The List




The List


Heuer Monaco


There is a scene towards the beginning of the Steve McQueen movie. Le Mans, in which the actor’s character, Michael Delaney, drives his 1970s Porsche 911 along the public roads that form part of the famous race track. Despite this being the decade that brought us nylon flares and beige tank tops, McQueen looks as cool as it is possible for a man to be.

Later on in the film he is revealed to be wearing a Heuer Monaco, one of the Swiss manufacturer’s first automatic chronographs. At this moment, when the film was first screened, a horological cult item was born.

There are various stories regarding McQueen’s choice of the watch for this role, ranging from ‘his Rolex was being fixed’ to ‘he was paid to wear it’, but what is certain is that his wearing it greatly contributed to the watch’s iconic status, something that Tag Heuer has increasingly capitalised on in recent years, with reissues and special editions.

However, like the Carrera, the watch we are interested in is the original Heuer-badged Monaco, made prior to the change of name to Tag Heuer. Forget the special editions, the ones with digital backs or fancy mechanisms, this is the one to have and has made it onto The List not purely due to the McQueen connection, but because it is a watch that effortlessly epitomises the distinctive style of the late 1960s/early 1970s, yet it does so without ever appearing vulgar or kitsch.

Re-issues from the 1990s onwards may look the same, but the kudos of having the Heuer rather than Tag Heuer logo on the dial is enough alone to justify the admittedly rather large premium demanded for a vintage edition of one of these watches. This may not be discernible to the man in the street, but such subtle differences, and the knowledge that what is on your wrist is a genuine original Monaco, are not quantifiable in hard financial terms.

Under the skin is the famous Calibre 11 movement, developed in conjunction with Hamilton and Breitling, which lays claim to being the world’s first automatic chronograph movement. It beats at a fairly leisurely 19800 bps, but should provide relatively accurate timekeeping. Modern Monacos have a variety of movements, such as the piggyback Calibre 17 movement used on the current models, but most of them are considerably less desirable than the Calibre 11.

The aesthetics of the Monaco lie firmly in the 1970s, despite the fact that the watch was launched in the preceding decade. Perhaps this is a case of the designers tapping into the zeitgeist, or perhaps it is that they actually defined the zeitgeist, but it remains a pretty watch and has not dated in the way that many of its contemporaries have. Of course, the only model to own is the one with the leather strap and blue face, with chronograph functions (although this almost goes without saying.)

Fundamentally, the Monaco tells a story of a love of motor racing, of the playboy style of the 1970s - the last decade in which ‘jetset’ truly had some meaning prior to its democratisation, yet it does this whilst maintaining a purposeful cool lacking in many modern watches. Just ensure that you are up to the job of complementing it.