The Heuer Monaco

At the end of the 1960’s while discussing designs for new motor sport related watches, Heuer decided to build a less traditional timepiece that Jack Heuer described as “something out-of-the-box” and “avant-garde”.

The first Heuer Monaco was launched at the 1969 Basel fair as the world’s first waterproof automatic chronograph with a square case ands a price tag of $200 – it came in two colours, the  1133B (blue) and the 1133G (grey) – The first photo above is an early 1133B that I was lucky enough to have on my wrist a few years ago.

The Monaco wasn’t an immediate success, as avant-garde designs rarely are, but its fortunes were changed forever when Steve McQueen, ‘The King of Cool’, wore one during the filming of 1970’s motor racing movie “Le Mans”.  In the cult movie, McQueen wore racing overalls with a large Heuer logo on the chest and a blue Monaco on his right wrist.  From that point on, the 1133B became one of the most iconic wristwatches ever made and photo 2 above is one of the most famous wristwatch photo’s ever taken.

Unfortunately, iconic status doesn’t guarantee sales success and due partly to its unusual shape and partly to rising prices in the USA, only around 5000 were made before the Monaco disappeared from the Heuer catalogue in 1975.  In 1985 when TAG bought the Heuer company, creating ‘TAG Heuer’, they didn’t show much interest in the heritage of the collection.  However, this changed in 1997 when TAG Heuer decided to produce a ‘Re-edition’ collection of the Carrera and the Monaco.

The 1997 CS2110 was not actually a true re-edition because for some unknown reason, rather than reproducing the 1133B, TAG Heuer chose to develop a new dial design for the relaunched series – it was black for a start and the dial positions were different (see photo 3 above).

They had another go with the CW2112 “McQueen” blue dial model in 2003 (photo 4 above) but changed the placement of the hour markers, omitted the red 5-minute hash marks, used red rather than black sub-dial hands and put the crown on the right rather than left – it was the first blue dialled Monaco for years and has become a classic in its own right but it left purists wanting the real re-issue that the line lacked.

TAG Heuer tried to plug this gap in 2009 with the 40th anniversary limited edition of 1000 watches known as the ‘McQueen reissue’ and designated CAW211A – the watch returned for the first time to the two sub dialled design and looked like a winner.  if only they had used the correct shade of blue for the dial… (photo 5 above). Nevertheless, the watch was a genuine limited edition and has become highly collectible in its own right. The dial and caseback are branded ‘Heuer’ and Jack Heuer’s signature and an inscription reading ‘In tribute to Steve McQueen’ are also on the back. Incidentally, buyers also received a special presentation box and a Steve McQueen book for their $10,000.

It wasn’t until 2015 that TAG Heuer finally got the Steve McQueen Monaco right, and this time rather than an expensive limited edition the CAW211P was released as part of the standard production run at a price much lower than its predecessor.  The colour of the dial is right as are the number and design of the sub dials and really only the slightly larger 39mm square case and the pushers differ from the original – finally. (see photo 6).

While most Monacos are based around the historic Heuer originals, TAG Heuer hasn’t stopped developing the models, although admittedly the modern versions are produced in smaller numbers and are somewhat less popular than the one that Steve wore.

The first modern Monaco was the V4 which was launched as a prototype at Basel in 2004. The name V4 refers to the V-shaped main plate which carries the four barrels mounted in two adjacent pairs on ball bearings, reminiscent of the cylinders in a Formula 1 engine.  Rather than using a rotational movement to maintain power, the V4 uses a belt transmission and linear weight moving on a straight rail, redesigning the standard watch movement.  The first Monaco V4 was awarded the Red Dot Design Award in Germany, the Watch of the Year prize by Wallpaper magazine and the Best of What’s New prize by Popular Science magazine. (Photo 7).  With early examples selling for upwards of £50,000, this is a very special Monaco indeed.

The modern design was brought into the mainstream at Baselworld 2006 when the V4 inspired Monaco Calibre 360 LS (Linear Second) was launched.  The chronograph layout has been extensively rethought with a linear second indicator at 3 o’clock using an exclusive hairspring technology, a first of its type.  These days Monaco LS models are available across a similar price range to the standard Monacos. (photo 8)

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