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There’s a lot of interest in vintage Heuer at the moment, with collectors in particular focusing on the Carrera, Autavia and Monaco. And when it comes to the Monaco there is one model that sits head and shoulders above the others when it comes to collectability, and that’s Steve’s Monaco. Steve, of course, is Steve McQueen, who wore a 1133B Heuer Monaco in his 1971 movie Le Mans. The combination of a cool colour scheme and the “King of Cool” Steve McQueen has made this particular Monaco the one to have, with interesting in the Monaco still strong following 2019’s 50th anniversary of the Monaco.
And the problem with one watch being hot is that it has also increased the temptation for “creative” watchmakers and collectors to try and cash in on the Monaco’s popularity. What we’re talking about is not “replica” watches, because that is something of a new phenomenon. No, the issue is more subtle than that and instead the main danger is non-original parts or poor condition watches being tarted up for sale. Let’s take you through the best tips to make sure your Monaco purchase is a success.
Collectors will know that the early versions of the Monaco from 1969 looks a little different to this watch. That watch uses a Calibre 11 movement, a metallic blue dial and square hands. These early Monacos are incredibly rare and not the same execution worn by McQueen. So if you find a metallic blue Monaco with “Chronomatic” on the dial in Grandpa’s study, don’t go throwing it out because it doesn’t look like the watch shown here.
The Monaco dial should be a bold, light blue. The dial and movement pops out of the case quite easily- assuming that the black seal that sits around the outside of the dial hasn’t melted as they often did. You can see no such issues on this example.
The other point to note on the dial is that it should have small lume plots at each red hour marker- these are often damaged or missing.
The key to the case is it’s finished. The most common problem with vintage Monacos is an enthusiastic amateur watchmaker who tries to polish the case, ruining the finish in the process. As this case shows, the case should have a prominent vertical grain on the top-side of the case, with polished angled surfaces on the lugs. Another vital characteristic is its sharp edges. How sharp? The sort of sharp that wouldn’t happen with modern health and safety standards
In between the lugs you will see the reference number stamped on one side (see above with the correct 1133) and the watch’s individual reference number on the other set of lugs. If the case doesn’t have these engravings, then it is likely either a replacement case used in a service, or a case made for one of the other brands for which Heuer provided white-label versions of the Monaco.
Case Back- Tool No. 033
The caseback of the Monaco should have a starburst pattern on the outer edges, with a flat-finished circle in the centre. Often you’ll find the patterning on the back polished back, which is criminal when you look at how beautiful it looks.
Critically, the watch must have “Tool No. 033” on the back of the watch. This is the tool that Heuer developed to help remove the caseback of the Monaco. If the watch doesn’t have this engraving, then again you are looking at a service case or one made for another brand.
The Monaco comes with two bracelets, both made by Novavit S.A. This watch has the second generation bracelet, which has a spring-loaded clasp with the Heuer shield- note that NSA offered this bracelet for other brands, so make sure that it has the Heuer logo on the clasp.
If you can find an original Red Heuer box, then certainly grab that to go with the watch. These boxes sell for around $1000 these days (!) Watch out for the quality of the lining, which can tear. Also make sure that the box has “Automatic” on the front, as Heuer made a similar box for the manual-wind watches with this text missing. The boxes can fray around the edges, with the paper lifting with age.
Movement- Heuer Calibre 12
While early Monacos of course had the famous Calibre 11 movement, this watch, and most Monacos with the dial you see here actually have the Calibre 12. There is probably a premium for those watches with the Calibre 11 movement, even though the Calibre 12 was introduced to address a number of weaknesses of the Calibre 11. The movement also gives the watch it’s reference number- the “11” in 1133B is for a Calibre 11 movement, but Heuer didn’t change the references to “1233” for Calibre 12 models. So whether you have a Calibre 11 or a Calibre 12, the reference number stays the same.
Heuer Monaco 1133B
Putting aside the rare first generation watches, the more common 1133B Monaco values seem to have peaked. The problem isn’t really finding one, but more finding a good one. Be patient and do your homework and you’ll find a watch that will hold its value nicely, rather than suffer a discount later on because it’s not in original condition.