Venerable Vintage: Heuer Solunar – a fisherman’s friend

When we think of The Heuer Watch Company (now TAG Heuer), their sports chronographs through the 1970s immediately come to mind: Carrera, Monaco and Autavia. The Heuer brand and chronographs are inseparable; it was as much a part of their DNA then as it is now.

Throughout Heuer’s illustrious history, there was arguably no one who played a more important role than Jack Heuer, the 4th generation descendant of Edouard Heuer who founded the company 170 years ago.

If you’d like a brief history lesson about TAG Heuer, check out: Watch Lore: TAG Heuer – Once upon a time, when TAG Heuer was just Heuer

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Jack Heuer, now 85, is the Honourary Chairman of TAG Heuer

Jack Heuer was single-handedly responsible for putting Heuer’s chronographs onto the world’s stage and its eventual association with sports racing; a relationship immortalized by the work Jack did.

Today, however, we’re here to talk about a non-chronograph model often flying under the radar. It also happens to be the very first watch conceived by a 15 year old Jack Heuer.

This is the Heuer Soluna from 1949.

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Abercrombie & Fitch

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right. It is imperative that I talk about Abercrombie & Fitch and its pivotal role in relation to the Heuer Solunar.

Back in the early 1900s, A&F was a very different company from what it is today – no half naked men in shorts, no overpowering perfume gassing out their outlets and none of that pastel coloured streetwear.

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The company was founded in 1892 with the mission of providing quality sports gear for the great outdoors – hunting, shooting and fishing – whose manliness nature is a far cry from the metrosexual apparel (tsk tsk) they carry today.

A&F also made watches specifically designed for sportsmen with features like a ‘miles per hour’ scale and precision timing mechanisms down to 1/5 of a second.

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Image via vintageadbrowser. A 1950s advertisement for A&F ‘Automark’ series.

At some point during the late 1940s, Walter Haynes, then President of A&F, approached Jack Heuer’s father, Charles Edward Heuer, to discuss about a watch capable of tracking the tides, which he believes would be marketable to fishing enthusiasts who were existing customers of their equipment.

To understand why Walter Haynes felt that this watch would be useful, here’s a short science lesson about tides:

Tides

Fishermen have also observed that fishes tend to bite more frequently at specific intervals between certain moon phases/tidal shifts, which led to Walter Haynes’ belief that the watch he was proposing would be an indispensable tool to them.

Jack Heuer makes his mark

Charles Edward Heuer understood the concept set forth but was stumped on its execution; that was when a 15 year old Jack Heuer stepped in and recommended a man capable of turning the idea into a mechanical reality: Dr. Heinz Schilt, his college physics professor.

Dr. Schilt succeeded and the Heuer Solunar was born.

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The idea of the Heuer Solunar was foreshadowed by an earlier incident when Heuer Senior made a passing comment to Jack during a routine mushroom hunt about how they tend to spring up more when there’s a waxing moon, and how useful it would be if there was a watch that could track the moon’s phases.

You can read more about this account and the life story of Jack Heuer in his autobiography which TAG Heuer has made available online in its entirety: http://www.tagheuer.com/uploads/sysresourcetranslation/en/339ab2f780230105805046f4bc3e9fbd1a54b665.pdf

How it works

The Heuer Solunar has a dual function subdial at 6 o’clock that tracks the tides, and the phases of the moon.

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The circle separated into 4 quarters follows the tides: green – high tide (am/pm) / yellow – low tide (am/pm).

The ‘cross’ marking in the centre, with the end sporting a crescent moon, tells its wearer the phase of the moon. If it is upright (as above), it’s a full moon. It then moves clockwise through the other 3 quarters indicating ‘waning’, ‘new moon’, ‘waxing moon’.

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Recall how I’ve mentioned above about the moon ‘pulling’ water towards it at certain phases causing tidal shifts, which in turn affects the willingness of fishes to bite/feed?

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With the Heuer Solunar, the 3 pointers (without crescent) indicate the best time for fishermen to cast their lines, which as seen above through the tidal circle, if there’s a full moon between 9 am to 3 pm, fishes would bite at 6 pm, 12 pm and 6 am.

Once you’ve calibrated the watch to the local tide tables, you’ll know which pointer to refer to relative to your location and local time.

Where to buy one

Alas, this watch is exceedingly rare; much more so than the popular vintage Carreras and Monacos, yet only commanding a mere fraction of their price.

Heuer Solunars listed previously were in the SGD 2,500 range and they get snapped up quick. It is also incredibly hard to find a copy in great condition.

Here’s an example of one in rather poor condition that sold for SGD 2,242: http://www.chrono24.sg/heuer/solunar-inv-1477—vintage–id4359750.htm

The Heuer Solunar interests me greatly because it was the first mark that Jack Heuer made in The Heuer Watch Company. I also love the quirky nature of the dial with its green and yellow disc, which masks the importance of the job it was supposed to do.

Lastly, the premise behind its conception is intriguing as it brings us back to a time when men had to study the messages hidden within nature while devising methods to decipher them; an act that has all but disappeared in the digitally connected world we live in today.

 

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