TAG Heuer revives the mythical Monaco “Dark Lord” for Only Watch

TAG Heuer revives the mythical Monaco “Dark Lord” for Only Watch

Fergus Nash

Any fan of racing chronographs should be familiar with the Heuer Monaco “Dark Lord”.  Introduced in 1974, this mythical all-black Monaco was clad in a PVD coating and powered by a hand-wound Valjoux 7740. Only a very small run of the “Dark Lord” watches were produced, making it amongst the most valuable Heuer watches today. And while that watch may pre-date the Star Wars films, you can easily see why it earned Darth Vader comparisons with it’s stealth-black sense of dread punctuated by the bright beams of orange-red. Now, with the upcoming Only Watch auction in November, TAG Heuer have created a thrilling homage to the original reference packed full of modern technology and artistry.

The dial

Looking at the dial of the Only Watch Carbon Monaco, there almost seems to be infinite detail. A single piece of carbon fibre composite has been painstakingly machined and then hand-finished to create far-reaching struts and braces, echoing the high-tech motoring that TAG Heuer has long been synonymous with. Those struts criss-cross over a view of the Heuer 02 movement, which too has been hand-finished and slightly darkened to match the carbon’s tones and help the highlights really pop. The indices aren’t just lume-filled markers, but solid chunks of Super-LumiNova machined to spec for a powerful after-dark radiance. The hands and skeletonised subdials may not be too far of a departure from any standard Monaco, but that scalding-hot orange hue is spot-on to the original “Dark Lord” to embody that same brooding energy.

The original Heuer Monaco “Dark Lord”

The case

Though it’s not the first time TAG Heuer have released a carbon Monaco, its predecessor being the 2018 Monaco Bamford, this forged carbon fibre case is unique. Although the nature of a forged carbon case is to have a completely unique pattern of grey charcoal swirls, the caseback has been made to allow for an enormous sapphire caseback that gives unobstructed view of the Heuer 02, but more on that later. The 39mm diameter fits well on the wrist but has a deceptively large visual effect, as the square shape allows for much more dial surface to be visible. The sweeping clouds of grey cutting through the black in the carbon case is so evocative, and its incredible hardness and scratch resistance are a massive improvement over the 1970s PVD coating Heuer used.

The movement

There were already a lot of reasons to love the Heuer 02, with the in-house automatic chronograph movement carrying some impressive specs. A whopping 80 hours of power reserve is achieved even with a full 28,800vph beat rate, and it looks great with its skeletonised winding rotor and visible column-wheel. However, the Only Watch edition takes this movement to a completely different level on both performance and aesthetics. The escapement has been upgraded to include the TAG Heuer Institute’s in-house carbon hairspring, which not only improves consistent timekeeping, but also adds extra resistance to magnetism, shock, and temperature sensitivities. That alone would be impressive, but TAG Heuer also teamed up with Artime SA, a company based
around movement decoration, to undertake no less than 25 hours of hand-finishing work on the movement, encompassing 10 different techniques. The most evident of these is the graté chequered pattern, really honing in on that motorsport heritage.

The strap

You’re reading this right, that is not a bracelet. Although at a glance it almost looks like it could be made of rubber or a rough PVD coating, the strap is actually an ordinary leather strap which has been heat-pressed into the form of an H-link bracelet. The effect is quite clever, as it adds enough special detail for this one-off watch without taking away too much attention from the striking head of the watch.

The verdict

The original “Dark Lord”

The Only Watch auction is scheduled to take place in Geneva on November 6th, where 99% of the funds raised will be put towards research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy. There have already been some amazing unique pieces unveiled by a lot of brands, but this Monaco is my favourite so far. Whoever ends up with this on their wrist will be an incredibly lucky person.