, however. While the Pasadena would have a concave (sculpted) finish on the top of the case, the Montreal used a brushed convex finish, reminiscent of the original first generation Montreals. Also, the new generation Montreal occupied only a stainless steel case, and was never black-coated. 

There were instances, however, in which the dial of the second generation Montreal was used in the Pasadena case, with this most likely being explained by Heuer seeking to use available supplies of dials and cases, even if the resulting watches represented “hybrids” of two different models.  


The Pasadena stands at an interesting moment in the history of the Heuer brand. With the Monza and its other black-coated chronographs, Heuer addressed a trend in watches that gained momentum over the 1970s, but rather than being only a recoated version of an existing model, the Pasadena went all in on the tactical, instrument style that defined a new generation of watches. There is no mistaking the Pasadena for any previous Heuer model, the thick, slab-like case giving the Pasadena an entirely different look.

The Pasadena would move through a dizzying array of executions – some with flat black dials and some with rings around the registers, some with only the date and others with the day and date, and some in black-coated cases and others in stainless steel. Even the name “Pasadena” would prove to be a variable in the equation, with the “no name” versions coming toward the end of production. Still, the strong presence and performance of the Pasadena proved to be popular with enthusiasts who were seeking the ultimate tool-style watch, and this style would be carried forward with the successor watches powered by the Lemania 5100 series of movements.

The Pasadena style of chronograph grew out of new style of watch that was popular in the 1970s and Heuer was successful in producing and marketing the Pasadena and its successors for almost a decade. The chronograph is often described as a “tool watch”, and the Pasadena has lasting appeal for the enthusiasts who wanted to wear the strongest tool in the box.