Hands on Review- TAG Heuer Monaco V4

Posted by: C11   |   22 May 2011   |   15 Comments  

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that the Monaco V4 Concept of 2004 marked a turning point for TAG Heuer. Yes, TH had shown some innovative Concept watches before (The Micrograph of 2002 and the Monaco 69 in 2003), but the audacious V4 was the first sign that the “new” TAG Heuer was serious about re-establishing its credentials as a manufacturer and designer of advanced mechanical movements.

Since 2004 TAG has shown a brace of innovative movements- the Calibre 360, the Pendulum, the Mikrograph and Mikrotimer- but it all started with this watch.

So advanced was the watch that most people though that it would never make it into production for two reasons. Firstly because it was believed that the belt system wouldn’t provide the necessary reliability and secondly because this incredibly innovative system was being put forward by TAG Heuer rather than an established manufacture.

What did TH know about designing and making a movement, let alone one as complex as the V4?

The story of the watch started out with an R&D think-tank established in late 2001. The company was only a few months into its life as part of LVMH and had just appointed a new CEO- Jean-Christophe Babin. As Jean- Christophe told Calibre 11, one of the first things he noticed about TAG Heuer was that the company had lost its reputation as a watchmaker- and he and the new team was determined to re-establish these credentials. The goal was far more ambitious than just designing and building an in-house movement: The goal was to re-invent some of the basic principles of watchmaking.

Part of this think-tank was Jean-François Ruchonnet, an innovative designer and computer-imaging expert, who is also known for the equally amazing Cabestan vertical tourbillon. It is Ruchonnet who took his inspiration from cars and imagined a new type of watch movement that used belts instead of the traditional gears. Assisting him in these early stages was master watchmaker, Philippe Dufour. Together with the TAG Heuer team, they turned an interesting idea into a concept and then the hard part- into a movement that would work on the wrists of customers- the Calibre V.

The Calibre V Movement

Think of the Monaco V4 as a watch designed around a movement. The Calibre V is radically different to traditional movements, which typically rely on a system of gears powered by a rotating oscillating weight, with friction reduced by the use of synthetic rubies. The Calibre V takes a totally different approach on each of these.

The first thing that you notice sitting in the centre of the movement is a tungsten ingot that slides up and down on rails. A gear system on the side of the weight transmits this up-and-down movement into a rotating movement. The movement has four barrels set at a slight “V” angle (about 12 degrees), like the cylinders of a V6 or V8 engine and is the inspiration for the name of the watch.

The power is transmitted by a series of micro-thin belts, which were one of the most challenging parts to getting the movement to work. The first design had belts that were too thick and created too much friction. The belts are one of the few parts that TAG Heuer does not make in-house, being supplied by a company in the Defence sector. Each one of these 13 alloy belts can support a weight of more than 40 Kilos.

The second strategy to reduce friction was to replace the traditional synthetic rubies with micro ball-bearings- again, taking its inspiration from the automotive world.

The movement and watch are hand-assembled in a special haute horlogerie workshop at La Chaux de-Fonds. Most of the components, including plates, are also engineered and machined on site by TAG Heuer.

2004: The Prototype

The watch caused a huge stir when it was shown at the 2004 Basel show. Not only did the watch have an innovative movement, but it housed this movement in a very different style of Monaco case. The Monaco case hadn’t really changed since its introduction in 1969. Yes, the re-edition of 1997 was a softer design that the original, but in essence it was the same design philosophy. The V4 set a new design template for the Monaco series- a 3D shape with sloping angles and a fantastic sapphire crystal that wraps into the case.

The 39mm V4 case set the look for the Monaco as a modern, innovative design and not just a homage to the past and has been adopted by several other models, such as the non-Chronograph Monaco in 2004/5, the LS and the Twenty-Four.

The V4 featured a TAG Heuer logo etched into the front crystal- a feature that would be dropped on future iterations.

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