The Heuer Monaco and the King of Cool
Or, How a Legendary Watch is More Than the Sum of its Parts
TAG Heuer’s history is intrinsically linked with Motorsport. A good deal of the company’s early success can be attributed to their innovations in timepieces for racing: the first ever dashboard chronograph, or the world’s first stopwatch with a precision of 1/100 seconds, Heuer’s Mikrograph. Following these successes, Heuer created the Autavia, which was used as the official stopwatch of the Olympic Games for several years.
Heuer established itself as a maker of robust, sport-capable watches.
The Monaco is very much a product of this image. Toward the end of the 60’s, Heuer were pushing themselves to create the first automatic chronograph movement – the Chronomatic Calibre 11. The plan was to put this movement in a Carrera model, which was Heuer’s best known wristwatch at the time.
However, the Carrera case was too thin to house the new movement without substantial changes to the watch’s case. Heuer considered using the Calibre 11 in an Autavia, then, but were approached by Erwin Piquerez with a freshly-patented design on the first ever waterproof square case (a feat achieved with tension-creating notches on the caseback).
This led to the creation of the Monaco, initially available with blue or grey dials, the world’s first ever waterproof automatic chronograph in a square case. The watch’s crown was on the 9 O’clock side of the case, to remind wearers that it didn’t need winding. It was sold for $200.
But the thing is, innovative design and craftsmanship aren’t enough to guarantee a place in history, even for something as iconic as the Heuer Monaco. Technological firsts are interesting, but not exactly cool.
The 1971 film Le Mans, starring the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen, is a major factor in the Monaco’s legacy. McQueen played Le Mans racing driver Michael Delaney, and though the film found little contemporary success, it gained something of a cult following in later years. While not exactly a masterwork of filmmaking, it’s an excellent sort of time-capsule for motorsport in the 1970’s, remembered fondly for its accuracy.
And accuracy was something McQueen strived for. Speaking with his friend, Grand Prix champion and TAG Heuer ambassador Jo Siffert, McQueen persuaded him to offer up his racing suit – the now iconic white suit with Gulf Oil’s colours and ‘Chronograph HEUER’ on the breast. To complete the ensemble, McQueen decided to pick out a Heuer watch, and being the counterculture hero he was, immediately went for the Monaco’s unique design.
TAG Heuer still use stills from the film in their advertising today, stating that ‘the blue-faced watch and the blue-eyed actor have been linked ever since, a timeless ode to TAG Heuer’s “don’t crack under pressure” attitude.’ The Monaco has been revisited and re-released since its debut, with TAG Heuer even releasing the Monaco Classic in 2009, which featured listed Calibre 11 movements, just like the original.
The Monaco is Steve McQueen’s watch. That’s how people describe it, even now.
No doubt, the Monaco will continue to be in high demand, as long as Steve McQueen continues to be a legend, and as long as we still appreciate brilliantly-made watches. The Monaco is a product of both of those concepts; a stellar example of how both style and innovation are required to stand the test of time. And as a result, it’s arguably the coolest watch ever made.