The King of Cool
The TAG Heuer Monaco has often been heralded as one of the most iconic and recognisable watches in the world, thanks in part to it’s long association with Steve McQueen.
We are going to delve in to discover what exactly makes the Monaco screech away from the pack and whether its legendary status is warranted.
If its good enough for McQueen its good enough for us
While it is true that Steve McQueen wore the TAG Heuer Monaco during the classic racing movie Le Mans, the story behind how it ended up on his wrist isn’t as cut and dry as the modern day advertisements may lead us to believe. It all began with a hot shot Formula 1 driver named Jo Siffert in 1968 and the first ever ambassador partnership between a professional sportsman and a watch company. Having just beaten the likes of the legendary Jackie Stewart to the podium at the British Grand Prix, Siffert was the next big thing in motor racing and a well known watch lover. Jack Heuer seized this opportunity by offering Siffert a yearly payment to have the Heuer crest displayed on his overalls during each race as well as wearing a Heuer watch which was most often the Autavia. As part of the deal Siffert was even allowed to buy all of the Heuer products at wholesale prices and sell them on in the pit before and after races, which he did very successfully making them a common sight on the track. Then came a call from the film prop manager for Le Mans Don Nunley who asked Jack Heuer if he could send several watches to show the films directors and stars. At the time Heuer were more famous for their pocket and stop-watches and an Omega wristwatch was originally presented to McQueen who quickly rejected it on the basis that he didn’t want them to use his name to sell watches. I’m sure the irony is not lost on you. Then when Jo Siffert was hired as a stunt driver for the movie, he and McQueen became close and apparently one day he points to Siffert in his white racing suit with Heuer logo and states ‘I want to look like that’. Yet it was the Autavia that Siffert wore as it was better suited for racing however the only watch that Nunley had three copies of was the Monaco which he needed one for McQueen to wear, one for photography and one as a back up. So a couple of random twists of fate lead to the Monaco becoming the iconic watch it is today. Had Heuer supplied three version of another model it would of most likely ended up the ‘McQueen’ watch and not the Monaco. So whether or not it was exactly his choice to wear the Monaco it will always be endorsed by the king of cool by association.
The ‘First’ self-winding chronograph
The fantastic Caliber 11 movement is often regarded as the first ever self-winding chronograph, however once again it is not as clear cut as that. In the lead up to the joint press conference in Geneva and New York on March 3rd 1969 to announce this revolutionary movement there was a small local news release from Zenith on January 10th 1969 announcing the release of their self-winding chronograph El Primero movement. While lacking the media coverage that was afforded to the Caliber 11, which was a joint collaboration between Heuer, Breitling and Buren, there are many who consider it to be the superior movement due to it being a integrated and not a modular movement with a high frequency. There is also the claim for Seiko to be considered to have had the first self-winding chronograph which they sold exclusively in Japan in 1969. It was the Caliber 11 however that gained world-wide recognition and received a patent in early 1970 cemented their industry leading status. While there is debate over whether the Caliber 11 was the first self winding chronograph there is no doubt that it is an incredible example of fine swiss watchmaking and really makes the Monaco stand out from the crowd.
Iconic ‘Avant Garde’ Design
The now iconic case design of the Monaco was not an original Heuer concept but brought to them by independent case maker Piquerez in 1968. During that time in the Swiss watchmaking industry there was a small group of manufacturers who sold to many of the big brands which is why you see such similarities between different watches from that era. While Heuer were collaborating with Breitling and Hamilton to create the Calibre 11 movement they saw the potential in this avant garde square case to give them the edge over their competitors when the movement was released and reached an agreement with Piquerez to have exclusivity over the case which they then trademarked.
Whether it was chosen by Steve McQueen or not, whether it was the first self-winding chronograph or not, whether it was an original Heuer design or not, there is absolutely no doubt in our eyes here at Jon Vincent Watchmakers that the TAG Heuer Monaco is an absolute classic watch and a must have in every watch aficionados collection.