Credit: Tag HEUER
Today the association of TAG Heuer with motor-racing is obvious. However, there was in fact a time where these connotations were anything but customary – before the TAG Group’s acquisition of Heuer in 1985.
The Heuer Monaco was introduced at the Basel watch fair in 1969 (for us watch lovers, referring to Basel as a thing of the past is still somewhat difficult) by Jack Heuer, and was arguably the first automatic chronograph ever produced. Whilst this remains a highly contentious topic, the Monaco was without a doubt the first to have a fully waterproof square case.
The newly developed (and surprisingly thick) Calibre 11 movement was originally intended for the Heuer Carrera, however this proved to have too thin a case for the job. Capitalising on the unfavourable situation, Heuer toyed with the idea of developing a new, “out-of-the-box” design to house the Calibre 11. Enticed by the proposal of industrial watch case maker Erwin Piquerez to purchase the rights to his newly developed (and patented) square case design, Heuer decided to take a substantial risk. The resulting watch was the original Heuer Monaco Calibre 11.
Credit: Tag HEUER
Despite the Basel launch, the Monaco ultimately proved to be too avant-garde for its time, with initial sales figures suggesting a very troubled start for the watch. But that wasn’t to be the end of the aptly named Monaco. In 1971 “Le Mans” was released on the big-screen starring the “King of Cool”, Steve McQueen, and on his wrist was the Heuer Monaco. Despite being considered in the world or motorsports as a racing driver first and foremost and an actor second, McQueen is recognised as one of the first “actor ambassadors” ever in film.
So how exactly did the Monaco make its way into Hollywood? To make the film as thematically accurate as possible, the “Le Mans” production crew were in need of timing instruments such as lap boards, stopwatches and chronographs. Hollywood property master Don Nunley subsequently reached out to Jack Heuer in an attempt to obtain such items prior to filming.
On set, racing drivers Jo Siffert and Derek Bell were hired to train McQueen on the iconic Porsche 917K, the famous Gulf liveried car which was as much of a star in the movie as the actor himself. McQueen based his character off of Siffert, demanding he look identical to the Swiss driver. Siffert proceeded to supply racing suits for the film (boldly emblazoned with the Heuer logo on the chest), and it was after this moment that McQueen was offered a selection of watches to choose from. The star was originally handed an Omega, however rejected the watch, opting for a Heuer instead. At the time, McQueen was unfamiliar with the brand, and yet in choosing to wear the Monaco unknowingly entwined the watchmaker’s name with motorsports indefinitely. Additionally, in choosing a Heuer the actor also saved the production team from what could have been an unfortunate mishap in film continuity, with Heuer branding on his racing suit yet an Omega on his wrist!
In 2015 TAG Heuer released a faithful reissue of the original Calibre 11, a watch that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. I was lucky enough to order a Monaco of my own at the tail end of 2019, hence, I can (rather childishly) claim to be a part of the 50th anniversary milestone of the iconic watch (although I should mention that mine was in fact delivered in January 2020… but we can ignore that!). My Monaco is without a doubt my favourite toy in the watchbox that stands on my dresser (for now at least). To me it is the perfect representation of my love for both motorsports and classic cinema, and in particularly for Steve McQueen, a true style icon for the ages. The bold square case and tall slab of sapphire crystal are without a doubt the standout features of the watch, and the perforated leather strap is a reminder of the racing heritage of the Monaco. The re-edition faithfully features the crown on the left side of the case, originally placed here to remind wearers that the watch does not require manual winding. A nice touch. Oh yeah, the watch is also named after my favourite place in the world, the principality of Monaco – another small reason why I love this piece.
I’ve heard many people complain about the wearability of this watch, yet I fail to find common ground with most of them. I will say that you definitely shouldn’t consider ownership of a Monaco if it is to be your only watch, in turn I would therefore say it is not a suitable daily wearer. However, that opinion is not down to an uncomfortable wrist presence, as I have been wearing mine very regularly since I acquired it and not once has the watch been difficult to wear in terms of comfort. Instead I say this due to its dimensions. Transitioning from round faced timepieces to one which is square can be tricky as the watch wears slightly larger than its 39x39mm dimensions for obvious reasons. Furthermore, its height of almost 15mm is significant, and fitting the watch under a shirt/jacket cuff can be a real challenge, not to mention walking through doorways or past table corners in haste (thankfully mine is so far unscathed from any major dings or scratches).
But if like me, you have a love for motorsports and style icons of a bygone era, then this is without a doubt a watch for your collection. My 16.5cm wrist also debunks the theory that the Monaco is “too big”, as it fits perfectly on me without looking oversized. It’s also a watch that never fails to attract comments. Wherever I go, regardless of my company, the watch never fails to draw attention and receive a compliment or two.
Above all else, from the moment of its release in Basel and its stardom in “Le Mans” to being right here on my wrist, the TAG Heuer Monaco is a conversation starter.