When you think of TAG Heuer, what do you think of? Racecar drivers? That funky red-and-green logo? Sports watches? Possibly all of these things cross your mind, but for many of us it’s all about the 1969 Heuer Monaco, and the man who, coincidentally, made the watch famous: Steve McQueen. The TAG Heuer (formerly just Heuer) Monaco is a watch steeped in legend that many brands can only hope their pieces might one day achieve. While I would love to share my own experiences with the myth, I would much prefer to take a look at the modern-day Monaco, a watch I feel can very much speak for itself, even without Mr. McQueen.
The semi-square, 39-mm modern-day Monaco, with the Calibre 12 automatic chronograph movement, is plainly an interesting watch. In a variety of ways, this piece is unique: the sunburst blue dial, the tiered chronograph pushers, the raised sapphire crystal — if you want a watch as a conversation piece, this would surely fit the bill. The watch also has a small date window just above the six o’clock position, a water resistance of 100 meters (on par with TAG Heuer’s standards for its watches), and it’s all finished with a brushed steel case on a blue alligator strap. TAG Heuer lists this watch at $5,350, a mid-range price for the brand, and one I’m guessing it justifies by citing the model’s heritage and recent popularity.
To be honest, it’s not very often that am I more impressed by a modern watch than I am by its vintage counterpart, but the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 12 is one of those watches. It does a very good job of not only incorporating many of the aspects that made the original piece special, but in updating some aspects to address many of its initial flaws. The biggest update from the first Monaco (which actually took place way back in the 1970s) was the transition from the first automatic Caliber 11 movement to the much more precise Caliber 12. Another change, in line with today’s tastes, is that the modern Monaco now has a clear sapphire caseback displaying that movement.
Overall, the watch seems to have fit into its persona: the hands look cleaner without the red highlights, the hour markers seem to have purpose being on a diagonal instead of a horizontal, and the case now has a level of finishing that matches the price TAG Heuer is charging. The only issue I would take with the watch is the current crown position on the right side of the case rather than on the left. The original 1969 model featured a reverse-facing Buren microrotor base movement, and the the crown re-positioning it necessitated became unmistakably “Monaco.” Vintage Heuer fanatics have embraced this new Monaco nevertheless, but to me it’s a shame that part of the model’s heritage is being ignored.
The next watch we’ll take a look at is the more modernly interpreted TAG Heuer Monaco 24. This watch has several functions unique to it and not previously seen in the Monaco series. Namely, the movement has shifted again, from Caliber 12 to the Caliber 36, which ticks at a high frequency of 36,000 vph. (Caliber 36 uses Zenith’s famous El Primero chronograph caliber as its base.) The dial holds much more steel, and is a part of an intricate two-part, mirrored system for better readability. This watch also boasts something called an “Advanced Dynamic Absorber” system, which supposedly does better work of protecting the watch during more violent use. Other features to notice are the further-altered chronograph pushers, curved date window, and the “Le Mans” “24” tribute at the 12 o’clock position. TAG Heuer prices this watch at $13,550, making it one of the most expensive men’s watches the brand produces.
The Monaco 24, in my opinion, is the luxury sports watch TAG Heuer has always wanted to make. A quick glance at the watch shows that, outside of case shape, it is not all that recognizable as a part of the Monaco line. Naturally it still has the chronograph, and the same general color scheme and hands, but the dial and all its inner workings have very little correlation to the original watch. I do not, however, think any of this is for the worse; the Monaco has always prided itself on being a cool, funky, even futuristic-looking piece, and the ‘24’ seems to embrace much of that philosophy. Do I think the price tag is a bit much? Sure, but TAG Heuer took a risk in designing its most luxurious piece to fit within a historical (what I would call no less than iconic) watch series, and to an extent succeeded, but the result is still a watch that stands on its own.
I’m confident in saying that if Steve McQueen wore an Autavia or a Carrera in “Le Mans” instead of a Monaco, I would be writing about one of those watches instead. (The watch McQueen wore on the set of the movie sold for just under $800,000 in 2012.) And let’s not forget that the Monaco, a piece many associate with race car drivers, has never in its 46-year history even had the necessary tachymeter scale to make it a “true” racing watch. And for the same price, I would much prefer to buy the vintage-inspired Carrera Calibre 18. And yet, besides all of this, the TAG Heuer Monaco is a watch with an undeniable cool factor. Very few timepieces better encapsulate what a brand stands for, and this thick, squared, blue-dialed horological innovation does just that. Everybody wants a distinctive watch, and TAG Heuer has delivered one here.
Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage and antique watch boutique theoandharris.com. Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.