Up Close With Heuer Expert Arno Haslinger
Arno Haslinger could be described as many things — collector, enthusiast and expert. All three could be assigned to his passion for both watches and cars. Most famous for his expertise in Heuer watches, his love affair with watches spans all brands and complications. Haslinger was born and raised in Salzburg, and later moved to Vienna where he studied international business. Following his graduation, he pursued a marketing career with Reckitt Benckiser at its Frankfurt office in Germany for a year before landing a role with the international marketing team in Paris. And it was the dream job for Haslinger.
He recalls, “My uncle had a townhouse a stone’s throw from the Louvre and offered me a flat above his atelier in the centre of Paris. Every morning I walked the Rue Saint-Honoré passing the Hôtel Costes and then on to Rue Faubourg and walked past Hermès and Versace. I would particularly love wandering past the Élysée Palace into Rue Miromesnil and the offices of Lancaster Group. And, of course, I sometimes called into these beautiful stores for some retail therapy!”
Being immersed in this environment as well as working for brands such as Chopard, Davidoff, Jil Sander and Vivienne Westwood afforded him deep insights into the luxury market. They also provided a nice segue into the automotive industry.
“I very much enjoyed the laidback Paris lifestyle of the mid-1990s,” says Haslinger. “After five years, however, I was offered the opportunity to join the Ford Motor Company’s newly established luxury arm, Premier Automotive Group (PAG). Their offices were in a townhouse in London’s Berkeley Square. The then-booming Notting Hill, with its blue painted doors, became my new home and was a good contrast to Mayfair where I worked.”
The marketing job at PAG, which was within the chairman’s office, encompassed many elements ranging from global market research to the business case of the newly acquired Jaguar Racing Formula 1 team. It was during this era of his life that Haslinger began buying Heuer watches.
He explains, “Long working hours and a good salary led to me spending time online on dealer and auction sites, and I would inevitably click the ‘purchase’ button late at night. That’s how my watch collecting started, and I would also love spending weekends on Portobello Road chasing interesting pieces. Later on, I took over Competitive Intelligence at PAG and had to move closer to the test centres in Gaydon. This led to me spending more time online in the evening and, of course, the clicks on purchase buttons increased dramatically!”
Before Haslinger became hooked on watches, though, he was already passionate about cars. “I think I was born with gasoline in my blood,” he declares. “My grandfather was a real car guy and instrumental in my love of all things petrol-driven. At an early age, he taught me to drive in his gravel pits. He also supported me during my teenage years buying and selling vintage cars, which I did alongside my studies in Vienna. I remember he was greatly amused when I wrote my master’s thesis on the Porsche 911 and then entered the motor industry. To me, there is this strong link between cars and watches, and both have a lot in common — gears, clutches, wheels, valves, rods, shafts, cases, regulators, actuators, chargers, covers, gaskets, and so on.”
But when asked if it was these links, coupled with his passion for driving cars, that resulted in a natural progression to his passion for chronographs, Haslinger explains, “I was not really hooked by chronographs at the beginning. In the early ’80s, I helped a friend to find his dream car. He collected Rolex watches and gave me a Big Bubbleback. It was this watch that sparked my interest, and I started to roam flea markets looking at them. My late father was a collector of many things and he also liked watches. He gave me a Rolex GMT as a present for my birthday, which was my daily wearer until the early ’90s. Later, I bought a red Submariner because I liked the red writing. In Paris, Tudors issued to the Marine Nationale [French Navy] became the object of my desire. I think it was at this time that chronographs became more important when I discovered more of the military pilot’s watches.”
When asked why he thinks the chronograph is so keenly sought after by collectors, Haslinger answers, “Well, for sure it has a philosophical aspect. In ancient Greek, which I studied in school, graphos means writing and chronos means time, hence it is all about showing how fast the time goes by. Being less philosophical, I think it is the complication that is interesting in different contexts, such as motor racing and the military, and therefore sought after by collectors.”
The Halcyon Days of Heuer
Now regarded as the world’s leading expert on Heuer chronographs, Haslinger explains what drew him so resolutely to Heuer as a brand. “I sat in a marketing presentation about trends. Suddenly, a slide popped up with a square-shaped watch called Monaco. I had not seen this watch before, and for whatever reason, was hooked immediately. I started researching and buying vintage catalogues. Heuer for me is the perfect link between a watch brand and the golden era of motorsports.”
The main business of Heuer during the late 1960s was selling timekeeping devices to the world of sports. Heuer wristwatches were only a small part of the portfolio. Jack Heuer, a great visionary man, thought of discovering new fields for sponsorship to raise awareness of his brand. Haslinger explains, “Jack Heuer’s interest in racing led to him signing an agreement with fellow Swiss driver Jo Siffert for 1969. From then on, the Heuer logo was prominently displayed on Siffert’s race suits as well as his Formula 1 cars. Later, no other than Enzo Ferrari became Heuer’s main sponsorship partner in Formula 1 during the wild and heady days of the 1970s. Together, they achieved three Formula 1 titles: 1975 and 1977 by Niki Lauda and 1979 by Jody Scheckter. Other teams like Lotus, McLaren and Surtees were also using Heuer timekeeping devices. Period photographs show drivers including Niki Lauda, Clay Regazzoni, James Hunt, Ronnie Peterson, Jochen Rindt, Derek Bell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jody Scheckter, Carlos Reutemann, Denis Hulme, Rolf Stommelen, Jo Siffert, Jacques Villeneuve, Jacky Ickx, Mike Hailwood, Mario Andretti, Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill and, of course, Steve McQueen wearing Heuer Chronographs during the heydays of motorsport!”
Like the famous racing drivers he’s mentioned, Haslinger has undoubtedly owned some of the biggest ‘grail’ Heuer watches. He tells us about his favourites: “The blue Monaco reference 1133B was my first Heuer. I just could not keep my eyes off it — I guess you know the feeling! It has an instant wrist presence. The square shape is so avant-garde paired with the vivid blue dial. It was just perfect for me at the beginning of my passion for vintage Heuers. Another favourite is the golden Carrera, reference 1158, from the 1970s especially with the 18-karat gold band. The Autavia GMT, Diver 100, Exotic [Dial] or early Sifferts as well as the lesser-known Cortina, Jarama, Monza/Modena or Montreal Chronographs. The Calculator is a bit of a beast on the wrist; however, full of clever surprises if you read the manual! The red Silverstone was the first watch I bought in auction at a Bonhams Monaco sale. To make this long story short, I mainly bought new-old-stock watches to understand the finishes of each model in greater details. This approach suited my autodidact learning best and gave me a comprehensive understanding of the pieces from the brand’s past.”
With such a huge passion for these vintage Heuer pieces, it must have been very difficult for Arno to sell the pieces in 2010 in the famous Bonhams sale of the Haslinger Collection. He concurs, “In a way, I just had the feeling that the time had come, but I still wasn’t totally convinced that I could say goodbye to all those wonderful pieces. I had spent a lot of time with the 81 watches during the making of my book Heuer Chronographen.
“At the time, however, I was between jobs, and Paul Maudsley from Bonhams approached me offering a consultant role. In 2009, I heard from TAG Heuer that there were plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary in 2010. Paul made a plan to show my collection together with the Bonhams car department in Paris, Monaco and Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival, which was great. We joined forces with the TAG Heuer team and brought the entire collection to New York in October. The sale was in London on the 15 December as a highlight of TAG Heuer’s 150 years celebrations and became a great success for all parties. I don’t regret selling as we had so much fun travelling the Heuer world!”
The Do’s and Don’ts of Vintage Collecting
Haslinger shares his criteria when buying an investment-grade watch: “I have the 3Q’s — Quality, Quality and Quality at the forefront of my mind when buying vintage. I like new-old-stock watches and full sets, and I buy only unpolished watches if I can.”
Like all great collectors, he has learnt from the best too, which has been an important part of his journey. “One of my great mentors in the watch world was Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, the founder of Chronoswiss. He was a former Heuer employee — the man who brought the Heuers to the film set of Le Mans. I spent many days in his former company cataloguing trays of vintage watches and parts. Working for an auction house, you see many great collections, but spending time with such a knowledgeable person like Rüdiger Lang is as special as his watches.”
To both aspiring and seasoned collectors, he says, “You have to understand the portfolio of a brand. Do your homework on case finish, dials and hands. Don’t go for bargains; overpay the market if you have to, to acquire the greatest examples. People will come back when high quality is on offer. Go to shows, touch and feel, and train your eye. Details can be everything. Establish good contacts with reputable dealers to avoid mistakes at the beginning. The same applies to auction houses.” Most importantly, he quips, “Buy what you like, don’t jump on trend trains, make your own thing!”
On emerging trends and undiscovered watches that collectors should be looking out for, Haslinger says, “In the Heuer portfolio, I strongly believe the ’70s and early ’80s watches are heating up. I recommend looking at Carreras, both automatic and manual wind powered by Valjoux movements. The Camaro with the 7736 Valjoux is rare and desirable, and the Heuer Verona with the calibre 12 automatic movement is very classy. The Heuer Cortina with its perfect integrated steel bracelet looks like a Gérald Genta design and is perfectly sized. The Monza was introduced after the Formula 1 title win by Niki Lauda in Monza 1975. There is a rare version of it called the Modena; only a handful of these watches exist. The military green Autavia of the early ’80s also has lots of potential, in my opinion. The Heuer Jarama named after the Spanish high-speed track is interesting in bicolour. Try a white Montreal or blue as an alternative. There really are many things to discover within the great vintage Heuer model ranges!”
In closing, Haslinger shares his thoughts on the current positioning of the brand: “TAG Heuer and the heritage team, led by Catherine Eberlé-Devaux, do a fantastic job! They are very knowledgeable and support vintage collectors in a great way. I am also delighted that Frédéric Arnault recently took over at TAG Heuer. He is very enthusiastic about heritage as well as its transformation into the future by launching great new products, as we have seen lately. As a marketing guy, I understand the importance of selling new watches. However, there will always be a symbiosis back into the rich portfolio of the brand’s watches from the ’70s. The museum at the factory in La-Chaux-de-Fonds is a must [visit] for collectors. What we do know currently is that the Heuer market is good with a healthy demand for quality pieces. Top prices are achieved for the best pieces. Heuers in auction are offered by all the houses and generally do very well.”