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TAG Heuer collectors summit 2013

So, obviously I had been looking forward to the summit for some time, but that excitement was mixed with a little trepidation as I was setting out.

On two fronts in fact. Firstly, my last trip to Switzerland was not exactly the easiest – it actually took me longer to reach Geneva from the south coast of the UK than it took Jeff from Georgia in the US! More than 16 hours… Secondly, the watches I had chosen were giving me pause for thought. Since I had heard Jack would make it, I opted for a digital element in what I would take. Specifically, the full set of Carrera Twins (black dial, silver dial, champagne dial/gold plate).

The first concern didn’t come to pass, it was a perfectly pleasant trip. The second? Not so much.

Now, each time you replace the battery in one of these ana-digis, you run the risk that it doesn’t come back as it did before. Mine always had, but treated to fresh batteries for the trip, they decided not to comply this time around. Stopping at Fleet services on the way to Heathrow, I noticed that the silver dial one I was wearing had stopped entirely (subsequently, I noticed it seems to run as long as it’s not on my wrist). So the black one got the call up. And I noticed on the flight that it was running about 15 minutes fast in the hour!

Reaching the hotel, and bumping into Abel and Ron, improved the mood and I opted for the champagne model as the least recalcitrant (once I’d sussed out the deployant clasp it was on at least). Off to that evening’s reception then. Seemed I was one of the last there (I blame the deployant), so arrived to Fabienne giving a speech to welcome us to the event. It was a great evening catching up with those I’d met before, meeting those with whom I had only corresponded with by email and meeting those who were entirely new! A few things stood out; the generosity of our favourite Belgian watchmaker (he knows why, thank you again), the overwhelming enthusiasm of Morgan King and (probably my stand out moment of that first evening) Peter having completed his Autavia movement collection with the last watch arriving on the night. A great theme Peter and an equally great collection. Lots of great watches and great chat, and something of a blur at this remove really!

The next day sees us, to varying degrees of freshness, making our way into town to visit TAG Heuer itself. Received by our ever friendly and helpful hosts Marie and Alessia, we split into three groups as there were too many of us to do it all at once. My group had the factory tour first, so after donning fetching white “lab coats” with TH branding, off we went.

Thanks to Thomas Trefzer for the tour photos – not even my group, but I didn’t take photos myself during it.

It was a very interesting tour, where the process is a mixture of the automated and steps still done by hand. To a mixed reception by the group, there are those who regret the amount of automation but I’ll confess to finding the processes intriguing. Movements are whisked between desks in a dust-free conveyor system, oil is applied in microscopically correct volume, screwdrivers preset to 0.39 Newton centimetres. And yet later on, hands seen through magnification are eased into place by hand. Tray after tray of 1887 movements, Jack Heuer limited editions. The scale is impressive, the machinery modern.

Part of the tour was in a laboratory, where components are tested for the various forces that careless users apply to them – clasps opened many times a minute, movements “dropped”, dials subjected to intense UV (very interesting when looking at Paul’s beautifully patinated “rose” Carrera). But even more interesting was the ultra-high speed camera rig set up to show just what happens when we press the reset pusher on our chronographs. It resets neatly to 0 right? Not at all! It swings right past 0 to about quarter-to, then to about 10 past and back and forth a bit more before finding 0. We also took in the haute horologerie room, with a handful of watchmakers putting together the cutting-edge watches Heuer have been putting out for the last few years. Monaco V4s, Mikrogirders, Mikrotourbillons – there’s a few quids worth of watches right there!

Not that the staff were at all precious about them – watches were freely handed around, worn, photographed… And I’m fairly sure the same number went back into the case as they started with!

And then time for lunch up in the Swiss Jura.

Lunch? Traditional fondue of course.

Back to TAG Heuer and a guided tour of the museum. Our tour guide, you may ask? A certain Jack Heuer.

Very interesting to hear Jack’s insights into the various exhibits, and particularly for those wearing digital Heuers when he chose to dwell on those developments. A lesson in dis- and reassembling a watch movement was very interesting too.

Thanks to Jasper for the photo and especial thanks for not sending one where I was using my tongue to help concentration!

And then back to the reception room, which had been laid out with all manner of watches, memorabilia, brochures etc. An interesting one for Jeff (and possibly no one else ever!) was this page from a “Highlights of 1979” (might have been another year actually) brochure:

But of all of that, for me the most interesting was a series of cards into which dials had been fixed, covering just about every dial on offer from the mid-50s to 60s.

A sought after first execution NT dial in both white printing and gilt:

A champagne dial for Carrera 45:

Copper, rather than gilt, printed Carrera dials:

Many things to lust after! And things that are more interesting than lustworthy too. How about a technical drawing of a Calibre 12 component from Buren, dated May 1970:

And then on to the evening meal, hosted again by Jack himself. Much more chat, watches (a group shot of 1158s made me wish I had taken one along), a lapel badge (thank you Mick) and Jack giving up more of his time to autograph all and sundry.

Next day was a trip to the Artecad dial facility, during which we weren’t supposed to take any photographs. Not that that stopped a certain Mr King, who snapped away candidly during a Q&A session with the director of Artecad. At least one of the group is probably happy that those candid shots haven’t yet made it into the public domain…

My question was how the design process works today. Historically the dial producer would have taken samples to the watch company, who would have asked to follow up on the design. Today, the design work typically goes on “in house” at the watch co and companies like Artecad put those designs into production.

Now, that production process was very interesting for me too. The dial is effectively the “face” of a watch and the thing we look at most often, so an insight into the “hundreds of processes” (in response to a question from Darren) was rewarding. In contrast to the modern facilities at TAG Heuer, some of the presses at Artecad were considerably older (and each one had a name!) but still do the job, with the floor around evidencing the force with which those things operate.
Lots to take in, but highlights include Jasper getting a lesson in anticipating who might be multi-lingual ( ;) ) and the black light cabinet used to test lume. I’m given to understand the other group was more restrained but the black light was a cue for my group to thrust hands and wrists under the light to check the lume on our own watches!

Another great lunch followed and then we all started to make our ways back home. Including waiting at a train station in the style afforded when you have a lake and mountains for a backdrop:

And who should be on the train but Mr Crosthwaite, who had left the group the evening before. It’s a small (Heuer) world. Too quickly, it was all over, but hopefully this gives a reminder for those who attended and some insight for those who couldn’t make it.

Finally, thanks to Jack Heuer; our friends at TAG Heuer Marie, Alessia and Fabienne and all the others who found time in their busy days for us; our organisers Abel, Paul and Ron; Peter for ferrying me around so much (and Jan and Darren for not being able to speak Danish with me in the car) and everyone I spoke with at the event. If we didn’t talk, there’s always next time!

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