TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary
The TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary is the latest model produced by the avant-garde Swiss watch brand since announcing a new ‘global partnership’ with Gulf Oil International. This timepiece harnesses many of the design codes of the first Monaco, released in 1969, but incorporates two eye-catching stripes on the dial.
This detailed review of the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary includes live images, specification details and pricing.
Calibre 11 – the world’s first self-winding chronograph?
During the 1960s the popularity of automatic watches was on the ascent. Meanwhile, the demand for hand-wound chronographs was in decline. This was of concern to Jack Heuer, Managing Director of Heuer-Leonidas (the company we know today as TAG Heuer).
Jack Heuer wanted to produce an automatic chronograph, potentially a world-first. However, up to that point, pairing a self-winding movement with a chronograph module would have led to an impractically bulky case.
Around 1963, Buren, a specialist movement company, unveiled a new calibre featuring a microrotor. Heuer approached the venerable module specialist, Dubois-Dépraz, a supplier to Heuer-Leonidas at the time, and asked about combining the Buren microrotor movement with a chronograph mechanism from Dubois-Dépraz. Unfortunately, the cost of the project was CHF 500,000, a colossal sum in 1967, making the project unviable.
Undeterred, Jack Heuer approached Willy Breitling of the eponymous watch company and the two companies agreed to share the research and development costs. Breitling, Buren, Dubois-Dépraz and Heuer-Leonidas established a project team and began developing the ‘world’s first self-winding wrist chronograph’. The project was shrouded in secrecy and was codenamed ‘Project 99’.
Two years later, the movement was ready for release. The name of the movement was the ‘Chronomatic’, a nomenclature which Breitling continued to use for many years. However, Heuer-Leonidas would soon refer to the movement as the Calibre 11, a name which continues to endure. The final movement was of modular construction and featured a microrotor. Unusually, the winding crown was positioned on the left side of the case.
As Jack Heuer stated in his autobiography, ‘….the best place for the winding crown was on the left side of the case, while clients were of course used to seeing a winding crown in its traditional position on the right side of a watch’s case. Initially we all thought a crown on the left side did indeed look weird, but then we decided to turn it into an exclusive and distinctive feature. By having the crown on the left we would in effect be saying: “This chronograph does not need winding every day because it is automatic. The crown is used only for setting the time of day or for readjusting the time if it varies by a minute or so after a certain period, and for this the wearer takes the watch off anyway.” This statement made a lot of sense and we have used it in one form or another ever since.’
In 1969, the same year the Calibre 11 was unveiled, Seiko released its calibre 6139 and Zenith launched the El-Primero, again, both automatic chronograph movements. While there has been much discussion about who was first, in my opinion, this is unimportant as all three companies deserve credit for producing an automatic chronograph.
The birth of the Monaco
While Breitling and Heuer-Leonidas had collaborated on Project 99, they remained competitors. Jack Heuer, a consummate marketeer, was mindful that Breitling would have the same movement and sought a point of differentiation.
Fortunately, one of Heuer’s case suppliers at the time, Piquerez, approached the watch brand. It had conceived a revolutionary square case which was fully water-resistant. Up to this point, square cases were only used for dress watches owing to the risk of water ingress. The square case from Piquerez was patented. Heuer-Leonidas agreed a deal which provided it with exclusive use of the ground-breaking case.
The Calibre 11 would go on to feature within the Autavia and Carrera models but, arguably, its use within the Monaco proved the most revolutionary. Indeed, the Monaco was the first self-winding chronograph housed within the first water-resistant square case. A legend was born and its iconic status remains undiminished.
Jack Heuer tasked Don Nunley, a gentlemen with close ties to the Hollywood film industry, with heightening the awareness of ‘Heuer’ through product placement. Nunley proved very adept at putting Heuer watches on the wrists of numerous stars of the silver screen. However, his most notable success was ‘Le Mans’, the iconic film staring Steve McQueen. Some of the footage was filmed during the legendary ’24 Heures de Mans’ in 1970. The film’s lead character competes in the Le Mans 24 hours, while battling with memories of a fatal accident he witnessed at the year’s previous race.
Heuer supplied the makers of the film with various timing equipment, including stopwatches, timing boards and large pocket chronographs.
Derek Bell and Jo Siffert, both professional racing drivers, were tasked with teaching McQueen how to drive the Gulf-Porsche 917K featured in the film. Apparently, McQueen and Siffert had a close affinity. Siffert, a Swiss national and Porsche driver, had previously signed a sponsorship agreement with Jack Heuer during the latter stages of Project 99. When McQueen had to select racing overalls for the film, he stated he wanted a set like Jo Siffert’s, featuring a prominent Heuer logo. McQueen wore these Heuer branded overalls in the film, placing the company’s name in front of huge numbers of moviegoers. In addition, McQueen needed to wear a watch for filming and promotional shots. Three Heuer Monaco models were duly supplied.
Steve McQueen will forever be associated with the Heuer Monaco watch.
A global partnership
Earlier this year, TAG Heuer announced that it had signed a ‘global partnership’ agreement with Gulf Oil International. This agreement included ‘the development of new activities and new editions’.
Gulf is synonymous with motorsport. Its distinctive orange and blue stripes have adorned the bodywork of numerous racing cars. Therefore, is seemed a logical partner for TAG Heuer, an avant-garde watch company with an impressive motorsport pedigree.
The first watch to be released as part of the ‘global partnership’ is the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary, sporting an arresting dial.
The dial of the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary is very distinctive with its rich, dark shade of blue and sunray motif. Blue is a colour which has always been linked with the Monaco since the inaugural version of 1969, albeit the early models featured a pale blue canvas. On the right hand side of the dial on this latest model, pale blue and vibrant orange stripes embellish the horological vista.
This is not the first time that stripes have been applied in this way. In 2009, TAG Heuer showcased the Monaco Twenty-Four Concept with a production version going on sale the following year. The stripes on these models were similar but obviously the dials did not feature the Gulf logo.
On seeing the images of the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary for the first time, I must admit I was unsure about the dial design. Perhaps it was because I have yearned for a blue-faced Monaco Calibre 11 for a long time and could not imagine the dial in any other colour. However, once I placed the new, dual-branded watch upon my wrist, I readily succumbed to its charms. Indeed, the addition of the stripes confers a wholly different character, but is equally as attractive as its iconic sibling. Ultimately, the choice of dial is a matter of personal taste, however, I would urge would-be wearers to try on this latest version. Quite simply, there is no substitute for on the wrist evaluation.
The rhodium plated hour and minute hands are facetted and lined with luminescent treatment. A slither of red lines each hand near the fulcrum of the dial and this vibrant hue is also employed on the tips of each hand.
Each hour is denoted with a white luminous circlet and red rectangular index. In addition, those indexes at 1, 5, 7 and 11 o’clock are accentuated with elongated horizontal batons. The batons at 2, 4, 8 and 10 o’clock are rectangular in form, but much shorter in length. The horizontally aligned batons imbue the dial with an additional dose of distinctiveness.
The two white registers are square with rounded corners. Small seconds are displayed at 3 o’clock and a 30-minute chronograph counter is positioned at 9 o’clock. The number and position of the registers grants an agreeable balance to the dial. The chronograph second hand is presented in red lacquer and a date display is located at 6 o’clock.
Both the period Heuer and Gulf logos are wonderfully ‘on point’ and underscore the magnificent design of this watch.
Since the first Monaco watch was released in 1969, the case has been subtly refined. For example, in 1998 the case changed to a three-part construction. It has grown ever so slightly to 39mm and, in 2009 the brand moved from Plexiglas to sapphire crystal. Other modifications include changes to the lug design, a move from round pushers to rectangular push-pieces and swapping the solid case-back to an exhibition case-back.
However, despite the passage of time and the various enhancements which have been made to the Monaco, there remains much commonality between the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary and the 1969 original.
The sapphire crystal sits proud of the case-band, effectively cajoling light to flood the dial. I adore the three dimensionality of this model’s glazing. It does not resemble any other watch that I can think of.
While the winding crown was originally positioned on the left hand side of the case to accommodate the original Calibre 11, its location actually makes a lot of sense. If the wearer flexes their left arm, there is less likelihood of the crown gouging the wrist. Furthermore, the location and diagonal trajectory of the rectangular push-pieces further mitigate the risk of chafing the wearer’s arm.
The watch is supplied on a blue perforated calfskin strap with contrasting orange stitching. It is held in position with a quality steel deployant featuring period Heuer branding.
The TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary is fitted with the TAG Heuer Calibre 11, however, this is different from the iconic movement of 1969. While the original Calibre 11, created as part of Project 99, included a microrotor, the modern-day version features a full-sized oscillating weight.
The Swiss made, TAG Heuer Calibre 11 used within this latest special edition watch has a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz) and contains 59 jewels. It includes a rapid date correction and the power-reserve is sufficient to deliver approximately 40 hours of autonomy. The openworked oscillating weight is adorned with Côtes de Genève and a sea of perlage embellishes the surfaces beneath.
I recently listened to a forum of experts discussing iconic design. The consensus was that iconic products need to be instantly recognisable, original, timeless and technically virtuous. The Heuer Monaco of 1969 fulfils all of the above criteria. Furthermore, the movement housed within this iconic watch shares its legendary billing.
However, an iconic product can cast a long shadow, inhibiting future creativity. No designer wants to interfere with a masterpiece and lose the essence of the original. The commercial risk of misplaced artistry is obvious.
The TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary is visually different from most of its forebears. Its dial possesses a unique mien, yet it remains identifiable as a Heuer Monaco. It brims with an abundance of style, but its practicality remains undiminished. The legibility of the indications, the symmetry of the bi-compax layout and the sublime case design proffer persuasive arguments for acquisition.
Does this limited edition share the same iconic status as the iconic Heuer Monaco of 1969? It remains to be seen. However, it does capture much of the allure of an iconic timepiece and adds a smattering of octane-rich modernity with a sizeable dose of day-to-day practicality. If this is a foretaste of what is to come, then the aforementioned ‘global partnership’ should deliver some fascinating new models.
- Model: TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary
- Reference: CAW211R.FC6401
- Case: Stainless steel; dimensions 39mm x 39mm; sapphire crystal to front and case-back; water resistant to 10 ATM (100 metres).
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph.
- Movement: Calibre 11; self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 59 jewels; power reserve = 40 hours approximately.
- Strap: Blue perforated calfskin strap with steel deployant
- Price: £4,750 (RRP as at 17.9.2018)