Driving Since 1969: The TAG Heuer Monaco

As we usher in a new year, we reflect on how much difference a year (or several) can make when comparing one watch to its predecessors. This week, WatchTime looks back on three iconic watches that demonstrates how a classic timepiece changes over time. We’ve already spotlighted the Rolex Submariner and IWC Mark; we wrap up with the TAG Heuer Monaco.

Linking a watch to a sport seems to increase its potential to become a cult object, so it’s no surprise that the third icon in this group is a watch tied to a specific sporting event, the Monaco Grand Prix. The watch, called the Monaco, was introduced in 1969 as one of the world’s first chronographs with a self-winding movement. Jack Heuer, CEO of Heuer, as it was then called, was a pioneer of sports sponsorship. He ensured that well-known racecar drivers were outfitted with the sporty-looking chronograph: that’s how Steve McQueen ended up wearing the Monaco in the 1971 film Le Mans without having any prior discussion with the Heuer watch brand. McQueen modeled his character after the Swiss driver Jo Siffert, who had recently begun wearing the Heuer logo on his racing suit and a Monaco on his wrist.

The Monaco of 1969 followed the design codes of the late ’60s and early ’70s: colorful dial, subdials in contrasting colors and a case that wasn’t round. The transverse markers were an original addition and were clearly a choice of design over legibility. The case was eye-catching not only because of its rectangular shape but also because the crown was on the left – a peculiarity of automatic Caliber 11, which Heuer developed in conjunction with Breitling, Büren Watch and Dubois Dépraz. The leather strap was perforated, which was common for watches inspired by motorsports.

TAG Heuer Monaco - 1969
The original Monaco of 1969 is one of the world’s first automatic chronographs and had a distinctive crown on the left side of the case.

When the new version of the Monaco was introduced in 2002, Heuer had already joined the TAG (Techniques d’Avant Garde) group; the brand had been known as TAG Heuer since 1985. Accordingly, the logo on the dial was different from the one on the original Monaco. But a more important design change was the introduction of more legible hour markers. The case had detailed brushed and polished surfaces to add interest, and more complex, shaped pushers with protective sides  replaced the simple push-buttons on the original model. TAG Heuer also upgraded the strap to an elegant alligator-leather version. Other changes were the result of using a different movement: now the case housed ETA chronograph Caliber 2894. The crown was now in the conventional position on the right side, between the pushers, and the subdials showed elapsed minutes and running seconds instead of elapsed hours and minutes. But despite the changes, the Monaco retained its signature look after so many years. It was less spectacular and more elegant, but the new model in no way denied its birth in the 1970s.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 12 Steve McQueen - 2002
The 2002 model has radially placed hour markers, a crown on the right and shaped pushers.

In 2009 the Monaco celebrated its 40th birthday. A new model was introduced that had transverse hour markers on its dial once again. And, thanks to a module from Dubois Dépraz, the crown moved back to its original position on the left side of the case. The watch again had a sporty-looking, perforated leather strap. Even the original Heuer logo returned to the dial. You can’t do any more than that to recall the origins of an icon. The new version was considered an all-around success.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 12 40th Anniversary - 2009
The anniversary model of 2009 celebrates the Monaco’s 40th birthday and closely approximates the original model.

The most recent version of the Monaco appeared in 2012. It kept the shape of the case, the historical Heuer logo and the perforated strap, but returned to the radially placed hour markers from the 2002 version. And to emphasize its automotive history, racing stripes were added to the dial, making the newest Monaco the sportiest model so far. Although the deviation from the original design may appear dramatic, the latest version can be seen as a logical development toward a sportier look. The new design fulfills a specific purpose – namely, to develop a new facet of the classic watch. It’s what every new edition should do; otherwise, we’d all stick with the original design forever.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Steve McQueen Edition - 2012
The latest version of the Monaco from 2012 has radial markers and racing stripes on the dial.

For more on iconic design in the watch world, download our WatchTime Special Design Issue 2015 for $9.95 in the WatchTime online store.

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