If You're Passionate about Motorsport, You've Got to Have a Vintage Heuer: Nicholas Biebuyck

TAG Heuer’s Heritage Director Nicholas Biebuyck talks to GMT India about his journey with the brand and shares his advice for watch collectors
If You're Passionate about Motorsport, You've Got to Have a Vintage Heuer: Nicholas Biebuyck
April 10, 2024
If You're Passionate about Motorsport, You've Got to Have a Vintage Heuer: Nicholas Biebuyck

The recent launches from TAG Heuer have been revisiting the past and contemporising them with innovation. Whether it's the yellow gold Carrera Glassbox or the latest Carrera Chronograph, which draws inspiration from Heuer Ref. 7753 SN from the late 1960s, the new launches are a testament to the rich legacy of the brand. This is where, Nicholas Biebuyck, TAG Heuer’s Heritage Director, comes into the picture. Working with the brand since 2021, Biebuyck wrote the book, TAG Heuer Carrera: The Race Never Stops, which marked 60 years of the Carrera. In a freewheeling conversation with GMT India, he talks about his journey with the brand and how he plans to marry TAG Heuer’s rich heritage with its innovative, avant-garde spirit. To read the full interview, check out the latest print issue of GMT India.

GMT India: How did you develop a passion for watches? And how did your journey with TAG Heuer start? 

Nicholas Biebuyck (NB): I started collecting watches when I was a teenager. My father loved motorcycles and cars, so I grew up with cars, motorcycles and racing. When I was 18, my grandmother passed away and I inherited a little bit of money. The first thing I did was, I went to a Bonhams’ auction in Knightsbridge and tried to bid on a TAG Heuer Carrera. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful that day, but the passion for watchmaking grew from that point in time. I went on to study mechanical engineering at a university but later pivoted to the auction world. In 2010, I started working at Bonhams in London; in 2014, I moved to Bonhams Hong Kong. After working in the auction space, I realised that vintage chronographs were my real love. In 2021, this opportunity with TAG Heuer came along. 

GMT India: Last year, your efforts led to the publication of the book, TAG Heuer Carrera: The Race Never Stops that marked 60 years of the Carrera. Which other heritage collectibles does the brand plan to unveil in the coming years?

NB: We're already planning to do a follow-up to the Carrera book with another one on the Monaco collection and hopefully, it will be something that we will show in 2025. We've already started planning for the book and I'll start writing it in the next few months. We’ve also released the Monaco Rattrapante this year at Watches and Wonders, and we really want to showcase our Haute Horlogerie credentials with this collection. Regarding the museum, renovation is a big topic — we’re looking forward to that. 

When it comes to exhibitions, we sent out 300 watches last year and we would comfortably exceed that number this year. We have already sent out 50 watches, and we have a huge exhibition taking place in China this month. There are the Monaco F1 Grand Prix and Singapore F1 as well, where we present capsule collections. Therefore, we’ll most probably send close to 400 watches to different markets for exhibitions. 

TAG Heuer Carrera: The Race Never Stops

GMT India: What are the initiatives being taken to document the brand’s rich history? 

NB: Unfortunately, we lost our factory records in the 1980s when ownership changed. But we have embarked on a huge digitisation project since I joined. We’ve digitised nearly all paper assets that we had within the organisation, which took more than two years. Now, we're about to take the second step this year — digitising films, videos, DVDs and large-format pieces from our archives. The brand’s history had been well documented, especially in the 60s and 70s. We have Jack Heuer's biography. I am lucky that I got to know Jack, the family and Jean Campiche, who had been the Head of Timing Division for a very long time. 

It has been really interesting to know how the brand evolved as TAG Heuer from 1986 to 2000, up until the LVMH acquisition. I’ve also been in touch with Christian Viros, CEO at that time, and Philippe Champion, who was the Head of Marketing; they were pioneers in the watchmaking industry. They were the first to hire a globally known architect to design the booth at Basel world and first to engage ambassadors in a serious way early on, and launched incredible marketing campaigns. They really laid the foundation for the contemporary watchmaking industry that we know of today. 

GMT India: So, who is the most interesting person you’ve met and spoken to in the line of your work as a chronicler for the brand? 

NB: I think Jean Campiche has been a key figure, he was there during the time of the partnership with Ferrari. He left the brand in 1979 and then came back in 1986, and really rebuilt the Timekeeping Division. In 1992, he played a vital role in getting the deal with Formula One across the line. He went on a holiday with Ronnie Peterson and Clay ​​Regazzoni. I was lucky to meet Yves Piaget because Piaget owned the brand from 1982-85. All of them have shared anecdotes and it’s always interesting to hear their perspective on what makes the company special for them.  

GMT India: If you could go back in time and interview the founder, Edouard Heuer, what would you ask him?

NB: Edouard is a really interesting individual. He was only 20 years old when he founded the business — a very young, entrepreneurial guy. For a long time, we called him an inventor. He was acquiring these patents to make more durable and more reliable watches. I would ask him about what motivated him to do this. Why did he move from St. Imier to Bienne only four years after the brand was set up? It’ll be good to understand his philosophy and why he decided to move towards chronographs quite early in the developing stage.

GMT India: Which is your favourite TAG Heuer watch of all time and why? 

NB: It has to be the solid gold reference, 1158 CHN, predominantly with the champagne dial, no matter if it’s on a strap or a bracelet. It’s a truly magical piece. First, from a watchmaking perspective, it houses the caliber 11 or caliber 12, the first commercially available automatic chronograph movement. The interesting thing about the gold watches is that they were actually launched in 1970 to celebrate the Heuer listing on the Swiss stock exchange. The story most people know is that when Jack Heuer did the deal with Ferrari, part of the contract was that each driver would receive one of these solid gold watches.   

GMT India: What would be your advice to watch collectors, seasoned or otherwise?  

NB: The classic advice would be: buy what you like. Everyone has got caught up in this idea of watches as an investment class; they’re buying pieces that they don’t particularly enjoy wearing. I’ve been in this business for 20 years and every few years, we see people behaving like this. It always ends really badly when the market crashes and they’re left with watches they don’t even like. So, if you’re looking for vintage, first and foremost, focus on the watch’s condition and originality. It's very easy to buy a super cheap vintage watch, but it's always going to have a host of problems that need to be fixed. 

The other thing is, look for value and spot the exciting stuff that has been around but hasn’t had much exposure. While design is key, another aspect to consider is, what can this watch mean to you? If you're passionate about motorsport, obviously, you've got to have a vintage Heuer or a contemporary TAG Heuer watch to tell that story. 

I always think watches are a vehicle for education. I've learnt more about the world, culture and history, macroeconomic environments, and global financial crises through watches. Timepieces are an amazing petri dish where you can understand what has been happening in a particular time and place.

Image credits: TAG Heuer