A LONG ROAD TRAVELLED
TAG Heuer’s popular Monaco wasn’t always as well-received as it is today—as the watch turns 50 this year, let us recount how it beat the odds and gained iconic status
Experience the highs and lows of the TAG Heuer Monaco
It was 3 March 1969, and the very first automatic chronograph was about to take the world by storm. Heuer (what TAG Heuer was known as back then), along with partners Hamilton, Breitling and Dubois-depraz, had been working on the Calibre 11 for the past three years, and it was finally ready to wow the world. Unfortunately for Heuer, the watch in which this calibre was set— the Monaco—received an underwhelming response upon its launch. And it was not just because of the competition it faced in the race to claim the title of the world’s first automatic chronograph—the Monaco, with its square case and left-handed crown, was just a little too unconventional for unimpressed collectors. But 50 years on, the TAG Heuer Monaco and its Calibre 11 have both become industry icons.
“We wanted to create an outstanding and innovative product, something avant-garde. When I saw the square case, I immediately knew it was something special,” said TAG Heuer honorary chairman Jack Heuer about the creation of the Monaco. That said, Jack admits he was not exactly a fan of the design but saw its potential. At the time, square cases were usually only used for dress watches, because the shape made it impossible to make the case water-resistant. Until the Monaco, that is. On top of the fact that it houses the Calibre 11, the Monaco is also the world’s first water-resistant square watch. Paired with the metallic blue dial, red and light-blue hands, and lefthanded crown, the Monaco made the perfect case for thoroughly disruptive watch design.
The Calibre 11 is a much-beloved movement, and is known for being one of three creations that were vying for the title of world’s first automatic chronograph— the other two being the Zenith El Primero and the Seiko 6139. The Calibre 11 employed a modular construction, with a Hamilton-buren base movement and a Dubois-depraz chronograph module, and has since undergone many evolutions.
Given the lukewarm initial reception that the Monaco received, how did it become the icon it is today? The credit is due to the king of cool, American actor Steve Mcqueen, who strapped on the Monaco and climbed into a Porsche in the 1971 film Le Mans, forever sealing the link between the watch and motorsports.
In the years since, the Monaco has stood on its own unique merits and enjoyed numerous remakes, all of which have been snapped up by collectors enamoured of the distinctive watch. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Monaco, TAG Heuer will be launching new versions of the legendary original, along with a commemorative book about it and multiple events to fete the occasion around the world. As at this point in time, the brand has only revealed three out of the five limited-edition commemorative versions of the watch. The Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition references the period in its name with a vintage-inspired colour palette composed of a warm green, grey, reddish-brown and yellow; the Monaco 1979-1989 Limited Edition features a bold red dial and a black calfskin strap punctured with holes lined in red—an ode to the world of speed and style Mcqueen was synonymous with; and the Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition reflects the industrial style of the Nineties, with a largely blue and silvery appearance complemented with a splash of red.
The Monaco has come far from its unceremonious debut, and we’re certain that it will continue to wow collectors the world over.
BIRTHDAY BOYS The image of actor Steve Mcqueen sporting the Heuer Monaco in Le Mans remains etched in the memory of people up till today; the Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition. Opposite: The Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition is the first of five commemorative designs that TAG Heuer will be releasing this year