Swiss watchmaker Jack Heuer and Swiss auctioneer Bernard Piguet discuss Gstaad and arts de vivre.
A Gstaad habitué yourself, when did you first come to this region?
My grandparents would regularly holiday here with my father, where an uncle was the resident village physician. I have photographs of my grandparents iceskating with my father in the village centre. My father’s prowess in show jumping – a sport in which horses are ridden in competitions to demonstrate their skill in jumping over fences and walls – led him to act as a judge in Gstaad.
During WWII, Switzerland’s self-defense known as the “réduit national” intended the army to retreat into fortresses and bunkers inside Alpine areas. A cavalry colonel and later brigadier general, my father chose Gstaad, which then was difficult to access, for this reason. This strategy was never put to use as Switzerland’s neutrality was mostly respected and thereafter the post-war Soviet attack on NATO member states that had been feared never occurred.
With the declaration of WWII in 1939, my older sister and I were sent to Chalet Flora, a children’s home in Gstaad, not far from the Palace with a magnificent view of the Wildhorn. While I remained a boarder like HH Prince Karim Aga Khan IV and other personalities of the day, my sister preferred to stay with our mother at the Park Hotel. Already trilingual with a British mother, I was one of some thirty children. Food was rationed; I especially remember butter. Imagine, guests brought their own food stamps to their hosts.
Is Gstaad still family-centric?
Gstaad today is an internationally recognised resort. After WWII, the parents of Roséens built chalets or stayed in hotels in the winter. Now anciens Roséens holiday here with their children amongst other families.
Clearly you’re a life-long avid skier?
Learning to ski at age four, I had the good fortune to continue with older boys at the Chalet Flora. Whilst a university student, I joined the, dare I say chic, Swiss Academic Ski Club (SAS) and competed with fellow students across this continent.
With your chalet in close proximity, are you a member of the Gstaad Eagle Club?
Yes, a longstanding but not a founding member.
When and how did the club’s races baring your name begin?
Given its specialty, Heuer was the chronograph used at Olympic Games both immediately before and after WWI. It seemed therefore natural to sponsor and participate in club races.
In a village where film stars and royal highnesses mingle easily with locals, and one of the world’s most prestigious boarding schools – the bi lingual Institut Le Rosey – in residence over the winter months, the highly sought-after balance of village life here strikes me as unique. How do we preserve this?
As they say, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
An auctioneer myself, allow me to congratulate you on the most ex- pensive Heuer ever sold at auction: Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco 1133B from the 1971 film ‘Le Mans’ for $ 2.2m two months ago. Given that this first ever square-cased and water resistant chronograph was designed and launched by you 52 years ago, must give you great pride. To that end, when and how did you become an aficionado of motor racing?
Having graduated from the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) with a degree in Engineering as well as having finished my compulsory military service, my father gave me the gift of an MGA, a British two-door roadster, which I drove to Monaco for the Grand Prix. Armed with a press pass, I was besotted with all I witnessed and so named this chronograph “Monaco”, which found a global audience thanks to this film.
How regular are your sojourns here? With your sons also habitués, I presume Gstaad remains your family’s meeting point.
Indeed! My wife and I built our chalet sometime after our wedding in 1963. Then, my mother-in-law bought the lot immediately adjacent with the hope of building her own. Sadly, she died never having realised her project. Over a decade ago, my architect son built a chalet with three apartments on her lot and we sold our original chalet, which was pulled down and rebuilt. Happily we reunite every Christmas with our children and grandchildren as well as other times of the year.
If Gstaad is to survive climate change, it must offer conference facilities to organizations around the world. The excellent train-link and the private airport will catapult the region into this market. What is your opinion of the much-needed concert and conference hall?
Clearly the local economy – hotels and restaurants amongst others – would greatly benefit from conferences in the off-season. However, I fear for our community. Is it not at risk, I wonder? While planning the conference and concert hall discreetly somewhat underground at the train station is brilliant to say the least, the cost proved prohibitive. Someday our benefactor may still come. In the meantime, I, for one, am a devotee of the concerts held at the historic church in Saanen: atmosphere, authenticity and charm.
Born in 1932, Jack Heuer, like his father before him, answered the call of his family’s Swiss watchmakers. Schooled in Gstaad, his is the exceptionally rare viewpoint spanning the years of WWII to the present. As an engineer as well as fourth generation Heuer, he took the helm at age 28 and remains the honorary chairman of the house that bears his name.
Born in 1967, Bernard Piguet, like his surgeon father before him, did not answer the call of his family’s Swiss private bank but rather his passion for the commerce of art and the art of commerce. After graduating from university, Piguet pursued further training in the history of art in London before joining Sotheby’s Geneva, after which he now runs the auction house that bears his name.