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Monaco: From Heuer to TAG Heuer, the Legend’s Still Alive

Anna Wu-Chauvineau
Le 12 September 2017
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Morning rises and the sun extends its piercing rays. An odor of engine oils and exhaust fumes covers the track and the surrounding groves. Michael Delanay puts on his racing suit. The history of the Heuer Monaco begins…

The launch of Heuer Monaco

One Movement, One Case

At the end of the 1960’s, the dream of a watch with an automatic mechanical movement was becoming reality. Jack William Heuer, fresh from time spent in the U.S., knew that the launch of an automatic chronograph would change the watch world forever.

What came next was inevitable. An automatic mechanical movement, born out of an emblematic collaboration between Buren, Dubois Depraz, and Breitling. (Quick reminder: Buren timepieces were know for their Micro-rotor movements, the Depraz company were working with movements since the beginning of the century, and Breitling…quite frankly needs no introduction.)

The fruits of labour from this partnership was the Caliber 11, a micro-rotor movement equipped with a chronograph module.

Heuer’s other big success at the time was the Carrera. Pretty simple and clear chronographs, hand-wound, and easily identifiable. Some references are highly sought after today, particularly those of the 1960’s. Heuer intended to use Carrera models to incorporate this movement. But the problem laid in the size of the cases, too small to house the movement. Having spent some big bucks in the development of the Caliber 11, Heuer abandoned the idea and the movement was incorporated into the Autavia.

An industrial creator of the case, Piquerez, under the request of Heuer, made an interesting proposal. Indeed, this one proposes a square box, with a specific bottom possessing 4 small hooks making it possible to make it as secure as possible, by creating pressure against the edges of this same case. Exclusively for Heuer. The Caliber 11 incorporated in this new box, the Monaco is born. Historically at the same time as the Autavia with the new caliber.

Originally destined for the other big Heuer success, the relatively understated hand-wound Carrera, the Caliber 11 movement proved to be too big to be housed inside this chronograph and found refuge in the Autavia instead.

Shortly after, and at Heuer’s request, watch case specialist Piquerez made a unique proposition, exclusively for Heuer: an innovative square watch case that would secure the movement even more with 4 tiny hooks holding it in place inside. And with the Caliber 11 nicely snug inside its brand new square case, the Monaco was born.

The Monaco in detail

Monaco Heuer

Besides its very original square case shape, the Monaco has other interesting features…of course. For starters, you’ll find the crown on the left side of the case instead of the right. According to Heuer, it was to show no winding was necessary anymore…you know, since it’s an automatic movement. Certainly.

What is nice about this case, apart from its shape, is that the case back is “nested” in the rest of the block. This back is well made with many facets, and fairly marked curves, which is a pleasant touch to the ensemble. This watch is in face full of curves, whether it be the arched “bezel” part, or the slightly arched glass. The six-faceted pushers bring a geometric dimension to the watch.

You have here before you the reference 1133B (for Blue), yes Sir, the same watch that Steve McQueen had on in the film Le Mans. The original model differs in the text inscribed on the dial. Above the logo Heuer, “Chromatic” was written, and “Monaco” appeared above the date window. A grey dial also exists in this reference under 1133G.

Le Mans, more than just another racing film

Heuer - Le Mans

So how did the Monaco Heuer land on the wrist of Steve McQueen to become the iconic piece it is today? McQueen who never left home without his Submariner 5512 or his Hanhart 417 chronograph…

In 1971, Lee Katzin finished producing Le Mans. A shoot that wasn’t without surprises and great difficulties. This was the film for which Steve McQueen would surpass himself and become legendary.

After his period in the U.S., Jack Heuer knew to promote certain models like the Autavia or Monaco, equipped with the new Caliber, by publicising them at Formula 1 races. Swiss racing driver Jo Siffert was a natural choice as “ambassador” of Heuer. He, along with a number of other racing drivers, served as stunt doubles for McQueen for certain risky or dangerous scenes.

Legend has it that McQueen, upon seeing Siffert in full racing gear with his Autavia, demanded to be dressed the same for the film. This explains the white Gulf/Heuer auto racing suit and the Heuer timepiece. McQueen is seen with the Monaco because he quite simply preferred the design, and second, it was the safe choice since there were 3 models available on the set, just in case.

Heuer - Le Mans

Long live Monaco…through TAG Heuer

After the release of the rare and legendary “Dark Lord” Monaco, with its strong identité thanks to black PVD, the production of Monaco pieces would come to a standstill.

Then the TAG Group (Technique d’Avant Garde) would buy up most of Heuer’s stocks, thus creating TAG Heuer. This was the jump start needed to fire up production of the square chronograph again. From 1988 several variations would be produced.

First the famous series “CS” in various models that didn’t exactly follow the original design of Monaco, but the spirit is there, and “Heuer” is of course written on the dials. On the one hand the crown is at three o’clock, and the case is “completely” square, whereas before they were “slightly” rectangular (40mm x 38mm).

After the acquisition of TAG Heuer by LVMH in 1999, the first model created was the reference CW2113, which in my opinion breathes the original Monaco. Two counters (although different, by the presence of a small second at 3 o’clock), an automatic chronograph, the shape of the hands, and the red color of the central hand.

Unfortunately, in 2004, Steve would turn in his grave. Several times. A “V4” version of the Monaco is presented. Certainly the movement is nice, manufacture-made, and is a technical feat. That being said, the case no longer looks like previous ones as you can clearly see above.

Monaco Heuer

We’d like to end on a positive note. A recent edition was released in 2015, and one that resembles the original model… The watch is an icon, both in its movement and its case, and we can’t help but to think of Steve McQueen as well as Jo Siffert, both still among us, despite everything…

Long live the spirit of the Monaco!