The history of the development of chronograph watches is tightly linked to car races and any sport that requires precise timing. One could say that chronographs changed sports and not the other way around. And one common characteristic that most chronographs have in common is legibility, especially the ones that were actually used to time sporting events and car races. It is in this spirit that the first Heuer Carrera was born: a simple and legible dial that is more purposeful than daring, again keeping in mind the reason why it existed in the first place.
In this article we will take a look at the first Carrera model, the context within which it was created, and the first years of its evolution, from being a manual-wound chronograph to becoming one of the first automatic wrist-worn chronographs.
The First Heuer Carrera from 1963 ref. 2447
The development of the first Carrera chronograph has an interesting story. Jack Heuer, the 4th generation Heuer at the helm of the brand in the 1960s, met Pedro and Ricardo Rodríguez de la Vega, two fierce Mexican professional drivers, who introduced him to the Carrera Panamericana race. The latter only existed for 5 years and was shut down due to being too dangerous and having cost the lives of a dozen drivers. However, Jack Heuer was mesmerized by the story and the name Carrera. He went back to Switzerland, registered the name Carrera, and started working on the design of the reference 2447.
Looking at the reference 2447, it is clear that Jack Heuer wanted to make a legible chronograph, one that would be precise, robust, and elegant to wear both on and off the race tracks. Jack Heuer would go on developing various iterations of the first collection, adding a third register displaying a 12-hour totalizer, new dial colors, and even precious materials by releasing references with gold cases. Regardless of which version we look at, the Carrera remained a restrained and quite modest-looking professional chronograph.
Key Features of the First Heuer Carrera Chronograph
The first iterations of the 2447 had a silver dial, two or three sub-registers that were sunk-in, and applied markers with lume plots on their periphery. The lume at the time was tritium, a radioactive material with a lifespan of roughly 25 years. (This type of lume, also used by other Swiss brands like Rolex, Omega, and Tudor would become yellow as it aged.) Soon in its history, the Carrera would be adorned with a tachymeter scale on the outside of the dial/rehaut, and different handsets. The latter, however, always had a classic look as demonstrated with the baton-style hands on the first generations of the Carrera.
Although you may be like me and find the 2447 handsome, I wonder what people thought of it at the time of its release. (You know these times when we look back at an artist’ catalog four decades later and love it, however back then people didn’t feel the same?) Looking at the first Daytona and El Primero, we can see that brands were first and foremost concerned with legibility and practicality. Not fancy designs. In that vein, the Carrera 2447 was housed in a 35/36mm case and came with the now legendary turn-down lug design. Like many other brands, the Carrera was equipped with Valjoux calibers, notably the three-register Valjoux 72.
From Manual Wound to Automatic Heuer Carrera
Something big happened later in the 1960s: the creation of the first automatic mechanical chronograph movement. Creating something this technical required a collaboration between Heuer, Breitling, Buren and Dubois-Depraz, the latter being one of the best movement manufacturers of the time. This secret collaboration lasted three years—as in it required secret work for three years to develop the movement—and the conclusion was the Caliber 11. At least, that’s the name Jack Heuer gave the movement and he immediately proceeded to put it in the Carrera.
The Evolution of the Heuer Carrera Collection
Making another few decades of history short, Heuer continued to develop the Carrera line of watches until Jack Heuer stepped down from the position of CEO in 1982 and that the Carrera collection ceased production in 1984. In 1985, Heuer was sold to Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) which relaunched the collection in 1996. Today, the Carrera remains a prominent part of the TAG Heuer catalog and has continued to be associated with car racing thanks, in part, to the brand’s partnership with Red Bull and more recently, with Porsche. (Interesting historical tidbit: the first Porsche 911 was created in 1963, the same year as the Carrera 2447.)
I find it fascinating to learn about the history of iconic watches and the reason why they were created. In the case of the Carrera, Heuer wanted to produce a legible chronograph that could be used on the race tracks, in other words, a proper tool watch like they used to be made. And he was inspired by an insane race that was as dangerous for the drivers as test piloting the first space rockets would was for the first astronauts.
Featured image: www.hairspring.com