Of all TAG Heuer watches, the Monaco is one of best known and most successful, but its fame grew out of a history full of accidents and contradictions. You might even call it fate.
If you’ve heard of the Monaco, then you’ve surely heard how it was made famous by Steve McQueen. But the story of the Monaco really begins in the late 60s, with the race to build an automatic, self-winding chronograph. The three contenders were Zenith, Seiko and a collaborative effort between Breitling, Buren, Hamilton and—you guessed it—Heuer. Each research team had been independently working on the problem for years, but ended up solving it at about the same time in the early months of 1969. Historians still argue over which one has the best claim to the title of ‘first’.
As Seiko only sold its version in Japan and Zenith didn’t get its prototypes to commercial production in time, the Breitling-Buren-Hamilton-Heuer coalition got the best response of the lot. The movement was called Calibre 11, but it was widely marketed under the moniker ‘Chronomatic’. But while the companies had worked together to build it, they were still competitors when it came to selling it. Heuer attempted to corner the market with three different Calibre 11 watches: the Carrera, the Autavia and a brand new model, the Monaco.
While the Monaco was christened after the annual Grand Prix of the same name, it was not intended to be the main track watch of the three—clearly that honour belonged to the Autavia, which was a frequent attendee of the F1 paddock. And so we come to Steve McQueen. Legend says that the dashing actor personally chose a Monaco to adorn his wrist during the filming of Le Mans, in which he plays a driver competing in the eponymous motor race. In fact, he only chose the brand in an effort to look like F1 driver Jo Siffert, who was sponsored by Heuer in real life. Even then, he only chose Heuer because he hadn’t heard of it before, naively assuming it was too small a brand to exploit his name. The specific model was chosen out of necessity: the Monaco was the only Heuer on set of which they had three (one for filming, one for still photography and one for backup).
The rest is history, with the Monaco going on to enjoy countless reinterpretations over the intervening years. If you ask me, its popularity was never due solely to McQueen—it was a good looking watch in its own right. Indeed, it is living proof of Huey Lewis’ claim that it’s ‘Hip to Be Square’, the big, bold shape and blue-orange design both eye-catching and enduring despite being products of the flamboyant Bauhaus style of the time. In fact, the iconic square case was yet another accident of the Monaco: Heuer never purposely created it. Jack Heuer, then Director, revealed in his autobiography that it was sent to him by case supplier Piquerez, and he decided the oversize waterproof case might be just the thing to give his Calibre 11 the edge over Breitling and Hamilton. Thus are legends made.
John Wallis is a contributor to Watchfinder & Co.’s digital publication The Watch Magazine. Visit thewatchmagazine.com for more on watches, and watchfinder.co.uk to browse a selection of fine pre-owned watches
Article created by @thewatchmag on behalf of MensLifeStyleGuide.co.uk. Read the full article online here
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