Chronography 14: 5 Decades of the Heuer Monaco

There is perhaps no other complication as popular as the chronograph, appealing to both seasoned enthusiasts and casual consumers alike. And “Chronography” is our ongoing series covering the wonderful world of chronographs, from the movements themselves to the iconic watches they powered throughout the years. Be sure to check out past installments here. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the Heuer Monaco, its 5-decade history, and last year’s LEs that honor one of the most iconic racing automotive chronos ever made.

My name is Mark and I am a nailed-on Heuerholic. As I write this there an Autavia Viceroy on my wrist, but only because my Lemania 510.501 is in for service. As a vintage motorsport addict, I wanted a Heuer as soon as I knew that was what Jochen Rindt wore. Fortunately, as Worn & Wound’s resident old giffer, I was able to pick up old Heuers before anyone thought they had any value. Back in the 1980s and even the 1990s, there weren’t many collectors interested in an old watchmaker that had been absorbed by TAG. And though I spent hours scouring the cabinets and catalogs, I never managed to snag a Monaco. 

Writing about the one that got away is tough.

The Monaco is a watch with proper pedigree; there’s an almost straight lineage from the very late 1960s to the present day. But a lot has changed in those 51 years.

A Heuer Monaco from the early 70s. Image via Analog Shift.

For most of the 1960s, you had a choice; you could have a watch you didn’t have to worry about winding or you could have a chronograph, but you couldn’t have both. Yet in the background, three teams of watchmakers were hunched over their various benches, burning through gallons of midnight watch oil trying to be the first to present an automatic chronograph to the world.

Typically, there’s still controversy over who actually managed it, but we know that Zenith, Seiko, and a team made up from specialists from chrono module maker Dubois-Depraz, Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton-Büren were all in the race.  

We also know that at a precisely Swiss-synchronized 1700 in Geneva and 1100 in New York on March 3, 1969, the Heuer team unveiled their Cal. 11 movement — the “Chronomatic” — see what they did there?

It was 31mm in diameter, just 7.7mm thick, and ran at 19,800bph. Once there was sufficient power in the mainspring, the movement would happily tick away for 42 hours without fuss. And it was this movement that powered one of Heuer’s most distinctive watches, the Monaco, launched as part of the Cal. 11 push, alongside the Carrera and Autavia in 1969.

One of the challenges had been finding a way to make the self-winding system work with the chronograph gear wheels, cams, and springs. This was where the Büren cavalry rode to the rescue with a micro-rotor. Where Zenith’s El Primero and Seiko’s 6139 used a winding weight mounted in the centre of the movement, the Büren rotor was mounted to the side of the movement, underneath the plate carrying the lever chronograph works.

Vintage Chronomatic ad. Image via On The Dash.

The original Monaco was a little like the Newman Daytona in that it started life as a slow seller. In fact, it was only when McQueen buckled a Monaco on in the Le Mans movie that sales got interesting.

Dial-side, the original Monaco had a two-register dial that eschewed running seconds, but offered a date at 6:00, a 12-hour sub-dial at 9:00, and a minute totalizer at 3:00. Unusually, the five-minute batons do not follow the shape of the circular inner-dial, but run across the dial, sitting parallel with the top and bottom edges of the case. Those for 1, 5, 7 and 11 are all full-length, and there are truncated batons at 2, 4, 8 and 10.

The Ervin Piquerez case was a 39mm x 39mm rounded-edge square in brushed and polished stainless steel and — a feature of the Cal. 11 — the winding/setting crown at 9:00, opposite the chronograph’s start/stop pushers which remained on the right-hand side. The dial sat under a shaped acrylic crystal. You’ll find the same hands as on my Viceroy Autavia — brushed with red tips for the hour and minute and a solid red, short-base triangle for the chrono seconds; no point in fixing something that already works well. Like the Autavia, the pushers are fluted and recessed into cutouts in the case, as is the crown.

A now-iconic image of McQueen wearing a Monaco in Le Mans.
Image via Analog Shift.

Heuer wasn’t the only maker to fit the Cal. 11 to a square case. Breitling did something very similar with their Cal. 11 in the Chronomatic ref. 2111, but even that looks tame in comparison with what Hamilton did with theirs in the Fontainebleau.

It seems pretty doubtful that Heuer originally intended the Monaco as a motorsport watch. For a start, it’s missing a tachymeter scale, it doesn’t quite have the race-timer clarity of its stablemates (like that 510.501) and it’s hardly comfortable on the wrist under a race suit.  But, thanks to McQueen (who only wore a Monaco once he’d rejected a Speedmaster), it has forever afterwards been linked to the racetrack.

TAG Heuer have never been shy about reissues, recreations, and raiding the Heuer archives, so they were always going to celebrate the Monaco’s 50th birthday last year. But they really went to town with five limited editions of the watch. 

In the 2019 line-up, Jack Heuer’s original 1969 Cal. 11 is no more. Instead, the modern Monaco runs a TAG Heuer Cal. 11, a different beast altogether. But, like the original, it’s a base movement (in this case a modified Sellita SW-300-1) with a Dubois-Depraz piggyback chronograph module. Progress isn’t always forwards, as you only get 40 hours of power reserve now — but who’s quibbling about a couple of hours?

Each of the limited editions  — one for each decade of Monaco production — features the same case and movement but riffs on dial designs, straps, and case finishes. Each is limited to a run of just 169 watches.

TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition – CAW211V.FC6466v

The first off the blocks for the Monaco’s anniversary year was the 1969-1979 edition. Fittingly, the 69-79 is as faithful to the decade as a bright orange Lamborghini Miura (OK, so Sant’Agata started producing them in ‘66 but ran through to ‘73). You could almost imagine a 69-79 featuring in the title sequence of The Italian Job. The Geneva-striped dial with its yellow and brown highlights could quite happily have been Miura seat fabric too.  

As you’d expect, the dial is classical Monaco with the horizontal batons and half-batons and the chrono functions are picked out in a contrasting grey. Each hour marker gets a little yellow highlight and this makes its way to two spots of the small seconds sub-dial at 3:00. The red of the (luminous) hour and minute hand-tips picks up the red hour dots.

TAG Heuer Monaco 1979-1989 Limited Edition – CAW211W.FC6467

Moving into the ’80s with the 1979-1989, things get a little more brash. Think of a Jupiter Red Series 3 Lotus Esprit Turbo and you’ll be about right. This isn’t really the Monaco for the shy and retiring. The dial is a sunburst red that evokes — for those of us of a certain age and proclivity — the smoke red paintwork of Hans Muth’s groundbreaking faired BMW R100RS motorcycle. It shifts color as the light strikes the sunbursting, moving from a Gekkoesque red-braces shade to something rather more subtle. The rounded sub-dials contrast against the red with a sober, grey, set off with flat, rhodium-plated polished hands.  

The strap of the 79-89 is worth a mention too. The red theme again, but on the inside face of the strap, with a more subtle black leather on the outside. There’s a reminder there of the black/orange strap on the hard-to-find Monaco Automobile Club de Monaco CAW211K.


TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition – CAW211X.FC6468

TAG Heuer says this 1990s decade watch has “a steely industrial appearance reflecting the straightforward street style characteristic of this beloved decade.” Suggestions as to what “street style characteristics” are to the usual address, please. No matter, this Monaco is very different indeed from the others in the anniversary set and certainly has an industrial feel to it. Think Lexus IS200 instrument panels and you’ll have the feel — even if that is a bit anachronistic.

For a start, there’s the silver-grey, rhodium-plated grained dial texture. Then, although the outer minute and hour track is circular, there’s a square at the dial centre. This square and hour markers pick up the same red as the hand-tips — echoes of the hand tips on the original Monaco. The sub-dial increments stand out starkly against the background, with a heavier weight to the 30-minute counter sub-dial at 9:00.

This time there’s a blue calfskin leather strap but still with a red underside and a stainless clasp.  All very 1990s bling.

TAG Heuer Monaco 1999-2009 – CAW211Y.FC6469

Perhaps the closest in feel to the original Monaco of 1969, the 99-09 keeps the rhodium-plated, red-tipped hands, but adds a black and white dial with red hour markers. In contrast to its 1990s sibling, there’s no texture to the dial, but it doesn’t lack interest even so. The sub-dials stand out inverse-panda style (white on black) and the circular minute track gives the whole plot a very different feel indeed. 

Although this is the penultimate of the main limited editions, designed to reflect the 1999-2009 period, it could easily have come straight from 1969 and be an original Jack Heuer Monaco design.  

TAG Heuer Monaco 2009-2019 Limited Edition – CAW211Z.FC6470

Where the 79-89 watch is impossible to miss with its full-on red dial, the 09-19 is, by comparison, positively subdued. The only color comes from the second hand and the two sub-dial counters. Apart from that, think Disaster Area’s Hotblack Desiato. The sub-dials stand out in contrasting white. If the 69-79 is a Miura, this latest watch is a W10 Audi A8. But where all the other cases are — as on the original Monaco — a combination of polished and grained finishes, the 09-19 is sandblasted with contrasting polished pushers and crown.  

The leather strap is just as subtle in black leather and grey stitching.  

It would have been great to see another of the series with a different case finish. TAG Heuer seems to have quite deliberately avoided an attempt to re-create the ref. 740303N Dark Lord, despite the opportunity. They could have even used the in-house Calibre Heuer 02 movement to recreate the 3:00-side crown of the original Valjoux 7740.

That completes the rundown of the five Monaco anniversary pieces; the ones you could buy in the shops, anyway.  There was, in fact, a sixth 50th anniversary piece, although this one was rather more exclusive. It was the TAG Heuer Monaco Piece d’Art 50th Anniversary and the company made just one example. In fact, it would be more accurate to say Heuer made one example, because this was a new-old stock watch from the 1960s from the Heuer archives.

Four watchmakers raided the TAG Heuer museum, took the watch, stripped it completely and refinished each component. They even added three extra movement jewels (taking the count up to 20). Then they engraved the hour counter bridge with “Monaco” and the second/minute bridge with “Cal. Eleven” in a properly period psychedelic script.


TAG Heuer could have simply made a new display caseback to show off their engravers’ work. Instead, they painstakingly cut a window in the original watch’s caseback and added a sapphire display crystal. But, being generous souls, they included the cut-out section in its own little recess in the presentation box. 

The watch sold for just over $81,000 for charity. 

The Monaco, like so many watches that have a slightly shaky start in life, has most certainly come good. It’s one of the most easily recognised of the watches in the Heuer stable and, despite the early 1980s TAG buyout, the company has stayed faithful to it since 1969.

Now, where can I track down a Dark Lord that won’t cost a kidney or a limb… 

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Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
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