TAG Heuer Monaco Introduction
The race-inspired Monaco is one of the most iconic watches ever produced. Its square waterproof case, loaded with the world’s first automatic chronograph movement, immediately raised eyebrows. As happens in racing, sales were tantamount to a career-ending crash but over time, the Monaco roared back as one of the most collectible timepieces in history.
TAG Heuer Monaco History
The Monaco was produced by Heuer long before the company became known as TAG Heuer. Heuer joined the “Project 99” joint venture that included Breitling to develop the world’s first automatic chronograph movement. The calibre 11 movement was born and Heuer set out to design a watch that would be revolutionary both inside and out.
Heuer secured rights to a square waterproof case, another first of its kind, that would later be described as the “perfect housing for our avant-garde Monaco.” The intentional affect was to startle and Heuer succeeded. The first Monaco (ref 1133B and G) debuted in 1969 and was met with an enthusiastic, though short-lived, reception. The watch was groundbreaking in every way – a square 38mm sharp-edged steel case, the left-side crown with pushers on the right, the vibrant blue 2-register dial and the high legibility hands and markings designed for racers. It truly captured the spirit of the Formula 1 race for which it was named.
When Steve McQueen wore the Monaco 1133B in the 1971 film, Le Mans, the spotlight once again shone on the watch. The Monaco ended up on Steve McQueen’s wrist in Le Mans in part because it was commercially unsuccessful. McQueen requested a Heuer since the racing suit he wore bore the company’s logo. When the prop master requested the watch, Heuer had ample inventory and was able to provide three identical 1133B watches to use in race scenes, still photos and as a backup.
Heuer soon introduced the 1533 with the calibre 15 movement, the hand-wound version (ref.73633) with a right-side crown and finally, the limited all-black “Dark Lord” (ref. 74033N) that closed the first chapter of the Monaco’s run. It was not exactly the checkered flag Heuer hoped to capture.
In 1999, the green flag waved once again for the TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph as a 5,000 unit re-edition Monaco (ref.CS2110) launched. The familiar case design had the crown positioned at 3 o’clock and a black dial with the vintage Heuer logo. The watch sold out and TAG Heuer quickly iterated the line. In subsequent years, the Monaco’s design evolved, though it never strayed dramatically from the original. After several right-side crown models, TAG Heuer released the Monaco Calibre 11 in 2015 with the original movement, a left-side crown and the vintage aesthetic. Since then several new TAG Heuer Monaco men’s watch versions have appeared, featuring new movements including quartz and a 37mm ladies version.
Features of the TAG Heuer Monaco
The steel case appears square but is actually slightly rectangular at 40mm X 38mm; the 2003 model CW2113 was truly a 38mm square.
Automatic watches have always been the most finely tuned workhorses available.
The calibre 11 movement was born and Heuer set out to design a watch that would be revolutionary both inside and out.
The Monaco’s defining features are its square case and blue dial. Early versions were also offered with a grey dial and modern models feature both vintage colors along with black, brown and a Gulf Oil 3-tone pattern.
The Monaco typically appears with rounded 2- and 3-register variations, but TAG recently introduced a 3-hand version. Hands feature a hint of color and luminous paint, as do the hour markings on most models. The steel case appears square but is actually slightly rectangular at 40mm X 38mm; the 2003 model CW2113 was truly a 38mm square.
The combination of the curved vertical sides, the rounded registers and the circular path of the hour and minute markers creates a dramatic and surprisingly satisfying visual impact. Beginning with the Calibre 11 to the current Calibre Heuer 02, the engines inside TAG Heuer Monaco automatic watches have always been the most finely tuned workhorses available.
TAG Heuer Monaco Collectability
Vintage Heuer Monaco watches are highly sought after by collectors and watch enthusiasts. It is estimated that fewer than 4,500 were produced between 1969 and 1975. The original Chronomatic 1133B is the most rare and valuable, as it was only produced in 1969. The transitional 1133B that followed is essentially the same watch. A watch that originally sold for $200 in 1970 commands tens of thousands of dollars today. Vintage 1533s and hand-wound versions are also in great demand.
With any vintage Monaco, beware of case modifications, particularly sharp edges that have been polished, flaking paint on the dials of the calibre 11 and 13 and casebacks that do not carry the starburst pattern or “Tool No. 033” engraving. Used modern versions including numerous limited editions are also excellent investment pieces, as are new TAG Heuer Monaco watches that can be acquired for a fraction of the cost of a good vintage model.
From time to time, watch brands will manufacture a "unique piece," meaning a special one-off version of a famous model. In 2019, TAG Heuer did exactly this with their Monaco Piece d'Art. The Monaco Piece d'Art was sold at an auction in New York, with all proceeds going towards the United Way of New York City. This very special Monaco featured a display caseback, which is usually not seen with the Monaco. The display caseback allows a clear view of the incredible hand-finished Calibre 11 chronograph movement powering the Monaco Piece d'Art. The bridges were engraved with a '60s-style font spelling out the name and specifications of the movement. These bridges were newly made to a thicker measurement than usual, to allow for the deep engravings.
The complexity and three-dimensional depth of this beautiful movement is extraordinary, paying tribute to the history of the Monaco. To top it off, the date disc was changed to one with bright red numbers. The Monaco Piece d'Art also included a special loupe, display case, artwork and historical book signed by Jack Heuer himself. For the serious TAG Heuer fan, this may be the ultimate Monaco.