One of Heuer's great claims to fame was making watches with a specific purpose in mind. The company had ingrained itself with automobile racing, offering timing instruments to both race organizers and drivers alike. This partnership led to the racing-inspired Heuer Carrera chronograph, named after the Carrera Panamericana, a dangerous endurance race through Mexico. Similarly, the Heuer Autavia was also made with a purpose in mind, the name itself being a portmanteau of Auto and Aviation.
Jack Heuer had a passion for racing in many forms, including yacht racing. Heuer started in the sport by making stopwatches specifically for sailboat racing, and this extended to the first Skipper introduced by Heuer in 1968, the reference 7754 which was essentially a modified Carrera 7753, and has been coined the "Skippererra" by collectors.
The second iteration of the Skipper changed to using an Autavia case, enlarging the specialized 15 minute register for increased visibility, and adding a rotating bezel. This Skipper was given reference 7764, and served as a design blueprint for the future Skipper model.
As the Autavia changed shape with the cushion cased versions of the 1970s, so did the Skipper, being offered in the various cushion-cased Autavia styles as references 1564, and 15640, the focus of this article.
Note: We're excluding the Heuer Regatta in this post which was a watch also offered by Aquastar in partnership with Heuer from the 60s through the 80s. While a functional yachting timer, it was not part of the Skipper family.
The 15640 was the final iteration of the Skipper before Heuer was acquired by Tag, changing the landscape of the company. The Skipper was essentially a modified Autavia, borrowing many of the components from that model from the case and bezel down to the basic layout of the dial.
Mechanically, the Skipper uses a modified version of the automatic caliber 15 movement, found in some Autavias of the period, most notably the rare "exotic" dial versions. The caliber 15 relocates the running seconds register to an offset position above the 9 o'clock marker, with the Skipper branding beneath the register. The modifications come into play with the chronograph, which has been reworked for the oversized regatta timing register designed for the 15 minutes precluding the start of a boat race. The subdial hand advances every 30 seconds to keep timing accurate while sailors could only manage a quick glance at their timer while preparing for a race start.
he 15640 borrows the 11063V case, one of the more dramatic cushion-cased Autavia models. The shape features a more pronounced arch than previous models that fits well on the natural curve of the wrist, and is a bit thicker at 15mm, even with a flat mineral glass crystal. The rotating bezel is retained, in a minutes/hours configuration rather than the tachymeter bezel found on some Autavias.
The case design of the 70s and 80s Autavias has always been a favorite of mine. They are quite chunky but don't wear too large, and have wonderful finishing when you can find an unpolished example. The case tops are finished with a radial sunburst brushing that abruptly stops and is met by these wide, mirror polished chamfers that contrasts the coarse finish on the case surface and gives off a gleam in the right light.
The dial of the 15640 is where the watch really stands out, with that oversized "big eye" regatta register brightly contrasting in white, blue, and red over the rest of the glossy black dial. The hands and hour markers are white with tritium inlays, and the date window is outlined in a polished steel frame.
This last version of the skipper was offered in both a black and blue dial/bezel combination, with both models being quite scarce as production was very limited throughout the Skipper's life with it being such a specialized model. While not impossible to find, excellent examples have become hard to come by as time continues to pass.
The photographs featured in this article are of our very own Skipper, which is currently offered in the store which you can see here. What do you think of the Skipper? Do you have any favorite quirky purpose-built watches of your own? Leave a comment below!