Hands-on Review: TAG Heuer Monaco Twenty-Four Gulf

Almost 18 months after it was first shown at Basel 2009, the TAG Heuer Monaco Twenty Four (to give the watch its full title) will be released in the next couple of months. The Monaco 24 is one of the most-anticipated new TAG Heuer models for some time and is the latest effort by TAG Heuer to modernise the iconic Monaco into a true 21st century watch- not just a reminder of the Heuer glory days of the 1970s.

TAG Heuer Monaco Twenty-Four GulfThe magic of the Monaco 24 (Ref. CAL 5110) is the dial- the contrast between the round dial suspended by very cool-looking orange shock-absorbers and the traditional square-Monaco case. While TAG Heuer claim that the shock-absorber system allows the watch to survive a 20 metre fall, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s really just a beautiful excuse to frame the floating dial and movement.

Reinterpreting the Monaco

The success of the Monaco re-edition created the same problem for TAG Heuer that the success of other retro-designs like the Mini has created for car companies- how do you follow a re-edition?

The re-edition Monaco will always appeal to those who appreciate the 1970s style of the square case and the association with Steve McQueen, but the Monaco can’t just live in the past. At some point the design has to be modernised to look forward and create a new interpretation of an iconic design that will hopefully have its own re-edition some time around Basel 2035!

The first modernisation of the Monaco was the Automatic Monaco series released more than five years ago. The non-Chronograph Monaco (above) was notable for its slightly smaller size and the new-look case design. This design is essentially a Monaco in 3-D, with a highly-polished finish and angled planes replacing the classic Monaco flat lines.

This design template was then adopted by the Monaco V4 concept (2004) and the Monaco 360LS concept (2006), before making its way to production via the Monaco LS. The Monaco 24 case draws heavily from that of the Monaco LS, featuring the same wrap-around crystal and double-crown. However, while the Monaco LS can look a little over-done, the Monaco 24 is a simpler design, looking more cohesive and- importantly- more like a Monaco.

Monaco 24 Concept Watch

TAG Heuer have a great track record at delivering production versions of concept watches, so it’s no surprise that the production Monaco 24 (the actual watch shown in this review is a pre-production prototype) is basically the same as the Monaco 24 Concept (left) shown at Basel in 2009.

The differences are limited to:

  • Production watch is Stainless Steel, coated with black titanium-carbide- the Concept 24 was Tungsten (note- in an earlier post, I’ve described the case as Titanium with a PVD coating- this is incorrect)
  • Production 24 loses the “TAG Heuer” script from the bottom edge of the case
  • Although you can’t see it in these photos, the Production 24 has silver bolts along the side rather than black

Design

The first thing that you notice about the Monaco 24 is the bright orange and blue stripe that run from the top to the bottom of the dial, paying tribute to the colours of the Gulf Porsche 917 driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans . As described before on Calibre 11, the “Monaco-with-stripes” theme has well explored by TAG Heuer- some will love it, some will find it too loud. However, while I think that the striped Monaco theme has gone on too long, there is no denying that its suits the character of the watch- if you’re OK to wear a bold design like this, then a little orange and powder-blue is unlikely to cause you too much concern.

The case itself is black, although it doesn’t look it in some of these photos. Unlike a traditional matte PVD coating, the Monaco 24 has a highly polished case- just like the Monaco LS and V4. The titanium carbide coating should make the watch hold up well to scratches, one of the major down-sides to these highly polished finishes.

TAG Heuer Monaco Twenty-Four GulfThe two sub-dials are recessed from the main dial and seem to be cut in half. Both have double-sided hands, with the orange hand indicating the first “half” of a timing event (e.g. 0-30 seconds on the left-hand sub-dial) and the silver end the second “half” (30-60 seconds). This is an example of form over function, as it’s certainly easier to read a traditional “whole” sub-dial rather than having to work out whether 15 seconds have elapsed, or 45.

The shock-absorber system is designed to protect the movement in its entirety, not just its regulating components as a conventional Incabloc shock protection system does. These are finished in matching orange and without a doubt are the highlight of the watch, as they allow the dial and movement to “float” inside the case.

One aspect that I do find disappointing is the strap- yes, the crocodile leather is well-finished and features an Alcantara-type inner lining, but to me the watch needs a more “technical”/ High tech strap- the Crocodile leather has too much of a dress-watch feel and is at odds with the rest of the design. The clasp is titanium and is well finished, although its lightness is sure to have some confuse it for being plastic.

Monaco 24- Not your Father’s (or Grandfather’s) Monaco

Vintage Monaco-Reedition Monaco-Modern MonacoThere is no getting around it- the Monaco 24 is a big watch. Not so much in terms of diameter (40.5mm vs 38mm for the Calibre 17 Re-edition below), but in terms of thickness- it’s a good 50% thicker than either the 1533G Heuer Monaco from the 1970s (above left) or the CW2113 TAG Heuer Monaco from 2003 (centre).

Vintage Monaco-Reedition Monaco-Modern MonacoAlthough it looks big, it doesn’t feel as large as I expected on the wrist- that’s not to say it didn’t feel bigger than the other Monaco’s, just not overly so.

Vintage Monaco-Reedition Monaco-Modern MonacoWhat you also note when you compare the three Monaco generations is that the Monaco 24 is very much a Monaco- both the 1533G and the CW2113 have a circular “face” set within the square case- as does the Monaco 24.

1974 Monaco Calibre 15 vs. 2010 Monaco Twenty-Four Calibre 36

2003 Monaco Calibre 17 vs. 2010 Monaco Twenty-Four Calibre 36

Movement

TAG Heuer Calibre 36- Monaco 24The Monaco 24 is powered by the Calibre 36 movement (El Primero), regarded as one of the finest Chronograph movements on the planet. In order to allow maximum visibility of this beautiful movement, TAG Heuer have replaced the standard oscillating weight with an innovative 3-spoke design. TAG Heuer claim that the centrifugal system is another innovation of the design, but how this system differs to the standard Calibre 36 needs to be looked at further.

TAG Heuer Calibre 36- Monaco 24Whatever the answer, a watch movement has never looked so good as it does inside the Monaco 24, with the shock-absorbers perfectly framing the movement and allowing excellent viewing of the movement’s inner-workings.

TAG Heuer Calibre 36- Monaco 24

Price and Availability

The two questions that always get asked about this watch are: when and how much.

The answer- at least in Australia- is November 2010 and A$15,995. That last part is going to cause some heartburn to give you an idea of relativity for the non-Australians, the Australian retail price for the most recent Gulf Monaco Calibre 12 LE was about A$7,500 when it was released. Despite this high price, I expect that TAG Heuer will sell as many as they make- and given that they don’t intend to make many, the high price is unlikely to leave these sitting at the Dealer for long.

So how many will be made? Hard to say. The Monaco 24 is not a limited edition- buts it’s also not a standard production model. TAG Heuer refer to it as a “Special Edition”, meaning that it will only be made for a short period and in “limited numbers” but not limited to a specific number.

Conclusion

The Monaco 24 is the watch that I’ve been waiting for TAG Heuer to make for some time. Yes, I love my vintage Heuer Monaco, but if the re-edition is so similar to the original, then why buy it if you have the original? What I’ve been looking for is a modern Monaco that steps away from being an homage to the past but instead is a highly technical, bold, modern design- just like the original Monaco was in 1969.

And the Monaco 24 is certainly bold. Too bold? Yes, it will be for some, but this is meant to be a watch with the “wow” factor rather than something that appeals to everyone. The only thing that would make me love the watch more is if the dial was blue, with white sub-dials and red-hands…surely, it can’t be too long before TAG Heuer give us the classic “McQueen” colour combination in the Monaco 24 case.

Roll on November….

TAG Heuer Monaco 24 Calibre 36

 

 

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