Hands on Review: TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Silver Dial

Here are the first live photos of  the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Heritage Chronograph- the latest in the line of Heuer- branded Monaco chronographs featuring the modern Calibre 11 movement and the distinctive left-sided crown.

TAG Heuer continue to explore both sides of the Monaco- the futuristic models, through watches like the Monaco V4, Monaco Mikrograph and Monaco Twenty-Four, and the heritage models, through Heuer branded watches that evoke the original spirit of the 1970s.

Heritage

The Monaco story stretches back to 1969, when the original 1133B Monaco (above, left) was released, powered by the in-house “Chronomatic” Calibre 11 movement. History shows that the original watch was a bit of a failure, being a little ahead of its time. But thanks to the evocative image of Steve McQueen and the renewed interest in TAG Heuer’s heritage by the late 1990s, the watch was resurrected in 1997 and stands today as the most iconic model in the range.

The first of the modern Calibre 11 Monaco’s was the Blue 40th Anniversary Monaco released in 2009- a tribute that original 1133B. While the shape of the case differed a little, the design of the dial, hour-markers and hands was almost identical to the 1969 original. The watch was fitted with the modern “Calibre 11” movement, first developed for the  Autavia re-edition in 2003.

Last year saw the theme extended to a Grey re-edition of the Heuer 1133G Monaco, but this time with a 39mm case (Blue 40th anniversary has a 38mm case) and initially shown in a light PVD coating. By the time the watch made it into production the PVD finish was gone, replaced by a standard stainless steel finish. Both watches used the “Heuer” logo as a tribute to the original Monaco series.

The 2011 Monaco Calibre 11 Chronograph follows these two successful Limited Editions, but with one important difference: this is no re-edition.

Heuer never made a Silver dial/ Orange highlight Monaco, although the colour scheme was used on several Autavia models, such as this one.

Below you can see the new Silver Calibre 11 Monaco (Centre) with the Calibre 17 Blue “McQueen” re-edition from 2005 (Left) and the 2010 prototype Grey Monaco Vintage re-edition

Officially, TAG Heuer insist that the new model has a Grey dial, just like the 2010 version- but as you can see below, they are very different colours. At best, the new watch is Silver-Grey, as against the “Brown-Grey” of last year’s watch.

The 2011 version uses the same circular lume markers as the standard Calibre 12 Monaco and misses out on the large hour-marker at 12 o’clock that was a feature of the GreyVintage Monaco. This means the Monaco script and Heuer shield are positioned further up the dial than last year’s model- in the same position as the standard Calibre 12 model.

Notice that the Hour markers have reverted to the style of the modern  Monaco, rather than the horizontal markers of the previous two Calibre 11 Monaco models.

Heuer or TAG Heuer?

One question that the purists will have is this: why does the watch have a Heuer logo? Let’s take a look back at the history of TAG Heuer’s use of its former name.

The first Carrera and Monaco re-edition series of 1996/ 7  both used the Heuer shield. This branding strategy continued on the original Monza re-edition of 2000, before changing when LVMH took over later that year.

From 2000 through to 2009, TH released several “heritage” watches (such as the Autavia, Targa Florio), all of which used the TAG Heuer shield. It wasn’t until the 2009 40th Anniversary Monaco that we saw the Heuer logo used again.

Since then, the logo has been used on the Silverstone re-edition (fair enough) and the 300SLR- a watch that while vintage in style, is not a historical Heuer model. And now we have the 2011 Monaco Calibre 11- again using the Heuer logo, but not being a true re-edition. So what makes a watch a “Heuer” rather than a “TAG Heuer”?

I suspect that the answer is that TH will use the Heuer logo on short-run watches that pay tribute to the past, even if they are not true re-editions of historical models. For years collectors have wanted the original logo back, and now they have what they’ve asked for. Personally, I love seeing the use of the original logo, although there does need to be some consistency in the way that it’s used, otherwise it will simply confuse people.

So while I am happy to see the Heuer logo on this watch, I suspect some will argue that this watch should be a TAG Heuer. Splitting hairs? Of course..but, hey, splitting hairs is the point of a website like Calibre 11!

Design

As mentioned in the introduction, my first impression of the computer-generated image wasn’t all that positive- the watch seemed a little drab and I wasn’t sure that the colour combination worked that well. But in reality, the watch is incredibly striking. I love the Silver dial and the dark charcoal sub-dials- they give the watch a totally different character to any existing Monaco model.

OK, but what about the Orange? Again, It looks a lot better than I’d expected, although I don’t think its the perfect combination.I can understand wanting to move away from the Red highlights of most Monaco models, so why not go for “Siffert Blue” to try something different?

Below is a close-up of that beautiful grained dial- the orange lume circles will need to be cleaned up for the production version of the watch, as they’re a little un-tidy on the prototype below.

The other great detail is the hands- The hour and minute hands both have a black insert and tip, which contrasts well against the Orange Lume insert.

Moving away from the dial, lets take a look at the case. Pre-2010  Monaco’s had the traditional plexi crystal and a 38mm case- I always regarded the 2010 change as a subtle one that didn’t really change the look or feel of the watch.

But when photographed next to a 2005 Calibre 17 Monaco (below right), you can see that not only is the case larger, but the lugs on the case are considerably thicker on the new model

While both feel about the same size on the wrist, you can see that the new case design is significantly larger- not just wider, but also thicker. I still say that on the wrist you notice very little- if any- difference, but the photos don’t lie.

However one change that does make a real difference is the move from the plastic plexiglass crystal to a Sapphire crystal. In the past, I always preferred the plexi, as it was in keeping with the original. But i have to say that I have come around to the view that the new sapphire crystal is actually quite superior. It’s a little taller than the plexi, but gives a much classier feel, even if it’s not in keeping with the traditional material of the original.

Movement

As I’ve pointed out before, the “modern” Calibre 11 has nothing to do with the 1970’s original. The movement is an ETA 2892/2 base with a Dubois Depraz Chronograph module- a similar combination to the standard Calibre 12 Monaco, but with an up-graded Chronograph module.

The other difference to the Calibre 12 is the placement of the crown. The Monaco- and all Chronomatic Heuers of the 1970s- had its crown on the left hand side of the watch, due to the challenges of packing the original movement. Those challenges don’t exist today and so the move of the crown is purely cosmetic, but still is a nice touch.

As with last year’s Monaco Vintage, the movement is very nicely finished with a decorated rotor and bold Heuer logo.

Monaco Calibre 11 Chronograph- Price and Availability

The TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 Chronograph is not a Limited Edition, but will have limited availability- a bit like the situation with the Monaco Twenty-Four.

The watch is due for release in Q3 2011 and in Australia will be priced around AUD8,000 (although overseas readers shouldn’t simply convert that price into local currency- there are a range of factors why Australian prices- not just watches- are high).

So putting aside the question of which logo this watch should have, the Monaco Calibre 11 Silver is a worthy addition to the Monaco range, and has a unique look that makes it stand out. Rumours suggest that there will be other “Heuer” Monaco models released this year, as well as the Silver Monaco Twenty-Four racing that I’ll review in the next couple of weeks.

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