Editor’s Note: Years before they disrupted convention with affordable tourbillons and smartwatches, TAG Heuer was breaking new ground, with the technically challenging, belt-driven Monaco V4. We take a closer look at the blacker-than-black Phantom version.
One of the most overused words in the watch industry is ‘icon’. If you believed Swiss marketing departments then almost every watch from every brand is an iconic piece. The real deal is far more scarce. And things get speculative when we start talking about ‘modern icons’ – as a rule of thumb it takes a good generation or two for an object to transcend the everyday and become iconic. Even the marketing magnate that now helms TAG Heuer, Jean-Claude Biver, pled caution when pundits declared Hublot’s Big Bang an ‘instant icon’ in 2005. His message was, bluntly, let’s talk about that in 20 years. Even by this measure, the TAG Heuer Monaco V4, which has been around since 2004 is on the right track for bona fide icon status.
So what makes the V4 special? Well, when the watch announced as a concept watch 11 years ago it was revolutionary. The V4 looked more like a car than a watch, with its angled ‘V’ main plate and four barrels (hence the V4 name). But the V4 is more than just a regular Monaco with some automative-inspired design tweaks. Kinetic energy is not generated by an oscillating weight, but rather by a linear weight (that you can see in the centre of the movement). What’s more, this energy is not transmitted through the watch by common gears, but rather by a system of incredibly small belts. Ironing out the kinks in these 0.07mm thick belts is something that took TAG Heuer five years, when they felt confident enough make the watch commercially available. Since that time the V4 has been released in a range of variants, and the model holds a special place in the upper echelons of TAG Heuer’s catalogue.
Which brings us to the Monaco V4 Phantom – the latest version of this high-tech timepiece. As you might suspect from the model name, this V4 Phantom is a black beauty. While the internals are structurally unchanged from previous versions, the seven dial bridges are made from Carbon Matrix Composite (CMC), which adds some richness and depth to the watch, something often lacking in all black pieces. It should be noted that the finish of the dial bridges in the press picture looks very different to that in our Baselworld photos – I suspect that is because the watch we were shown in Basel is a pre-production prototype, and may not feature the CMC dial of the final version. The classic Monaco shaped case is also made from this special carbon material. CMC is a material appropriated by TAG Heuer from the aerospace industry, a mix of carbon fibres and epoxy. The result is a strong, light material (the watch only weighs 98 grams). Forged carbon materials like this are very trendy in watches at the moment, and the V4 Phantom is a particularly good-looking execution.
The overall package is a watch that looks mean – the sleek black finishes, accentuated only by the glinting red of the movement’s rubies, combined with the avant-garde architecture of the V4 all adds up to a piece that feels almost sinister on the wrist. In the best possible way.
The other big story about the V4 Phantom is that its had a significant price cut. The retail is just over $60,000 which makes it the most affordable V4 thus far, about half the price of the original release. The reason for this is tied to Jean-Claude Biver’s aggressive strategy for making the brand more accessible. In previous years, TAG Heuer, under the direction of Mr Guy Semon excelled at making some of the advanced precision timing watches ever seen, in watches like the Mikrogirder and Mikrotimer. Under Biver’s strategy the brand will not focus on this level of Haute Horlogerie timepieces, instead trickling down the technologies learned in these pieces to wider collections. This means that the V4 now represents the most advanced production piece in the TAG Heuer catalogue, and the pricing has been adjusted to keep it in line with other collections.
The Monaco V4 is a watch that genuinely captures the spirit of TAG Heuer – an innovative design with clear automotive roots and powered by genuine technological innovations. In years and generations to come, I’m sure the V4 will be seen held up alongside the Calibre 11 Carreras as a genuine icon of horology.
TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Phantom Australian pricing
The V4 Phantom has an indicative price of $61,000.
Original Images by Kristian Dowling/Time+Tide Images.