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History of the TAG Heuer Monaco

Founded in 1860 by Edouard Heuer when he was just 20 years old, the eponymous company very quickly made a name for itself as a quality manufacturer of reliable and robust chronographs and timepieces contributing to watchmaking innovation with inventions like the oscillating pinion, still used today.

The connections to the worlds of sport and motor racing cars contributed to the growing success of Heuer. Among the milestones we can mention the first board chronograph for vehicles created in 1911 or the patented ”Mikrograph", the world's first stopwatch with a precision of 1/100 seconds in 1916.

Heuer Mikrograph - 1916


In 1933 Heuer developed the first board watches for racing cars and in the same year the legendary stopwatch Autavia. Heuer’s pocket chronographs were selected as official stopwatches for several editions of the Olympic Games and other sport events.


The sporty image of the brand was further consolidated, in 1969, by the creation of a watch destined to become iconic, the Monaco.

Les’s consider the background behind the development of this unusual chronograph characterised by a unique square case design.

In the 1960s, Jack William Heuer, a great-grandson of the company founder, was the Managing Director of the brand and was directly involved in the development of new models like the highly successful Carrera.

At the time, automatic watches were the call of the day and Heuer was hectically working on the creation of the world’s first automatic chronograph movement available to the public to be launched at the Basel fair in 1969.

To achieve this milestone, Jack Heuer had promoted a partnership with Buren, Dubois Depraz and Breitling.

Buren was an important manufacturer of thin automatic movements, Dubois Depraz the leading specialist in the development of chronograph modules and other complications and Breitling another famous chronograph manufacturer that could share with Heuer the funding of this expensive project - codenamed Project 99 - and the resulting output: a modular automatic chronograph built on a Buren base movement (including the self-winding and calendar mechanisms) with an independent Dubois-Depraz chronograph module attached to the watch movement by three screws. Beating at 19,800 vibrations per hour, the movement offered a power reserve of approximately 42 hours.

The Heuer Calibre 11 and, below, an exploded view showing the base movement with its microrotor and the Dubois Depraz chronograph module



Heuer originally planned to use this movement - known as Chronomatic Calibre 11 - in a Carrera model. This required to modify the shape of the Carrera case because the original shape was too slim to house the pretty thick movement. To maximise returns from the introduction of the new revolutionary movement, Jack Heuer and his team decided to also use it in the Autavia, a chronograph specifically targeted to the Automotive and the Aviation markets.

At the same time, they started considering the idea to also build a less traditional timepiece - “something out-of-the-box” and "avant-garde", to use Jack Heuer’s words - around the brand new movement.

Erwin Piquerez, the owner of a large Swiss industry making watch cases, proposed to Jack Heuer a new square case that he had just patented to guarantee waterproofness, a first for a square case. This was achieved through tension created by four notches when clipping into the back of the monocoque case.

Jack Heuer was immediately attracted by the new design and negotiated with Piquerez exclusive rights over this square case which was then trademarked.

The first version of the Heuer Monaco was finally launched at the Basel fair as the world's first waterproof automatic chronograph with a square case. The announced retail price was US$ 200. It was presented in two variations: reference 1133B and reference 1133G where the B stands for Blue and G for Grey while the first two digits refer to the mounted calibre.

Heuer Monaco 1133B - 1969



Monaco 1133G with an all-grey dial; an alternative version with grey dial and black chronograph counters was added later


With its large square case (40 mm x 38 mm), metallic blue dial, domed plastic crystal and the crown provocatively positioned on the left to remark that the watch did not need winding, the Monaco was a disruptive product for the watchmaking industry.

The two white counters at 9 and 3 o’clock recorded chronograph hours and minutes respectively. The watch did not feature a continuos second hand but just a large red chronograph second hand pointing to the white outer 1/5th seconds scale. The hour markers were flat silver strips with bevelled edges.

The back of the watch was engraved "Tool 033", the specific tool needed to open the unusual rectangular case.

The solid case back of the Monaco 1133 and, below, the reference number engraved on the case middle between the two lugs - Courtesy of www.heuermonaco.co.uk  



The name of the model was taken from the Monaco Formula One race to clearly position the watch as a sport chronograph for the world of racing cars.

Heuer advertising campaign emphasising that, thanks to the automatic movement, the user would touch the crown only for time setting


The very first examples of the watch had the word "Chronomatic" above the "Heuer" shield and "Monaco" positioned above the date aperture at 6 o’clock. However, this graphic layout was soon modified because Jack Heuer agreed to transfer the name "Chronomatic" to the partner Breitling, which is still using it today. The "Monaco" name was moved above "Heuer" and a more generic description "Automatic Chronograph" added at 6 o’clock.

The very first dial used for the Monaco and, on the right, the version used on most reference 1133B models with modified logos and texts positioning as well as different hours and minutes hands - The original dials used for this comparative picture are courtesy of www.heuermonaco.co.uk


But there are no legends without heroes and for the legendary Monaco chronograph the hero is, without doubt, Steve McQueen which gave exceptional exposure to the watch during the filming of the "Le Mans" movie, produced in 1970 and released in 1971.

At the time, the Swiss Jo Siffert was the leading driver for the Porsche team competing in the World Sportscar Championship and was consulting on the movie. A friend of Jack Heuer, he was the Ambassador of the brand on the racetrack.

Steve McQueen took inspiration from Siffert to play the film’s main character (which was racing for the Porsche team like Siffert) and decided to wear the same jumpsuit of the Swiss champion.

Just like Siffert, he had a large Heuer logo on the chest and, of course, a Heuer chronograph on the wrist.

Jo Siffert instructing Steve McQueen before a run of a scene in the Le Mans movie


But differently from Siffert which was wearing the round Heuer Autavia 1163 T, Steve McQueen opted for the square-shaped blue-dialled Monaco chronograph with its unconventional design and unique look.


Highly visible during the film (Heuer products appeared for more than a quarter hour) and on the wrist of a famous Hollywood star like Steve McQueen, the Monaco 1133B quickly became one of the most recognisable sport watches ever designed.

In July 2012,  one of the actual Monaco wristwatches worn by Steve McQueen during Le Mans production and in related images was sold at a Hollywood memorabilia auction at the staggering hammer price of US$ 650,000 (US$ 799,500 including the buyer’s premium).

The US$ 799,500 Monaco 1133B worn by Steve McQueen 


In 1971, an updated version of reference 1133 was released with a modified movement - Calibre 12 - aimed to improve the limited efficiency of the micro-rotor and increase the strength of the main spring of the Calibre 11. The beating frequency increased from 2.75 Hz (19,800 vibrations per hour) to 3.0 Hz (21,600 vph). A visible difference between Calibre 11 and Calibre 12 was the colour of the main plates, which changed from silver to a gold tone.

One year later, the strong competition in the watch market together with a Swiss Franc which appreciated against the US dollar causing the retail prices of Swiss watches to nearly double, suggested Heuer to develop a less expensive self-winding chronograph movement - Calibre 15 - which was integrated in the Monaco 1533B (blue dial) and 1533G (grey dial), as well as in some Carrera an Autavia models, in order to reduce the retail price. In these models, the 12-hour chronograph counter was replaced by a continuous seconds display oddly positioned at 10 o’clock. Reference 1533 also used more conventional radial hour markers compared to reference 1133.

Monaco 1533G with small continuous seconds at 10 o'clock 


In 1972, Heuer also introduced the Monaco 73633 powered by a hand-wound movement, the Valjoux 7736. The use of this movement brought several changes to the watch, the most evident being the crown moved back to the right side. The date at 6 o’clock was removed to leave space to a third sub-dials for continuous seconds. And, of course, no "Automatic Chronograph" description.

Two versions were available: blue dial with white registers (73633B) and grey with grey or black registers (73633G).

Monaco 73633G with grey dial and black registers - 1972


With the Monaco 74033 released in 1974, Heuer went back to the original dial layout. Equipped with the Valjoux 7740 manual movement, the case of the 74033 was slimmer compared to reference 1133 and featured a right-side crown.

Together with the typical blue and grey dialled versions, Heuer also created a small run of the black PVD-coated Monaco reference 74033N (where N stands for noir, black in French) which, however, was never included in the catalogue. Nicknamed the “Dark Lord” by collectors, this model is extremely rare. According to Jack Heuer, 100-200 units were produced in total. The example in the picture below was sold at a watch auction held in Geneva in 2016 for the amount of Swiss Francs 62,500.

The Monaco reference 74033N, a.k.a. the "Dark Lord", with black PVD-coated steel case - 1974 


Due to its radical design and unusual square case, the Monaco had limited success and after the last attempt made with the black 74033N, Heuer decided to discontinue production.

Most experts agree in estimating a production of around 4,000-4,500 units of the various Monaco references in the 1969-1975 period.

But this was only the first part of the history of the model. In fact, at the end of the 1990s, the Monaco re-appeared and this time with great success.

Before then, it is important to mention that, in 1985, the TAG Group (Techniques d'Avant-Garde) acquired a majority stake in the Heuer company forming TAG Heuer.

The newly renamed TAG Heuer modernised its product line and significantly increased worldwide sales (from CHF 66 million in 1988 to CHF 420 million in 1996), a financial success which led the company to be listed on the Swiss and New York Stock Exchanges in September 1996.

Realising the value of its heritage, in 1998 TAG Heuer decided to launch the "Re-Edition" series, a collection of Carrera and Monaco timepieces directy inspired to classic Heuer chronographs of the 1960s.

To promote the Monaco, TAG Heuer contacted Chad McQueen, Steve McQueen’s son to negotiate the rights to use pictures of his father who had died in 1980.

The first re-edition Monaco was reference CS2110 with a flat black dial with the old Heuer shield, 30-minute chronograph counter at 9 o’clock, running seconds at 3 o’clock and date at 6 o’clock. Produced in a limited edition of 5,000 units, the Monaco CS2110 introduced a re-stylised case with the winding crown at 3 o’clock and new push-buttons. Inside, an ETA 2894 automatic movement.

The Monaco "Re-edition" CS2110 - 1998


This re-edition had great sales and critical successes so TAG Heuer quickly added new variations like reference CS2111, also produced in 5,000 units, which was characterised by a sculpted black dial with three counters.

Three counters for the Monaco reference CS2111 produced in 1999

TAG Heuer advertisements promoting the Monaco "Re-Edition" series


In 1999, the luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) S.A. presented a takeoffer offer which was accepted and resulted in LVMH owning nearly 100 percent of the Swiss company.

The first Monaco model released under the LVMH wings, in 2003, was the reference CW2113 which featured the current TAG Heuer logo rather than the historic Heuer logo used for the "Re-Edition" series (CS210 and CS2111). 

Reference CW2113, the first Monaco with a square and not rectangular, case - 2003


Reference CW2113 was also the first Monaco model to have a true square case. In fact, while all previous versions were slightly rectangular (40 mm x 38 mm), this model was 38 mm x 38 mm. This model was powered by the automatic Calibre 17, based on the ETA 2894-2 movement.

In this period, following the LVMH acquisition, TAG Heuer started moving into the more upscale watch categories as evidenced by the Monaco V4 concept watch. Introduced in 2004 on occasion of the Baselworld trade show, this protoype created lot of buzz in the industry for being the world’s first watch with belt drives, linear mass and ball bearings in place of traditional wheels and pinions.

Above and below, the prototype of the Monaco V4 presented at Baselworld 2004



Inspired to an automobile engine, the movement was designed by Jean-François Ruchonnet with the help of master watchmaker Philippe Dufour. The goal with this model was to re-affirm TAG Heuer as a manufacture producing its own movements. Built around the revolutionary movement, the square case was slightly redesigned with softened edges.

The project went through various changes and refining and after five years of testing, the Monaco V4 was finally ready for production. A limited edition of 150 pieces in platinum was released in 2009 for the 150th anniversary of the brand.

The Monaco V4  in platinum whose production started in 2009 


Today, the Monaco is one of the pillars of TAG Heuer and is available in several variations, including three-hand versions and smaller-sized models for Ladies. 

The chonograph is produced in two main versions. The first is the natural evolution of the model and it is easily recognizable for the winding crown on the right, the dial with traditional radial indices in three main colour combinations (blue with white counters, black with white counters and black with black counters) and the modern TAG Heuer logo. The movement is the self-winding Calibre 12 based on an ETA or Sellita ebauche with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module.


The second chronograph version is reference CAW211P.FC6356 which, despite some differences like the shape of the lugs and the push-pieces, is a pretty faithful reissue of the original Heuer Monaco 1133B with its crown on the left, the metallic blue dial with diamond-polished horizontal hour indices and, as the final touch, the vintage Heuer logo. 


For this reissue, the movement is the automatic Calibre 11 which, compared to Calibre 12, rotates the base movement 180 degrees, so that the crown can be positioned on the left side of the face while leaving the chronograph pushers on the right. Unlike the original, this movement operates at 28,800 vibrations per hour rather than 19,800 vph like the original Chronomatic Calibre 11 which represented a breakthrough for the entire watchmaking industry in 1969.

Without doubt one of the most recognisable chronograph watches ever designed, the Monaco is now approaching half century of history but it maintains unaltered its unique appeal.


By Alessandro Mazzardo. First published on June 15, 2016 and constantly updated.

© 2012-2017 Time and Watches. All Rights Reserved.

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