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Oversized "Heuer" Chronographs --
Reproductions and Fakes

September 8, 2003

Since October 2002, approximately 20 oversized chronographs bearing the "Heuer" name have been offered or sold through ebay or other websites. These chronographs have been sold as vintage "Heuer" timepieces, with prices in the range between $2500 and $4800. They are typically listed as mint or New Old Stock (NOS) timepieces, and often described as having some connection with the Targa Florio road races of the 1950's, grand prix racing, in general, or automobile rallyes.

Over the past several months, there has been considerable controversy about whether these chronographs are genuine Heuer chronographs, made by Heuer in the 1950's, or "fakes", being produced currently in Eastern Europe and Germany. In May 2003, in an article called The Great Debate, we presented the evidence for and against authenticity, and concluded that these timepieces were likely fakes. By late July 2003, after conversations with reliable sources, including representatives of TAG-Heuer, we had concluded that all of these oversized chronographs were, in fact, "fakes". In the course of our research regarding these fakes and reproductions, we also learned a great deal about the watches that Heuer did actually produce -- both the "Fleiger" (pilots) chronographs of the 1930's and 40's and Targa Florio chronographs, re-issued by TAG-Heuer in 1996.

Following below are a series of questions and answers regarding these chronographs, in the form of an article published on July 31, 2003 and entitled " Heuer Chronographs: The Real Story of the "Targa Florio" and the Oversized Reproductions . After this article, we present some further information that we have gathered since the date of its publication.

1.From Prague

2.Other Versions

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Heuer Chronographs: The Real Story of the "Targa Florio" and the Oversized Reproductions

Heuer Chronographs:
The Real Story of the "Targa Florio"
and the Oversized Reproductions

Over the last few months, there have been several oversized "Heuer" chronographs offered for sale on the internet and at watch fairs. What styles of oversize "Heuer" chronographs are currently being sold and which ones are genuine Heuers?

To answer the second question first, none of the oversized chronographs are genuine Heuer timepieces. They are all reproductions / fakes. These oversized chronographs have been produced in the last couple of years (so they are not "vintage"), usually by craftsmen in Eastern Europe and Germany (so they are not "Heuers").

In terms of the styles, most of the oversize chronographs currently being offered are one-button chronographs with two registers -- continuous seconds at 9:00 (nine o'clock) and a 30-minute recorder at 3:00 (three o'clock). The button in the crown controls the stopwatch -- with start, stop and reset to zero.

There are also some split-second chronographs being sold (illustrated below). These are two-button models, with a pusher at 2:00 (two o'clock) controlling the split-second function. As on the standard chronograph, the button in the crown controls the basic start-stop-reset functions.

So if they were not made by Heuer, where are these fakes coming from?

These oversize chronographs are being made in at least three places -- in Prague (in the Czech Republic),in Ustka (a city in Poland), and in the Black Forest region of Germany. Case-making is something of a cottage industry, and in all likelihood, pocket chronographs are being re-cased and converted into oversized wrist chronographs in several additional locations.

We are most familiar with the operations being conducted in Poland and the Czech Republic, and will focus on case-makers working in those markets. To the extent we have reliable information, we will also discuss the reproductions being made in Germany.

Which ones are coming from Poland and which ones come from the Czech Republic? How you tell them apart? And what about these German ones?

Most of the pieces sold on ebay over the last year have come from a case-maker in Prague. The distinctive feature of these chronographs is the coin-edge bezel, with the black stripe marker, and the screw-back, which also has a coin-edge.

It takes some expensive equipment and highly skilled workers to produce the coin-edge finishes and screw-backs on the Prague pieces. Working in steel is far more difficult than working in gold or silver, and these cases actually represent an extremely high level of case-making skill.

The ones coming from Poland (illustrated below) do not have a rotating bezel and are snap-back models.

The German style is entirely different, being based on the conversion of pocket chronographs into wrist chronographs, without a new case being produced. Instead, bows are added to the pocket watch case, so that a strap can be attached. The movements are not re-cased; instead, the pocket watch case is converted to accomodate a wrist-strap. [We have photographs of these German reproductions, but do not publish them in this article because we do not have permission from the owner of the chronograph.]

Who is making these reproduction chronographs?

The ones from Prague come from a single craftsman, who works alone. (We have not spoken with him, so we do not have the details of what he is doing.)

The ones from Poland come from a shop that employs three craftsmen. We have spoken with the owner of this shop, and can provide some details about what he is doing.

We have less information about the German operations, though we have received detailed descriptions of the chronographs being produced there.

We believe that there are additional shops producing these oversized reproductions, and would welcome any additional information that our readers might be able to provide.

How are these shops producing these chronographs?

This is somewhat complicated, but here are the basic steps:
  1. the process begins with a vintage pocket chronograph, which will be the "donor" of the movement and sometimes the dial. These pocket chronographs are relatively plentiful, and have been produced by numerous watch companies. The following are photographs of pocket chronographs that have been produced by Heuer, Leonidas, Hanhart, Omega and Longines - - -

    For the Heuers currently on the market, a one-button model is the favored "donor".

    If the case-maker will be making a split-second chronograph, then, of course, the "donor" must be a split second pocket chronograph. The Heuer Reference 11.204 is the "industry standard".

    All else being equal, the Valjoux 76 and Valjoux 5 are the favored movements for the one-button chronographs; the Valjoux 76R and Valjoux 9 are used for the split-second chronographs. By using a genuine Heuer pocket chronograph, with the correct movement, the manufacturer may save the step of adding bogus "Heuer" marks to the movement (as described in step 3). The dial is less important, because it will be refinished anyway.
  2. the dial is removed and refinished, with the numbers and other markings being rotated 90 degrees (because the crown will be at 3:00 (three o'clock) on the wrist chronograph rather than at 12:00 (twelve o'clock) on the pocket chronograph); the original dial is usually used for this purpose, although we have heard that there are also blanks being used
  3. if the "donor" pocket chronograph was not a Heuer, the person producing the chronograph may add "Heuer" marks to the movement; note that many pocket chronographs of the period did not have any "brand" or "logo" marks on the movements, for either the brand of watch or the brand of the movement
  4. the shop re-casing the pocket chronograph must produce a high-grade stainless steel case to house the new wrist chronograph, as described below

What does it actually cost to produce one of these oversized chronographs?

The real issue is the price of the new case that is produced to house the chronograph. You can find the pocket chronographs, that will be the donors of the movements, in the $200 to $400 range, with the genuine Heuers selling at the top of this range. The dials can be refinished in the $50 to $100 range. Producing the new case is time-consuming and the most expensive part of the operation.

  • The cases from Prague are in the $1200 range, so that the finished chronograph is sold in the $1700 range (including the movement).
  • The cases from Poland are in the $500 range, so that the finished chronograph sells for around $1000.
  • The split-second versions of the pocket chronograph (Heuer References 11.204 and 11.404) might cost $600 or $800, so the re-cased split-second chronographs will cost a few hundred dollars more than the standard chronographs.

Are the guys who are producing these chronographs open about what they are doing?

We have not spoken with the case-makers in the Czech Republic and Germany, so we cannot comment on how they are operating. We have heard that these shops are offering their re-cased chronographs at watch fairs, in Munich, and generally disclosing that they are reproductions.

We have spoken with the case-maker working in Ustka, Poland, and he is entirely open about what he is doing. He indicates that he will never add the name "Heuer" to a case that he produces and that he will only use genuine Heuer dials (not blanks or other brands). Of course, these dials will be re-finished to rotate the numbers, as described above, but they are genuine Heuer dials. Whenever he sells a re-cased timepiece on ebay, it appears that he indicates clearly that the piece has been re-cased, and he has a very good feedback rating on ebay. He also advertises that individuals can send their old pocket watches to him to be re-cased. When he produces one of his timepieces, it is probably unfair to call it a "fake" or a "reproduction"; rather, it is a re-cased chrongraph with a re-finished dial.

It would appear that the problems do not really arise as much with the gentlemen who are producing these re-cased chronographs, as with their customers who are re-selling them as "vintage", "originals" or "New Old Stock" timepieces.

Lately, most of these oversized chronographs are being offered and sold in the United States. How do they get from Eastern Europe or Germany to the United States?

This is where it gets interesting.

The central market for these oversized chronographs, other than the internet, is Munich, where large watch fairs are held regularly. Munich is centrally located within the region where the cases are being produced, and these fairs are very well attended. At a typical Munich watch fair, there will be several dealers offering these oversized chronographs, with each seller having a selection of a few pieces. Recently, it has become common knowledge at these fairs that these chronographs are reproductions, and they are offered and sold as such. In fact, they are thought of as something of a novelty item, rather than as a serious, collectible chronograph.

Recently, the main buyers of these oversized chronographs have been dealers located in the United States. While it may be well-known at these fairs, and in the European dealer network generally, that these oversized chronographs are "fakes", word is only beginning to spread in the United States and certain other markets. So when these dealers return to the United States, they are able to offer them as NOS pieces and create some history to accompany the watches.

In addition to being offered at the European watch fairs, these chronographs may also be sold by the case-maker directly to customers. These customers may be individual collectors or dealers who then resell the chronographs as vintage NOS pieces.

So what is this "history" that the United States dealers create for these chronographs?

The typical story is that these chronographs were produced by Heuer, in the 1950's, for a grand prix or rally team and "put away" for many years by a keen collector. The story often includes references to the chronograph having something to do with the Targa Florio race or being produced for Juan-Manuel Fangio and his team. Those offering the watches proceed with the story that a small "cache" of these chronographs has been discovered recently and is being released into the market slowly. Sometimes, they are said to come from the estate of the collector who put them away, many years ago.

Of course, this history is a complete fabrication -- the chronographs were not produced by Heuer in the 1950's; they were produced in Eastern Europe or Germany just a few months ago. They are being released slowly because there is a limit on how many the case-makers can produce and there is a limit on how many the market can view and absorb, without the fraud becoming too obvious.

Do these dealers know the real history of these chronographs?

Absolutely. They are buying them directly from the people who are making them, with full knowledge that they are reproductions. I am told that their status as "reproductions" or "fakes" is common knowledge in the circles where these pieces are being offered (primarily the Munich watch fairs). The dealers are being told exactly what they are, and then making up the "history" and representing them to be vintage, New Old Stock pieces in order to realize higher prices when they resell them. (When they were first introduced into the US market, typical selling prices are around $3000 for the standard (one-button) chronographs and over $4500 for the split-second (two-button) versions.)

I have presented the "facts" to two of the dealers located here in the US, and they continue with their stories about race teams, special editions, collectors in Germany, caches being found, estates, etc. The story changes a little from time to time, as they forget some of what they have told me, but they continue offering them as NOS / vintage / original timepieces.

What are the names of the dealers that are selling these fakes?

We do not see any real purpose in naming the dealers who are selling these fake chronographs. In addition, there are some reputable dealers selling these chronographs that seem to have absolutely no idea what they are selling. Some of them have accepted the pieces on consignment.

Rather than guessing which dealers are in on the scam and which are innocent bystanders, all we need to know is that if you are reading this page, then you will know at least as much as any of the dealers and can avoid buying one of these fakes (unless you actually want to own one).

Where are these dealers located?

Most of the oversized chronographs have been offered by dealers based in Southern California. They are being offered on ebay, through internet watch dealers and even in some reputable stores. As word is getting out among the dealers, that these are "fakes", ebay and the internet become the only channels of distribution. Prices appear to have declined in recent months and many of these fakes remain unsold.

So the Southern California connection explains the stories about these chronographs being worn by movie stars and celebrities?

Correct. We can see from the photographs shown below that Orlando Jones wore one during the filming of Biker BoyZ. We have also heard from a reliable source that Arnold Schwarznegger owned one. Our Hollywood correspondent tells us that he once made the mistake of jumping into a swimming pool while wearing the chronograph. These are not waterproof, but the chronograph was successfully dried out and repaired.

OK -- enough about the movie stars on motorcycles. Is it true that Juan-Manuel Fangio wore these oversize Heuer chronographs when he drove in the Targa Florio road races, in the early 1950's?

Juan-Manuel Fangio was one of the greatest racecar drivers of all time, and had the distinction of being the first five-time Formula One champion. We know that he was fond of chronographs, and we see photographs of him wearing chronographs in the pits, on the racetrack and even while having a doctor fit him with a plaster cast.

Heuer had a relationship with Fangio, and it seems that Heuer chronographs were among his favorites. TAG-Heuer indicates that Fangio wore a Heuer chronograph when he participated in the Targa Florio road race, in the early 1950's, and the company drew on this association in designing and marketing its Targa Florio chronograph (introduced in 1996, as part of its Classic series).

While there is every reason to believe that Fangio wore a Heuer, we have not been able to find any evidence that he wore a chronograph resembling the oversized chronographs being produced today. We have inspected dozens of photographs of Juan-Manuel Fangio, looking for the "Targa Florio" oversized chronograph.

YES -- he wore a variety of chronographs, even during races and practices, and he seems to have liked the large ones. NO -- none of them resemble the fakes that are being offered and sold as "the original Targa Florio" chronograph. In simplest terms, this is another bit of "history" being created by dealers attempting to sell modern-day fakes.

These chronographs are sometimes described as vintage "Targa Florio" chronographs. Did Heuer ever produce a "Targa Florio" chronograph? What about the "Targa Florio" chronographs being make by TAG-Heuer today?

The first Heuer chronograph to be named the "Targa Florio" was introduced in 1996, as part of TAG-Heuer's Classic series of re-issues; however, the real story of this Targa Florio chronograph begins in 1935, when Heuer introduced its "Flieger" chronograph. The following image is from a 1935 magazine, where the chronograph is described as a "novelty" item.

Designed for pilots, this chronograph featured a rotating, coin-edge bezel, with a triangular marker; an oversized crown that made it easier to wind and set the watch; and highly legible registers. The following is a photograph of the chronograph, provided to OnTheDash by TAG-Heuer, from its archives.
By 1942, the one-button chronograph had been modified to become a two-button chronograph, and the chronograph was assigned Reference No. 348. Note that the chronograph retained its signature features: the rotating coin-edge bezel; the large crown; and the legibility that defines a pilot's chronograph.
The two chronographs shown above, the one-button model introduced in 1935 and the two-button model appearing in the 1942 catalog, appear significant in two respects:
  • this chronograph, or some variation of it, was likely the chronograph worn by Juan-Manuel Fangio in the Targa Florio races of the early 1950's; the same durability and legibility that would have served the pilot so well in an airplane would certainly have served Fangio well, at the controls of an automobile, racing through the streets of Sicily
  • this chronograph clearly served as the model that inspired TAG-Heuer's re-issuance of the Targa Florio in 1996.

So it was that when TAG-Heuer relaunched the "Targa Florio" chronograph in 2001, as part of its Classic series, the company drew on its association with Juan-Manuel Fangio and his choice of a Heuer as the chronograph that he would wear during the running of the Targa Florio. These "Targa Florios" are the only chronographs ever produced by Heuer under that name. (Characteristic of all chronographs produced during the 1930's and 1940's, the chronographs shown above did not have model names on the dials, only the name "Heuer".)

So that explains the "real" Heuers -- the Flieger chronographs of the 1940's and the Targa Florios of the 1990's. How did we get from those real ones to the modern-day reproductions?

It appears that the individuals producing the fakes took advantage of TAG-Heuer's re-issue of the Targa Florios in several respects. Here is the most likely scenario.

When TAG-Heuer reintroduced the Targa Florio in 2001, its marketing materials used numerous vintage photos of Fangio, Formula One cars, etc. These materials reminded modern-day enthusiats of Heuer's connection with the glory days of racing and its association with the greatest racer of all -- Juan-Manuel Fangio. However, Heuer did not use photographs of the chronographs, produced in the 1940's, that were the basis for the design of the modern Targa Florio. (In fact, TAG-Heuer did not publicly identify the actual chrongraph that was the historic predecessor of the Targa Florio.)

So along came the people producing the "fakes", and decided that they will hijack both the history of these chronographs, as well as their design. Thus, the reproductions take their design cues from the new Targa Florio -- the circular steel case, with coin-edge rotating bezel; black dial with paint round figures; fluted crown; etc.

This all appears to be a twisted case of "reverse engineering" -- with a piece produced in 2002, in Eastern Europe or Germany, posing as the original which is said to have inspired the re-issue in 1996. In this sense, it appears that the re-issue inspired the forgery of the "original". This spy-versus-spy stuff does get confusing!!

In terms of their appearance, how would you compare the real ones (from the 1940's) with the fake ones (from the 2000's)?

Comparing the real Heuers with the fakes, the following differences are most obvious:

  • the size: at 48mm across the dial and 60mm lug-to-lug, the fakes are much larger than the genuine Heuers; in fact, the genuine Heuers were not oversized chronographs at all, but were less than 40mm across the dial
  • the configuration: the genuine Heuers are one-button or two-button chronographs, with the crown used only to set and wind the watch; most of the fakes use a pusher in the crown, the result of their movements coming from pocket chronographs that used this pusher-in-crown configuration
  • the construction: the cases used for the fakes are solid stainless steel; the genuine Heuers were likely chromium-plated cases, as stainless steel was a relatively new material in the 1940's and was very expensive to produce

In summary, the modern-day reproductions look very different from the genuine Heuers. While, on some level, the modern-day pieces may have been inspired by the vintage Heuers, in reality their design was influenced by two more significant factors: (1) "big" is "in" right now, and the folks who designed the fakes must have realized that these oversized chronographs would sell well; and (2) the people producing the fakes needed to use movements that are plentiful; the adundance of large movements from vintage pocket chronographs dictated that the fakes would be large . . . very large.

So has Heuer ever actually produced oversized chronographs or anything bearing any real resemblance to these modern-day reproductions?

We do not believe that Heuer has produced anything near the size of the fakes that are flooding the market today. These big boys are coming in at 48 mm, across the dial, and 60 mm, from lug-to-lug. This is fairly typical of today's oversized chronographs (for example, the Hanharts, Glycines, Tutimas, etc.), but there is nothing approaching this size in the old Heuer catalogs (or in the memory of the old Heuer watchmakers).

Sure, the earliest wrist chronographs (of the 1910's and 1920's) were approximately this size, but these were really pocket watches with lugs and a strap attached. It does not appear that Heuer produced anything like these oversized chronographs during the relevant periods (1940's through 1960's).

In fact, there were very few watch companies making oversized chronographs during the 1940's and 1950's. Several companies produced oversized pilots' watches during the 1930's and 1940's (Hanhart, Junghans, Glasshutte and Tutima come to mind), but relatively few produced them in the 1950's (with Minerva and Longines being two of the leaders in this area). In simplest terms, there are no genuine oversized Heuer chronographs -- whether from the 1940's, 1950's or 1960's; any oversized chronograph bearing the "Heuer" name is a fake.

The perspective on the split-second chronographs is even simpler: Heuer never produced a split-second wrist chronograph, large or small. So if it a split-second wrist chronograph marked "Heuer", it is a fake. No need for any detailed forensic work on this one!

How many of these reproductions / fakes have been sold?

I can count at least six or eight of these "Heuer" chronographs that have been sold and there are probably at least 10 or 12 more that are currently on the market (or waiting in the wings). I believe that there are also some that have been sold privately, away from ebay or the internet.

Because of ebay "shills" and sales outside ebay, it is difficult to determine exactly how many of those listed on ebay have actually been sold. Also, some of these chronographs may be on consignment with more than one dealer, so it is difficult to be certain about how many different pieces are being offered.

It is interesting that the production and sale of fake oversized "Heuers" comes as part of a recent trend that has seen several hundred reproductions of oversized chronographs in the market. The trend probably started three or four years ago, with the Minervas, Omegas and Longines, and Heuer was added to the collection of fakes with the past two or three years.

So if there are less than 20 of these fakes, with only about half of them sold, what's the big deal?

Putting aside the purely legal issues (which are very complicated and best left to the lawyers in the group) and the ethical issues (which may be best addressed by the ethicists in the group), from the perspective of the collector, it is all about honesty and deception. Let's walk through a couple of examples.

If a collector owns a Reference 701 pocket chronograph, or a Reference 11204 split-second pocket chronograph, and decides to have it put into a newly-manufactured wrist chronograph case with a refinished dial, most people would say that this is the collector's own business. Clearly, TAG-Heuer could take issue with the "Heuer" name being used on a re-done (rotated) dial, but to the extent that our collector keeps the re-cased chronograph for his own use and pleasure, it is difficult to see how anyone is harmed. This example is a summary of what seems to be occuring in Ustka, Poland -- genuine Heuers, being re-cased with re-finished dials, all fully known and agreed to by the buyer.

At the other end of the spectrum, let's consider the dealer who obtains a Leonidas pocket chronograph, from the 1940's, that has an unmarked movement. The dealer sends it to a craftsman in Eastern Europe, who produces a new case and has the dial rotated / refinished. For discussion purposes, let's assume that, on the instructions of the dealer, the craftsman marks the case "Ed. Heuer & Co." and also adds a few "Heuer" and "Valjoux" marks to the previously unmarked movement. Of course, as instructed, he also has the dial changed from "Leonidas" to "Heuer". Our friendly dealer then lists it for $3000, and describes it as New Old Stock, vintage, original, etc. A novice collector makes the purchase, after telling the dealer that he only wants to buy the chronograph if it is a genuine, vintage Heuer and receiving assurances to this affect from the dealer. Would anyone not agree that this is a "big deal".

So how would you rate the quality of these timepieces?

That is one of the ironies of this whole messy situation. Some of the modern-day reproductions are fantastic pieces. If the dealers would sell them for what they are (and get rid of the illegal "Heuer" logos and marks), then maybe everyone would be happy.

The version being produced in Prague is the only one that I have seen "in the metal", so I can only comment on that one. The design of the case, dial and hands was fantastic and the build quality of the case was absolutely superb . . . first rate by anyone's standards. The movement was pristine, and it kept time incredibly well -- within one minute per month. It had a genuine Valjoux 76 movement and was one of the best timekeepers of any Heuer that I have checked. In some respects, it is the superb quality of the construction that allows the dealers to pass them off as genuine pieces. As one of the dealers wrote to me, they are absolutely "Heuer quality".

I have not inspected any of those made in Poland or Germany, but they certainly look nice in the photographs.

So what do you think these reproductions are worth?

One of the usual approaches to defining "market value" begins with the phrase "what a willing buyer would pay, assuming that he is fully informed." For a beautiful looking, well-built, hand-made chronograph, with a genuine Valjoux movement, I believe that there are plenty of people who would pay more than $2000 for one of the Prague pieces, knowing exactly what they are (and what they are not). While some buyers might like the Heuer logo, there are others who find forgery offensive, and would pay even more if the dial were left blank. This kind of price would represent a fair mark-up above the price being charged by the case-makers assembling these pieces.

Supporting this approach, I have heard of serious Heuer collectors being told that they are fakes, and still wanting to buy one around the $2500 price level. As one of them asked me, "What other chronos at this price level look this good and are built this well?" Similarly, a leading auction house recently sold an oversized split-second chronograph, marked "Heuer", for over $5000. The purchaser was advised that it was likely a reproduction; he still inspected the piece and decided that it was a "buy" at that price.

So if the question is "What are they worth?", then the answer must be "Whatever a buyer is willing to pay". The key is that the buyer has a right to know what he is buying, rather than being sold fictitious "history" and "originality".

What first tipped you off that these are fakes?

The first indication that something was wrong came when a Southern California dealer offered me a split-second, two-button version. Of course, it came with the usual story of being from the early 1950's and having been "put away" by a collector many years ago, etc. The case was marked "Ed. Heuer" and the chronograph had the same case and dial as the other oversized chronographs then being offered (the Prague version).

The problem was that the movement in this chronograph was marked "Heuer-Leonidas". The Heuer / Leonidas merger only occurred in 1964, so this chronograph must have been "put together" some time after that date. Also, the movement was a Valjoux 9, which Heuer only began using in the 1960's. It hardly required a detective to conclude that this was not a vintage piece from the 1950's.

What were the other clues that these were fakes?

Most of the evidence was outlined in our "Great Debate" table, which we published in May 2003 -- the oversized chronographs did not appear in any old Heuer catalogs, long-time Heuer watchmakers had never seen or heard of them, the paint on the dials looked too fresh, and some of the markings on the movements were strange looking. (For example, I examined one chronograph -- which turns out to have been made in Prague -- with a "Swiss Made" mark on the movement.

I have seen hundreds of Heuer movements, but I had never seen one marked "Swiss Made". In addition, this mark was in a strange place on the movement and the "quality" of this particular marking looked weak.)

Once you conclude that one piece is a "fake", then you start looking at the others more critically. Pretty soon, you start to see more problems and suddenly you realize that they are all fakes. It's not as though 10 could have been produced by Heuer 50 years ago and 10 identical pieces were produced a few months ago, in Eastern Europe or Germany. In fact, it didn't take long to realize that all 20 must be the reproductions.

What makes you so certain now about these being "fakes"? Previously, you had some questions and referred to this as being a "debate" or "controversy".

It all became clear during the past couple of weeks, based on three conversations with experts.

  • First, I spoke at length with a case-maker who operates a workshop in Poland. He has been totally up-front about his re-casing old pocket chronographs, and when he sells these re-cased pieces for his own account, he clearly describes them as such. He also told me that he is "100% certain" that the coin-edge pieces are not genuine and are being produced currently.

  • The second step was a detailed conversation with an individual who knows the gentleman producing the pieces in Prague. Over the last couple of years, this individual has seen the Prague case-maker offering his pieces at several shows in Munich. He has inspected several of these reproductions and admires the workmanship of the pieces. He told me that there is no such thing as a vintage oversized Heuer chronograph (or even a modern Heuer oversized chronograph). It's really very simple -- Heuer has never produced an oversized chronograph!
  • The final step, which should have probably been the first step, was a conversation with a representative of TAG-Heuer, who is working at the company's headquarters in Switzerland. During this conversation, he examined the images included in this article and confirmed that Heuer had not produced any of the oversized pieces.

Why are you so interested in these chronographs?

Since we launched, in February 2003, the oversized chronograph that we have shown has generated many questions. (It is ironic that we have received more inquiries asking about the history and availability of this chronograph than any other timepiece shown on the website, and the others are all genuine. These reproductions are great looking chronographs!!) Similarly, these oversize chronographs have been the subject of many questions on our Discussion Forum.

People considering spending $2500 to $5000 for one of these chronographs should have the real story, and not be paying for the forged names and marks (added by the case-makers) and the forged "history" (being created by dealers trying to move their inventory).

One final question -- Just what is the difference between a "reproduction" and a "fake"? You seem to use the terms interchangeably.

Though there is no real legal distinction, I tend to think that the well-intentioned case-maker or dealer, who makes full disclosure to the purchaser, is offering a "reproduction"; when there is some intent to deceive the purchaser, the very same timepiece becomes a "fake".

An Update -- What We Have Learned since Publishing these Questions and Answers

September 18, 2003

What have been the most interesting reactions to the publication of the article about these oversized fake chronographs?

Since publishing this article, on July 31, 2003, we have had numerous responses, from some unlikely sources. Specifically, we have heard from TAG-Heuer, Jack Heuer, one of the case-makers and three owners of these chronographs.

It's interesting that you heard from Jack Heuer. What did he think of the article?

Jack Heuer read the article word-for-word, and characterized it as being entirely correct. In an e-mail, sent to me on August 15th, Mr. Heuer stated: "Ed. Heuer & Co. and later on Heuer-Leonidas never made any giant wrist chronographs between 1930 until today. . . . All the models you decribe in your article are remakes and therefore fakes!" To the extent that there was ever a debate about these oversized chronographs, those two sentences serve as the announcement that the debate is officially over.

Mr. Heuer also provided some interesting information about why these fakes mught be coming from the Czech Republic. He indicated that in the 1960's, heuer used to regularly supply the Czech governemnt in Prague with stopwatches and pocket chronographs (model Ref. 1101 without split). This might expalin the abundant supply of some nice movements in the Czech republic.

So what did the case-makers have to say about the article?

It is interesting that we have not received any "denials" from the folks actually producing these timepieces. We exchanged e-mails with the case-maker working in Ustka, Poland, and he was satisfied with the article. He only wanted us to clarify that he uses only genuine Heuer dials (not blanks or other brands) and that he never adds "Heuer" markings to a case or movement. We have heard, indirectly, from the case-maker working in Prague. He also wanted to emphasize that he is using genuine Heuer dials and movements. As such, would probably say that he is merely re-casing a chronograph that has a re-finished dial. [I have not heard him address the issue of why he puts the bogus marks inside the cases.]

What about the folks who had purchased the fakes? What did they have to say about this whole mess?

As of September 30, 2003, I have heard from four owners of these chronographs, and their experiences and reactions cover the spectrum. Here is the quick summary:

  • First to contact me (08/01/03) was a gentleman in California who had purchhased an oversized chronograph that is distinctive in two respects: it has a see-through back and is powered by a Valjoux 61 movement.
    He purchased this chronograph with full disclosure that the movement had been recased, and at a fairly reasonable price. He enjoys wearing the watch, receives lots of compliments on it, and his only real complaint is that the seller had told him that the movement was a Valjoux 76 (as in a Super Autavia). While the Valjoux 76 has the pedigree of being used in the Super Autavia, the Valjoux 61 is a good quality movement ans was used by Heuer in several different pocket chronographs.
  • Next, I heard from a Heuer collector who had purchased a chronograph from our case-maker in Ustka, Poland. As best as I can determine, his chronograph is not a fake or a reproduction, but a genuine "Transitional Chronograph".

    The dial is beautiful -- porcelain in perfect condition -- and a genuine Heuer. The case and the movement are "vintage"; there is no reason to think that they are not original, except that someone has converted the back to a plastic "display" back. Bottom line: this owner is happy with his purchase and pleased to have confirmed the authenticity of the piece. It was also interesting for us to "borrow" the watch to photograph, and this enabled us to create our section of Transitional Chronographs.
  • Next (08/23/03), I received an e-mail from another collector in California, who had bought one of the usual Prague pieces from one of the usual sellers.

    So, of course, this chronograph was sold to him with the usual "history" -- small run of high-quality chronographs, specially produced by Heuer in the early 1950's for a racing team; put away for the last 50 years; etc.; etc. He has gone back to his seller, but the seller says that the information on OnTheDash is "all wrong" and that "those guys don't know what they are talking about". An amazing statement, considering that "those guys" now include Jack Heuer and the case-makers actually making these watches!!
  • Next (09/23/02), I received an e-mail from an East Coast collector who purchased his oversized chronograph approximately one year ago. This is an unusual one -- split-second; fancy lugs -- but made in Poland.
    The owner knew what he was buying, and is happy with the workmanship of the case and the scarcity of the split-second movement.

Have you heard anything from the dealers? What about the "reputable retailers" that you refer to, who have taken the fakes on consignment?

NO -- I haven't heard anything from any of the dealers. I understand that one of them has indicated that he will produce "documentation" to prove the authenticity of the pieces. This should be an interesting exercise -- as a friend remarked, "If you are producing fake watches, you might as well produce some fake documents to help sell them." These documents should prove to be interesting (and entertaining).

I have spoken with a couple of retailers, who had taken the fakes on consignment. I understand that they have returned the pieces to their owners -- the dealers who imported them originally.

What have been the most interesting questions that you have received since publishing the article?

Several people have asked questions or made suggestions about what we should call these "recently-produced" timepieces. The general consensus is that "reproduction" is too kind a term, since there was actually no original that is being reproduced, and that we should be "calling a fake a fake". The case-makers take the opposite view, saying that they are only re-casing genuine movements and re-finishing genuine Heuer dials. [As we mentioned above, no one is admitting to adding markings to the cases, but somehow the "Ed. Heuer" mark is appearing in the fresh stainless steel.]

2003.07.23 -- 21.10.45 -- CM3 2003.08.03 -- 00.20.45 -- JMS 2003.09.09 -- 00.41.57 CM3

OnTheDash name, website and contents (c) Copyright 2002-2016, Jeffrey M. Stein, Atlanta, Georgia. All rights reserved.