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TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm

Angus Davies reviews the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm.

This detailed review of the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm includes live images, specification details and price.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

On the 19th November 1932, Jack William Edouard Heuer was born in Bern, Switzerland. Jack would ultimately join the family firm, Heuer, founded by his great-grandfather, ‘Edouard’.

The potential problem with any sibling joining a family company is that they may lack the necessary skills and temperament to succeed. However, throughout his career Jack would prove to be the consummate businessman. Moreover, he had a deep-rooted understanding of watchmaking and the marketing of timepieces.

Jack Heuer retired in 2013, standing down from his role as Honorary Chairman of TAG Heuer. A couple of years ago, I was sent a copy of his autobiography, ‘The Times of My Life’ and received an invite to meet Jack in Geneva for one of his last ever press interviews. Moreover, I was offered the opportunity to have my newly acquired book duly signed. I accepted the offer without hesitation, but sadly fate conspired against the event taking place and I never did manage to meet Jack in person. On previous occasions I had seen the man from afar, slightly star-struck, never venturing near him to ask questions or express my admiration.

Regular readers of ESCAPEMENT will know, I am a die-hard watch enthusiast. However, in a former life, I was a marketing professional and I continue to be fascinated with this area of business. Jack Heuer clearly shared these passions during his working life, but took it to a whole new level.

His autobiography reveals the many challenges and obstacles he encountered throughout his life, as well as his many career highlights. One of those incredible moments was the story of the Calibre 11.

In 1967, Heuer witnessed declining sales of hand-wound chronographs. The general public was increasingly drawn to the convenience of ‘self-winding’ or ‘automatic’ timepieces. Heuer-Leonidas (now TAG Heuer) and Breitling, along with Buren (a movement specialist) and Dubois-Dépraz (a module specialist) joined forces. They began developing a self-winding wristworn chronograph under the codename ‘Project 99’.

As ‘Project 99’ was nearing completion, Jack Heuer, mindful that Breitling was a competitor, sought a further means of differentiating his similarly-powered self-winding chronograph. His idea proved to be inspired, housing the new movement within a new square ‘Monaco’ case. The case was highly innovative as it was fully water resistant and patented by one of Heuer’s case suppliers, Piquerez. Heuer negotiated exclusive use of the case, cleverly creating a further point of differentiation.

With limited funds available for marketing his new watch, Jack formed links with the Formula One motor racing driver, Jo Siffert, and an innovative contractual agreement was put in place between the two parties. The contract with Siffert required the driver to wear branded overalls and a Heuer chronograph during all races. Furthermore, Siffert would have to sport a Heuer decal on his race car. In exchange, Siffert was allowed to purchase discounted products to sell to his colleagues, including other race professionals. He also received an annual fee of CHF 25,000. This agreement was ingenious at the time and led to the company enjoying heightened awareness for this unique watch.

The legend of the timepiece, now called the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm, was reinforced by Steve McQueen wearing the iconic watch in the film ‘Le Mans’ and early examples of this model are now much in demand. In July 2012, the ‘Monaco’ watch worn by Steve McQueen for the still film photography sold for a colossal US$ 650,000.

Over the years, TAG Heuer has released several variants of the Monaco, powered by different movements and sharing some, but not necessarily all, of the aesthetic characteristics of the former great. Recently, the brand revealed a new version of the Monaco, faithfully sharing many of the design aesthetics of the original.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

I never envisaged that I would ever sample the delights of the original Monaco Calibre 11 first hand, resigned to the fact that they are now highly prized and kept in aseptic conditions, shielded from potentially harmful hands. However, a few weeks ago, I had the joy of placing the new re-edition watch upon my wrist, feeling a sense of nostalgia and embracing its array of talents at close quarters.

The dial

A few years ago, faced with a plethora of new watches sporting blue dials, I pondered whether it would be a passing trend. I was wrong on two counts. Firstly, the popularity of blue dials does not appear to be waning as they continue to proffer an abundance of eye-appeal few can ignore. Secondly, I forgot about the gorgeous blue tones of the original Monaco. The fact remains blue is the perfect tincture for any horological creation.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

The blue dial canvas of this new TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm remains as beguiling as ever. It toys delightfully with ambient light, evincing a multitude of shades when held in different positions.

Jack Heuer was obsessed about the readability of the watches bearing his family’s name. The Monaco, despite being incredibly stylish, never sacrificed the virtue of legibility which is synonymous with the brand’s nomenclature. Indeed, in this instance, form and function are contented bedfellows, evident within the first moments of seeing the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm.

I always favour the symmetry proffered by a bi-compax layout and the new TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm indulges this horological foible wonderfully. Tasteful contrast is accorded with silvery-white subdials residing below the neighbouring blue sea. A small running seconds is presented on the subdial at 3 o’clock, whilst opposite a 30-minute chronograph register sits in readiness for the wearer’s call to action.

The palette of colours consists of white, red, blue, black and the silver polished tones of steel. Despite the numerous hues employed, everything sits in accord.

The hour and minute hands feature faceted silvery shades along their flanks and are tipped in red. Gracing the central section of the hands, white luminescent fill defers to an ebullient red tincture near the fulcrum of the dial. The central chronograph seconds hand is also red, proving simple to read and imparting a sense of passion and excitement.

TAG Heuer has masterfully exploited depths with this dial. It is these ‘depths’ which confer interest to a canvas, as any artist will attest. When admiring an exceptional painting, it is the play of light and the creation of apparent depths which proffers realism and value. The applied indexes with their faceted forms bestow a comely charm and lustrous sense of luxury.

A date display is located at 6 o’clock. The black numerals, presented on a white date disc, prove eminently legible. A white circular, printed minute track provides an interesting deviation from the square and straight forms which ubiquitously dominate the aesthetics of this watch.

The case

Presented in a combination of polished and satin-brushed stainless steel, the case measures 39mm x 39mm and appears larger on the wrist than a conventional round case. The crown is located on the left hand flank of the case, a further indication that this was a radical design from the outset. However, the avant-garde aesthetics are not at the expense of practicality and the watch proves comfortable to wear, making it ideal for daily use.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

The chronograph pushpieces are positioned on the right hand flank of the case. They are angled at 45° from the caseband, proving simple to operate whilst not impinging on free movement of the wrist.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

Heuer explored new territory with the revolutionary, square cased Monaco. Back in 1969, it was remarkable to see a water resistant square watch. The new TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm has a maximum water resistance of 100m.

The sapphire crystal sits above the bezel, allowing light to bathe the dial and thereby augmenting the visibility of the various indications.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

The caseback is equipped with a sapphire crystal according a view of the self-winding Calibre 11 movement within.

Another agreeable aspect of this watch is the perforated calfskin leather strap and the deployant featuring the ‘Heuer’ logo. This latter period detail is repeated on the crown and dial and is charming.

The movement

The balance of the Calibre 11 has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz). The movement contains 59 jewels and the power reserve is approximately 40 hours.

TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm - ESCAPEMENT watch blog by Angus Davies

Beneath the partially open-worked oscillating mass, adorned with Côtes de Genève motif, perfect perlage greets the wearer’s eyes.

An aspect I particularly like is the historic ‘Heuer’ name, vibrantly depicted in vivid red on the aforementioned rotor. It reminds me of the blood red racing cars of yesteryear adorned with the iconic Heuer name. Indeed, this is a watch which evokes nostalgia and reminds me of early Formula One cars racing up Saint Devote in adrenalin fuelled pursuit.

Closing remarks

Whether to reintroduce a legendary watch from its former back catalogue is always a difficult decision for a watch company to make. Some collectors may feel it undermines their cherished vintage timepiece. However, I believe TAG Heuer was correct in releasing the new TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39 mm.

There are many watch enthusiasts, myself included, who appreciate the ground-breaking design of the original Monaco, first released in 1969. This timepiece explored new areas of watchmaking, a commercial risk for any company. However, in so doing, Heuer delivered a horological gem which continues to sparkle with an enduring brilliance.

The advent of this new TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39mm, allows those of us lacking the necessary auction-room budget to acquire our own piece of horological history, for the modest sum of £4,450 (RRP as at 9.12.2015).

Returning to the question of whether the original 1969 Heuer Monaco was Jack Heuer’s finest hour, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty. It is clear from reading his autobiography that the man achieved much during his tenure at the eponymously named company, but I have no doubt, there have clearly been many other successes which Jack should be equally proud of.

However, the incredible story of the 1969 Heuer Monaco, its creation and subsequent promotion provides a fascinating lesson for anyone who shares a love of watches and an interest in marketing.

Technical Specification

  • Model: TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Automatic Chronograph 39mm
  • Reference: CAW211P.FC6356
  • Case: Stainless steel; dimensions 39mm x 39 mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph.
  • Movement: Calibre 11; self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 59 jewels; power reserve about 40 hours
  • Strap: Black perforated calf leather strap with steel folding clasp with safety push-button
  • Price: £4,450 (RRP as at 9.12.2015)

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