We’ll come to Heuer’s long association with competitive racing in a moment, but first, I’m intrigued to hear what you, in your capacity as department director, think the role of heritage should be, in relation to a modern watch brand.
It’s funny you should ask. I recently penned this feature, which is going to be published in the near future, that asks the question: “Heritage, what is it good for?” Every luxury brand is obsessed with the notion of ‘heritage’. But what does it even mean? When a maison invokes that idea, in its marketing and messaging, what value does that add for the consumer? In answering this question, it appears so few people have gone back to first principles.
At TAG [Heuer], one of the heritage director’s foundational responsibilities is communication, from the most basic work, such as fact-checking press releases, all the way up to our initiatives with museums, travelling exhibits, and media engagement. Another core piece of the puzzle is preservation of the archive. As it currently stands, ours consists of several thousand watches – we don’t yet know the precise number, because we’ve never done a full-scale audit, so that’s a project that’s kept me extremely busy. Tangentially, we have our paper archive: thousands of physical assets – non-watch related – that require preservation and management. Finally, a big chunk of our day-to-day responsibility revolves around the work of authentication and restoration.
I wondered if we could speak a little more about the challenges associated with this kind of preservational work, because – as I’m sure vintage Heuer collectors have mentioned – there is a certain degree of incompleteness between the archives of the pre and post-TAG era.
Complete factual records can be a blessing, I don’t dispute that. However, they can also be a curse. For example, we’ve run into issues with archival transcripts dating back to the 1930s, because the system of recording required everything to be written in cursive. Then there’s the obvious issue of extracts themselves: there are several situations of the same watch having multiple extracts from different eras with different information displayed. So, while in theory it’s nice to have a complete set of records, if all we’re doing is certifying the correctness of an image, I have to ask myself: “Where’s the added value?”
Actually, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most in my career is just how much knowledge can be gleaned from reverse-engineering data on watches which have clear provenance, such as looking at case number ranges for gold ‘Paul Newman’ Daytonas). Often, you get a much more truthful account than if you were to rely solely on written records. So, you should avoid taking things at face value: defrauding is a persistent issue in collectors’ marketplaces, and the way in which we provide added value to the space is by developing a sensitivity to what feels original, correct, and properly put-together with data to back it up.
I imagine that the only way to hone that instinct is by spending hundreds upon hundreds of man-hours handling watches?
Put it this way, if we’re keeping track of time spent, I think I’ve cracked my 10,000 hours by this point.