Some might say the Monaco is an icon by proxy, riding on the late Steve McQueen’s coat-tails of ineffable cool. But even without the McQueen association (more of which later), the Monaco would have earned its place in the pantheon of iconic timepieces.
Boasting a couple of firsts ‒ the first square water-resistant time-piece, the first chronograph movement with a micro-rotor (initially called the Chronomatic until the name was dropped after a year) ‒ it remains one of the few watches that can easily be identified across a crowded room. Launched in 1969 when TAG Heuer was still known as merely Heuer (after its CEO, Jack Heuer), it was named the Monaco after the glamorous French principality of the same name and its links to the Grand Prix.
The original model was unusual not just in its case shape but in that the crown was on the left and the baton hour markers horizontal, rather than vertical. As for the origins of the case, the relatively thick Calibre 11 movement inside was originally going to be used in the slimmer, round-cased Carrera model but Heuer eventually met with Erwin Piquerez, head of a Swiss casemaker at the time, who proposed a new waterproof square case he had just patented. Immediately won over, Heuer negotiated with Piquerez exclusive rights over this square case which was promptly trademarked.
Two years later, Steve McQueen boosted the appeal of the Monaco tenfold when he chose to wear it in the film Le Mans, playing a character loosely based on the Swiss Formula One driver Jo Siffert, who wore the Monaco and Heuer’s logo on his racing suit.
Despite being launched in 1969, it wasn’t until 2002 and the dawn of a new mechanical era that the Monaco’s look was updated. In the model released that year, the crown was positioned on the right, the pushers’ shape became more user-friendly and the markers were placed radially.
Various models, including several limited editions, have been released since then, a handful of them resembling the original in case shape only. Three notable examples are: the Sixty-Nine, with reversible analogue/digital dial, released in 2005; the V4 of 2002, with its skeleton dial and belt-driven movement; Monaco Vintage Limited Edition (2006) which pays tribute to the striped racing suit worn by McQueen in Le Mans. And more recently, the Bamford Monaco with a forged carbon case.
For the purist McQueen fan, the anniversary model of 2009 (Ref: CAW211P.FC6356) most closely approximates the original.