Editor’s note: The mighty Calibre 11-powered Monaco turned 50 just a few weeks ago, and what better time, with Baselworld 2019 only hours away, to have a look at one of the defining chronographs of our time. Now, this version here is, no doubt, a stone cold classic. But I’ve got to wonder, what has TAG Heuer cooked up to celebrate the big 5-0? Here’s hoping we find out soon.
The story in a second:
2015 saw TAG Heuer release the bold Heuer 01, the smart Carrera Connected and a faithful re-edition of one of the most iconic watches ever made – the Monaco.
Heuer made a lot of cool watches, but none more so than the Heuer Monaco. Instantly recognisable, thanks to the large square case, and powered by the legendary Calibre 11 automatic chronograph movement, there’s no doubting the Monaco’s cred. But the frosting on the ice-cool cake is Steve McQueen. The King of Cool was a hot property in the ’60s and ’70s, and the prominent placement of the Heuer Monaco on McQueen’s wrist in the 1971 film Le Mans saw the watch enter the pantheon of totemic objects that have come to symbolise the icon for manly men everywhere. The particular Monaco McQueen wore was the reference 1133, and the latest version is an impressively faithful reissue.
Before we talk about the 2015 version we need to briefly explain the 1969 original. The Monaco, alongside the Carrera and the Autavia, was one of a trio of watches debuted that year featuring the ground-breaking Calibre 11, an automatic movement resulting from years of secret research by top Swiss brands. While the automatic chronograph cat was well and truly out of the bag by 1969, with a handful of brands laying claim to developing the ‘first’ movement, Heuer can truly claim they had the first square automatic chronograph. The design was originally intended to be less sporty and more versatile than the other chronographs – the original ad copy claimed it would be “equally at home at state functions as it is at sporting events”. And while sartorial norms have changed somewhat since then, the Monaco still looks good in almost any circumstance.
Before we mention the beautiful blue, the rounded squares of the subdials or the red highlights, we want to bring your attention to the Monaco’s horizontal, faceted indices. The role of those eight small pieces of metal in making this a truly great reissue cannot be overstated; they’re the most striking example of the many ways in which this captures the spirit of the original (down to the historic Heuer logo). To see what we mean, have a quick look at the radial indices on the Calibre 12 Monaco – they significantly change the tone of the watch.
While the dial isn’t 100 per cent faithful to the original — and nor should it be — we can’t help thinking they missed an opportunity with the chronograph seconds hand. On the original Monaco (and indeed on a whole lot of watches from that era) the second hand was an extremely narrow wedge of red, an isosceles triangle of retro-goodness. And while this version references it, with the broad base on the counterweight, it bulges around the central pinion, and generally looks a little too delicate. But that’s some next-level nitpicking, and on the whole, this dial deserves a solid 9.5 out of 10.
This is the defining feature of the Monaco, and TAG Heuer haven’t messed with it too much. The slightly cushioned flanks, brushed finishes and short lugs are all still very much in evidence, as is the left-hand winding crown that’s the tell-tale sign of the Calibre 11. The most significant divergence from the original comes via the chronograph pushers which have morphed from pump-style pushers into something far more streamlined and integrated. They look good, but they’re clearly not of the same era as the rest of the watch. Another feature, which might not be obvious until you hold the watch IRL, is the sapphire crystal, which forms an important part of the case design. Sitting very high with precisely bevelled edges, this adds great depth to the mostly two-dimensional dial, making it much more than just a window to view the dial.
We’ve spoken already about the historical importance of the Calibre 11 – and while it might not be the most advanced or elegant chronograph movement these days, the importance of the modular movement to TAG Heuer’s legacy cannot be overstated, and it’s really the only choice for this watch. The module is still provided by original suppliers Dubois Dépraz, while the movement itself is a Sellita.
The perforated rally-style strap is the perfect choice for this watch, comfortable and versatile, but still subtly referencing the style of the ’70s. And while an old-school pin buckle would be the purist’s choice, there’s a security and quality about the signed Heuer deployant buckle.
On the wrist
Despite the 39mm case size, the Monaco wears large thanks to its square shape. It also wears well due to those short lugs, suiting a broad range of wrists. The off-side crown adds to the comfort factor – one less thing to dig into your wrist. But to properly embody the spirit of this watch, ergonomics should be the last thing on your mind. The shape, the red accents on that retro-tastic blue dial, the history and legacy of the Monaco all add up to a wearing experience that makes you stand a little taller, and puts some strut in your step. It’s a cool watch, and you’ll be a little cooler for wearing it, even if you don’t pair it with a white Gulf Oil driving suit.
Did you ever see Le Mans …
Who’s it for?
No one can take the crown of cool from McQueen, but if style royalty is something you aspire to, you could do a lot worse than strap on a Monaco.
For the watch forums
Just how much does this re-issue devalue the 40th anniversary Monaco – a limited edition of 1000 pieces that sold for a premium in 2009?
What would we change?
If it were up to me, I’d replace that chronograph seconds hand. While the current hand is perfectly fine, the period correct one would be perfect.
TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 (ref. CAW211P) Australian pricing
The Monaco (CAW211P) has an RRP of $7500
Original images by Jason Reekie