HeuerTime’s Abel Court: Looking After Jack’s Kids

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Among the notable brand specialists the vintage watch world boasts, the illustrious Abel Court—the one-man operation behind HeuerTime—occupies a unique niche as not only an eminent collector and brand consultant, but also arguably the only name that matters when it comes to servicing and refurbishing vintage Heuer wristwatches. Based in a quiet town in the Belgian province of Limburg, Abel generally prefers to keep a low profile. However, his remarkable work preserving and bringing out the best of Jack Heuer’s increasingly rare and costly progeny has earned him a truly stellar reputation and a position of importance among the marque’s cognoscenti.

Abel’s notoriety (and the lengthy wait times for his services) is not without merit, nor is it a simple case of forum-born celebrity; the man has a deeply fastidious, obsessive approach to servicing and refurbishing vintage Heuers that shines through in all of the right places, but particularly so in the minute details of any piece that’s had the good fortune to land a spot on his perennially busy bench. Boasting the provenance of a fourth-generation watchmaker and goldsmith and a massive cache of new-old-stock vintage parts, the pieces Abel has delivered from derelict to damn near factory perfect must be seen in the metal to truly understand the caliber of his work.

“When I handle a fifty-year-old watch, there’s often a lot more than just financial value associated with it. It’s not always that it’s a family heirloom, but when it is, it’s such a heartwarming feeling to work on a piece that means something to people in that way.” – Abel Court

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Abel Court

“The thing one must always try to do is simply enhance what’s already there, and I’ve had that philosophy since the start. Most of the time, that’s possible—often even when something seems beyond the point of return.” Court explained over coffee on a blustery winter’s day in the lobby of Manhattan’s Ace Hotel.

The watchmaker further summed up his philosophy (and excused his wait times) by telling Worn & Wound:

“When a watch is on my workbench—whether it’s a Viceroy or a first execution Autavia—I treat it as if it’s my own watch. I have direct communication with the client. I know what they want done and especially what they don’t want done, and that in itself can be very time-consuming and exhausting. But it’s important to me to treat clients the way I’d want to be treated were I on the other side of the bench, so when I have wait times that are over a year long, it’s really because I love working on these watches and I want to do it myself. I could hire four or five watchmakers, but I truly love the work. If I need to give the work to someone else, then I give away my own passion as well. When I handle a fifty-year-old watch, there’s often a lot more than just financial value associated with it. It’s not always that it’s a family heirloom, but when it is, it’s such a heartwarming feeling to work on a piece that means something to people in that way.”

Court entered the world of Heuer via an interesting bit of happenstance and a truly remarkable starter watch:

“I got my first Heuer from the old stock of my parents’ jewelry shop. They were a Heuer dealer at the end of the ‘70s/early ‘80s, and I was given a Heuer Monaco. This was around 2003, and I immediately started searching the Internet as I grew an obsession with the watch. I discovered that it was actually a valuable piece—even at that time—and that triggered the start of my further research into the brand. The journey had begun.”

Not yet a watchmaker when he received his fabulous Monaco, Abel was already an established goldsmith, and those skills would “eventually—after some time and effort—translate into things like the case refinishing work I’m known for now.”

He started to experiment with watches as he already had some of the tools and basic skills. Abel explains, “It was no big risk back then because the prices of old Heuers had not yet gone crazy. I remember buying an Autavia Viceroy ref. 1163 on eBay for something like 900 Euros!”

It’s as close to factory original as you can get.

“Also, there’s no other brand with such a deep connection to the world of motorsports from the ‘60s and ‘70s—not Rolex . . . really no other brand.” – Abel, speaking of Heuer

Through research on sites like OnTheDash, the guidance of his master watchmaker father, and hard work experimenting on his own watches, Abel developed an uncanny ability to resurrect vintage Heuers.

“My true specialty is the finish work I do on cases, dials, and hands, and it took me many years of learning and money spent on watches to learn on to get where I am with those skills now. I can assure you I did some bad things in the past—but only on my own watches. However, you take things one step at a time and I grew those skills myself through a lot of work and time.”

When asked about his continued love affair with the Heuer brand, Abel explained:

“If you look at the portfolio of watches they’ve made over the years, it’s just endless. There are so many variations and such a wide range of models and references made, and they’re all so interesting to me. Also, there’s no other brand with such a deep connection to the world of motorsports from the ‘60s and ‘70s—not Rolex . . . really no other brand. That connection and heritage is huge, and very interesting to me. It adds a special attraction to the watches to me. Jack Heuer was such a brilliant mastermind for the brand and an inspiring person. The way he pushed the brand during his years there, especially through the connections he made with people like Steve McQueen and his famous Monaco, or Formula One drivers like Niki Lauda, and Jo Siffert with his Autavia. The way he connected the brand to important and inspiring figures in motorsports truly made Jack Heuer a pioneer in his field.”

As a client of his, I can attest firsthand to the care Abel takes when restoring a watch.

When I sought advice on restoring it to its former glory, Abel Court’s name continued to come up as the best option.

Abel’s secluded Belgian operation proved to be truly the only place up to the task of properly restoring a beloved, but truly abused Montreal ref. 750.503n—which my father—a lifelong Formula 1 fan—had purchased new in the late ‘70s and given to me when I was a boy. This one was not particularly valuable (at the time), and its busy dial and buttons had deeply captured the imagination of my 11-year-old self. Unfortunately, it would go on to suffer the same abuses any watch strapped to the wrist of an 11-year-old boy would. The case grew scarred and battered, the crystal marred by deep gouges, and—following a misguided service attempt by a fly-by-night watchmaker—my Montreal’s hour markers and hands were relumed in a jarringly bright white that had been mixed with a heavy bonding agent that hid away its beautifully yellowed lume. Then one night in my teens, I fell asleep with it on my wrist and woke to find its crown missing, and the effectively unworkable Montreal was sequestered away to the depths of a sock drawer as I was preoccupied with the typical life of a high schooler.

Yeah, it was in pretty rough shape.
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Many years later, I rediscovered a passion for watches and realized not only how much my Montreal meant to me as both a link to my youth and father, but also as a link to my fondness of classic racing culture. I also found out it had become a relatively valuable watch and began to develop my own infatuation with the Heuer brand. When I sought advice on restoring it to its former glory, Abel Court’s name continued to come up as the best option.

After a wait of nearly a year-and-a=half, my name came up on Abel’s list and the watch was sent to his workshop in for its day in the sun. What was returned to me was a small miracle that convinced me that Abel’s skills place him well in league with true artists.

“It’s very difficult now as a collector to enter the market and truly know what’s right on a watch and what’s wrong—or who to trust. So, it’s important to stay involved as it’s really a community.” – Abel Court

Abel worked his magic, and voila!

The watch’s chunky case was rid of all the imperfections it had earned in my keep, had its shiny surfaces brilliantly polished and—most impressively—had had the Montreal’s signature starbursting treatment painstakingly reapplied to the case’s front fascia. The hands and dial had their white lume and bonding agent delicately removed, and now sport a graceful, creamy lume that appears as if it had aged along with the watch its entire life. The litany of things the movement needed were attended to as well, and it now keeps time more accurately than it ever had before. The job was finished with a factory-correct, new old stock crown and presented on a reproduction Italian leather rally band. The watch is now as close to perfect as it has been since the day it left Switzerland in the 1970s, and it never fails to impress those that know what they’re looking at. I’m often asked where I got a new old stock Montreal.

While my watch and its story are certainly a fine example of Abel’s observation that there is often much more than just monetary value associated with old watches, make no mistake that the man is accustomed to typically handling more valuable watches than a late ‘70s Montreal. When asked about the jobs that really make it worthwhile for him, Abel told us of his last patient, “A first execution, full-lume Autavia. There’s not many people that have the privilege of working on watches of that caliber, and it’s comforting to know that people trust me with such valuable watches.”When asked what advice he has for new collectors interested in purchasing a vintage Heuer, Abel had a word of caution regarding the misinformation that permeates much of the market with Heuers these days.

“A lot of info about the brand went missing when Heuer became Tag Heuer, and much of their archives were lost. That information is around now within the collector community thanks to people like Jeff Stein from OnTheDash, but a lot of people in the watch world these days act like they know everything there is to know about Heuer. It’s very difficult now as a collector to enter the market and truly know what’s right on a watch and what’s wrong—or who to trust. So, it’s important to stay involved as it’s really a community. Do your research, take your time, and don’t rush into anything.”

Photographs provided by Abel Court.

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David Von Bader is an LA-based musician and journalist. His horological interests center around vintage tool watches, particularly those with a military or motorsports provenance. He is further afflicted by addictions to vintage shades, vinyl records, and guitars.
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