Luxury watch brands have been sponsoring motorsports almost since the sport’s inception, but TAG Heuer were the first and have been dedicated to the sport ever since.

Since their founding in 1860, Edouard Heuer wasted no time in patenting the brands first chronograph in 1882. A chronograph, for those unaware, is a stopwatch combined with a display watch that is basically purpose built for racing. Heuer had revolutionised the market for chronographs and stopwatches when their first collections dropped. So much so that the invention of the oscillating cam in their chronographs are still used today in most mechanical chronographs. Heuer were also the first to manufacture stopwatches able to keep time within 1/100th of a second. But it wasn’t until 1911 that Heuer’s eyes fell upon the automobile.

The ‘Time of Trip’ was the first dashboard chronograph designed for cars and biplanes. Shortly afterwards, Heuer introduced their first wrist chronograph in 1914. Immediately, racing teams began to seek Heuer timepieces to fulfil their desire for reliable timekeeping. As a result, Heuer became the official timekeeper for many major sporting events within racing and outside of racing, like the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games.

The 'Time of Trip' | Credit: TAG Heuer

But it wasn’t until the 1960s that Heuer’s relationship with motor racing was taken up a notch. Two watches were introduced, or in one case, reintroduced. As early as 1933, Heuer had produced the Autavia as a dashboard clock and there seemed to be no problems with it. That all changed when Jack Heuer, the owner of the Heuer brand, learnt that the clock wasn’t very legible when he finished third at an auto-rally instead of first when he misread the dial by a whole minute. This was in 1958 and shortly thereafter Heuer discontinued it.

But Jack loved the name. It’s an excellent name after all. A mixture of the words automobile and aviation was too good to pass up, so it was redesigned into a wristwatch chronograph. It quickly became a favourite among many racers at the time.

1963 was the year one of the brand’s most iconic watches was born, the Heuer Carrera. It was a watch built with the sole purpose of complementing auto-racing. The watch’s namesake even suggests this. The name can trace its origins to the Carrera Panamericana rally. This race was implemented by the Mexican government in 1950 as a marketing scheme for the Pan-American Highway. The race saw the world’s best teams of drivers compete along a 3,000km road that stretched from the south of Mexico all the way to the US border. It was considered one of the most dangerous races in the world and after a ridiculous number of accidents it was ended in 1954.

Heuer had heard of the race from the Ferrari drivers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez and decided that the name had such legendary prestige that it was perfect for the racing watch he was building. Most importantly, he thought it sounded good. After the Carrera’s release in 1963, it became Heuer’s most sought-after models for decades.

The Heuer brand didn’t have a lot of money for advertising and promotion so Heuer was relying on word of mouth and reputation to move their products. But that was all about to change in 1968. In the words of Jack Heuer,

“I was looking for a way to promote our new chronographs globally, but with a small budget. A family friend suggested I should sponsor a young driver called Jo Siffert, who had shot to fame by winning the British Grand Prix in July 1968…I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was probably one of the best marketing moves I ever made, because it opened the door for us to the whole world of Formula One.”

Jo Siffert & his Carrera | Credit: WatchProSite

Heuer had caught the attention of Ferrari who were after a complex timekeeping system for their test track. Heuer had the exact thing they needed, the Heuer Centigraph. The problem was that the Centrigraph was very expensive, and Ferrari didn’t quite have the money for it. They came to an agreement that instead of paying the whole amount Ferrari would pay a portion of it as long as Heuer could use Ferrari race cars as an advertising space. This created a partnership that would last from 1971 until 1979. They were so chummy that a gold Carrera chronograph was given to every Ferrari driver in Formula 1 with their name and blood type inscribed on the back of the case. This partnership became a symbol of the natural integration of Heuer timekeeping and auto-racing.

Still from the film 'Rush'

It wasn’t just in Formula 1 that Heuer were promoting their brand. The 1971 film ‘Les Mans,’ starring Steve McQueen, saw the actor wearing a Heuer Monaco. This came about due to Heuer’s recent hiring of Don Nunley, an American prop master.

Steve McQueen on the set of 'Les Mans' wearing his Heuer Monaco

Heuer’s reputation was solid. They were the first non-tobacco company to sponsor Formula 1 and they would continue to do so to the present day. After Ferrari, the brand continued their sponsorships with Williams Racing from 1979 to 1981. When that ended, Heuer bought 50% of McLaren International at the end of the 1981 racing season. This gave Heuer the opportunity to fund the development of Porsche’s 1.5 litre engine that powered the World Championship winning McLaren cars in 1984 and 1985.

Unfortunately, Jack Heuer had to sell the brand in 1982 due to declining sales amidst the Quartz Crisis of the late 70s and early 80s. The brand became TAG-Heuer in 1985 when Techniques d’Avant-Garde bought the company. This buyout turned out to be fruitful as in 1986, TAG-Heuer continued its racing legacy with a range of F1 inspired watches. They also relaunched the Carrera in 1996 and has since remained a pillar of the brand today.

Jack Heuer

Today, TAG-Heuer remains a prominent sponsor in Formula 1 with a partnership with Red Bull Racing. The brand is the Official Timekeeper, Official Watch and Team Performance Partner of Red Bull Racing. And as of 2021, TAG-Heuer united with Porsche to create a Porsche inspired Carrera. TAG-Heuer have never forgotten their auto-racing roots and is proud to not be just another sponsor to the sport but a participant.