How this petite quartz watch from the 80s become a saviour for TAG Heuer and is a pre-owned bargain to boot...
Just occasionally, an older watch comes along that grabs your attention and doesn’t let it go. One of them is the TAG Heuer 1000 ‘Night Diver’ that I acquired a few months back at a bargain price, which is in beautiful condition as well.So what is it exactly that I liked? Well, various TAG Heuers of this vintage play a cameo in a few well-known 1980s films (think Die Hard and The Living Daylights). But most of all I like the aesthetics of this particular watch and the incredible value that it represents.
The TAG Heuer 1000 has got something of a Rolex Explorer II vibe to it, with its distinctive white face (more on this later) and its ‘Mercedes’ hands. The nod to the Rolex family continues with its Submariner-like bezel. These are no bad things. But instead the Night Diver is wrapped up in an endearingly small package at 37mm, and being a quartz watch it’s just so easy to live with: low maintenance and perfect timekeeping. Like all the best steals, I first saw it when it was on someone else’s wrist, and after a short period of toddler-like pestering, I finally managed to buy it.
It wasn’t quite perfect when it arrived with me, as somewhere along the line it had gained a rather nasty rubber strap, which is now consigned to history. I opted to replace it with one of our Radstock leather rally straps in a beautiful deep red. History doesn’t quite record how many rally drivers ever went diving (or vice versa) but all I know is that this combination works stunningly well, really showcasing the bold black and white of the actual watch and imparting a completely different – somewhat retro – look compared to the original steel bracelet. I still have that bracelet, but it’s missing its end pieces to reunite it to the watch. So add that to the very long list titled: “watch-related tasks to do”.
In any case, I wanted to wear this watch straight away, which is why I was so keen to get a strap on it immediately. And given TAG Heuer’s enduring association with Porsche as well, a rally strap really makes sense. I’ve been driving a Porsche recently while wearing it and this watch certainly looks the part: especially in the dark.
How so? Now we come to the real ‘Night Diver’ party trick. It’s so nicknamed because it sports an amazing full-face lume. Call me childish, but I can’t stop skulking in dark corners or even walking into cupboards in the middle of the day just to watch the face magically light up. It’s lume, Jim, but not as we know it.
Even if you have no imminent plans to visit the seabed – and personally speaking I don’t, unless I get unlucky on my next cross-channel ferry – you can always appreciate this remarkable piece of illumination technology.
The watch is very much a product of the 1980s, and that’s a big part of the fun of wearing it. I don’t know the exact year, but I’m going to guess at 1989, as a convenient segue into a well-known song that was also released that year: ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’ by American alternative rock group ‘They Might Be Giants’. It’s a bizarre but catchy little song, which is somewhat oddly all about a nightlight in a bedroom. One of the first lyrics mentions “a little glowing friend” that “watches over you” – that sums up exactly how I feel about my ‘Night Diver’.
But maybe you came here to read about a bit of watch history, rather than a paean to bedroom illumination? So here we go. The TAG Heuer 1000 is a direct result of the so-called quartz crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, where mechanical watches were seemingly threatened by the onslaught of quartz timekeeping technology. Rather than run away, the visionary Jack Heuer decided to embrace his enemies. And he thought he may as well kill two birds with the same stone, as up to that point Heuer had never produced a dive watch or a quartz watch. Instead, the company’s heritage lay in producing precision timing instruments for cars and planes. So the innovation behind this new watch can’t be underestimated.
The story is all there in Jack Heuer’s incredible book: “The Times of My Life”, which is probably the best book about watches ever written. The inspiration came to him in 1979, when Heuer was talking with representatives of a diving products company at a trade fair.
He wrote: “They had had some bad experiences with watches bought from an importer in New York – in next to no time the watches let in water and they had had to deal with many angry customers. That gave me the idea of trying to enter this market with a range of sturdy, Rolex-style diving watches with quartz movements, which would avoid overusing the winding crown as was inevitable with mechanical movements. To our great surprise our new diving watches were very well received by the market. We could not imagine then that this model – we called them the 1000 Series – would be the very watch that was to help the company recover.”
The 1000 sold in huge quantities, which is why it’s still relatively cheap now. When it was new, it was approximately a quarter of the price of a Rolex Submariner. It’s fair to say that the gap has widened considerably now…
There were quartz and automatic versions originally proposed – but the quartz was the one that people snapped up. Buoyed by this success, Heuer expanded the range as well as the bracelet, so that it could authentically fit on top of a wetsuit.
This watch was now the real deal: the forerunner of the Aquaracer, which would also go on to become a great commercial success. Heuer’s biggest achievement back then was perhaps to measure the mood of the market perfectly: this was exactly the right watch for exactly the right time.
It was easy and cost-effective to adapt and customise, with a massive number of variations subsequently made that included black coatings, day-date versions, and different bezel colours. That was just the start of the story, as there would also be the 1500, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 6000 series of watches.
The list of permutations is more or less infinite, with a watch for everyone. As Seiko is now, Heuer and then TAG Heuer was then. The company truly led the way when it came to the democratisation of Swiss watchmaking.
And the remarkable thing is that the ‘Night Diver’ didn’t change much in the transition from Heuer to TAG Heuer. There was the new logo and the word ‘quartz’ disappeared from the dial, but that was about it.
More than 30 years later, the ‘Night Diver’ still looks fresh and contemporary, as my watch shows perfectly. The lume hasn’t faded and everything is still perfectly crisp. I’ve used it primarily as a travelling and driving watch: it sits perfectly on the wrist and is instantly legible, especially in the weird twilight of dawn and dusk, when the lume comes into its own.The rally strap only adds to the feel of driving rather than diving – and once you reach your destination, it’s also a watch that will go anywhere and look good on more or less any occasion. Maybe it seems odd that a comparatively functional quartz watch ended up being the one that saved Heuer in its hour of need. But just look at Porsche. When it was in financial trouble back in the early 2000s, who would have predicted that it was to be the Cayenne off-roader that would become the sports car firm’s best-selling model and effectively save the company? Sometimes salvation comes from the most unlikely sources.
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