Since its debut in 1969 with the (then non-TAG) Heuer Monaco 1133B, the Monaco has enjoyed countless iterations from re-editions and tribute pieces, all the way to belt-driven, tourbillon-equipped high-tech versions like the V4 (hands-on here). What we are looking at today is the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 “McQueen” Reference CAW211P, which is interesting for a number of reasons: a) it’s a handsome Monaco in blue, b) it promises to be a worthy re-edition of the original, and c) the price is in line with TAG Heuer’s recent (and indeed very welcome) more competitive pricing strategy.
Fans of TAG Heuer or the Monaco (or, in fact, both) will surely be familiar with the history of this famed square-shaped chronograph – one among only a handful of square dialed watches that managed to catch on. A little refreshing of our memory certainly won’t hurt, though, so let us begin by doing just that.
It was on the 3rd of March, 1969, that Heuer launched what was the first square, water-resistant automatic chronograph – but there was another “big first” to bear in mind: the original Heuer Monaco 1133B was powered by the Chronomatic Calibre 11, which was the first automatic chronograph movement ever offered for sale in the history of watchmaking. Those account for two major premiers and breakthroughs all in just one watch – no wonder, then, that part of the Monaco’s everlasting charm is in part fueled by these accomplishments.
In what is a fascinating example of how history repeats itself, what played a major role in making the Monaco the globally recognized watch icon as we know it today was Heuer’s move to appoint a… you guessed it: brand ambassador. In 1970, Jo Siffert became the first racing driver to be sponsored by a watch brand, and it was with Siffert that the Monaco found its way to the race tracks – and hence into the spotlight.
A year later, Steve McQueen (pictured a bit further above) “insisted on wearing” the Monaco during filming for Le Mans in 1971, which propelled the Monaco from the race track to, well, the race track, but pictured on the big screen. It is no news that brand ambassadors and sponsorships were powerful and effective marketing tools in the ’70s (and before) – it is still fun to see, though, how that applies to watches and watchmaking.
Over the years, starting in 2003, TAG Heuer created a number of tribute pieces to the original 1133B, but other than a 1,000-piece limited run in 2009 for the 40th anniversary of the Monaco, it always – arguably on purpose – avoided debuting something for the masses that was as close as possible to the real deal, the original… until now.
At Baselworld 2015, TAG Heuer quietly launched what we are looking at today, the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Reference CAW211P, and other than few truly very minor differences, it allows Heuer Monaco fans to get a taste of owning the original – at around half the price of what that 1,000-piece limited edition cost before selling out like hot cakes in 2009.
Crown on the left, as on the original: tick. Red-filled hour and minute hands, horizontal indices, and red five-minute markers on the dial: all there. “Calibre 11” in the name: tick. Calibre 11 inside? Nope – that, for obvious reasons, couldn’t happen. What clearly is the biggest difference between the original and the 2015 model is the movement inside: on what is more than likely an ETA-replacement Sellita automatic base, a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module is responsible for the stopwatch function as well as the dual sub-dial layout of the dial on the 2015 TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11.
Having been (considered by many) the first automatic chronograph movement ever, TAG Heuer’s Calibre 11 movement from 1969 is among the few truly noteworthy and important movements that every watch enthusiast should know at least a little bit about… and that is why it is rather confusing why TAG Heuer decided to name a modern movement Calibre 11 – although it is considerably different to the original in more than a few ways – and also to title a modern timepiece “Calibre 11.” Frankly, while tributes and re-editions do great work at keeping traditions and icons well and alive decades after their inception, there is a fine line between paying tribute and causing confusion.
The movement is rather exquisitely decorated – as always at this price point and with comparable calibers, the decoration is nice but, of course, you will find no hand-bevelled edges or other haute horlogerie witchcraft. TAG Heuer decided to go with a sapphire crystal case back – a most welcome change from previous editions’ (and the original’s) solid steel case back. The movement is without a shadow of a doubt nice enough to justify such a deflection from the original – I presume even purists will have to agree.
The movement brings the second notable difference: the sub-dial layout of the square dial comprises a 30-minute chronograph counter at 9 and a running seconds sub-dial at 3 – the original in 1969 had 12-hour and 30-minute counters respectively, with no running seconds anywhere on the watch. Once again, a minor difference that only the most hardcore fans would notice – while the added “animation” from the sweeping hand of the running seconds at 3 is, once again, a welcome modification.
The new TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 dial is more than handsome: in its deep, albeit a bit faded, non-metallic shade of blue, it gets really close to the original – previous versions of the blue-dialed Monaco from 2003 and 2010 featured shiny, metallic blue dials which looked the part, but were a departure from the original. The central hands, as noted above, now feature orange-red lines in their center with polished edges – a really neat combination with the 5-minute markers of the same color around the circular minute track.
The logo on the dial of the new-for-2015 TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 says Monaco and features the vintage Heuer logo – omitting the TAG part of it, being historically accurate with the original from some 46 years ago. TAG came into the picture only much later, in 1985, when the Techniques d’Avant Garde private holding company with stakes in aviation and motorsports industry-related companies, purchased a majority stake in Heuer.
Even the “Swiss Made” text is where it should be, above the square date aperture at 6 – although the original just said Swiss, TAG today felt inclined to spell it all out for you. Despite such extremely minor differences in the fine print section, the 2015 version does stellar work at replicating the charm and easy elegance of the racing-inspired dial of the original.
The case of the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 measures 39 by 39 millimeters – that is one millimeter over the original and the 1,000-piece tribute from 2009. Beyond mere dimensions, the case replaces the rounded pushers of the original with square-shaped ones, adds larger lugs, and features a raised sapphire crystal on the front.
While it may look simple at first, the square-ish cushion shaped case, the sharp, completely vertical case profile, the stubby, defined lugs, and the instantly noticeable crown and pusher placement all make the Monaco stand out from the rest – while the raised sapphire crystal really is just the icing on the cake. The case feels and looks robust and yet also elegant and, if we may say so, relevant today in its unusual way. Attached to the steel case is a perforated calfskin strap with a deployant buckle, sporting the vintage Heuer logo for that added bit of vintage flair.
It took 46 years for TAG Heuer to get so close to essentially re-releasing the original Monaco – as there is no real visual difference – but in 2015, that is exactly what has happened. If you want the charm of the original Calibre 11, you will have to go vintage – but go with the new, and enjoy the better quality materials, beautiful execution, arguably greater long-term reliability, and the fact that you can put the miles on it yourself.
Article courtesy of ablogtowatch.com.
See more timepieces from TAG Heuer at Deutsch & Deutsch Jewelers in Laredo, McAllen, El Paso, and Houston, Texas.