uropa Star: What is your background?
Nicholas Biebuyck: I was a watch collector before I worked in the watch industry. The first watch I ever bought was a Carrera when I was 17. My father was passionate about cars and watches; we went to Le Mans together. When I was 16, I read an article about George Daniels and it sparked my interest in watchmaking and motor racing, which quite naturally leads to Heuer. I worked at Bonhams, first in cars then in watches, then moved to Christies and Blackbird. I joined TAG Heuer in March this year.
- The launch of the first Heuer Carrera chronograph, as featured in 1963 in Europa Star (number 14)
Since arriving, what has been your main focus at TAG Heuer?
We have more than 3,000 heritage timepieces, but we have never conducted a comprehensive audit of this collection. That’s about to change. We lost a lot of our paper archives in the 1970s and 1980s. By studying the watches themselves, we can rebuild our heritage and assess the value of our collection. It’s a way to better support collectors. Over the next two years, we’re also going to refurbish our museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The museum was created in 2008 and needs an update, especially following our partnership with Porsche. We’re also giving some thought to starting regional museums in London, Hong Kong, Shanghai and New York.
“We lost a lot of our paper archives in the 1970s and 1980s. By studying the watches themselves, we can rebuild our heritage and assess the value of our collection. It’s a way to better support collectors.”
- Sold for US$ 2.2M by Philips in December 2020, the most expensive Heuer ever auctioned is the Monaco 1133B worn by Steve McQueen on the set of the movie “Le Mans”.
What are the goals for these projects?
One of our most important objectives is to clarify the many mysteries left surrounding the heritage of the brand, and also to improve market confidence in acquiring our vintage pieces. We are also working on watch restoration. Fortunately, the market is changing its perception of restoration. If a dial has been soaked or horribly refinished, we need an element of restoration, and we have watchmakers with decades of experience.
- Nicholas Biebuyck, Heritage Director, TAG Heuer
Could you share some recent examples of what you’re doing with your archives?
A big project is the digitisation of our paper archives. We also contribute to new launches by bringing a historical element into the communication. Through PR, we can highlight the longer perspective that is appealing to collectors, and we can help leverage the collectors’ network. For a brand with over 100 years of history, heritage can be a double-edged sword. You have to find the perfect link between the past, present and future.
- One of TAG Heuer’s main projects in 2021 has been revamping the Aquaracer collection, a diving watch whose roots go back to 1978.
What is your take on the market value of vintage Heuer watches?
They are comically undervalued today! I see some incredible vintage Heuer propositions on the market. We’re not going to step in and push the markets artificially, they should be self-supporting. But we do all we can to improve people’s confidence in buying vintage Heuer. I strongly believe that their value should be comparable to that of vintage Daytonas or Speedmasters. But we can only move with “baby steps”, slowly and sustainably, interacting with the right collectors. We are very fortunate to have such a strong heritage. I’m confident we will get there.
“I do believe that vintage Heuer timepieces are massively undervalued. But we’re not going to step in and push the markets artificially, they should be self-supporting.”
How do you interact with collectors?
We speak almost every day with prominent Heuer collectors. I’ve been on the Heuer forums myself for nearly 20 years, so I understand their perspective. We’ve also improved our internal tools to manage our relationship with them. But we have no intention of running a collectors’ club or forum. That should remain organic. And we cannot always serve the same community, we have to build for the new generation.
- Inspired by the rare “Dark Lord” from the 1970s, the TAG Heuer Only Watch Carbon Monaco achieved CHF 290,000 at the 2021 edition of the charity auction.
Do you see a benefit in using blockchain to track vintage timepieces?
LVMH has a centralised blockchain initiative through the Aura consortium. There are massive benefits indeed, but the challenge is that unless you are truly an expert and can dissect the timepiece, it’s hard to be sure that a watch is 100% “correct”, as components may have been replaced. The watch still needs to be in the hands of experts. That is why we are working on our own authenticity service. If you just send us a picture, it won’t be enough.
“We have no intention of running a collectors’ club or forum. That should remain organic. And we cannot always serve the same community, we have to build for the new generation.”