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
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.